Wargaming the Battle of Eutaw Springs – September 08, 1781 & 2018

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in South Carolina in the American Revolution. The main battle was fought on September 8, 1781. Luckily for me, September 8 fell on a Saturday in 2018 so I was able to get some historical wargaming in!

The Battle of Eutaw Springs has two parts to the engagement. The first part is the Meeting Battle where the American army runs into the British foraging party. Historically, the “rooting party” was overrun but a few soldiers escaped and alerted the British camp. The main battle followed. The two wargames I used to refight Eutaw Springs took different approaches to the battle and the relevant events.

The first wargame I pulled out was Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017).  This is Compass Games’ version of venerable designer Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors-series for the American Revolution. The scenario is one of the larger ones in the base game and focuses on the main battle starting after the events of the foraging party. As with the historical situation, the Americans are deployed in two lines with the Milita forward and Regular troops behind.

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Opening setup from British perspective

In today’s game the British could just not get anything going and the American dice were hot. The turning point was the death of a British Leader (+1 VP) followed by the Rout of three units. The Morale rules in Commands & Colors Tricorne are maybe the most important to consider. In this case, all three units were forced to retreat and then conduct a Morale Check. A Morale Check is a die roll using the number of dice equal to the remaining blocks in the unit. To pass the check the roll has to have at least one Flag rolled. There are a few modifiers but that’s essentially the rule. In today’s battle, two FULL STRENGTH units that were forced to retreat outright FAILED their Morale Check and Routed away! The end result was a run-away victory for the Americans.

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Endgame – British routed away….

The second game pulled out was the American Revolution Tri Pack from GMT Games (2017). Although not listed in the subtitle (Guilford, Saratoga, Brandywine) this game actually has a fourth battle included; Eutaw Springs! This battle has two versions that can be played; a Historical Battle that starts after the events of the foraging party (around 10am in the morning) or a Campaign Game that begins at 7am before the foraging party is encountered. Depending on the result of the foraging party battle the British may be alerted or caught unawares. Having already played out the battle, I set up the Campaign Game to see what might happen differently. Alas, the battle of the foraging party resulted in a Retreat which meant the historical result, an alerted British camp, happened again.

After that though, nothing went historically for the British. Once again the American dice were hot with many Disruption results in combat. Disruption results force retreats but more importantly reduce the army Morale Track. The battle saw many British units Disrupted with few actually Eliminated. The Americans were able to continuously push the British back as they were unable to keep a solid line to stop the American advance. By noon (Turn 6) the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even with the late arrival of British reinforcements was unable to stem the tide. As with the historical situation, once the Americans got into the British camp there was some Looting (though less than historically) but it did slow down any pursuit of the British.

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Disruption after Disruption….

As with my Fourth of July Gaming, it is always fun to play a wargame battle on the anniversary of the event. Doing so brings fresh insights into the battle and the events around it. It demonstrates the real teaching power of wargames which match fun with learning.

Featured image “Battle of Eutaw Springs” by Granger courtesy fineartamerica.com

 

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When National Security & Wargames Collide – the 2018 China Military Power Report and South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017)

Every year, the US Department of Defense must prepare a report to Congress titled “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,”

The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. The report shall also address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.

The 2018 China Military Power Report was released this past week. I decided to read-through the report while having my copy of designer John Gorkowski’s South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) nearby.

Making a modern wargame is difficult as so much changes so rapidly. The hardest part may be the military hardware since games are based on open sources and not privy to the latest classified assessments. Wargames may rapidly become OBE and not of relevancy (and interest).

South China Sea does not suffer from this problem, at least yet. This may be because SCS actually is two games, one political and one military.

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Arms Exports & Sales

As I read the 2018 China Military Power Report, I found myself flipping through the Political Cards in SCS. I found many cards directly related to events in the Report. Previously, I stated that I found the Political Turn in SCS not necessarily to my liking. After looking at the Report and comparing it to the SCS Political Cards I now see that the game actually does a very good job at capturing the political factors around the issue. Indeed, if one really wants to understand why a fight may happen in the South China Sea, one really needs to play the Political Turns in SCS and not just focus on the military.

That is not to say the military is not important. The Report also lays out the high-level factors related to combat in the South China Sea. The Report makes it clear that China is on a ship-building spree; a spree that may not be fully captured in SCS. While one can argue about the order of battle in the game, the underlying truth is that the game system accounts for the growth of the PLAN. More importantly to wargamers, the underlying combat mechanics of the Military Turn in SCS, that of detection and strike, remains a useful model of modern naval conflict.

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CV Liaoning

Reading the 2018 China Military Report has convinced me I need to get South China Sea to the table a few more times. Most importantly, I need to give the Political Turns more attention.  I am also now even more anxious to see how Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea currently in the GMT Games P500 (Not There Yet) looks at the same subject.

 

 

 

July Gaming Festivities – or – A Good Month of #Wargaming but Better to Have Family Back After Travel

This past July should not have been a good gaming month.

My “regular gaming group” (aka the RockyMountainNavy Boys) were on international travel the entire month. Before they left, we played one game, Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) together.We didn’t play another game together until they got back and Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015) launched.

Yet somehow in between I played 23 other games. Better yet, 20 plays were of WARGAMES! Yet even better, and uncounted in my BGG Played log, the RockyMountainNavy Boys shared games with the family in Korea and made some lasting memories along the way.

fullsizeoutput_609The top played wargame of the month was Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018). I call Cataclysm a wargame though I actually see it as a strategy game of politics. When I tried to play Cataclysm as a wargame it was disappointing; as a strategy game I love it!

Another notable play of the month was the first full scenario run of Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). The chit-pull activation mechanic makes this game very interesting by showing the friction of war. Additionally, it can’t be the Fourth of July without Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016) making a rebellious appearance on the table. GMT Games also offered a Fourth of July Holiday Sale where I picked up Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2015 reprint). I am lucky I did so because it is now out-of-stock.

It was on travel this month that I picked up Tiny Epic Galaxies. Played it solo a few times in the hotel. As much fun as it is in the solo mode I enjoy it even more when playing against the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

Alas, July 2018 was also a month of wargaming disappointments. I was supposed to go to the CONNECTIONS 2018 wargaming conference but was pulled off at the last minute by work. I was supposed to go to the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) but waved off after traveling on official business and getting home late the night before I was supposed to drive. I sorta owe an apology to Alexander and Grant of The Player’s Aid (@playersaidblog on Twitter) because I had planned to meet them. From the looks of it they certainly didn’t miss me as they tweeted and blogged about all the great talks and games at WBC!

When the RockyMountainNavy Boys returned home they brought lots of good stories about playing games with the family in Korea. They took along (and left behind) copies of:

  • Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) – Very popular with cousins
  • Quartto Mini (Gigamic Edition, 2017) – Good brain game for older family and especially an Uncle who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande Games Edition, 2011) – Mrs. RockyMountainNavy wanted to get this great game for her nephew’s daughter; she is a bit too young right now but the game will be there when she is ready!
  • Rhino Hero (Haba, 2011) – What is marketed as a kid’s game was the most popular game amongst the adults; so popular the RockyMountainNavy Boys surrendered their copy to their cousin so she could take it to play with her friends (all mid-late 20’s)
  • Happy Salmon (North Star Games, 2016) – I keep hearing stories of an epic night there all the adults stood around and played a game of Happy Salmon; the youngest RMN Boy tells me everyone – players and observers alike – were laughing so hard he couldn’t even record the game.

Though I was able to get alot of good wargaming in by myself this past month, I really and glad the RockyMountainNavy Boys are back. They want to play a game every day in August until school starts.

I like that idea; will keep you posted!

“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means” – Clausewitz in Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018)

Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018) is an interesting game. I have been trying to get my head wrapped around the game, but I think I didn’t actually grok it until listening to the Three Moves Ahead Episode 439 podcast. Host Rob was joined by Bruce Geryk (@SpaceRumsfeld) to discuss Cataclysm. After listening to their discussion I finally realized a major reason I have a hard time wrapping my head around the game is because I was expecting Cataclysm to be a wargame when it is not.

Let me explain.

Looking at the GMT Games publisher’s page forCataclysm the second paragraph (Not Your Father’s Panzer Pusher) is squarely aimed at the wargamer. It talks about grand strategy, military pieces, military production, prosecuting war, no Combat Results Table but operational effects, resource acquisition, control of border states, and perceptions of power. Everything I think about in a wargame.

However, the next paragraph is actually more important:

Geopolitics and The Clever Use of Flags

Flags are the currency of political capital in Cataclysm. Nations earn flags through public mandate or provocation by opposing powers. Spending this political capital is subject to the effectiveness of your power, which determines how easily you can implement your policies. Readying for war requires you to increase your commitment, straining the stability of your government. You can offset this by using propaganda to shore up your position. You can form strong alliances with friendly powers, or use diplomacy to sway your neighbors to your side. You may need to pressure reluctant partners into taking action. Manage your political actions to suit your goals, but be wary of provoking your opponents, allowing them to earn flags in reaction.

As Rob and Bruce discuss, it is the political game that is actually the core of Cataclysm. Indeed, in the 3-player game they played there was almost no combat. Now that I think of it, I agree that Cataclysm is actually a political game where there is a chance of a Second World War breaking out. This realization requires that I recognize that the “core mechanic” of Cataclysm is not the combat model (my wargame expectation) but the Flags and Political Actions. Once I make this connection the whole “game thesis” as Bruce puts it makes sense. I went into Cataclysm expecting a wargame but instead played a strategy game of politics and diplomacy where war is just another option in each nations toolkit. To put it in Clausewitz-like terms, in Cataclysm, “war is merely the continuation of politics by other means.”

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Carl von Clausewitz -by Karl Wilhelm Wach (Wikipedia Commons)

Thinking about Cataclysm as a Clausewitz-influenced strategy game instead of a wargame actually grows my respect for the design. I encourage you all to listen to the 3 Moves Ahead podcast, and especially Bruce’s comments on the “game thesis” as I think this will help many folks wrap their own heads around this game. I have to admit I am more excited about the game then Bruce and Rob seem to be. Now that I have groked the game thesis and realized Cataclysm is “not a wargame” I want to get it back to my gaming table and play with this newfound perspective.

 

#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

 

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.