Humming Along with Battle Hymn Vol 1 – Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (@compassgamesllc, 2018)

A new game arrived this week. Battle Hymn Vol 1 – Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). The game spent a very short time on my preorder list and now is hitting the table. Both Battle Hymn and a previous game of the week, Thunder at the Crossroads (second edition) (The Gamers, 1993), are brigade-level combat games in the American Civil War. Both titles include the iconic Battle of Gettysburg allowing in some fashion a straight-up comparison.

Thunder at the Crossroad

Battle Hymn Vol 1

Complexity

Medium

Medium

Playing Time

18 hrs plus

45 min – 8 hrs

Solitaire Suitability

Medium

High

Unit Scale

Brigades

Brigades

Turn Length

30 minutes

60-90 minutes

Hex Scale

200 yards

300 yards

Maps

2x 22’x34”

2x 39”x25”

Counters

560

528

Rules

Series/Game

Series/Game

In simple terms, the games look virtually identical. Whereas Thunder at the Crossroads uses it’s Command System as its distinctive game mechanic, Battle Hymn uses a chit-pull system and an “innovative” combat system to distinguish itself. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

Battle Hymn is a new brigade-level game system that simulates the chaos of the America Civil War using a simple activation system combined with a detailed combat system. The system’s designer, Eric Lee Smith, originated the “chit-pull” activation system in his game “Panzer Command” and later used it in “Across Five Aprils,” Battle Hymn’s forerunner, both published by Victory Games. Units are organized by command, usually divisions, and activate for movement when the command’s activation market is picked from the cup. The system uses traditional mechanics for movement, with units differentiated by type, but adds a level of detail to combat that feels almost miniatures like. In fact, the system is designed for easy conversion to miniatures. When one side has the initiative they decide when their combat phase occurs, without it, you don’t know when it will happen.

In my first read-thru of the rules it appears to me that although both Thunder at the Crossroads and Battle Hymn are rated “Medium” complexity, Battle Hymn is a much simpler game than Thunder at the Crossroads.

Command System: This is the heart of Thunder at the Crossroads. In Battle Hymn there is no need for written orders. More “realism” in Thunder at the Crossroads at the cost of more complexity.

Movement: Units in Battle Hymn don’t change formation or extend lines or the like as found in Thunder in the Crossroads. Again, more “realism” in Thunder at the Crossroads but again, an increased cost in complexity.

Combat: Battle Hymn claims the innovative combat system “elevates realism” and is “based on recent historical research and the best practices used in miniatures games.” I will need to play more to judge for myself but from a simple game mechanics-perspective the combat system in Battle Hymn is much more intuitive to me. I was constantly stumbling during play of Thunder at the Crossroads with the A, AB, B, etc. Firepower levels.

I also have to say the map for Battle Hymn is one of the most gorgeous maps I have ever seen in a wargame. Done in “period style” it is extremely pretty. I am very tempted to reach out to Compass Games and see if they will sell one unfolded and shipped in a roll container so I can frame it and hang it on the wall of my gaming room.

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Gettysburg Map (courtesy Compass Games)

I also like the scenarios in Battle Hymn. Ranging from 45 minutes to 8 hours I think I will be able to play the shorter ones first to learn the game system and then go for the longer engagements/campaigns:

  • Gettysburg
    • Pickett’s Charge – 3 turns, 45 minutes
    • The Best Three Hours (Devil’s Den) – 3 turns, 1 hour
    • The Accidental Battle (Day One) – 11 turns, 3 hours
    • Longstreet’s March (Day Two) – 9 turns, 3 hours
    • The Tide Turns (Day Three) – 7 turns, 3 hours
    • The Battle of Gettysburg (campaign) – 31 turns, 8 hours
  • Pea Ridge
    • The Surprise Attack (Day One) – 9 turns, 2 hours
    • Missouri Redeemed! (Day Two) – 5 turns, 1.5 hours
    • The Battle of Pea Ridge (campaign) – 15 turns, 5 hours

I am very happy that I pulled the trigger and stepped out of my gaming comfort zone to purchase Battle Hymn. To be honest, it was actually very easy given the videos @PastorJoelT posts on Twitter. Thanks Joel!

Featured image courtesy Compass Games.

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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.

 

Game of the Week 19 March 2018 – South China Sea battles with Battle Stations (Simulations Canada, 1984)

I want to get to my newer Compass Games South China Sea (2017) but before I do I am taking a step back in time to see what earlier operational-level modern naval combat games were like. This week I am taking a deep dive (no pun intended!) into Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower published by Simulations Canada in 1984. The South China Sea actually appears in this game as scenario 7.62!

The Lesson from Morale – or – Elite can be Defeat in @gmtgames #Panzer

Often times, wargamers get caught up in the material of war. Comparisons of which tank or airplane or ship is better dominate the hobby. Wargames that are more simulationist reinforce this condition. The impact of war on the human condition is overlooked or even outright ignored. In the RockyMountainNavy weekly game night, the impact of morale was brought front and center and forced all of us to think about it deeply. To my surprise, the lesson came from the Panzer series from GMT Games; a game that I consider detail-oriented and a good game for comparing tanks. When the game was finished, the lessons learned had little to do with which tank was better and everything to do with the role of morale in combat.

The Youngest RMN Boy is getting into the machines of war. After diving deep into the aircraft of World War II and battleships of World War I he has turned his attention to armored vehicles of World War II. Last week, I introduced Panzer from GMT Games to the boys. This week he hounded me for a bigger, better battle.

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Courtesy Opsrey

Youngest RMN Boy recently purchased a copy of Osprey Publishing’s M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943-53 at a used book store. He read with fascination the accounts of battle between Pershings and German tanks at the end of World War II. After playing Panzer he wanted to see for himself how the match-up could of gone. I created a home brew scenario where a German Elite platoon of 4x Tiger II tanks, supported by a Jadgtiger tank destroyer, had a meeting engagement with a US Veteran platoon of 5x M26 Pershing supported by a platoon of 3x M36 Jackson tank destroyers with a single ‘Easy 8’ Sherman. Although the Germans were outnumbered almost 2:1, their better morale and training actually gave them a slight edge in scenario points.

In order to expedite the game, I once again played as umpire. Youngest RMN took the Germans while Middle RMN led the Americans. Both boys are still learning tactics, so I was not surprised they both split their forces on set up. Once the shooting started, something very incredible happened.

In Panzer, the experience/morale level of the unit impacts several game mechanics. On Initiative Rolls, units that are Elite gain a +40 while Veterans gain only +20. The level also determines Command Range – the distance units can be apart and still share a common order – with Elite having a 2-hex range and Veteran only 1-hex. In AP Fire, the superior training of Elite units gains a greater positive shift in combat (translating to better chance of hit) as compared to Veteran units. Taken together, Youngest RMN Boys’s Elite Panzers were not only superior in firepower and protection, but with their better training should have gained the initiative (control of the battle) more often. The American tanks had the advantage of numbers and mobility (both in terms of raw speed as well as turret slew rates).

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Tiger IIs in France (courtesy tanks-encyclopedia.com)

The battle actually devolved into two separate skirmishes. In the north, two Tiger II faced  off against the 5x Pershings. In the south, two Tiger II and the Jagdtiger took on the 3x M36 and Easy 8.

First blood was drawn in the north where the Tiger II’s firing at ranges between 1600-2000m “brewed up” two M26’s. Even using better ammunition, the M26s were impotent against the German armor protection.

Another game mechanic in Panzer where morale/experience is represented is Bail Out. When tanks are hit, even with a non-penetrating/non-damaging shot, the crew must roll for Bail Out. In the case of a non-prentrating/no-damage AP hit, the crew will Bail Out on a percentile die roll of 10 or less. Elite units gain a +5 modifier, literally meaning there is only a 5% chance of an Elite unit bailing out.

At the end of the scenario, four M26 Pershings were knocked out along with two M36’s. The Jagdtiger and a single Tiger II were immobilized by Track Damage. But the most astounding result was that in three of the the five German tanks the crew bailed out from non-penetrating/non-damaging hits. Statistically speaking, this was an astounding outcome.

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CoH (courtesy BGG)

Youngest RMN Boy was greatly disappointed. He was even a bit angry at his brother. The Youngest RMN Boy plays other wargames where morale is important, like Command And Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017) with Routing units or Academy Games’s Birth of America-series with the Flee combat result. Even his favorite World War II tactical combat game, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games)  has morale in there, though it is more “baked into ratings” than visible in a die roll like Panzer. I think what made him angry was that unlike Militia units in the American Revolution or early-war demoralized Soviet units where he expected the morale failure, he never could imagine that his Elite Panzers could be the same and simply run away.

That is perhaps the greatest lesson of Panzer; the greatest tank with the best guns and armor does not always translate into battlefield success.

I fear that in this age of push-button warfare and video games that the human factor in combat is ignored or forgotten. This is also why I play games, and wargames, with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I want them to know that war is not machine versus machine but human. I did not expect GMT Games and their wargame Panzer to be this vehicle of learning, but I am very happy that it is.

Featured image courtesy @RBMStudios on Twitter.

“There is something wrong with our Hessians today….” The Battle of White Plains in Command and Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

A snowy day in the mid-Atlantic region on this President’s Day weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to pull out Command and Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017). I categorize this as one of my “lite” wargames that combines easy to understand rules with a thematic experience. In the case of Tricorne, it is the Retreat and Rally rules that make the difference:

Players, that are familiar with other Commands & Colors games, will soon note that unit combat losses in a Tricorne game are typically not as great as other games covered in the Commands & Colors series. This is a direct result of the linear tactic fighting style of the armies that fought during the American Revolution. Unit morale is the main thematic focus in a Tricorne battle as it was historically. Knowing that an entire unit, that has only taken minimal losses when forced to retreat, may actually break and rout from the battlefield, will definitely keep players on the edge of their command chairs during an entire battle. [commandandcolors.net]

The battle of the day was White Plains from 28 October 1776. The British are trying to turn the Continental right flank. I took the British, while Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy took the Continentals.

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Battle of White Plains setup (minus one Continental leader in upper right). Notice Continental Militia in left section. Easy pickings, right?

Understanding that the Continental Militia are the weak link, having less firepower and retreating more for every Flag result, I focused my attack on my left section. The plan was to roll up the Continental right and then push down Chatterson’s Hill. Historically, I was attempting to repeat history:

The British regiments attacked directly against the American positions while the Hessians attempted a flanking manuever against the American right flank. The British were forced back with heavy casualties but the Hessians took up a position beyond the American left flank, which was held by inexperienced New York and Massachusetts militiamen. The fight lasted only a few minutes before the militia fled. The fleeing militia exposed the flank of the Delaware troops. The appearance of the advancing Hessians threw the Delaware troops into confusion. [myrevolutionwar.com]

It almost worked for me, if it had not been for those d*mned Continental Militia!

As my Hessians pushed forward, they pushed back the Militia like I expected. But the Militia refused to Rout. To my great surprise, Middle RMN actually counterattacked with the weakened Militia and, to my greater surprise, Bayonet Charged with them! Caught off guard, the Hessians melted before the Continentals (ok, he got some great die rolls while mine…sucked).

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Continental Bayonet Charge decimates the Hessian Forces. Hessians lost an entire artillery battery in one die roll.

At this point I tried to bring my Elite Infantry Grenadiers into the fray. As much as they tried they just could not push the Continentals back. One leader in particular, Alexander McDougall, just did not give up. I even had a five-die attack against McDougall and a weakened infantry unit and – against all odds – whiffed completely.

After that, it was only a matter of time. Since I had concentrated on my left, I had failed to bring the center to engage and, once I tried to advance, faced the well-prepared Continental artillery. Already behind in Victory Banners, it was only a short matter of time before I lost completely.

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End game. McDougall (upper left) refuses to give ground. British middle takes artillery fire and routs away. Unlike history this is a victory for George Washington.

Total game time, set up to clean up, was only 90 minutes. I really enjoy Tricorne in that it can deliver a very intense game in a short period of time. The game also reminds players that expectations do not always meet reality. Tricorne will definately be getting more play with longer scenarios to come.

Happy Birthday George Washington!

Ice Outside – Hot Games Inside

Icy day in the neighborhood meant that school was out for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Mrs. RMN also had a job interview lined up so I decided to take the day off. This gave me some time for gaming!

cctri_ar_lg
Courtesy Compass Games

The morning saw a quick game of Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017). Youngest RMN Boy and I played The Battle of Stono Ferry (June 20, 1779). I took the British who are a rear guard and set up in defensive positions (behind fieldworks and fences) with the impassable creek behind them. The Americans are a mixed lot composed mainly of Militia and Light Infantry. In C&C: Tricorne the real “killer” is not combat, but Retreat and Morale. If a unit is forced to Retreat, it must roll for Morale; if it fails the Morale roll the unit Routs and is eliminated.

Our game actually started out a bit slowly as I had not reread the rules in a little while and it took the first few turns to remember certain elements of the game. That said, the game played quickly. The Americans pushed forward their left flank and actually dislodged an Elite Infantry Highlander unit from their fieldworks and eliminated their supporting Light Artillery and a Provincial Infantry unit through Routs. Meanwhile, the American right aggressively moved out with two Light Cavalry charging directly into the British defensive position. In the ensuing Melee combat, the British were dislodged and forced to retreat…but with the creek at their back the retreat path was cut off. This quickly eliminated several more units. In the end, the Americans won 5-3. Total play time (including set up) was just over one hour.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Later in the day, Mrs. RMN was teaching so having a bit more time to fill the RMN Boys and myself pulled Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) off the shelf. I have not played Queendomino in a while so I took a few moments to skim the rules. The game experience was more enjoyable from the start (unlike C&C: Tricorne in the morning) and we quickly found the turn rhythm (Place-Tax-Build-Burn-Pick). Even so, our game took the full 25 minutes it is rated not because we were struggling with the rules but because we all had a touch of analysis paralysis. I started the game using a city building strategy but in the later half the dominos didn’t fall my way. Even though I had the most Towers and the Queen I ended up losing…again.

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Courtesy HABA USA

Mrs. RMN’s student today was the kindergarten girl and once she finished studying she badgered the RMN Boys and myself to play games with her. She saw Rhino Hero: Super Battle (HABA, 2017) and Rhino Hero (HABA, 2011) on the stairsteps and was interested. Both these games are new in the RockyMountainNavy house this week. We played one game of Super Battle and two games of the original Rhino Hero. Super Battlewas just bit too overwhelming for her because she didn’t really grasp the strategy behind the game. Rhino Hero was fun (our tower got up to something like 10 levels or more each time) and she did not make it fall, but again her bouncy-bouncy nature did not mesh well with the fine motor skill game. In reality she was anxious to get back to Animal Upon Animal (HABA, 2005) that she played last week. A few games followed with fun had by all even though her bouncy-bouncy nature got the best of her and she repeatedly knocked the animal pile over.

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Animal Upon Animal (Courtesy HABA USA)

All in all a good family gaming day; a wargame for me, a family game for the Boys, and teaching good gaming to a young one.

Featured image courtesy @CapitalWeatherGang on Twitter.

Kicking Off the Year with Kickstarter

I know that Kickstarter is a big part of why board gaming is so popular. Even so, I have my doubts. That said, so far this year I backed two Kickstarter games. Either I have overcome my Kickstarter fears, or am really stupid.

Part of the reason I am gun-shy at Kickstarter is because I backed, in March 2016, Squadron Strike: Traveller. I was a bit doubtful because the Squadron Strike system looks a bit complex (much like Birds of Prey, one of my least-favorite games). But I really love the Traveller RPG so I went for it. I pledged $109 for the Boxed Game. I even had to add extra money in the BackerKit in 2017. It has not delivered. Nor does it seem it will ever deliver.

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Courtesy Compass Games

In 2017 I backed Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. I backed at the $95 level for a single copy of the game. The only stretch goal that was included was a single extra scenario. To be honest, I felt a bit ripped off by Compass Games. To me, the Kickstarter campaign was nothing more than a pre-order system. There was no price advantage. Indeed, less than a year later I can find new copies for a fair amount less.

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Courtesy Triplanetary Kickstarter

In January this year, nostalgia got the best of me and I backed Triplanetary from Steve Jackson Games. I remember seeing this title when I was a rookie gamer. As of the writing of this post, the campaign has funded and is supposed to be delivered in August 2018. We will see.

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Courtesy Agents of Mayhem Kickstarter

Finally, my love of Academy Games led me to pledge for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon. This pledge is heavily influenced by my love (and respect) for Academy Games. I pledged even though tactical skirmish games, like this or Imperial Assault, are really not in my wheelhouse. I must admit I am looking forward to this game with its many innovative combinations of components. The last big Academy Games Kickstarter project, 878 Vikings – Invasions of England did deliver very close to on time (at least the English-language copies in the US). As of the writing of this post the game is funded with 9 stretch goals unlocked. Delivery is scheduled for September 2018.

I think I am going to slow down, if not stop, further Kickstarter support for the year. At least, that is, until these deliver (except for Squadron Strike: Traveller as I have given up). It is going to take a very special game to get me to change my decision.