#FirstImpressions of Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2nd Printing, 2015)

I was fortunate to pick up Washington’s War by designer Mark Herman (@markherman54 on Twitter) during GMT Games 4th of July special sale. They had three games on sale at a deep discount; I already own Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan and The American Revolution Tri-Pack so I rounded out my collection. I’m fortunate because GMT Games is now out-of-stock for Washington’s War.

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Guess we won’t see this for a while (Courtesy GMT Games via BGG.com)

I am ashamed to say I am late to the party, for Washington’s War has all the elements of a great game that meets many RockyMountainNavy Family Game Values; an awesome mix of mechanics and theme that teaches as much as it entertains and is playable in an evening.

Washington’s War (WW) is the GMT Games update of the Avalon Hill’s We the People (by…Mark Herman!). For many years I passed on We the People, and WW, because they are Card Driven Games (CDG) and CDG is just not my cuppa tea. I think this is because CDG’s are hard to play solo. However, my gaming tastes have changed over the past two years and the RockyMountainNavy Boys are my game group. As such, we don’t usually go for classic hex & counter wargames favoring instead more varied mechanics. So WW looks like it could be a good addition to the game collection.

Now, my first impressions are not the greatest because the RMN Boys are traveling this month and I have no built-in game group. So my impressions are based on several solo walkthrus of the rules and game mechanics.

Components

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Courtesy BGG.com

The game board is functional and thematic but not to the degree that Liberty or Death or Supply Lines of the American Revolution is. Artist Charles Kibler and a supporting cast delivered a very good game board that not only has the map of the area in question but also many game-related spaces for cards or counters or the like. The result is a good balance of theme and functionality. Of the counters, I really like the oversize, tall standees for the Generals. The gives WW a very “Kriegsspiel” look and feel.

The rules are in two books; a Rulebook and Playbook. The rules are not overly complex and contained in the nice 24-page rulebook. There are lots of nice color illustrations and examples of play and a handy index, meaning the rules themselves are actually quite short and succinct. I also think as this is the Second Reprint of a 2009 game based on a title first published in 1993 the rules have been criticized and torn apart and reworked and generally exist now in a very good state.

Game Play

Now, I said above that CDGs have not been my thing, but I see beauty in the mechanics of WW and this game could exist without CDG. The choice of Event Cards or Ops Cards (with different values) makes for a ton of choices. Developer Joel Toppen (@PastorJoelT on Twitter) also makes this important observation in the Player’s Notes:

Like the American Revolution that the game models, Washington’s War, is both a political conflict as well as a military conflict. In my opinion, the biggest challenge that the players will face in this game is balancing political initiatives with military action.

So, as I write this blog post, I am asking myself, “Do I dislike CDG because its not solo-friendly, or is it that I have been too in love with just hex & counter wargames?”

I am more than just a grognard!

Washington’s War has arrived at a time of gaming change for me, and I now see that as much as I love hex & counter, that very love has blinded me to some really great games. As my wargaming has evolved into boardgaming, and especially family boardgames. I am embracing games with a much broader set of mechanics than hexes and a CRT. Game mechanics that turned me off years ago (CDG!) I now recognize are actually wonderful, playable games/models that teach me (and the RMN Boys) more than a hex & counter military simulation can deliver.

So thank you Mark Herman, and GMT Games, and all the other game publishers out there that keep advancing the hobby and delivering quality gaming for not only die-hard grognards (guilty as charged) but also family strategy boardgamers.

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Courtesy nohighscores.com…but I’ve seen this many places around the interwebs

 

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First Play of The Eagle and the Sun in Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT, 2018)

Today I tried Scenario C.4 The Eagle and the Sun in designers William Terdoslavich and Scott Muldoon’s Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018). Scenario C.4 is a three-turn scenario covering the Pacific Theater between 1941 and 1946. 

I am still learning the game (this was my second scenario play) and it was a bit difficult. The heart of the Cataclysm system is the chit-pull mechanic. How you build your chit-pool (Economics) and how you employ Political Actions and Military Actions is truly an art; an art I am not close to mastering yet. I have to admit that the biggest mistake I made was ignoring a Design Note in the scenario:

Design Note: Global War enables Japan to increase commitment to total war while non-belligerent, hint hint.

I read this note and looked at 5.6.5 Global War to see what was being hinted at. Seeing nothing of seeming importance there I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. What every player should do – that I didn’t do until too late – is also look at rule 6.4 Increased Commitment. Here it specifies that, “…if the power is belligerent the effectiveness check is automatically successful.” This is followed by a note:

IMPORTANT: A power may only increase it commitment to total war if it is a belligerent or the game’s war status (5.6.3) is currently Global War.

Ah…now  get it! In C.4 Eagle and the Sun all the powers (Japan, UK, US) start at Mobilization. When the first UK Home Front marker is pulled, the Special Rules specifies the UK increases commitment to Total War. When a German offensive marker seeded in the pool is drawn (representing Operation Barbarossa) the war status marker goes to Global War. Now Japan (or even the US) can increase commitment to Total War. I totally missed this rules connection, and as such I failed to raise the commitment levels of Japan and the United States beyond Mobilization in a timely manner.

That does not mean my scenario was a total disaster. Indeed, it was interesting as the UK stretched out from India and ran into the Japanese Empire in Southeast Asia. The Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies but did not attack the United States. The US, still at Mobilization, was slowly building up forces. If the scenario had gone on for another turn it would of probably been real interesting as an over-extended Japan was going to have to face a three-front war (India-Australia-Pacific) against a (now) rapidly arming US.

So to all you new players of Cataclysm that might be struggling with the rules like I am…don’t give up. There is a very rich game here with simple mechanics that plays quickly. But don’t let simple mechanics fool you; there are many rules connections that cannot be ignored. Cataclysm will take time to master but even when wrong it feels oh-so-right.

#IndependenceDay 2018 #Wargame – Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017)

For the second year in a row I got Harold Buchanan’s (@HBuchanan2 on Twitter) Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017) to the gaming table on the Fourth of July. I played the medium-length scenario “British Return to New York” that covers four years – 1776 thru 1779.

This year I committed to playing solo with Bots. I felt I was ready to tackle the automated opponents thanks to the great work of Ben Harsh and his Harsh Rules series of videos. Part 5 in his Liberty or Death-series covered the solo play system:

Like the historical situation, the war in 1776 focused on the New England colonies. Massachusetts was a hotbed of activity with the Patriots Rallying forces while the Indians led Scouting with British troops to Skirmish against the Rebels.

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The war in 1776

1777 was a short campaign season (Winter Quarters came out early) and as a result many British troops were not in cities. In order to stay in play the British would have to spend resources. As @HBuchanan2 pointed out on Twitter, it was going to be expensive to keep the British troops outside of cities. But stay they did (OK, I was not strictly following the Bot…still learning, alright!).

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The 1777 campaign season ends early – British troops winter outside cities…paid for in dear resources

Early in 1778 the French played the Treaty of Alliance and entered the war. With the arrival of Rochambeau the French fleet – and blockades – started. By the end of 1778 the Northern Colonies were firmly in Patriot control. Like history, the British were going to have to look South (the “Southern Strategy”) to try and put down this insurrection.

(I misplayed blockades a bit…should have paid attention to the Howe special leader abilities. Relearning, ugh!)

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End of 1778 – Patriots control New England colonies

Sure enough in 1779 the British shifted their effort to the South by landing in Savannah. Indian Raids, led by Cornplanter, struck the frontier of New York and Pennsylvania sapping away Patriot support. Luckily for the British, just as the French were preparing to land Spanish troops in Florida (Don Bernardo Takes Pensacola was the next card to play) the season ended when the final Winter Quarters came out.

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1779 scenario end

The end game scoring was very close, thanks in part to the Indian raids that reduced support in Pennsylvania and New York. Final rankings:

  1. French +4
  2. Patriots +3
  3. Indians -1
  4. British -4

I had a very fun time with this play of Liberty or Death. Mechanically it took me a little while to get back into the game but thanks to the Harsh Rules videos it was easier than before. I did not play flawlessly; I missed some of the nuances on the Non-Player Cards and misapplied (or outright missed) some rules. None of that detracts from the overall game experience. Liberty or Death teaches so much about the American War of Independence that I always have to make an effort NOT to look up every card during play and read the historical background!

Volko Runke (@Volko26 on Twitter), the master-designer of the COIN-series, says all games are models. Every time I play Liberty or Death this model teaches me more about the American Revolution. It helps me appreciate what our Founding Fathers went thru over 200 years ago.

God Bless America.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games, LLC.

#FirstImpressions – Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018)

Once again, I blame @PastorJoelT on Twitter for this purchase.

Kidding aside, I am very pleased with the game. Cataclysm: A Second World War challenges my perceptions of what a grand strategy game of  World War II by delivering a game where players control the narrative of the conflict. In Cataclysm, player decisions (political and military) really matter!

GMT Games describes Cataclysm: A Second World War as:

…a quick-playing game about politics and war in the 1930s and 40s, designed for two to five players. The three primary ideologies of the time contend to impose their vision of order on the world. The Fascists (Germany, Italy, and Japan) seek to overthrow the status quo, which favors the Democracies (France, the United Kingdom, and the United States), while the Communists (the Soviet Union) look for opportunities to storm the global stage.

The description goes on to say:

Not Your Father’s Panzer Pusher

Cataclysm is unapologetically a game of grand strategy. Military pieces have no factors or ratings. The capability of your forces increases as you shift the commitment of your economy from civilian to military production. Land, air, and naval forces all have their role in prosecuting war. There is no Combat Results Table; instead, battles are resolved by opposed die rolls with a limited number of modifiers capturing the most important operational effects. The area map emphasizes political boundaries, drawing attention to strategically critical territory, encouraging players to think in broad terms of resource acquisition, control of border states, and the perception of power as the arms race plays out.

Growing up, two wargame titles epitomized “grand strategy” to me and have since influenced my thinking and perceptions.

The first was Rise and Decline of the Third Reich by designers Don Greewood and John Prados (a current favorite author of mine). Published by Avalon Hill Game Co., my gaming friend owned the Second Edition (1981). We got the game to the table a few times, the one time I remember best being an epic overnight birthday party where we actually played the full campaign game. What I remember about Third Reich is that it was long and focused near-exclusively on combat with little political choice. It is a game about “fighting” the war, but not the “whys” of the war.

The “second” game that clouds my thinking is actually two linked games. World in Flames (Australian Design Group) is a MONSTER game that covers the fighting for the entire war. I have never played a full game (up to 6000 minutes according to BoardGameGeek). The second-second game is Days of Decision II again by ADG. DoDII is a complete game of global politics starting in 1936 but it can be combined with WiF. As the BGG entry states:

The game is very detailed in its political aspect, and is more a political game than a wargame. Each country affected by the war is represented on an “ideological” chart which tracks the movement of the powers into the different spheres of influence: Fascist, Communist and Democrat. Where each country lies on this chart is vital to which country controls their decisions and forces. Political decisions are chosen from a large array of IPOs (International Policy Options) and a number of Political Options available only to the country that you’re playing.

As with WiF, I have tinkered with DoDII but never played it. The 300 minute playtime is a overwhelming frightening. These days I cannot imagine actually playing a full WiF game with DoD layered on top.

Component-wise, Cataclysm is simple. One can easily set up the entire game on a 3’x6′ table with plenty of room to lay out all the materials. The introductory/learning scenario (C.2 Days of Decision) could be played on a 3’x3′ table if necessary. There are less than 500 counters and 160 cubes*.

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Scenario C.2 Days of Decision Set Up

Rules-wise, the mechanics of Cataclysm take some learning. It’s not that they are difficult (indeed, almost everything is resolved with a simple die roll) but there is much choice. Behind each choice is a decision that must be made and Cataclysm gives the players many choices. I strongly recommend that after reading the Rulebook new players set up Scenario C.2 and step thru the Example of Play in the Playbook. It won’t take long but physically moving the pieces and reading the reasons why enhance the learning. For me learning is best actively experienced not just passively read which s why I enjoy Playbooks so much these days. Once thru reset the game to the beginning at start over. This won’t take long; Cataclysm is quick-playing and I made it thru the Playbook example and my own session in about 4 hours.

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C.2 Days of Decision – end of 1940. Germany strikes west and Paris falls

My early plays of Cataclysm challenge my perceptions of how a grand strategy game of World War II can be shown on the gaming table. Cataclysm is so much more than Third Reich because it gives the players narrative control (to steal an RPG term) over the war. Cataclysm delivers this narrative control using political and combat concepts much simpler than Days of Decision and are part of the game not an adjunct add on. In a time when I am gaming more, but actually have less time for each game, the thought of being able to play an entire war (1933 to 1950?) in 5-6 hours means this one has a real chance of landing on the table.

To me, Cataclysm: A Second World War is the love-child of Third Reich and Days of Decision. That is, a much smarter and modern love-child in that the combat and political mechanics of Catayclsm are much more streamlined that either of the former. This makes Cataclysm a playable grand strategy game – filling a niche in my gaming collection that I didn’t realize I was missing.

*(Sigh) Lots is being said about the color of the “white” cubes. Just play with good lighting.

 

 

Summer Doldrums – or Continuing #Kickstarter and PreOrder Madness

As it is the summer, my gaming as slowed as the RockyMountainNavy Boys find more outdoor activities to do, the family is traveling more often, and long summer evenings make gaming less a priority. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to play! Or try new games!

In April 2018, I had 13 games on pre-order. What has happened since?

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Preorder, or just a disorder?

I currently have 16 items on preorder. A majority (9) are GMT Games P500 orders. I have a love/hate relationship with P500; I love the games but hate the wait. I also am a bit disappointed that GMT Games has become a victim of the Cult of the New (COTN) with newer games seemingly taking priority over long-awaited reprints or expansions. I don’t blame GMT Games; they are going after the money where money is to be had.

I am also a bit surprised at the number of Kickstarter games I have pledged for. Given my hesitancy to previously support games I am surprised that I have five on this list. (actually six but the forever-delayed Squadron Strike: Traveller does not have a BGG entry and therefore does not show up). I have to say that so far I am extremely happy with the Triplanetary campaign since it is delivering early (my copy may even be in the mail as I type).

I actually had another Kickstarter item on order until last night when I cancelled it. It was an RPG product and I had backed it because the theme was interesting. As I looked at the product a bit deeper there were aspects that I found, well, I decided the product was not for me and dropped the campaign.

The last two games are Father’s Day gifts to myself and show as preordered because I don’t have them in hand just yet. Once again, the ever-awesome The Player’s Aid guys just make it so that I can’t pass on another game. In this case it’s Patton’s  Vanguard (Revolution Games). The other is Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands 1982 (White Dog Games). This buy was heavily influenced by an interview designer Ben Madison recently did with Bruce Geryk at his Wild Weasel podcast.

Four of the Kickstarter games are to deliver before the end of the year. We will see; Triplanetary looks like it is coming in early but three other Kickstarter campaigns I have backed (two non-boardgames) are delayed. Maybe a poor investment?