A Grognard’s View of Root (@LederGames, 2018)

AS I SIT to write this post, the #1 Games Hotness on boardgamegeek is Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018). This Cole Wehrle (@colewehrle on Twitter) design is described by some as a combination of Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2005+) and COIN (the COIN-series from GMT Games). As an old wargaming Grognard (playing for 39 years now) this game seems to be right in my wheelhouse. Given it’s pedigree, I am frankly surprised that Root is so popular amongst non-wargamer’s. With Root, Cole Wehrle has done the boardgame hobby a great favor – he has created a “wargame” with broad appeal to general tabletop gaming audience.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Root represents the cutting edge of the “waros” movement. Waros are, according to BGG, “…games which can be described as a fusion of a Wargame and a Eurogame. Waro games thus include aspects of both types of games….” I fully believe that the reputation of Cole Wehrle and the buzz behind Root created expectations of the game.

One manifestation of this popularity can be seen by the forum activity on BGG. As I write this post, there are 605 threads on BGG for Root. Amazingly, 318 of these are in the last 30 days! Of the 605 total threads, 272 are tagged as Rules with around 150 of those in the last 30 days again. I have no scientific basis, but it generally appears to me that, compared to other games, that this is an extraordinary number of threads. Now, understand that I really like Root. I subscribe to the Root feed on BGG. For the last month I have been getting all these threads dumped to my BGG profile. This led to the following Twitter exchange with Tom and Mary Russell of Hollandspiele Games:

In a later response, Joe (@CardboardTON618) righty points that people learn at different rates and goes on to say, “Also, I get the impression that a good percentage (although not the heaviest in the world) haven’t played a game of this weight.” I think Joe is onto something here, but contend it’s not the weight, but the fact Root is a waros game.

As a cutting-edge crossover game, Root is plowing new ground in the hobby. In this case, it is a wargame with strong eurogamer appeal. In some ways, it is similar to Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Norther Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) which is – at heart – more a eurogame with wargamer appeal. In the case of Supply Lines, about 2/3 of the threads on BGG are rules-related. The lesson I hope designers and publishers see is that Waros require tight rules writing – and lots of patience. I believe this is because of the diversity of the audience. Tight writing should avoid much of the rules confusion, but patience is still required to listen to and answer the slew of questions from players who maybe have never played a Waros before.

Players who read – and play – the rules will find Root an extraordinary game. It is a wonderful design and a shining example of what a Waros can be. Just don’t read too much into the rules!

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Courtesy BGG

 

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What You See is What You Get and More – or – Why I Love the Modern Wargame Renaissance

I HAVE BEEN A GROGNARD since 1979. I started out by playing board wargames and still play board wargames today. I have seen the height of wargame companies like SPI and Avalon Hill as well as the darkest wargaming days in the 1990’s caused in part by The Great Magic: The Gathering Extinction Event. These days, I think wargaming is in a renaissance period. Although there are quantitatively many wargames being published, the part that excites me the most is the quality of those games. Today you can still find a “classic” hex & counter wargame with a CRT it but is the innovative designs with modern presentation and gameplay that really grab my attention.

Harold Buchanan, designer of Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (amongst other games) has a really neat podcast called Harold on Games hosted off his website conflictsimulations.com. Episode 10 is an interview with designer Uwe Eickert, Principal at Academy Games. Uwe (pronounced “oova”) has a lot to say in the interview and listening to the whole podcast is well worth your time. For this post, I want to focus on his thoughts regarding presentation and probability in wargames.

Uwe believes (I’m paraphrasing here) that a major reason modern wargame designs are exciting is because they are incorporating many of the best practices in game presentation and streamlined play.  Although he didn’t mention it in the interview, Academy Games also uses the Warcholak Guide, named after editor and developer Nicholas Warcholak, which states:

Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

In the interview, I keyed in on Uwe’s comments regarding charts and tables in wargames. He advocates for more modern design elements and especially a need to incorporate “the math” into different die rolls instead of endless modifiers and tables. This approach preserves the “probabilities” (and realism) of a wargame but also makes it fun! I absolutely buy into Uwe’s approach, which is also why I have bought many Academy Games designs to grace my gaming collection.

Listening to the interview with Uwe, I also discovered a real gem of information. Academy Games has a Kickstarter campaign for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon that is nearing delivery. This game, based on the Saint’s Row video game universe, is a “story-driven 3D tactical boardgame.”

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Agents of Mayhem (Courtesy Academy Games)

The part not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb but stated by Uwe in his interview is that Agents of Mayhem is based on their “Falujah game” for the US Marine Corps. Looking at Agents with this thought in mind it makes perfect sense! More pertinent to this post, Agents of Mayhem shows the extreme implementation of modern gaming presentation and gameplay mechanics. In wargame terms, Agents of Mayhem is a skirmish game. This skirmish game features a destructible 3D terrain board. Each soldier or squad has a tableau that in a graphically intuitive manner shows capabilities and available actions. Combat is resolved using special die rolls with few modifiers that capture the essence of combat in a speedy, easy to understand (i.e. highly playable) manner.

I really am enjoying the modern wargaming renaissance. As much as I am a classic hex & counter gamer, the newer designs are really exciting and I look forward to more!

Featured image – Conflict of Heroes – Guadalcanal, 1942 (Academy Games, 2016)

#Wargame #Retroplay – Beachhead (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

My not-so-lazy Sunday was capped off by a solo play attempt of Beachhead: A Game of Island Invasions in the South Pacific 1942-1944 from Yaquinto Publishing in 1980. Beachhead came packaged in what Yaquinto called their “Album Game'” format; the game “box” was basically a dual LP record cover. Very thin – so thin you couldn’t store the counters in the sleeves of the “box” without warping the board! Beachhead was designed by Michael  S. Matheny with a gorgeous cover by Roger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter). As I replayed this game I discovered it is not the game I remember; in some ways it is better, in other ways not.

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Small footprint – a 3’x3′ table will do!

As I reread the rules before play, several items jumped out at me. The first concerns serious gaming. Production of Beachhead was led by J. Stephen Peek, formerly of Battleline and obviously a serious gamer. So serious he didn’t call Beachhead a wargame but a “simulation”:

 

002 – BEACHHEAD As a Simulation

BEACHHEAD is a small unit level simulation of combat on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

I pulled Beachhead out because I wanted to play a solitaire game. However, I quickly discovered that there is actually a fairly large degree of hidden information making this game not-so-solo-friendly.

4. All Japanese units are placed on the game board and are turned upside down. (102 PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME-D-4)

2. Flip over all units that will move this Turn. (202 Basic Game Sequence of Play, STEP B.2.)

4. Return the moved units to the Face up [sic] position. (SoP, STEP C.4)

The next rule that was different than I remember is Sighting. The mapboard has many jungle hexes so as I read the rules I expected to see a rule about jungle blocking line of sight. Instead, I got this:

3. Hexes containing trees do not individually block the line of sight. Though the trees may be up to 25-40 feet in height, there are very few of them in each hex and so so not present a problem in sighting. They will present obstacles to combat. However, if the line of sight passes through three Tree hexes the line of sight is blocked. (205 SIGHTING-B-1-3)

This “terrain as combat obstacles” theme is also applied to buildings:

4. Hexes containing buildings do not block line of sight. There are very few buildings per hex and so do not present a problem for sighting. They will still present obstacles to combat. (205-B-4)

I did remember what made Japanese machine guns so deadly – Fire Lanes:

  1. Only Japanese Machine Gun, Infiltration Machine Guns, and Emplacement units have a ‘Fire Lane’ and are called Fire Lane units.
  2. The base of the Fire Lane is the numbered edge of the playing piece.
  3. The Fire Lane extends ten hexes through the hexside to which the numbered edge of the playing piece is facing.
  4. ….
  5. ….
  6. Any American unit that attempts to cross this ten hex line is immediately fired on by the Fire Lane unit. (This means that the American player will be attacked during the movement portion of his Movement Phase…. (205-F)

Another rule I missed many years ago is Aircraft Spotters (207 COMBAT-C). This rule allows one to use Airstrike units as spotters. A simple way to give the American player a complex choice; bombard or spot?

One rule I did remember and still enjoy is how Preliminary Bombardment is implemented in the game. This is another challenging choice; delay the arrival of landing craft to bombard and risk running out of time or land against more defenders? While rereading the rules, I discovered a little wrinkle that I had missed years before and it comes from the fact the Japanese player’s units are face down (hidden) from the American player:

4. In a normal Firing procedure the Firing player consults the Combat Results Table to determine the effects of fire. In Preliminary Bombardment the Japanese player consuls the Combat Results Table. The American player still rolls the dice, but is not allowed to know the odds column being used. (207 COMBATJ. Preliminary Bombardment)

+VL5G3uHRRuvZp8VK9UhrAVictory Conditions (210 VICTORY CONDITIONS) are based on points differential. I really like the flavor text. It ties neatly back to the introduction where there is an emphasis placed on YOU. As the introduction states, “You are, in fact, on the BEACHHEAD.”

In the OPTIONAL RULES there are several items of “chrome” that I remember and really like such as:

  • Randomly rolling to see what size naval guns are bombarding (303 BOMBARDMENT TYPE)
  • Randomly determining what payload airstrike have (304 AIRSTRIKES)
  • The Duke arrives as SGT. Stryker! (308 SGT. STRYKER)

Near the end of the rules in the HINTS ON PLAY there is a section on GAME ABSTRACTIONS. It directly addresses concerns over the game’s realism. It is interesting to read the designer’s perspective that Beachhead is essentially a game of points with units representing those points. It is a useful perspective that conflict simulations/wargames sometime forget.

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They knew…all the way back in 1980

Given the hidden information needed to play, my solo Beachhead game sort fizzled out. These days, this game is ripe for an implementation using blocks instead of face down counters.

More importantly, the rules of Beachhead, in a mere 16 pages, show a great degree of design elegance and certainly capture – and communicate – the theme of the game. The game is a great reminder that good things sometime do arrive in small packages. For some reason, this game, with its mechanical elegance and smaller footprint reminds me of many Hollandspiele games. That’s a good thing because it means there is at least one publisher is delivering elegant, smaller games to this very niche hobby market.

Now, to get the RockyMountainNavy Boys to play….

 

 

History Supplied in Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (Hollandspiele, 2018)

In wargames, seeing history repeat itself is seen by many as a mark of good game design.  To many gamers, being able to recreate the historical result is often expected. To me, a mark of a good game is not only when it has the ability to recreate the historical result, but to offer some insight into why it happened. Such a case was well-illustrated in a recent wargame I played.

In the history of the American revolution we are taught that the war ends with he surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. True to history, my play of Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy by designer Tom Russell (Hollandspiele, 2018) ended in nearly the same way.

Awesome sauce. Supply Lines – The Southern Strategy plays out close to reality. Nothing to see, nothing to learn, right?

Wrong.

At game start, the Crown player begins in Savannah, the extreme other end of the Southern Colonies from Yorktown. The Patriot player has only a small army at Charleston. In order to win, the Crown player must either control 10x Cities or Forts or move the Political Will Track to the far right. The Crown player moves Political Will through being victorious in battle. The Patriot player wins by either forcing the Surrender of the Crown Leader (instant Victory) or moving the Political Will Track to the far left. Similar to the Crown player, the patriot player moves Political Will by victory in battle and the passage of time; as more years pass Political Will decreases reflecting Crown fatigue with the campaign.

The victory conditions immediately supply the time pressure and in many ways drive strategy. The Crown must fight battles and win; the Patriot either focuses on the Crown Leader or avoids defeat and bides their time.

The Crown players advantage is that they have Transport (9.3) or naval movement available. This strategic movement ability can be used to outflank the Patriot player.For the Patriot player, the ability of a defender to Refuse Battle (10.0) is crucial. The Patriot player also has the ability to Skirmish (9.5); that is, battle but not take territory. Useful for eliminating Loyalists or moving away small Crown armies.

Layered onto this military confrontation is a irregular war. Militia and Loyalist units are also available to the players. Arranged according colony, these units can supplement the player armies. Available actions include:

  • Recruit – Exchange 2 Militia/Loyalist for 1x Army
  • Forage – Use to gain 1x Food Supply cube in the colony
  • Raid (Militia Only) – Removes Crown units or supply from the board
  • Hold (Loyalist Only) – Occupy a place to help move Supplies (see rule 5.3 “adjacency” – an easily overlooked yet vital rule) but are vulnerable to Raids.

In my campaign, the Crown player started out by taking the many forts in the southern part of the map. The thought was to take the Forts then let Loyalists hold them. This didn’t work out because the Georgia Loyalists didn’t materialize (units must be drawn from a pool and made available) in a timely manner. As a result, too many Crown troops were stranded in Forts with not enough Food available to move quickly. Sensing the time pressure, a (now reduced) Crown expedition was launched to Yorktown using Transport. It had to go all the way north because the Patriot player had built a supply line along the coast and controlled all the other landing points. The overland route would have to go through all those Forts meaning Food must be supplied from Savannah – a slow process given only 1x Food cube a turn is generated in Cities. At this point the Patriot Fleet showed up and forced the Crown Fleet to withdraw after a Sea Battle. Using a better supply line, the Patriot army struck west from Norfolk and looped around to Richmond getting a single Army into the second area around Yorktown and forcing a Siege. Twice the Crown Fleet returned, and twice it was defeated to keep the siege in place.

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The Battle of the Capes and The Battle of Yorktown

In the photo above and beneath the Siege marker is a Crown Army with Leader. In Norfolk is the Patriot Leader with a sizable army. Offshore, the Patriot and Crown Fleets are ready to fight their second Sea Battle. Much like history, the Crown fleet is defeated. Not quite in keeping with history, rather than waiting out the siege and risking the Crown Fleet returning a third time and possibly lifting the siege, the Patriot Leader led his army against Yorktown and forced the surrender of the Crown Leader for automatic victory.

So my campaign gave me the historical result, but in doing so did so much more by delivering insight into why forces moved where they did. I don’t think designer Tom Russell is a deep historian (not a criticism) but I do think he identified key factors of the campaign and brought them into this game. I am highly impressed with the amount of history Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy gives to players using an uncomplicated set of game mechanics. By focusing on supply, a different view of the campaign is taught and made clear.

I wonder what other campaigns this supply line focus could help teach. Maybe Patton’s dash across Europe after D-Day? Hmmm….Tom Russell, you got any other ideas?

Featured image courtesy Hollandspiele.

#FirstImpressions – Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (@hollandspiele, 2018)

In 2017 I discovered a new wargame; a game that changed my perception of what a wargame could be. That title was Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele Games. I really like the game and it challenged me to reconsider the history of the American Revolution by thinking about logistics instead of only battles.

Designer Tom Russell has followed up on The Northern Theater with a new title, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy. Tom could of taken the easy way out and simply designed a “new” game using the same great mechanics in a different geographic area. Thankfully, and best for us gamers, he found a way to take an already awesome game and make it even better!

As Mr. Russell states in the Introduction:

The Southern Strategy shares many concepts and mechanisms with The Northern Theater: both games are about generating, storing, moving, capturing, protecting, and utilizing supply in order to achieve your military objectives. However, this is a standalone game, not an expansion, and folks who have played The Northern Theater should read these rules carefully before playing The Southern Strategy.

The Southern Strategy introduces an element of irregular warfare between loyalist collaborators to the Crown and bands of patriot Militia fighters. Again, in the words of Mr. Russell:

In The Southern Strategy, there are really two interrelated conflicts running in parallel: a partisan conflict fought by locals within a colony, and a more traditional military conflict fought between armies that need supplies to march and to give battle. The presence of an army within a territory strengthens the partisans, while the dominance of the partisans within a colony affects the movement and creation of supplies. (Introduction)

Gameplay

To players of The Northern Theater, the Extended Sequence of Play will superficially look familiar. Each turn, the players progress though a Supply Phase, an Initiative Phase, the Impulse Phase, and the Turn End Phase. The major difference in game mechanics is found within the Impulse Phase which now has two Impulses; a Limited Impulse (Militia/Loyalist activation only) and a Full Impulse with Militia/Loyalist, Army, or Navy activations.

The Limited Impulse (easily thought of as the “Partisan Impulse”) is where Militia or Loyalist partisans make a difference. Players can use these units to strengthen an Army, gather supplies, Raid an area (Militia only), or Hold an area (Loyalist only). Wise use of partisans during Limited Impulses will set Armies up for success, or defeat.

In addition to partisans, navies also make an appearance in The Southern Strategy. Abstracted into a single counter for each side as well as a modifier based on Political Will, the Royal or French Navy can help move supplies or armies, or prevent the same.

Another simple change to the game is Sieges. Under certain conditions, armies are besieged in an area. Once again, supply becomes a key factor in determining how long the besieged can hold out until they either surrender or the siege is lifted.

Theme

I must admit I am very taken with how well the game mechanics bring out the theme of the game. The partisan factor and the role of navies makes The Southern Strategy a much different beast than The Northern Theater. There are lessons learned that are applicable to both games but each is different enough and nuanced that each demands a great deal of different planning and strategy. This is ultimately why I like these games so much; both are simple in mechanics (being fairly light on rules) yet demand complex thinking and planning to be successful. As I put it, another Simply Complex game from Hollandspiele!

Components

0_1024x1024Hollandspiele has a unique production model that I characterize as “professional print-n-play.” This is a bit unfair as the components are far from home-made and quite good. That said, I do have a few thoughts on the various parts:

  • Box – I like the simple artwork. The box art is a wrap-around sticker that did have a few air bubbles along the edges, but nothing that a quick thumb-press could not work out. Opening the box releases a distinctive smell, or as I call it, “A whiff of Hollandspiele.” This smell is addressed in the Hollandspiele FAQ and doesn’t bother me; indeed, I feel it is part of the brand.
  • Rulebook – Sixteen pages that break down into about 12 pages of rules, three (3) pages of a sample game turn, and an Extended Sequence of Play on the back page that easily serves as a player aid. The rules are generally well-written although I have to admit that it took me several readings of 8.4 Hold (Loyalists Only) to really grasp how a Loyalist unit holding an area modifies the adjacency rules (5.3). Thank goodness the paragraph includes an example!
  • Counters – A half-sheet of counters (88) printed in muted pastels remind me a bit of the old SPI days of the 1970’s. I really like the thickness and they punch out cleanly. I do feel that a bit of an opportunity was missed with names. The lone Crown Leader counter is Cornwallis and, if captured, results in an immediate Patriot victory. It would of been nice to see Cornwallis named on the counter instead of the plain generic symbol. Similarly, the South Carolina Militia has a leader that represents “The Swamp Fox,” It even has its own rule (8.5 The Swamp Fox). Yet the counter is a head with the initials “SC” for South Carolina on it. Once again, naming the counter could of added just a bit more theme and furthered immersion into the both the game and theme.
  • Map – The map by Ania Ziolkowska is beautiful and very appropriate to the time period represented. It even has lines of latitude and longitude along the edges. One curiosity is the multiple gray dots that appear on the map. Each is unlabeled and I “think” they are towns but they are not used in any way nor do they directly relate to Cities, Forts, or Areas. Not a real negative but a bit of a distraction for me. Make sure you check out Ania’s YouTube page on how she makes maps for Hollandspiele.

Conclusion

As I have already stated, The Southern Strategy is another Simply Complex game that I am enjoying. Having played it once already, I can see that although I can easily comprehend the rules the strategy needed to win is yet to be discovered. I think I am going to enjoy trying various strategies and gambits with this game. I also look forward to playing this game in July as part of my “Month of Independence Gaming.”

Featured and in-line images courtesy Hollandspiele Games.

#WargameWednesday – New Supply of Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Southern Strategy (@hollandspiele, 2018)

Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Northern Theater 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2016) is a favorite game of mine. I mean, who knew that logistics could be so interesting? Well, Tom Russell is back at it with the Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Southern Strategy. Suffice it to say this is an auto-buy for me. Check out these videos and decide for yourself!

Militia and Loyalist Units

Sieges

2017 Gaming Retrospective

Well, its that time of the year for the obligatory post addressing the question, “How much did I game in 2017?” This year I tried to keep better stats using BoardGameGeek. Here is my year:

fullsizeoutput_56bIf my math is correct, that is 124 plays of 59 different games. Actually, it’s only 57 different games because there are two expansions in there.

I have no real data to compare these numbers to because I admit I only sporadically logged game plays in 2016 and before. But there are a few trends I noticed myself.

Family Gaming: This was the year that the family started gaming together. Look at all the family games. From heavy games like Scythe to lighter fare in Kingdominothe game shelf is sagging a bit more this year.

Academy Games: Easily one of my favorite publishers today. In particular I love their Conflict of Heroessystem and their “lite” family wargames of in the Birth of America and Birth of Europe series.

Hollandspiele: Another small publisher. Small, innovative and interesting games have rekindled my love of wargames.

GMT Games: A powerhouse publisher, this year I explored titles beyond their niche wargames. Their COIN-series title Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection is a favorite.

All in all, 2017 was a good gaming year. Here’s to hoping 2018 continues the trend!

Happy New Year!