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

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Compass Games

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

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Avalon Hill

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

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

VITP

Pacific Tide

Complexity

2 out of 10

3 out of 10

Time Scale

2 turns/year

Yearly Turns

Map Scale

Area

Area

Units

Individual carriers or ships, air groups, infantry

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

Average Play Time

5h

2-4h

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Sample Map (Compass Games)

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

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Sample Cards (Compass Games)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.0 VICTORY CONDITIONS

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

2.1 Decisive Victory

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

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

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

US Card 24 THE ATOMIC BOMB

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

If I’m reading this right then:

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

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

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

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

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


Afterward

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

 

 

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#FirstImpressions of Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2nd Printing, 2015)

I was fortunate to pick up Washington’s War by designer Mark Herman (@markherman54 on Twitter) during GMT Games 4th of July special sale. They had three games on sale at a deep discount; I already own Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan and The American Revolution Tri-Pack so I rounded out my collection. I’m fortunate because GMT Games is now out-of-stock for Washington’s War.

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Guess we won’t see this for a while (Courtesy GMT Games via BGG.com)

I am ashamed to say I am late to the party, for Washington’s War has all the elements of a great game that meets many RockyMountainNavy Family Game Values; an awesome mix of mechanics and theme that teaches as much as it entertains and is playable in an evening.

Washington’s War (WW) is the GMT Games update of the Avalon Hill’s We the People (by…Mark Herman!). For many years I passed on We the People, and WW, because they are Card Driven Games (CDG) and CDG is just not my cuppa tea. I think this is because CDG’s are hard to play solo. However, my gaming tastes have changed over the past two years and the RockyMountainNavy Boys are my game group. As such, we don’t usually go for classic hex & counter wargames favoring instead more varied mechanics. So WW looks like it could be a good addition to the game collection.

Now, my first impressions are not the greatest because the RMN Boys are traveling this month and I have no built-in game group. So my impressions are based on several solo walkthrus of the rules and game mechanics.

Components

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Courtesy BGG.com

The game board is functional and thematic but not to the degree that Liberty or Death or Supply Lines of the American Revolution is. Artist Charles Kibler and a supporting cast delivered a very good game board that not only has the map of the area in question but also many game-related spaces for cards or counters or the like. The result is a good balance of theme and functionality. Of the counters, I really like the oversize, tall standees for the Generals. The gives WW a very “Kriegsspiel” look and feel.

The rules are in two books; a Rulebook and Playbook. The rules are not overly complex and contained in the nice 24-page rulebook. There are lots of nice color illustrations and examples of play and a handy index, meaning the rules themselves are actually quite short and succinct. I also think as this is the Second Reprint of a 2009 game based on a title first published in 1993 the rules have been criticized and torn apart and reworked and generally exist now in a very good state.

Game Play

Now, I said above that CDGs have not been my thing, but I see beauty in the mechanics of WW and this game could exist without CDG. The choice of Event Cards or Ops Cards (with different values) makes for a ton of choices. Developer Joel Toppen (@PastorJoelT on Twitter) also makes this important observation in the Player’s Notes:

Like the American Revolution that the game models, Washington’s War, is both a political conflict as well as a military conflict. In my opinion, the biggest challenge that the players will face in this game is balancing political initiatives with military action.

So, as I write this blog post, I am asking myself, “Do I dislike CDG because its not solo-friendly, or is it that I have been too in love with just hex & counter wargames?”

I am more than just a grognard!

Washington’s War has arrived at a time of gaming change for me, and I now see that as much as I love hex & counter, that very love has blinded me to some really great games. As my wargaming has evolved into boardgaming, and especially family boardgames. I am embracing games with a much broader set of mechanics than hexes and a CRT. Game mechanics that turned me off years ago (CDG!) I now recognize are actually wonderful, playable games/models that teach me (and the RMN Boys) more than a hex & counter military simulation can deliver.

So thank you Mark Herman, and GMT Games, and all the other game publishers out there that keep advancing the hobby and delivering quality gaming for not only die-hard grognards (guilty as charged) but also family strategy boardgamers.

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Courtesy nohighscores.com…but I’ve seen this many places around the interwebs

 

Plotting Along with Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

Playing Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977) for my Game of the Week culminated in a game with the RockyMountainNavy Boys on Saturday night. Although I personally rediscovered my love for Air Force this week, the Boys had a lesser reaction.

At first I imagined a basic Battle of Britain dogfight scenario with Hurricanes and Spitfires versus Me-109s. That was until Youngest RMN Boy got his hands on the Aircraft Data Cards (ADC) and found the Me-262. He absolutely wanted to fly the Schwable. He also asked about shooting down bombers. So I quickly scratch-built a scenario where a single B-17G, separated from the bomber stream but escorted by a pair of P-51D, is jumped by a pair of Me-262.

Gameplay in Air Force is “Spot-Plot-Scoot-Shoot.”  In the interest of making for an easier first scenario we bypassed the Spotting rules and got straight into the action.

Youngest RMN Boy quickly discovered that the Me-262 handles like a truck. We had randomly rolled for starting altitude with the B-17G at 20,000 ft. In Air Force, when the Me-262 is at 20,000 ft. or higher, it has no Maneuver Speed and therefore adds the Level Speed penalty for maneuvers. This made the already ponderous Me-262 even more ponderous!

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Photo of Luftwaffe Me-262 being shot down by P-51 Mustang of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-51’s gun camera (Courtesy warhistoryonline.com)

I spent a lot of the game helping the Boys with plotting notations. The hardest part for them to envision was the aircraft Attitude, or banking.. Interestingly, Middle RMN Boy, my Autism Spectrum son, caught onto plotting faster than his brother. This may be because he is a bit of a “rigid thinker” and the predictability of the plot “clicked” with him easier than his more free-thinking brother.

The game lasted 15 turns, played out over about 90 minutes. The result was both Me-262 shot down by the B-17G, but with helpful contributions from the Mustangs. Unfortunately, in the same turn the last Me-262 was shot down, the B-17 fell too. This was in great part because the Me-262 used it’s Air-to-Air Rockets…and blasted the Flying Fortress.

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A B-24 “Liberator” of the 448th Bombardment Group, shot down by R4M missiles of a Messerschmitt Me-262 (Courtesy warhistoryonline.com)

After the game, we talked about Air Force as it compares to the other air combat game the Boys know; Wings of Glory. They both agreed that the addition of aircraft attitude and altitude was a large step-up in complexity over Wings of Glory. They also agreed that the flight model in Air Force gave a better comparison of the aircraft.

Although he had trouble during the game with plotting, Youngest RMN expressed a desire to try Air Force again. Next time, he wants to fly a maneuverable FW-190! I think the next game will be better; the hardest part of the learning curve for Air Force – plotting – is now behind them.

Retroplay Retrospective – Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

Air Force is a very old school-style wargame that has, for the most part, aged well. This week it was my Game of the Week. It is actually a very simple game that can mechanically be reduced to “Spot-Plot-Scoot-Shoot.” The game strikes a good balance between realism and playability – with a welcome emphasis on the playability. This week I have come to appreciate how awesome this game still is even after 40 years.

Spot – Maybe the only real negative. The rules only account for lack of spotting at the start of a scenario. Outside of a night scenario, spotting is almost automatic. Add in the lack of initiative or movement advantage for tailing and it’s hard to see value of the spotting game mechanic. But does it matter? This is one area that playability was obviously emphasized over realism.

Plot – A very old school mechanic that I know many “modern” gamers cringe at. Although there may be mechanisms that could achieve similar design effects, the truth is that plotting is fast and simple; it plain works. Among the greatest criticisms of the pre-plot mechanics in Air Force is the fact the rules do not have any initiative or tailing considerations. This can lead to situations where your opponent surprises you by going one way when you were expecting (plotted for) another. At first I was appalled by the lack of any sort of tailing rules, but after playing am not so sure this is a real negative. Given the limitations the flight model creates (see below) the ability to (generally) predict your opponents moves exist.

Scoot – I am coming to admire the simplicity of the flight model in Air Force the more I play. Fighter pilots talk about “energy management” in combat. In Air Force, your aircraft’s energy is a combination of speed and altitude. You lose speed for maneuvers or climbing and you gain speed through engine power or diving. The speed of the aircraft is also important for maneuverability. Staying at Maneuver Speed makes for the most cost-efficient maneuvers. Going faster (Level Speed) or diving (Dive Speed) means maneuvers cost more.

Altitude becomes a very precious commodity in Air Force as it can be traded for speed (energy) and more maneuvers. In several of my play-thrus this week, I found myself clawing for an altitude advantage as it allows you to dive into the target and maybe gain an extra maneuver to line-up the shot. If you are beneath the target your options are much more limited unless you have powerful engines.

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Battleline ADC (Courtesy BGG.com)

The flight model defines how aircraft move, and a worthy opponent will pay attention to not only where the opponent is, but what altitude and at what Bank they are. These are key considerations for plotting and if one is paying attention it signals the limits of what the opponent can do. For example, an aircraft in a Right Bank is going to have hard time turning left! Using the FW-190A ADC above, if the aircraft starts in a Bank Right attitude at altitude 15.0 (15,000 feet), it will have to move 1 hex forward before it can Bank Left to Level attitude, then 1 hex again before it can Bank Left again to get to a Left Bank attitude for a left turn. Now it can turn left, but needs to move 3 hexes ahead before the turn happens. This maneuver needs a speed of 5, which is actually Level Speed which penalizes maneuvers, meaning each Bank needs 2 hexes and the turn 4 hexes (speed 8). The flight model actually limits the ability for an opponent to rapidly change direction in a single turn, making plotting against this aircraft more predictable – assuming one is paying attention!

Shoot – Combat is dead-simple…and resolved with a single d6. Modifiers move you across the table. Damage is simple.

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Fan-made plot sheet (Courtesy BGG.com)

Look-n-FeelAs I alluded to before, the look-n-feel of Air Force is very dated. The physical components are very plain and simple. The plot sheets are ergonomically horrible (too small) and the tables poorly laid out. I own the later Avalon Hill version of Air Force with its rainbow Aircraft Data Cards. It would be interesting to see Air Force redone today with modern graphics or player interfaces.

Over the past 40 years I have changed my view of wargames. I am constantly balancing my gaming interests between my simulationist and gamer sides. Air Force has been criticized as not being a realistic model of flight, but does that really matter? To me, it is “realistic enough” that I get a taste of what air combat is using a fun, playable flight model that considers a few key factors. The real bottom line is that the game is simple FUN; easy to set up, easy to teach, easy to play, and downright enjoyable!

Game of the Week QuickNote 2 – Quick Play for Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

I played my Game of the Week, Air Force, again tonight. That’s two plays in two days. I am struck by how quickly the game moves. The Sequence of Play is simple and although one must plot movement it goes fast. Combat, when it happens, is resolved quickly. BoardGameGeek says playing time is 60 minutes so I should not be surprised. I am playing solo meaning I am doing double work. Even so, I can play a 2v2 dogfight in under 60 minutes. Although the game plays fast, I am enjoying it immensely!

Game of the Week QuickNote – Scale in Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

As I played Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977) for my Game of the Week I noticed that – unlike many wargames – the scale of the game is hidden away. Nowhere on the box exterior does the scale appear (for that matter, there is nothing on the box bottom at all). Nor is the scale easily found in the rulebook. To figure it out, one has to search through the rules to find:

  • Each counter represents a single aircraft (I. INTRODUCTION).
  • Altitude is specified in thousands-hundreds of feet (BASIC GAME, III. INTERPRETING THE AIRPLANE DATA CARD, B. KEY PARTS OF THE AIRPLANE DATA CARD, 3.)
  • Each turn represents approximately 10 seconds of time (BASIC GAME, V. SEQUENCE OF PLAY)

What does not appear is hex scale (distance) nor a conversion factor for speed. Not hard to figure out, but not a given.

Makes me wonder how we gamers ever made purchasing decisions with so little info on the boxes. Word of mouth? Avalon Hill’s The General magazine?

Oh yeah, since when did half-inch counters get so small? Did we really play with these tiny pieces of cardboard?

 

 

Game of the Week for 05 March 2018 – Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

I started wargaming in 1979. At that time, the “new hotness” was Avalon Hill Battleline games. In particular, for World War II aerial combat there were just two games; Dauntless and Air Force. I own both, an actual 1977 Battleline First Edition of Dauntless (Pacific combat) and the 1977 Avalon Hill Battleline Edition of Air Force (air war over Europe). For this week’s Game of the Week I pulled out Air Force.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Looking over the game, I am immediately struck by how simple the graphics are. The box art is very appropriate for the air war in Europe, showing a formation of B-17 bombers dropping their bombs over a US Army Air Corps logo. The materials inside are very primitive. The rulebook and Airplane Data Cards all look like they were done on a typewriter. The mapboards (three sections, each folded and mounted) are plain light blue with numbered hexes. The counters come in three colors; Allies white on red, Germans white on black, and markers white on bright blue. By today’s standards, this product looks like a somewhat amatuer production.

 

The rulebook itself is 16-pages of two-column text. I have to remind myself that in 1977 these guys did not use computers for layout. They had to type the text and insert cut-out graphics to a master page. There are at least two different type fonts used indicating to me that when Avalon Hill took over distribution of the game there was at least some attempt to update the rules. My favorite rule may be II.C. COUNTER-SORTING TRAYS [sic]. Yup, there is a hyphen between “counter” and “sorting,” but it’s what follows that I love:

Two counter-sorting trays, included in previous editions, have been eliminated due to the petroleum crunch. Trays may be purchased from Avalon Hill while supply lasts.

Rules for the Basic Game start on page 3 and end on page 8. Optional Rules go from page 9 to 14, with Scenarios from pages 14 to 16. As I reread the rules, I kept looking for the usual Historical Commentary or Designer’s Notes. There are none to be found, which reminded me why the Avalon Hill house organ, The General, was so important (and thanks to the Internet Archive, still available).

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Courtesy BGG.com

The counters are bagged in matching small plastic ziplock bags. Similar bags are also found in my Battleline Edition of Dauntless leading me to believe these were included in both games at the time. I can’t remember for sure; maybe I bagged them all later. And speaking the counters, I now see it a a bit humorous that the aircraft silhouettes are fairly accurate, but the other counters (tanks, Flak, clouds, etc.) are a bit comical.

For my game this week, I think I am going to take the recommendation of the Basic Level Game and go with a simple 2v2 air combat. One of the recommended match-ups is Spitfire I vs. Me-109E – a classic Battle of Britain dogfight. This is also inspired in part by a recent Timeline documentary, 13 Hours that Saved Britain. Not your usual documentary as it focuses on the memories of people who were kids and youngsters on that day. Well worth your 49 minutes.