#WargameWednesday – A Conventional Revolution #AmericanRevolutionTriPack (GMT Games, 2017) #FirstImpressions

As much as I am an Old Grognard, I missed out on more than a few games over the past 38 years. After moving to the East Coast of the US, I took an interest in the American Revolution. So last year when I saw that GMT Games was going to publish the American Revolution Tri Pack with the battles of Saratoga, Brandywine, and Guilford I jumped on the P500. It recently delivered and I have started playing the games. My first impression of the game series is that it is a welcome conventional hex-‘n-counter wargame that is simple and fast playing.

The American Revolution Tri Pack (TriPack) is actually four battles. It updates Saratoga (first published 1998), Brandywine (first published 2000), and Guilford (first published 2002) that includes the bonus Battle of Eutaw Springs. TriPack has two 22″x34″ double-sided mounted mapboards for the four battlefields with each battle getting one counter sheet (176 chits). There is a Series rulebook and each battle gets an Exclusive rulebook and player aid card. This really is four games in one box! First impressions are important, and out-of-the-box TriPack is impressive; the high quality of the components is ready apparent.

The heart of TriPack is a good ol’fashion hex-‘n-counter wargame. Initiative, morale, movement, and fire combat mechanics will be very familiar to many veteran warmers. The Series rulebook is easy to follow and understandable. It incorporates nearly 20 years of errata making the game mechanics pretty tight. Tight, but relatively uncomplicated. GMT rates TriPack as “Medium” complexity in exactly the middle of their scale. For the Series rules alone, I would rate it a bit below center as the game mechanics are logical and very straight forward. Where it may creep up a bit in the complexity scale is the many die roll modifiers (DRM) in various combat actions, but the player aid cards have them all captured making it easy to step thru combat resolution. If anything, TriPack suffers from the lack of a Series player aid card; each battle gets a card but some of the Series-generic rules (like combat effects) are only found in the rulebook. Battlecards add tactical flavor and are a welcome additional mechanic that is layered in without harsh rules overhead.

The Exclusive rules for each battle add nice flavor, but without major rules overhead. I look forward to playing the Brandywine Intelligence rules (“Muddying the Waters of Brandywine Creek”) and I really enjoyed the Looting rules in Eutaw Springs. These battle-specific rules really bring out the distinct character of each battle. It also doesn’t hurt that each Exclusive rulebook has very good historical notes making reading about the battle more than half the fun.

At first I was worried that the mapboards were too large for the battles. For each countersheet only about 1/2 are actual combatants, split amongst the two sides (Guilford/Eutaw Springs use only a half-sheet for each game or 88 counters). Thus, each player “gets” really no more than ~20-40 units each. Even in larger battles, with up to 80 units on the board, stacking rules will allow some to occupy the same hex. For each battle, the major area of combat seemed confined to about a third of the board. I was worried that the games would devolve into a long, boring approach battle with a major action confined to a small space. Fortunately, in play I found the balance between scale of units, distance, and time work out well and the approach battle goes quickly (and interestingly) with the major battle not always where one expects it.

IMG_0231
Battle of Eutaw Springs

The smaller counter density enables faster playing games. I played the Battle of Eutaw Springs for my first solo/rules exploration experience partially because the counter density looked to be the smallest. From set-up to finish was less than 2.5 hours. The simple rules and handy player aid cards made stepping through turns quick and efficient. In the RockyMountainNavy household, table space is a bit limited so getting a game down, played, and put away in an afternoon (or evening) is most welcome. TriPack meets this desired requirement quite well.

Although I consider the RockyMountainNavy Boys to be gamers, I am shy to play the more “grognard” games in my collection. They are quite happy with “light” wargames like Memoir ’44 or 1775 – Rebellion. We do play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (second edition) but it is a medium-complexity wargame using many “modern” game mechanics making it a less-than-conventional hex-‘n-counter wargame.  TriPack, with its easy rules, lower counter density, and handy player aids may just be the hex-‘n-counter “gateway” game to move them towards the more grognard part of my collection.

 

Advertisements

#GuestPosting – #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear (@Academy_Games)

Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy continues his writing exercises. This week he wrote about what is one of his favorite wargames, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (Second Edition) from Academy Games. We also play with Firefight Generator to make our own scenarios. As before, what follows is his lightly edited essay. I really like getting his perspective on gaming and enjoy reading what works – or doesn’t – for him.


Overall, I think the game Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! with the Firefight Generator is fun and interesting. This game is based off the Russian Front during World War II. The players in the game are commanding either the Germans or the Soviets.

pic1532325_t
Courtesy BGG

The appearance of the game is interesting because of the counters and the map. The counters are easy to read and all the information needed to play is right on the counter. The map is geomorphic meaning all the maps fit together in different ways.

The Action Points in the game show the difference between the Soviets and the Germans. For example, a German tank gets two or three shots while a Soviet tank only gets one shot each turn. This shows the differences in training and leadership between the Soviets and the Germans. Action Points can also make you think about what you have to do and what you can do. Also, Actin Points can give you a lot or a little flexibility in the game.

Finally, the Firefight Generator makes the game fun because you get to make your own battle. You get to pick your own troops. You get to pick the battlefield and the conditions on the battlefield.

firefightgensummary
Courtesy Academy Games

Overall, I think the game Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! with the Firefight Generator is fun and interesting.

 

#Buttkicking in #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear @Academy_Games

I have created a monster. Well, two monsters actually.

We played Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (second edition) for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Used Firefight Generator to make the scenario. The RMN Boys took the Germans with myself as the Soviets (again). It really was a near-hopeless battle as the Germans started out with a control hex that they occupied/protected with forces deployed to the board at game start. The Soviets may have had a chance but the Boys played Expanded Battlefield and added a second board, making it necessary for the Soviet player to have to quickly cross lots of ground to get to the control hex. I was ready to play Partisans and get some forces behind the German lines but the Boys played a card that stole my Partisans and allowed them to use it themselves.

Not all was lost at first. I had Divisional Artillery as part of my forces and was looking for this to be a great equalizer. The Expanded Battlefield added a board with a nice hill that the Soviets were going to place anti-tank guns on. Unfortunately, they first had to eject a pre-deployed German anti-tank gun that started the battle there. Good job for the divisional artillery, right?

What Divisional Artillery has in firepower it lacks in flexibility. The artillery pre-plots at the beginning of a Firefight Round and impacts in the next round. This forced the Soviet player to avoid the gun the first round and delayed the deployment of the guns. By the time the gun was destroyed the waiting Soviet weapons were attacked by German “Partisans” and further delayed. Adding to these issues is the lack of flexibility of Soviet tanks, some of which are ponderous and don’t get the Tracked Bonus movement making them advance much slower than their German counterparts. Then there is the slower rate of fire issues where Soviet tanks often get only one shot versus two (or three) German chances to fire. The results were ugly.

IMG_0234
This is getting your butt kicked…those are all dead units!

Although I was soundly thrashed by the RockyMountainNavy Boys the game was very fun. There was much trash-talk at the table from the Boys but they really earned that right through great planning and tactical execution.

#Wargame #GameNight with #TheFiresofMidway (Clash of Arms, 2010)

pic880575_md
Courtesy BoardGameGeek

This week’s Game Night saw the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself playing a 3-player scenarios of The Fires of Midway (Clash of Arms, 2010). The Fires of Midway (TFoM) is a card game of carrier battles in the Pacific during 1942. Although the featured game is the Battle of Midway, we played the Battle of Santa Cruz scenario.

 

Little RMN took the two American carriers, Enterprise and Hornet. The Japanese fleet command was divided with Middle RMN sailing carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku while I sailed light carriers Zuiho and Junyo.

TFoM starts with a both sides searching for the other. This is how the initial hand of Combat Cards is built and determines advantage – the first to find the third carrier gets the first VP. Advantage in turn drives the use of doctrine; the Confident side (leading VP) has to follow their Admiral’s Doctrine while the Desperate side (behind in VP) gets more Combat Cards and doesn’t have to follow doctrine.

At the end of the search phase the Japanese were Confident and the Americans Desperate. This means the US player could have 9 Combat Cards in his hand but the Japanese were limited to 7 – divided between the two players. This in turn meant Middle RMN had 4 cards while I only had three.

With the fleets located the battle switched into launching airstrikes. TFoM uses Action Cards to help determine the order with each carrier being dealt an Action Card. One turned face-up, the Confident player can “steal” one of the opponents cards and switch them. Each Action Card allows for one of three actions – launch full airstrike, launch a partial airstrike and make repairs, or repairs only. Cards earlier in the action order go first but don’t have as many actin points as later cards. This means earlier cards allow for the “first strike” but later cards might create “the heavy blow.” As luck would have it, my carriers drew Action slots 1 & 2, the Americans got 4 & 5, and Middle RMN with the heavy Japanese carriers drew 5 & 6.

Zuiho and Junyo both launches strikes. The American carriers tried to hide in an area of Low Clouds which adds range to strike movement. Even with the challenge, both strikes arrived over the American carriers in a Fueled status. In the resulting battles, the American CAP and Anti-Aircraft fire proved mostly effective and only a lone hit on Hornet resulted. The American airstrikes focused on the light carriers and damaged Junyo. The later Japanese strikes from the heavy carriers succeeded in hitting Hornet once more.

In the second turn, the carriers generally held range, but this time the Japanese heavies and the Americans had the top 4 slots of the Action Order. By the time the round was over, Junyo and Hornet were sunk. With that, the Americans withdrew and the Japanese side was the winner. Close to the historical result, but a bit of a let-down to play.

1942_10_26_cv8_31
A Kate torpedo plane seen dropping a torpedo (Courtesy maritimequest.com)

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

TFoM is a very formulaic game. Each carrier in the Action Order follows a strict turn sequence. In a two-player game this works just fine but in a three-player (or maybe four-player?) scenario there is lots of downtime for the third player. On the plus side, combat is very easy; first compare a pool of combat dice (highest SINGLE die wins) then roll for damage against a damage track found on different cards.

Our gameplay experience was a bit blah. I generally knew the rules but had not played in a while making the first round a bit slow as it was necessary to reference the rulebook several times. Play was faster on the second round, but the formulaic sequence of play made the game feel more like a checklist then a narrative experience. We finished the game but the RMN Boys are not anxious for a replay.

When I first started wargaming nearly 40 years ago I was in it for the simulation. I was unabashedly a simulationist – the more “real” the game was the more I liked it! Looking back, I now realize that the best games I ever played (i.e. the ones of remember) featured great narrative moments (like the one time in Star Fleet Battles I spectacularly lost the battle when I failed my High Energy Turn and tumbled my ship). These days, I seek a more narrative experience in the battle. I have really discovered this with the start of our family game nights; the RMN Boys and I connect better when a game builds a narrative and is not simply a simulation. This may be why games like Conflict of Heroes or Scythe or 1775 – Rebellion are landing on the game night table repeatedly; the gameplay itself builds an enjoyable narrative experience.

The Fires of Midway is not a bad game. Given the level of abstraction represented by the cards and simple map it can hardly be called simulatonist. But the formulaic gameplay makes finding the narrative experience difficult. Maybe if we play it with only two-players and are fully familiar with the rules we might find that narrative experience. Until then there are other games to play.

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.

IMG_1921
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.

IMG_1920
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!

operat3
After the Surrender – Courtesy historylearningsite.co.uk

#WargameWednesday – #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear #FirefightGenerator Night

firefightgensummary
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.

ftzp1
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).

zis-30-with-crew1
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

pic1432653_md

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.

pic1236709_md

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!