Gettysburg and Gaming

This week we missed our weekly Family Game Night for maybe only the second time in over 18 months. The fatherly part of me feels a bit sad since I missed out on quality gaming time with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, but we more than made up for it in a short spring break trip to Gettysburg. The trip to Gettysburg National Military Park made me think of several games I have and consider how wargaming can help me teach the American Civil War to my family.

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Courtesy BGG.com

I last went to Gettysburg in the mid-1990s. I was attending a school in the military and we did a staff ride to Gettysburg. As I recall, we didn’t see any movie or the cyclorama and instead used the Army War College staff guide for moving about the battlefield. I sorta recall that I picked up my main Gettysburg wargame, Thunder at the Crossroads, 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) in the gift shop. I remember because I had to explain to my classmates what a wargame was (sigh).

For the family this time we didn’t do our visit the military way, but the way the National Park Service recommends. For a very affordable $15 ($14 with military discount) one can get in to see the 20 minute movie A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman), the Cyclorama painting of Pickett’s Charge, and the museum before embarking on an auto tour of the battlefield. The movie is excellent, the cyclorama breathtaking, and the museum extremely educational. As much as I was looking forward to teaching the RMN Boys about the Battle of Gettysburg, it was Mrs. RMN who got the best education. Being a naturalized citizen fo the United States, she missed out on a great deal of history in the schools. Beyond the battlefield, the history that resonated with her the most was the divided nation, much like her original birth land of Korea. She studied closely the words of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the Gettysburg Address. It was a good learning experience for all of us.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Looking at my gaming collection, I actually have on three American Civil War games. In addition to the previously mentioned Thunder at the Crossroads, I also have The Civil War (Fresno Gaming Assoc, 1991). This game rates a solid 2.8 on BGG.com and appears in geeklists like “The Worst Game in Your Collection” or “Worst. Game. Ever.” I rate it as a 5 (Mediocre – Take it or Leave it) though I don’t remember why I rated it this way.

 

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Courtesy BGG.com

The other American Civil War game in my collection is For the People (GMT Games, First Edition, 2000). This card-driven game (CDG) was one of my first forays into that game mechanic and, at the time, I found it wanting. Since then the CDG mechanic has grown on me and I have come to like it.

 

For a guy that is was so into tactical or operational-level wargames, I am surprised that I have only one Civil War game of that flavor in my collection. I guess I am a bit lucky that it is Thunder at the Crossroads given that there are many positive reviews of the game out there. I like hearing comments that it is long, but playable. It is also popular enough that there are even how-to videos posted out there. I strongly recommend Gilbert Collins’ review posted on Youtube.

More recently, I have been following Joel Toppen (@pastorJoelT on Twitter)and his replay of the new Compass Games title Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge. This one looks interesting enough I may just have to order it!

I aslo note that Worthington Publishing announced a new Kickstarter coming soon for new Hold the Line: American Civil War.

I like the Hold the Line system, and this one looks interesting. I guess my getting it will depend upon the price point. Worthington is going to be working a bit uphill here since I have an inherent distrust of Kickstarter.

I have also heard rumors that Academy Games is looking at a Gettysburg version of Conflict of Heroes. Take my money!

So although I missed out on game night, our family trip to Gettysburg helped all the family learn much more about a vital period of American history. In the long run, we will get more American Civil War games to the table.

Featured image: Pickett’s Charge Cyclorama courtesy NPS.gov.

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Old Lore – #BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006)

The RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night game this week was BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006). This is the first edition of the game and not the more recent Fantasy Flight Games second edition. Our game this week was generally good although I made a few errors during the evening. Playing BattleLore has rekindled my interest in the game and it deserves more table time.

In the RMN family, we usually end up playing a 3-player event. This makes it harder than it should to find a good game because many games are either 2-player or a multiple thereof (i.e. 4-players, etc.).  The Birth of America-series from Academy Games (1754 -Conquest: The French & Indian War, 1775 – Rebellion: The American Revolution, 1812: The Invasion of America) work well because they are 4-player games that also work at 2-players or – best for us – 3-players.

I own BattleLore: Epic BattleLore (DoW, 2007) that I thought would give me a scenario using the multiple boards that is suitable for 3-players. Using the extra board, it is possible to make a layout that is six-sectors wide that allows multiple commanders to play one side. But when I looked for an adventure (scenario) that used this map configuration there was none in the booklet. As the RMN Boys were already at the table and itching to play, I went ahead and laid out an adventure from the booklet that used a single army and an epic-scale 3-sector map. I asked the Boys to share command and they (reluctantly) agreed.

Wrong choice on my part.

Asking the Boys to “share” command of a single army spread over three sectors did not work. I thought about using a variation of the 4-player Reluctant Allies in Epic BattleLore but decided it would be unfair in a 3-player set-up. The Boys ended up bickering a fair bit (more than their usual friendly banter) and I could see the frustration growing in Middle RMN as his younger brother outright refused at times to work together. The Boys ended up winning, 7 banners to 5, but it was not a really fun game.

I apologized to Middle RMN about my choices going into the game and he was a good sport. I think he and I are OK but I don’t want to be his brother on the other side of a future battle because I sense there will be no mercy given!

All that said, the game night was not a total disaster. Having not played BattleLore in a long time (my last previously recorded play was in 2010!) and putting aside the command issues we enjoyed it. The addition of Lore and Creatures and the Goblin or Dwarf units – each with advantages and disadvantages – makes for an interesting game. The game is not without its challenges; soft sculpts and lack of good player aids detract a bit, but should not be showstoppers to enjoyment. I also think that the Boys are much more able to handle all that BattleLore brings to the table now that they are more experienced gamers. The last time we played Youngest RMN was a wee 6-years old and Middle RMN, my Austism Spectrum hero, was 12.

In addition to the core set and the previously mentioned Epic BattleLore expansion, I also own Call to Arms, the Dwarven Battalion Specialist Pack, and the Goblin Skirmishers Specialist Pack. Between all these expansions I “should” be able to come up with good adventures for 3-players, especially using the Call to Arms system. Although fantasy is not my go-to genre for gaming, I sense that BattleLore may actually fit many of our Family Game Night needs. BattleLore will find itself on the gaming table again, but not before I thoroughly reread the rules and make considered decisions on adventure design and balance.

Deep Strategy, Simple Game in 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War (@AcademyGames, 2017)

This week’s RockyMountainNavy Game Night featured 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War from Academy Games. What I really love about this game, and the entire Birth of America-series, is that there are deep strategic decisions played out in a very mechanically simple, yet thematically appropriate game.

The publisher’s blurb for 1754 goes like this:

‘1754 Conquest’ is an area control game that continues the award winning Birth of America Series. Players for each side work together in order to coordinate their strategies. To win, each side attempts to control Victory Spaces on the map that represent towns and forts. The militia players receive reinforcements from muster points while the French and English Regulars must ship their reinforcements from overseas. The game ends when the Treaty of Paris is signed and the side controlling the most cities wins the game.

We usually play the three-player variant with myself on one side against the RMN Boys together as a team. This week I asked to mix things up a bit and to be part of the team and not play against both Boys. So when we sat down around the table it was the Middle RMN Boy and myself as the British Regulars and Colonials against the Youngest RMN Boy taking the French Regulars and Canadians. Before the game, the Middle RMN Boy and myself agreed to a “middle” strategy in which we pledged to focus on going thru Fort William Henry to Montreal. Supporting this strategy the British Colonials had Muster Markers in Oneida Carry and Philadelphia.

I played the Colonials in a very aggressive manner and pushed into Canada, seizing Fort Saint-Frederic and Fort de La Presentation early in the campaign. Further to the west, an opportunity arose to seize Fort Dusquesne  and I took it. In the east, around the French bastion at Louisbourg on Nova Scotia, all was static. As the French defense stiffened, they pulled their Muster Marker back to Montreal.

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Campaign Overview (base map courtesy nps.gov)

As the game entered the later turns, Youngest RMN used a special Event card to enter his French Regular reinforcements at a defended harbor. His target was the Chesapeake Bay, which he successfully assaulted, followed by seizing Williamsburg and Alexandria. But his assault in the British rear was too late as both British Treaty of Paris cards were played, ending the game after the current turn. A desperate French attack that saw Fort William Henry fall to the French was offset by the Colonials leading a massive Indian raid through Fort Niagara, Fort Toronto, and into Ottawa with all becoming British controlled. The end result was a major British victory.

This was the longest game of 1754 we have played lasting into the seventh turn of eight possible. Still, total play time was a relatively quick – and very enjoyable – 100 minutes.

Our game this weekend showed the value of choosing a strategy and committing to it, even when major distractions abound. 1754 Conquest, like all of the Birth of America-series, are great teaching games and highly suitable to family game nights. Not only does one learn the geography, but the game mechanics help players explore strategic choices that are very historically thematic.

Featured image courtesy Academy Games.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man with the Plan – Playing #Pandemic by @Zmangames

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“I is for Infected” (Courtesy KillerTaco on BGG.com)

With #windmageddon shutting down most of the area this weekend (and thankfully we didn’t lose power or have a tree fall on our house – or a large outlet sign) I felt the need for a “lighter” Game Night. So Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) landed on the table. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself played a 3-player session with Youngest RMN Boy as the Operations Specialist, Middle RMN Boy as the Dispatcher, and myself as the Scientist. I really enjoyed the game tonight not because (spoiler alert) we won, but because the game enabled Middle RMN Boy, who is on the Autism Spectrum, to shine.

At first it looked bad as the initial infection was heavily Black Plague and Red Death. As we tried to beat back those two contagions, the cards fell my way and I was able to eradicate the Blue Virus. Youngest RMN was quickly able to cure the Black Plague, but several closely spaced Epidemic Cards led to multiple outbreaks. It was looking bad; we really needed to knock back the Black Plague and the Red Virus was out of control. We cured the Yellow Virus, but really needed to get after the Red Death.

We always play Pandemic with everybody’s cards face up in front of them so we can all collaborate on strategy. Usually, this discussion is dominated by Youngest RMN and myself, with Middle RMN Boy only occasionally making a contribution. We usually try to let him plan his own actions and Youngest RMN Boy sometimes has to control his facial expressions as he disagrees with what his brother does.

Tonight, at the peak of the pressure as we were running out of Outbreaks and Action Cards, Youngest RMN Boy and I were having a “spirited discussion” as to the next actions. We were trying to plan two-players ahead, and that included Middle RMN. Suddenly, Middle RMN Boy spoke up.

“Don’t worry, I got this,” he emphatically stated.

“Got what?” I asked.

“We can win. I’ve got this!”

I challenged him to explain what he was thinking. He proceeded to lay out a three-player sequence of events that, sure enough, would give us the win. His idea took advantage of a recently drawn Event Card and optimized each players abilities. It was a brilliant plan.

I love my Boys and sometimes I don’t give Middle RMN Boy enough credit because of his Autism Spectrum. He rarely shows the ability to think ahead, and when he does it’s often for the wrong reasons that end up getting him in trouble. Though we haven’t played Pandemic too many times, it obviously has “clicked” with him.

Small moments like this tell me that our weekly game nights are well worth it. It also reminds me that, as much as I love being a Grognard, other genre of games are well worth playing and sometimes bring out the best in each of us.

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.

When #TerraformingMars, you gotta remember to Terraform….

This weekend, Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2017) landed on the table for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Surprisingly, we had not played this game since November last year. Even with the long hiatus, we found gameplay to be quick and satisfying.

In January, I was able to pick up the expansion, Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium from CoolStuffInc.com for a bargain. Tonight, we played on the Elysium map:

Elysium takes players almost to the opposite side of Mars’ equator, with vast lowlands for oceans in the north and a dry, mineral-rich south. Place a tile on Olympus Mons, the highest peak in the solar system, to gain three free cards! [Stronghold Games]

We played a three-player game. For corporations I had Thorgate, Middle RMN Boy Interplanetary Cinematics, and Little RMN Boy took Ecoline. I started out strong, using my corporations power advantage to build power production that I was able to convert to Steel and oxygen using the Steelworks and Ironworks projects. As such, I was able to build a moderate lead in the Terraform Rating (TR). Meanwhile, Interplanetary Cinematics built a few cities, and Ecoline focused on greenery.

The game session played fast as we all rapidly developed our game engines and pushed the Global Parameters (Oxygen, Temperature, and Oceans) ahead quickly. We probably pushed ahead too fast, because we ended in Generation 11. While conducting the final scoring, I became painfully aware that I had no cities and no greenery tiles laid. As a result, my moderate lead quickly disappeared and I came in a very distant second place.

Overall, this is the fifth time we played Terraforming Mars since I acquired the game in September 2017. Playing time is advertised at 120 minutes but all of our previous games played at 150-180 minutes. This time was different with game time coming in at almost exactly 120 minutes. That is, 120 minutes to set up, play, and pack away the game! The quick play did not mean the play experience was less satisfying; on the contrary, the shorter playtime made for a more intense game. It is also amazing that after five plays this the first time I can remember that we actually made it through the Project Card deck and had to reshuffle. Little RMN repeatedly exclaimed, “I haven’t ever seen this card before!”

If I remember correctly, some time ago I was listening to the Ludology podcast with designer Geoff Englestein and he mentioned that he was happy if someone played his game five times. I too am surprised that since my boardgame renaissance started in late 2017 that Terraforming Mars has entered into my BGG Five and Dimes category (i.e. games played at least five or ten times). Putting aside children’s games, fillers, and other “lite” games, Terraforming Mars joins Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear and The Expanse Board Game as “fives” in that time. Given the excellent game play and enjoyment of Terraforming Mars, I feel confident in saying it will reach Dime status before too long.