A Cold Night in Hell #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear

I am Prisoner 46001628. Until last night I was a Major in the Red Army. I was leading a small ad-hoc unit that was trying to stop they German juggernaut. I failed. For that I will pay the penalty the State has imposed.

The Generals say they gave me enough force. I was given two platoons of infantry with mortars and five tanks, including a lumbering T-35, a new T-34b, and even a ZiS-30 tank hunter. Our mission was to recover a valuable cache of documents that had been left behind in a command post that another unit had failed to destroy properly. The command post was in an entrenched position near a village. The documents were considered so valuable that we were ordered to attack in a cold winter night. But the orders were also confusing for was told to preserve as many units as possible.

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The German force with Secure Mission and Night Condition Card

From the start the mission was difficult. We had been told the Germans were not around, but upon our arrival we found a small armored detachment already occupying the command post.

 

Using the Firefight Generator the scenario was set. As the Soviet player, a series of entrenchments was placed around the Control Point, but before units could occupy the trenches the German players took it. Whoever removed the Control Point (the documents)  also immediately gained 5 VP. In an effort to salvage the situation, the Soviets played Rear Guard which awards 2 VP for every unit that escapes after Round 3 of the five-round firefight.

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The Soviet force with Freezing Cold Condition Card and Rear Guard VP Bonus

My units advanced slowly in the dark, led by the slow T-35. Visibility was greatly reduced, but we soon figured out the Germans had the documents and were escaping. My units took defensive positions as we tried to determine the German disposition and searched for a weak point. Very quickly, we took fire on our right flank and we quickly lost a T-26. In the center of our force, the Germans charged the ZiS-30 and destroyed it.

The German players started out very aggressive, closing the range and immediately targeting the dangerous ZiS-30 tank hunter. The Soviet defenses on the right and center collapsed under the constant attacks.

At this point I was in a knife-fight with the Germans. After losing the T-26 and ZiS-30, we quickly also lost a submachine gun squad, a BT-7 tank, and even the T-35. Seeing my position hopeless and rapidly dissolving, I ordered a retreat. Two squads of soldiers valiantly defended the escaping force and gave their lives so that at least some of us may live.

I make no apologies; the Germans brought superior firepower to bear on my forces that lacked proper anti-tank weaponry.

I gladly give my life for the Motherland.

The German players pushed their force forward very aggressively and were not afraid to engage in Close Combat using tanks against infantry squads. The Night Condition and the inability to conduct indirect fire meant the two Soviet mortar squads were unable to fire against German troops, and the Soviet tanks proved to have too slow a rate of fire in the armored engagements. Conflict of Heroes uses Action Points and Command Action Points to allow a unit to move or fire. Each unit gets 7 AP when activated. The Soviet tanks too from 5 to 6 AP to shoot, whereas the Germans took only 2 or 3 AP – meaning the Germans had double (even triple) the shot opportunities. In the end, the Germans not only were able to exit the documents (5 VP) but destroyed seven other squads/tanks for a total of 12 Victory Points. The Soviets were able to exit four units for a measly 8 VP.

This scenario shows the narrative power of the Firefight Generator. Built randomly, both sides built their force, altered the weather and visibility, and modified victory conditions.  The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are getting much more familiar with the CoH system and event his involved battle was completed in a fast-paced and tense 2 hours.


The following handwritten note was found scrawled on the bottom of Prisoner 46001628’s letter:

Unexcusable! This coward could not even kill one German squad! He took a force that should have been sufficient to at least kill one German squad or tank and did NOTHING with it! SHOOT HIM NOW!

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After the Surrender – Courtesy historylearningsite.co.uk
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#WargameWednesday – #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear #FirefightGenerator Night

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Courtesy Academy Games

The RMN Saturday Gaming Adventures (SaGA) continued this past weekend with Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games, 2012). This time, we also pulled out the Firefight Generator to help us create the firefight. The Firefight Generator uses two decks of cards (one for the German player, the other for the Soviet) to build the firefight/scenario. Each card has a top section with either a Victory Point condition or Special Event (rules) and a bottom section with units. Depending on the scenario desired, players draw a variable number of cards and alternate playing the cards until the combatants are selected, special rules introduced, and additional victory conditions defined.

For our game, we played the three-player variant with the RMN Boys acting as the two German players and myself as the lone Soviet commander. Each side was dealt eight cards. It quickly became obvious that the Germans wanted to “go heavy” as they selected many armored units. As the Soviet player, my initial unit selection was a bit more “combined arms” meaning I ended up with several infantry and supporting mortar units that, in the long run, were of little value in the armored battle that was coming. I did however, take a modified victory condition which awarded extra VP for destroying a German vehicle or crewed unit.

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BT-7-1 in operations, carrying soldiers – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The game itself was five rounds long. The Soviets had a control point near their (east) edge that they quickly surrounded in a defensive array using a trio of BT-7 tanks. During the firefight generation, the RMN Boys had taken an option to add a second mapboard to the firefight and chose to enter on that board (the “west board”) away from the Soviet control point (the German second commander could have entered anywhere along the “north” edge of the east or west board – but chose to stay nearer his brother-unit and enter on the west board).

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A rear view of a ZiS-30 and its crew operating it. – Courtesy tanks-encyclopedia.com

The slugfest that followed illustrates the awesome simulation power of the Conflict of Heroes system. Both sides were relatively evenly matched, with Command Action Points (CAP) roughly equal (Soviet 12, German 10). However, the superior tactical training of the Germans quickly shined through. There was no better example than in the tank-vs-tank fight. The Soviet BT-7 needs 5 Action Points (AP) to fire and given the standard 7 AP per unit activation means a tank gets one shot unless CAP is used. The Soviet tank destroyer I had, the ZiS-30, was more likely to get a hit but takes 6 AP to fire! The net impact of the high AP needed to fire meant that each tank could, at best, get ONE HIT in a round, therefore in turn meaning to get a KILL requires multiple hits over multiple rounds (all while hoping the German player does not successfully rally the hit unit, and therefore resetting the hit count).  On the other hand, the German Panzer III and IV take only 2 or 3 AP to fire, meaning an “average” unit will get at least two, possibly three fire opportunities per activation. In terms of hit chances, both sides had under-gunned tanks for the opponent they were facing, but with numerous more opportunities to fire (often before the Soviets could rally and remove a hit) it was only a matter of time before the Germans wore down the Soviet behemoths.

The RMN Boys did themselves proud. Given the trio of BT-7 surrounding the control point, they (correctly) focused on destroying the major threat (the ZiS-30 tank destroyer) using, interestingly, a mortar team to suppress the ZiS and later a PzIII to destroy it.  They also used the mortar team (employing indirect fire) to destroy the Soviet’s lone anti-tank gun. At that point the Germans used their forces’ superior maneuverability to go around the flank of the BT-7 defenders and get to the control point “through the backdoor.”  At the end of the fifth round, the Germans were ahead on units destroyed (seven Soviet versus three German) but given the Soviet player had occupied the Control Point four of five rounds it looked close (German advantage 8-7 VP). However, with the modified VP card played during the firefight setup, the Soviet player got four extra VP to give them a 11-8 VP win.

As the Soviet commander, I am lucky the German second commander did not enter the north edge of the east board as I had little defense in depth there and may not have had time to get the BT-7s in place to defend the control point. If the Germans had occupied the control point just one extra round the VP would have been 10-9…assuming I did not lose any other units!

Does all that sound too gamey? In play it doesn’t feel that way, as the modified VP conditions drive tactics and the special rules throw wrenches into the best-laid plans. The Action Point mechanic of Conflict of Heroes also brilliantly captures so many factors (such as training, discipline, leadership) without cumbersome extra rules. The RMN Boys are neophytes at tactical armored combat although they have lots of Memoir ’44 experience which gives them a good foundation to build upon. The Conflict of Heroes system is easy to learn but a tough teacher. I will certainly have to step up my game in future battles as they both learn more and get more aggressive.

#WargameWednesday – Not Conflicted Anymore about #ConflictofHeroes

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Earlier this year I got Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal 1942 – The Pacific (Academy Games, 2016). I wrote out my First Impressions where I was impressed with the game mechanics but unsure about how the game came together.

In early August I was fortunate to attend CONNECTIONS 17 and met the designer of Conflict of Heroes, Uwe ('Oova') Eickert. In the evening "game labs," I actually sat down with Uwe and he walked me and others through the Conflict of Heroes system using Awakening the Bear (2nd Edition).

I'm absolutely sold – on several levels.

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From the GAMEPLAY perspective the Active/Spent Units, Action Points/Command Action Points, and Command/Bonus/Action Card mechanics make for quick play. In the rules I can see the influence of Nicholas Warcholak, in charge of Editing and Game Development for Academy Games. The Academy Games website lays out the Warcholak Guide to keep game rules streamlined:

  1. 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.
  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.
  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.

Conflict of Heroes implements the Warcholak Guide in spades! The rules, in combination with the graphical presentation, means the game can be taught almost without referencing the rule book.

From a HISTORICAL SIMULATION level of play, Uwe opened my eyes to the deep amount of historical detail baked into the game. For instance, the number of Action Points necessary for a unit to shoot is often a reflection of leadership and command & control. Unlike other games which use many 'rules by exception' to implement the intended effect, Conflict of Heroes "bakes" the rules into a few key factors. For example, when a unit is activated it gets 7 Action Points (AP). Both German and Russian infantry use 1 AP to move, but it takes a Russian infantry unit 4 AP to fire whereas a typical German infantry unit only needs 3 AP to shoot. Thus, A Russian unit will only be able to fire once per activation unless they call upon Command Action Points (CAP – representing higher HQ and prior planning). A German infantry unit can fire twice without calling upon CAPs. This subtle one-factor difference brings out so much of the command & control issues facing the combatants without needlessly complex rules.

fullsizeoutput_242This past weekend, the RockyMountainNavy Boys (even the oldest) play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 (2nd Edition). We played Firefight 2 with four commanders (two per side). IT WAS A BLAST. The rules were easy for me to teach (and the boys to learn) so we got into PLAY right away. All the RMN Boys are now Conflict of Heroes fans (dare I say the youngest is a FANatic?).

I have also purchased the Firefight Generatorand the Solo Expansion. I saw Uwe demo the Solo Expansion with its 'Athena AI' at CONNECTIONS 17 and I have to say I am VERY INTERESTED.

The Eastern Front Solo Expansion is the highly anticipated rule set that has been in development for over 3 years! A player will be able to play Awakening the Bear against a highly reactive game AI. This AI is based on the most modern Emergent Behavior and Agent Based Logic programming systems. AI units are not individually programmed like in past solo games. Instead, each situation is evaluated and the best course of action using available AI resources and unit assets is implemented. This is a radical and groundbreaking implementation of advanced computer programming by Academy Games for their Conflict of Heroes series. Players will be surprised by the AI strategy and actions that emerge as a result of the player's own battle tactics. This may force even veteran players to hone and adapt their own playing styles in order to overcome the AI. (From the Academy Games website)

Honestly, I found many solo game engines quite cumbersome; or very formulamatic (see Tokyo Express from Victory Games, 1988). The Athena AI, implemented using cards in the Conflict of Heroes system, looks to create a "living opponent" again without a burdensome rules overhead.

Though not recognized as one of the true "Grognard" wargame companies, Academy Games is truly on the cutting edge of game design. There are several other companies trying to do the same, but it remains to be seen if the wargame hobby as whole can keep up with the likes of Academy Games.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MORE MORE MORE!

 

#BookFinder July 2017

IMG_1705This Fourth of July holiday weekend I found a few books to add to the reading list and collection.

The French-Indian War 1754-1760 and The American Revolution 1774-1783 are both from the Essential Histories-series by Osprey Publishing. The author of both books, Daniel Marston, appears to be a professor of Military Studies at the Australian War College. Thus, these books are not written from a US perspective. This is a good thing; I strongly believe that reading other views of US history is useful for learning more about ourselves. I found these two at McKay’s Used Books where Osprey items are a bit pricy but often in good condition.

Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Civil War is a very new book (May 2017) that I found for a mere $9.99 at Costco. Being sold so cheaply so soon after release could be a bad sign. The few reviews on goodreads.com are generally positive but I will reserve judgement until after I read this one.

I have a wargame pre-order in for the second edition of Academy Games Conflict of Heroes: Storm of Steel! – Kursk 1943. So when I found The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943 at McKay’s I picked it up to help read-up on the battle in preparation for the game release later this year. It’s far more detailed than what is gamed in Storm of Steel! but it will also be useful for my other new game acquisition, Panzer: Game Expansion Set, Nr 2 – The Final Forces on the Eastern Front 1941-44 which expands Panzer (Second Edition) from GMT Games.

 

 

#WargameWednesday – Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal First Impressions

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Courtesy BGG

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 from Academy Games is a 2016 Golden Geek Award Best Wargame Nominee. After reading some of the buzz and looking at comments on BoardGameGeek, I picked this one up in the hope that I could eventually play this with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I like using wargames to teach a bit about what the situation or combat experience was like. In CoH:G what I found was a game of war that challenges many of my perceptions of what I see as a wargame.

CoH:G bills itself as a combined-arms squad-level game. The focus is on the US Marines battles on Guadalcanal from just after the amphibious landing in August 1942 through the arrival of regular Army units in October 1942 (and playable as an expansion). This was my first challenge; I needed to get past my bias for armor over infantry (always a Panzer/88/Armor fan over Squad Leader).

My next challenge was the price; CoH:G retails for $80. Although I saw it in my FLGS I was reluctant to pull the trigger at that price point. Searching online, I found it for less and ordered.

Opening the box, I was stunned at the components. The high quality (huge) counters and mounted mapboard along with full-color glossy books and play-aids and even an organizing insert immediately made me realize that the asking price is actually not unreasonable.

The rulebook is 23 pages which includes many examples. This means that CoH:G is not a complex game. The rules are tied to scenarios (firefights) and use a building-block learning approach to teach players the game mechanics.

What makes CoH:G – and apparently all the Conflict of Heroes series games – interesting is the use of Action Points in Rounds and Turns. Players alternate activating units (or groups of units) and expend Unit or Command Action Points to move or fire. Thus, the classic IGO-UGO turn sequence is overturned. Both players remain engaged through out the entire turn.

Combat is very straight-forward; roll 2d6 and add the Attack Rating of the firing unit. If the AR exceeds the Defense Rating of the unit (modified for terrain) the unit is hit. For each hit a chit is drawn. The chits (about 20) cover everything from no damage to immediate KIA. Once a unit gets a second hit it is eliminated.

Conflict of Heroes also uses cards in play. Command cards, Bonus cards, and various Capability cards bring a bit of randomness and detail flavor to the game. I have written elsewhere about how my perception of Card Driven Games (CDG’s) has changed. CoH is not a CDG, but effectively uses card-driven elements as chrome.

A unique mechanic in CoH:G and not in any other CoH series game is Bushido Points. Bushido Points modify available Command Action Points (CAP) for the Japanese player. Bushido is gained/lost through certain actions. In order to gain Bushido Points (and add to the CAP pool) certain actions must be taken that may not make the most tactical sense, but are in keeping with the “spirit of Bushido.”

In concept the game is very simple; in play the layout is beautiful. I like it…sorta.

The game mechanics are very clean and although I was worried at the chits and markers used in play the board does not get cluttered with the markers. Like in MBT (Second Edition) or Panzer (Second Edition) the markers don’t get in the way. The hit chits actually create a great variety of damage results that make even getting hit interesting. The back-and-forth play keeps the battles moving and demands a players attention at all times.

I am not sure about the Bushido mechanic. I mean, I see what Bushido is supposed to do I’m just not sure I like how I as a player is hamstrung by Bushido. In CoH:G, Bushido is gained/lost for certain actions. Thus, in order to gain/maintain Bushido points (and not always be behind in Command Action Points) certain “sacrifices” must be made. In my several plays to date, the rules specify that Bushido is gained for loss of a Japanese unit is Close or Short range combat. So…to get Bushido the Japanese player has fight – and lose – at very close ranges. This supposedly simulates the Japanese affinity for close assaults.  The player need not make these sacrifices, but doing so gains Bushido points which in turn gives Command Action Points which in turns allows for greater tactical flexibility. The Bushido rues mechanically succeed in making the Japanese player act more is accordance how the Japanese historically acted – I’m just not totally accepting of this loss of “player agency.”

CoH:G is not without a few other challenges. Hexes are VERY hard to see (nee invisible) and with the given countermix (huge counters – but actually very few units) the variety of scenarios is limited.

CoH:G will probably get more plays in the RockyMountainNavy household. As the oldest RMN Boy was leaving, he walked past the board and was immediately taken in by the components. The game is easy enough to teach that I think even the youngest RMN Boy (13 years old) who’ll be able to easily play too.

In the end, I feel that CoH:G is a good game of war. I am a bit reluctant to call it a wargame in my book because the mechanics are so much different than what I usually expect. I am reluctant to totally embrace the Bushido mechanic – it feels like it is forcing me into certain actions. It will get played – it’s too visually stunning not to – but I will tread lightly on using this game to teach the RMN Boys too much of what island combat in the South Pacific was.

Mechanically I guess CoH:G is another step on my path to modernized wargames; I was late to the CDG mechanic, enjoy the COIN series from GMT, and now have exposure to CoH.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: Explore more; order Storms of Steel: Kursk 1942 (Second Edition) to see what they system is like for armor and without the Bushido mechanic.

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Courtesy BGG

 

May 2017 – My Geek Hobby Year-to-Date

Traditionally, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer for the RockyMountainNavy family. That is until we moved to the East Coast. Now school for the RMN Boys goes until mid-June. However, I still want to use this occasion to look back on my geek hobby year-to-date.

Wargaming

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Courtesy BGG.com

According to my BGG profile, I played 10 games in January, four in February, four more in March, none in April, and only two in May. For a year that I wanted to play more I certainly have dropped off! Summer may change as I have several new games inbound. Arriving tomorrow is Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942 (Academy Games, 2016). I also may be getting closer to my Kickstarter delivery of Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, ??) which after many delays (unwarranted and unacceptable in my opinion) finally opened the BackerKit this week. I also pledged for Worthington Publishing’s Mars Wars – but it cancelled. This month I pledged to support Compass Games’ new Richard Borg title Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. To be honest, I am buying this title as much for myself as for the RMN Boys – which is both a blessing and a curse. I am certainly blessed in that I have boys who love gaming, but cursed in that they are not a hard grognard like their old man. The titles also reflect a change in my gaming interests as I struggle with the closure of many FLGS and the movement of my purchasing online or (shudder) to Kickstarter. I also have several games on P500 at GMT Games and hope to see that production schedule move forward this year.

Role Playing Games

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Whereas my grognard-fu has been weakening, my RPG play has been one of steady growth. Mostly this has revolved around the Cepheus Engine RPG system and products from Gypsy Knights Games and their The Clement Sector setting or products from Samardan Press, Zozer Games (especially their SOLO supplement), and Moon Toad Publishing. I have to tip my hat to these third party publishers which are doing so much to breathe life into my RPG adventures. For this summer, I also have a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Fantasy Flight Games) campaign at-the-ready. Here too I have dipped deeper into Kickstarter and pledged support to Cam Banks’, Magic Vacuum Studio’s Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game.

Books

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Courtesy Amazon.com

I started off at Christmas with a good collection of books that I am whittling down at a much slower pace than I wish. This is not because I have ignored them; on the contrary, I am probably reading more than I did last year – just not reading off my list! Science fiction books have taken up much of my reading time. I have found myself lost in rereading the Charles E. Gannon’s Caine Riordan series from Baen Books. I also turned to Kickstarter again for content, this time in the form of Cirsova 2017 (Issues 5&6) and its short stories.

Plastic Models

I didn’t get time to build much but the RMN boys got many kits completed. We even found a YouTube channel that we love, Andy’s Hobby Headquarters. He not only shows great models, but the boys are studying his techniques for better building.

Education Support

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Courtesy goodreads.com

I also have to do the Dad-thing and boast a bit about my youngest RMN Boy. This past quarter he was studying World War II and had a project to complete. The project supposed the student had found items in the attic from grandparents accumulated during World War II. The student had to put together a scrapbook of a newspaper article relating a battle (writing assignment), a letter from a soldier/sailor to home describing another battle (writing assignment), a letter from home describing the home front (writing assignment), a letter from the mayor to a local boys club thanking them for supporting the war effort (another writing assignment), notes from Grandmother about key personalities (short biographies), and a propaganda poster (art assignment). We had fun doing this project as together the youngest RMN boy and I prowled my shelves for sources, watched movies and documentaries online, and even pulled out a few games to better visualize the battles. A very proud moment for this father as the New Media and my book and game collection came together to teach a young man history.


Feature image courtesy 365barrington.com