Discipline – or – KickStarter and Preorder Madness (April 2018 Update)

fullsizeoutput_5b2I really need to get my game budget under control. Last year I purchased many games and this year swore to get my spending under control. I have tried to be pickier (No Honey, really!) with my choices.

This week I was purchasing a just few games (Honest, Dear!) and looked at my Preordered BoardGameGeek collection.

Uh oh….

According to BGG, I have 13(!) items on preorder. I actually have 15 given that Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing via Kickstarter) does not have an entry yet. And then there is Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, never?). I have written before about my disappointment there. Here are a few I am most interested in:

Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games, 2018?) is not my normal game genre. But it’s designed by Gunter Eickert and Uwe is publishing it. I trust them to make a good game. Even it it is a Kickstarter project….

After watching @PastorJoelT ‘s videos on Twitter and following my visit to Gettysburg, Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018) looked too good to pass up.

I have patiently waited for Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 (second edition, Academy Games) for a while now. I am part of the ProofHQ looking at the new rules. I like what I am seeing so the delay, though unfortunate, is not totally unbearable.

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017). Another buy after @PastorJoelT showed videos. Also like that it compares to 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution (Academy Games). Looking for a deal, I ordered through Miniature Market. In preorder although I see a few copies on the street. Worth it to save a few dollars?

I actually missed the Kickstarter for Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018?) but recently pulled the trigger and ordered it via BackerKit. I was initially hesitant because I like the GMT Games COIN series (which Root is supposedly heavily influenced by) but just was not so sure the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like it. After looking at the Print-n-Play versions posted I decided to go for it!

Long ago I remember a friend had Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat (Steve Jackson Games, 2018?). At only $45 via Kickstarter this seemed like a good deal as it is a topic I love.

If predictions are to be believed, August/September 2018 may be a busy month of new games. Mrs. RockyMountainNavy keeps reminding me about this as I spend now for gaming later.

 

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Game of the Week for April 02, 2018 – Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993)

After the RockyMountainNavy trip to Gettysburg last week, it seems fitting that the Game of the Week be on that same topic. Thunder at the Crossroads 2nd Edition (The Gamers, 1993) is the only non-strategic Civil War battle game in my collection (the others being the broadly disliked The Civil War from Fresno Gaming Assoc. 1991 and the very popular For the People from GMT Games, 1998). Thunder at the Crossroads is a solid 7.7 on BoardGameGeek.com and has favorable reviews. It is not without its detractions, the main one being the required play time. BGG.com lists playing time as 360 minutes, though the back of the box states, “18 Hours Plus.”

This game is part of The Gamers’ Civil War Brigade (CWB) Series. As such, the rules are presented in two rulebooks; the Series Rules and Game Rules. The Game Rules are in a 20 page booklet but only the first four pages are “rules” with the rest being scenarios and notes.

The Series Rules are interesting. In the Introduction, the designers claim the games are, “accurate, readily playable portrayals of specific American Civil War battles at the tactical brigade level.” They go on to state,

The intent of this series is to focus on the command aspects of Civil War combat by having players use a game command system that mimics actual events. The game forces interact with each other in ways that simulate the functions of those they represent.

This focus on command becomes clearer when one realized that 10.0 Command and Control covers five pages of the Series Rules. This is a major portion of the rules, especially when one realizes that the “rules” are communicated in 24 pages with the balance of the 32 page rulebook being Designer’s Notes and several Optional rules and related essays.

All of which makes the reading 2.0 Beginner’s Note a bit confusing. Here the designer recommends,

Avoid the Command Rules as you learn this system, only using “command radius” to keep things in order. Once you understand the basic structure, include the rest of the command systems in your next session. All games in this series can be played without the command rules, so, if you do not find them to your taste, feel free to play without them.

I sense some cognitive dissonance here; the “focus” of the game is on the “command aspects” but it “can be played without the command rules.” OK…?

Another rule I had a hard time wrapping my head around at first was 6.5 Fire Levels. Infantry and cavalry units are rated using lettered fire levels. The rest of the game is fairly straight forward with a Turn Sequence (8.0) that is probably very familiar to may grognards:

  • First Player Turn
    • Command Phase
    • Movement & Close Combat Phase
    • Fire Combat Phase
    • Rally Phase
  • Second Player Turn
    • (Repeat above)
  • Game End Turn Phase

If there is one rule I like it is the Play Tip that appears in 20.0 Fire Combat. Recognizing that the fire combat rules require a series of die rolls the recommendation made is,

…place the following combination of dice into a dice roller: two large red dice, one smaller red die, one yellow die, one black die (white dots) and one white die (black dots). (The actual dice and colors used is up to you, but the above is a working example). Using the above dice, they will be read as follows. The two large red dice are for the main combat table. The smaller red die rounds any 1/2 results. The yellow die is for the Straggler Table. The remaining two dice are for the Morale Table with the black die the tens digit and the white die the ones. Use only the results from the dice which are needed according to the Fire Table result – in other words, if the Fire Table result is no effect, ignore all the other dice. This system speeds up play drastically – although it might sound cumbersome at first.

What the rulebook lacks is strong graphics. The three-column layout gets detailed and although there are several examples of play all are mostly textual – graphics are very limited. The Rules Summary Sheet lacks numerical rules references making it a short, but not-very-helpful compilation of rules. Some tables appear in the Charts & Tables but others (like the Movement Table) are directly on the map sheets. In 1993, the same year this game was published, designer Dean Essig was inducted into the Charles S. Robert Hall of Fame. That same year he won the James F. Dunnigan Award for Playability & Design. Granted, this award was for his 1993 title Afrika: The Northern Africa Campaign, 1940-1942 (1st Edition) which, judging from the photos on bgg.com, doesn’t visually appear much different from Thunder at the Crossroads. I guess this was the “state of excellence” at the time….

There are 11 scenarios provided, covering single days (like Scenario 1: The First Day) to smaller actions (like Scenario 5: Little Round Top) to the entire battle (Scenario 10: The Historical Battle of Gettysburg). There is actually a twelfth scenario which uses 6.12 Variable Arrival Charts to allow an Army Commander to “better implement his plans.” For my Game of the Week, I think I will use the shortest scenario, Little Round Top, which is only 9 turns. I also think I will use the Beginner’s Notes recommendation and only use the “command radius” rules. At least this first time….

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.

Dull Claws in Game of the Week – Talon 2nd Printing (@GMTGames, 2017).

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Courtesy GMT Games

The current Game of the Week is Talon 2nd Printing (GMT Games, 2017). This game is highly rated on BoardGameGeek scoring a solid 7.7 with nearly 400 ratings. It is also ranked as the 167th War game on the site. For myself, I find Talon mechanically strong but the lack of deep theme makes it less interesting for me to play. In other words, the lack of a strong theme in Talon fails to draw me deeper into the game.

All things considered, I can see that I have become pickier over the years when it comes to space battle games. I first started out with Star Fleet Battles. Beyond the fact it is closely related to the Star Trek IP, the real “theme” in SFB is taken from the ever-famous quote from the series, “Scotty, I need more power!” In SFB everything is about Energy Allocation. This theme carries over to the new generation game, Federation Commander.

Over the years, I tried other tactical starship combat games. I like Full Thrust (Jon Tuffley at Ground Zero Games) which is a generic set of rules. To be honest, I actually like two implementations of Full Thrust, those being the the version in The Earthforce Sourcebook for The Babylon Project RPG, and Power Projection: Fleet, a set of rules set in the Traveller RPG universe. Both of these I like because the game rules implement a version of the given setting that seems thematically appropriate. I also have played around with Starmada: The Admiralty Edition, another generic set of rules that one can use to make their own setting. I find the included setting boring, and have never found a another setting that grabbed my attention. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I play the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game but I see it as an (expensive) manual video game.

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Courtesy BGG.com

From a game mechanics standpoint, Talon corrects many issues I have with older games. It does not implement vector movement (though I happen to love vector-movement games) and instead goes for a more cinematic approach. It still has power considerations, but the use of the Power Curve makes it much easier to manage and avoids “accountants in space.” But as much as I love the game, I just cannot get into the setting. Ships move no more than a speed of 6 each turn, and combat is at ranges of 4 hexes or less. I just don’t get that grandiose feeling of giant starship battles in space. In part this may also be driven by the limited counter mix out of the box. The scenarios themselves also seem wrong, with major battles defending the Earth having only six units per side – a factor driven by the few counters included. When putting it all together I get a sense of cognitive dissonance; a game that works so well mechanically just seems wrong thematically.

GMT Games is offering Talon 1000on their P500 program. The draw for me is that it will include over 130 new ships. Given a greater fleet size, or at least a wider variety of ships, maybe the game will be more “thematically correct.” The danger, I fear, is that adding too many more ships will take the great mechanics of the game and overload it. This forces me to turn to the scenarios, and with 1000 new scenarios I would hope to find some interesting ones in there.

Talon, my Game of the Week, once again shows me how much I have changed as a gamer. I find it hard to enjoy a mechanically complex game like Star Fleet Battles, but need a good theme to keep my interest. Talon shows promise, but it has yet to meet its full potential.

Game of the Week for 12 March 2018 – Talon Reprint Edition (@GMTGames, 2017)

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Courtesy GMT Games

I have my own shelf of shame and one of the games that is sitting on it is Talon Reprint Edition (GMT Games, 2015/17). I wrote a First Impressions post last September but the game has languished, unloved, since. My past few Game of the Week have been older games; this week change that and try a newer game.

The Talon Play Book has a Tutorial scenario so that seems like a good place to start. If I can get a chance with the RockyMountainNavy boys, we might try Scenario 1 – War is Upon Us during the week. The scenario looks to be a good learning game with few ships on two evenly-matched sides duking it out. If all goes well, Scenario 3 – The First Fleet Engagement looks like a good Game Night event.

Like I wrote in my First Impressions, I see Talon as a sci-fi fleet combat game to replace Star Fleet Battles (Amarillo Design Bureau) in my collection. I tried Federation Commander (Amarillo Design Bureau) but found it wanting. I think this is because the RMN Boys are simply not Trekkies. [I know, I have failed as a Geek Father – sue me] More directly to my point, they are not well acquainted with the thematic elements behind SFB and FC, and therefore the complexity of the games push them away. I also see Talon as an inexpensive alternative to Star Wars: Armada (Fantasy Flight Games). In the case  of Armada I dislike the theme (I am very anti-Di$ney Star Wars these days) and cringe at the cost of all those miniatures in a game that is another unappealing manual video game.

To be fair, I actually have another fleet combat game in my collection. Full Thrust (Ground Zero Games) and the very similar Power Projection: Fleet (BITS UK) are probably my favorite sci-fi fleet combat games. FT is a generic set of rules whereas PP:F is tailored for the Traveller RPG universe. The problem is that both are miniatures games and I never made that investment (although with modern desktop publishing software and home printers it is possible to make custom counters and tokens).

I am also very happy to get Talon to the table in part because another sci-fi combat game I bought in 2016 has yet to arrive. I made the mistake of backing Squadron Strike: Traveller by Ken Burnside and Ad Astra Games on Kickstarter. Allegedly, the miniatures for the game started shipping late February, but for backers like me who didn’t buy minis and am waiting for my boxed set it appears that all I am going to get is a beta-version of the pdf. All of which makes me look forward to Talon that much more because its a lot easier to have fun with a game when its actually on your table and not vaporware!

Game of the Week for 25 Feb 2018 – Landships! Tactical Weapons Innovations 1914-1918 (Clash of Arms Games, 1993).

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Courtesy BGG

After my recent indulgences in the Panzer-series from GMT Games, I looked over my shelf for another Game of the Week. Going backwards in time, I pulled down Landships! from Clash of Arms Games (amazingly, new boxless copies can still be purchased). Just opening the box and getting ready to play has been a real education.

As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

As the stench and horror of World War I trench warfare increase, both sides seek the breakthrough weapon; immense barrages, air power, flamethrowers, even poison gas. All are tried and found wanting. At last the most awesome machine of all is made ready – the Landship!

Landships! Tactical Weapons Innovations 1914-1918 covers the Great War at its lowest level. The 420 playing pieces represent infantry platoons and cavalry squadrons, or a single tank or gun. Each turn is around 5 minutes and a hex on the eight geomorphic map sections is about 100 meters.

Easy to play rules with over 20 scenarios get you started right away. Trace the story of combat during the war; from the simple slaughters of 1914 to the sophisticated combined arms offensives of 1918.

Opening up the box, I was happy to find a long-forgotten Fast Start Rules and Scenario. This 4-page folio uses only the infantry rules and an abbreviated version of the artillery rules. The single-map scenario is “Rommel in the Argonne,” a June 1915 battle featuring Erwin Rommel. As the scenario description states, “There were no heavy weapons, vehicles, or aircraft in this engagement. This was an infantry attack, 1914 style and the queen of battle was the machine gun.” To show that the designer had a sense of humor, the Victory Conditions of a second scenario version using the Advanced Rules (the full rules, not the Fast Start ones) includes the line, “As before, but the French player can avoid future humiliations in 1940 by eliminating the FO [Forward Observer] unit (Rommel) in this version of the game.”

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Fast Start scenario (courtesy BGG)

The full rulebook (i.e. the Advanced Rules) is also interesting. Coming in at 24 pages, it really has three sections. The first part is the core rules. These are presented in 14 pages of three-column, small font (8 pt?) text. The second section is Optional Rules which run just over a page. The third section of seven pages includes Historical Commentary and Designer’s Notes. The historical commentary is quite extraordinary with inset tone-boxes for “Inside the Tank Environment”, “Tank Tactics”, “German Innovations”, “The Evolution of Artillery Tactics in the Great War”, and a timeline of “Notable Tank Actions 1916-18.”

The other thought that struck me as I looked over Landships! was how tanks were not the only featured technology in the 21 scenarios. Although tanks appear in several scenarios, other technological innovations like armored cars, poison gas, riverine flotillas, and aircraft are also covered.

Over the years, I forgot that the designer is Perry Moore and the maps were done by Rick Barber. In 1994 I did not appreciate them; today they have earned my deepest respect for their work.

In my Landships! box is also a copy of Infernal Machines: Landships! Expansion Game for 1915-1933 (and still available from Clash of Arms Games). I am not going to open it up this Game of the Week and instead focus on the core game. Maybe in the future?

 

 

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.