#ThreatTuesday – #Wargame update needed in South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

The Chinese militarization of the South China Sea was certainly a lively topic for milbloggers and the OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) community online in 2018. One item that caught my attention because it feeds into modern wargame scenarios was the deployment of the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) to several of locations in the South China Sea. As first reported in May 2018:

China has installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three outposts in the South China Sea according to several media outlets (the first one being U.S. news network CNBC), citing U.S. intelligence sources.

According to the reports, the land-based anti-ship cruise missile is the YJ-12B with a range of 295 nautical miles (545 Km). The HQ-9B is a surface-to-air missile that can engage aircraft out to a distance of 160 nautical miles (300 Km). Note that these range figures may be over estimated (more details below). The missiles are on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. The missiles were moved to the outposts within the past 30 days. China has also deployed jamming equipment to the islands. (navyrecognition.com)

The same site added a link to this handy tweet, complete with a map of coverage (the YJ-12 is in RED):

Updating South China Sea from Compass Games is the first game that comes to mind. I think the YJ-12 already appears in the game but is very limited in where it deploys. Adding a few more; well, that would be a real THREAT.

Post-Thoughts

Take a look at the Admiralty Trilogy Games and their product on China’s Maritime Forces. At the rate the Chinese seem to be building ships I don’t know it its the most updated product available but it is available…as a pdf download for $50!

Feature image courtesy navyrecognition.com.

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#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.

 

 

Are you Chit’ing me? Making a #wargame solo-friendly with the Chit-Pull Mechanism thanks to @gmtgames, @compassgamesllc, & @RBMStudio1

This weekend I took delivery of designer Ted S. Raicer’s newest title, The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018). At the same time, I recently had seen a post somewhere in my wargaming Twitter feed that mentioned that chit-pull games were very solo-friendly. As a wargamer that often plays against my arch-nemesis, “Mr. Solo”, so this got me thinking…

…and it’s true. Chit-pull wargames are a game mechanism that can take a two-player or multi-player wargame and help make it solo-friendly.

Long used in the solitaire gaming world (a great example being Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017), the chit-pull mechanism is often used by wargame designers to introduce fog-of-war elements* into a game. The chit-pull “randomizer” can also makes non-solitaire wargames more solo-friendly because the game engine guides the player as to what happens next. Now, don’t take my thinking too far; just because a wargame uses chit-pull does not automatically mean it is solo-friendly, just that it is more likely to be. The interaction of other mechanics might make it impossible to play a game solo. That said, chit-pull could be a good indication that you can play the game against your evil twin alter-ego!

I asked myself why I was so slow to realize the advantages of chit-pull. Looking back in my collection, I actually have several Avalanche Press Chitpull Series games; MacArthur’s Return: Leyte 1944 (1994) and Operational Cannibal (1996). I also have Richard Berg’s Battle for North Africa: War in the Desert 1940-42 (GMT Games, 1996). In my game collection, two of these titles, Cannibal and North Africa, are amongst the lowest-rated games (bottom 15%). On BoardGameGeek, Operation Cannibal has a horrible GeekRating of 4.9. In the case of North Africa, rules issues and missing activation markers(!) made the game hard to play out of the box. I think that subconsciously, even after all these years, I had a bias against chit-pull wargames because I had played a few turkeys.

My anti chit-pull bias is now gone. In 2018 I got purchased four wargames that feature the chit-pull activation mechanic, Battle Hymn Vol 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games), Battle of Issy 1815, A Jours de Gloire Series Game (RBM Studio)Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games), and the aforementioned Dark Sands. In each, the draw of activation chits is used to randomize the activation of units or, in the case of Cataclysm, to conduct national actions. In each the chit-pull mechanism and the fog-of-war element is what makes the games fun and each turn unpredictable.

Chit-pull; it’s a wargamers friend – especially when there is no friend around to play against.


* According to the BoardGameGeek Wiki, The Chit-Pull System is defined as: “Used in war games to address the problem of simulating simultaneous action on the battlefield and issues of command and control. In such a system the current player randomly draws a chit or counter identifying a group of units which may now be moved. Schemes include moving any units commanded by a particular leader, moving units of a particular quality or activating units not for movement but for fighting. This mechanism is often associated with designer Joseph Miranda who has used it in many of his games.”

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

History to #Wargame – No scaling Kings Mountain this time (#CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc)

The real Battle of King’s Mountain was fought on 7 October 1780. Historically, the battle resulted in an American Patriot victory. But not today.

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Battle of Kings Mountain – Setup. Continental Baseline is at top, British on bottom.

I refought this major Revolutionary War engagement on the 238th anniversary of the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French & More! expansion from Compass Games. This battle started out well for the Americans, with Provincials and Rifle units under Servier, Campbell, and Shelby (left of photo above) pushing in from the Continental right and forcing Ferguson back (left of British line as seen above).  Meanwhile, Militia under McDowell and Winston (bottom right) advanced along with two other Militia units coming across Clark’s Ford (upper right). Servior reached the mountain first, gaining the Continentals a Temporary Victory Banner. However, Turn 6 proved to be devastating to the Continentals when the British used Line Volley to decimate American units. Even at long range, the British were able score hits against Militia under Williams and Provincials under Cleveland (both at top-center of photo above) scoring just a few hits but also forcing a Retreat off the board and thus scoring a Victory Banner. Combined with Militia failing to Rally and Routing off the board the British were able to hold on even as their defenses collapsed on their camps.

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End of Turn 7 – British 6 Victory Banner vs Continental 2

One of the Special Rules in this scenario is “racing against time.” The British player can earn one Permanent Victory Banner for each Scout Command card he plays. This didn’t happen this game but it looks to be an interesting scoring mechanic that I want to see more of.

The best part of this game was making the History to Wargame connection. The RockyMountainNavy Boys saw the board and asked about the battle. This led to a nice discussion of the battle history. In the past year I have come to realize that I had pretty good knowledge of the northern campaigns and battles of the American Revolution but games like the “War in the South” scenario for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (found in C3i Magazine #30) or Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy have taught me that I missed out on an understanding of the battles in the south which were often nasty, highly personal affairs.

The anniversary of the Battle of Savannah is 09 October, and within the French & More! expansion is the scenario “Savannah – 9 October 1779.” Historically, this was a very bloody affair:

On October 9, at dawn, thousands of French and Americans attacked the British positions and were cut down. It was the bloodiest hour in the Revolutionary War. Pulaski and Marion expressed strong disagreement with the plan proposed by D’estaing, but obeyed orders. As the 5 units attacked the British resistance stiffened. Still, Continental soldiers broke through the redoubt in at least two places near Spring Hill. As the Americans carried the wall of the redoubt, the flags were planted to show the soldiers the breach in the line. Suddenly, British Regulars, under the command of Col. John Maitland, advanced and turned back the combined French and Continental Army.

The American line at the redoubt began to crumble under the intense pressure of Maitland’s Regulars. Pulaski, seeing the line pull back, rode up and tried to rally the men as well when he was mortally wounded by cannister. American hero, Sgt. Jasper, was killed on the ramparts trying to save his unit’s battle flag. Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski was killed in a calvary charge. Black troops from Haiti in the French reserve came forward to cover the retreat of the shattered attackers. In an hour, a thousand casulaities resulted. During a truce, hundreds of French and American soldiers were buried in a mass grave. The city was held by the British until 1782 although guerrilla efforts by men like Col. Francis Marion, a survivor of the siege, continued.

Next week is also the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown and there is a scenario “Yorktown (Assault on Redoubt #9 & #10) – 14 October 1781” also available. This was siege warfare unlike anything seen before in the American Revolution:

By October 14, the trenches were within 150 yards (140 m) of redoubts #9 and #10.  Washington ordered that all guns within range begin blasting the redoubts in order to weaken them for an assault that evening.  Washington would use the cover of a moonless night to lend the element of surprise to the enterprise.  To reinforce the darkness, he added silence, ordering that no soldier should load his musket until reaching the fortifications- the advance would be made with only “cold steel.” Redoubt 10 was near the river and held only 70 men, while redoubt 9 was a quarter of a mile inland, and was held by 120 British and Germans.  Both redoubts were heavily fortified with rows of abatis surrounding them along with muddy ditches which surrounded the redoubts at a distance of about 25 yards.  Washington devised a plan in which the French would launch a diversionary attack on the Fusiliers redoubt, and then a half an hour later, the French would assault redoubt 9 and the Americans redoubt 10.  Redoubt 9 would be assaulted by 400 French Regular soldiers under the command of the German Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Zweibrücken and redoubt 10 would be assaulted by 400 light infantry troops under the command of Alexander Hamilton.  There was briefly a dispute as to who should lead the attack on redoubt #10, Lafayette named his aide, the Chevalier de Gimat, to lead the attack, but Hamilton protested, saying that he was the senior officer. Washington concurred with Hamilton and gave him command of the attack.

I look forward to playing these scenarios and getting the French Army into battle!

These games, like Commands & Colors Tricorne, have helped open my eyes to the history of these battles. This learning from wargaming is a part of the hobby I enjoy best and am happy to pass onto the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

History to #Wargame – Battle of King’s Mountain using #CommandsandColorsTricorne from @compassgamesllc

The real Battle of King’s Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. Today I am going to refight the battle using Commands & Colors Tricorne: The French and More! expansion from Compass Games. I really enjoy it when I get to play a battle on its anniversary because it makes for yet another a great connection to history from wargaming. This is a big reason I love the wargaming hobby!