@Academy_Games shows us why quality in #wargames is important

Check out this video from Uwe Eickert of Academy Games. He discussed quality components in games. They destroyed 10,000 boards for the new 3rd edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, 1943?

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Going South with #1775Rebellion (@Academy_Games, 2013)

The first RockyMountainNavy Saturday Game Night of 2019 saw an old friend land on the table. 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013) was the first multi-player lite-wargame I introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to when we started family game nights back in 2017. Although it is the simplest of the Birth of America series (in terms of rules) the strategic choices and narrative the game builds is historically accurate and very enjoyable. Tonight, the greatest pleasure in the game came from the discussion around the table.

No, I’m not talking about the “trash talk” during the game (there always is some of that) but the discussion of how our game was similar to, then different, from the real history of the American Revolution. We talked about:

  • How early in the game (Revolution) the Americans focused on the Northern Colonies.
  • How a British invasion of Newport established a strong point.
  • How the Americans adopted a “Southern Strategy” and started rolling up the colonies from south to north, eventually controlling Georgia to Maryland and Delaware.
  • How the the Continental Army (with some Militia) was holed up in Boston while the British surrounded it; history mirrored backwards.
  • How British Loyalist units always seemed to Flee.
  • How the Americans used the Declaration of Independence to turn those fleeing Loyalists into Patriot Militia.
  • How in the end a late demonstration of British seapower enabled two amphibious assaults that contested control of North and South Carolina facilitating a British victory just as the Treaty of Paris was signed.

The Birth of America series prides itself on being historically accurate (“Learn the unique tactics and logistics used by each historical faction”) as well as challenging (“Realistic military tactics are required to win”). Our game tonight demonstrated that historical accuracy is not necessarily a duplication of history, but a plausible condition that could of faced the people at that time. Tonight’s American Revolution did not end the way it historically did, but through this easy-to-learn, fun-to-play lite-wargame called 1775: Rebellion we learned a bit more about our history and had great fun doing it.

That’s the best kind of gaming in the world.

Feature image: Battle of Cowpens courtesy pintrest.com.

Giving Thanks for #Wargame Sales

If you missed the great GMT Games 50% sale earlier this year there are many other chances to get in on great wargame sales. Here are a few that I am aware of. For the record, not a single company has compensated me in any manner for these mentions; indeed, I am actually “compensating” many of them by making a purchase!

Academy Games

Compass Games Holiday Sale

  • It’s time to celebrate the holidays with special savings from Compass Games! We invite you to download our 2018 Holiday Catalog with special savings galore. Our holiday price brings you 30% off the retail price. Use the catalog order form or go online and use coupon code: HOLIDAY18. Note that special prices and preorder prices are already discounted so no holiday code is necessary at check-out. See catalog for more details. The holiday and special prices are valid through 1/15/2019.

Conflict Simulations LLC

  • CSL is having 15% off sale, just use the discount code: THANKSGIVING at the checkout.

Flying Pig Games

  • From RIGHT NOW, through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Flying Pig Tuesday (Nov 27th), all in-stock, boxed games in the Flying Pig inventory are 50% off. That includes, Armageddon War, Burning Lands, Old School Tactical Vol I, Old School Tactical Vol II, Old School Tactical Airborne, Night of Man, and ’65 Squad-level Battles in Jungles of Vietnam. Click here to visit our website and Happy Shopping!

Hollandspiele

  • No sale yet, but I saw Tom Russell post in a BGG forum that his sale starts 01 Dec.

OSS (One Small Step)

  • From all of us at One Small Step, please accept our wishes for a safe and joyful Thanksgiving holiday! To help celebrate, we are now running our annual Black Friday sale. 25% off published games and magazines. Simply enter the following code at checkout: BLACKFRISale runs now through Monday the 26th. Does not include pre-order items, subscriptions, or games already on sale.

Revolution Games

  • November Sale – Save up to 40% on select titles.

Tiny Battle Publishing

  • From RIGHT NOW, through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Tiny Battle Tuesday (Nov 27th), all in-stock, games in the Tiny Battle Publishing inventory are 25% off. Click here.

Don’t forget your FLGS either. Some of them are having sales too!

For all my wargaming friends out there, have yourself a blessed Thanksgiving and a happy Christmas season. May all your favorite wargames find their way into the trench beneath your tree and breakout in the New Year.

Featured image courtesy worldoftanks.com

Thoughts on commercial wargames in RAND report “Will to Fight”

IMG_0056Will to Fight: Analyzing, Modeling, and Simulating the Will to Fight of Military Units. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

Will to Fight is a 2018 RAND Corporation study undertaken on behalf of the US Army G3/5/7 “to explain the will to fight at the unit level and develop a model designed to support assessment of partner forces and analysis of adversary forces” (iii). Within the report, the authors offer a model of Tactical-Operational Will to Fight. Of particular interest to me, as both a hobbyist and part-time professional wargamer, is the report’s use of commercial wargames. Reading these sorts of studies is always interesting because I get to see how others, often outsiders, view the wargaming hobby. In the case of Will to Fight, the view is definitely mixed with some good for the hobby…and some continued (negative?) stereotyping.

Here is how the authors describe war games (note the use of two words):

War games and simulations are approximations of combat intended to help people think about the nature of war, to help people understand complex military problems without actually fighting, to reduce uncertainty in decision making, and to forecast and analyze notional combat outcomes. War games are played between people, usually across a table, and usually across a flat two-dimensional map. Some war games use three-dimensional terrain and figures to represent soldiers and vehicles. (p. 113)

The study defines simulations as, “computer representations of combat” (p. 113). The footnote to this section makes mention of other types of games, specifically matrix games and card games.

On the positive side, the study makes the point that commercial tabletop games and computer simulations are “generally more effective at representing will to fight, but focus varies” (p. 126). This conclusion is based in great part on a nonrandom sample of 62 commercial products and military games and simulations drawn from a pool of 75 products (p. 126). The study broke this sample into four categories (p. 127-130)

  1. Commercial tabletop games using hexagon maps or model terrain, counters, or figures
  2. Commercial simulation, or computer games from platoon level to the battalion level
  3. US military tabletop games typically using hexagon maps and counters
  4. US military simulation from the squad level to the corps level

As much as I want to commend the authors for taking the time to actually learn about commercial wargames, I also feel they missed an opportunity to experience many great wargames that are out there. By narrowly defining commercial wargames as only “hex map” (hex & counter) or “tabletop” (miniatures) they actually exclude many great games that could help their research. Further, the study group actually reveals a bias against many of these games with comments like this footnote talking about Advanced Squad Leader:

Some commercial game players would argue that rules are always fixed. For example, many hard-core players of the game Advanced Squad Leader would never consider bending a rule to speed game play or to account for an unusual situation. Official military tabletop gaming tends to allow for greater flexibility to account for the messy realities of combat to ensure the purpose of the games not lost at the expense of hidebound conformity (footnote 4, p. 113)

There are other little examples, like the seemingly off-hand comments such as, “Complex commercial tabletop war games like Lock ‘n Load Tactical Modern Core Rules 4.1” (p. 130) that show a belief that commercial tabletop wargames are by nature complex. As an long time grognard, I understand I have a different definition of complexity but have to wonder just how much of the study typing is based on “wall-o-text” reading versus actually playing a game.

Looking a bit closer at the commercial tabletop war games chosen for study shows a mix of old and new games and a variety of designers and publishers. Taking games typed as “Hex map” only from Table 3.5 War Games and Simulations Assessed and Coded (p. 128-129) we find:

This is the point where I am supposed to say that there are better, more representative games out there that could be used for this study. I personally missed my favorite Conflict of Heroes series or Panzer / MBT. I am sure there are many games that could of been used. I can only wonder if this “nonrandom sample” is actually someones game collection (and if it is, it’s a great collection…just not mine!).

All that said, the study reports that commercial games are better than military games at depicting will to fight. The authors define this advantage using a near-formula expression:

  1. Will to fight (not) relevant to combat outcomes + will to fight (not) relevant to victory conditions + game or simulation type – US military simulation
  2. Culture affects will to fight (yes) + training affects will to fight (yes) + veterancy affects will to fight (yes) + cohesion affects will to fight (yes + game or simulation type – commercial (p. 130)

I found it disheartening to read the contention that “none of the military war games or simulations…gave priority to will to fight as the most or even one of the most important factors in war” (p. 133). Indeed, military war games and simulations are, in the words of National Defense analyst Michael Peck in 2003, “firepower-fetish attrition models that award victory to whoever has the biggest guns, rather than giving equal weight to soft factors such as morale, fatigue, and cohesion” (p. 133).

So it looks like military war games need to take their cue from the commercial sector. The strongest accolades are given to a tabletop (miniatures) game, GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad rules:

…GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad, place will to fight at the center of the game. GHQ created a cohesion system that rolls together leadership, morale, and other aspects of will to fight. This meta-cohesion system applies at each tactical fight, and it clearly influences the outcome of the game. WWII Micro Squad and a handful of other tabletop games represent the kind of aggressive adoption of will-to-fight modeling that might help make military simulation more realistic (p. 130)

Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.

My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.

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)

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)

IMG_0320

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.