#Wargame Retroplay – Rockets Red Glare (Simulations Canada, 1981)

I HAVE BEEN PLAYING WARGAMES since 1979. In my early years, I really was more a tactical wargamer than playing operational or strategic-levels. I also was firmly rooted in  the World War II or Modern-eras with a healthy dose of science fiction games. So I am not sure when, or even how, I ended added Rockets Red Glare: An Operational & Strategic Study of the War of 1812 in North America to my collection. This Stephen Newberg design published by Simulations Canada in 1981 has sat on my gaming shelves for years unpunched and unplayed. This past week, while looking for a weekday evening game, I pulled this one off the shelf for no other particular reason and opened the rulebook.

My gawd…I have missed an incredible game.

Presentation

By today’s standards, the presentation of Rockets Red Glare is very underwhelming. It has a desktop publishing feel to it. The dark pink(?) rulebook is 12 pages (including cover) without page numbers. The rules are presented using the classic SPI rules structure (A / A1.0 / A1.1/ etc.). Although the page count is small, each page is a wall-o-text with few graphics. The baby-blueish map over a white background with tan or blue text is functional but won’t win any graphical awards. The map actually has three sections; the Strategic Map, the Operational Map, and various boxes and tables.

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This one is a boxed version…mine is just bagged (Courtesy BGG)

Playability

Rockets Red Glare is in many ways a classic hex & counter wargame. Two players, a very intricate Sequence of Play, cardboard chits, and dice rolling against a CRT (Combat Results Table). Rockets Red Glare is also two (nearly three) wargames in one.

Each turn represents one quarter of a year and starts with the first game using a Strategic Turn. Using a map of North America stretching from Boston to New Orleans, as well as the waters of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and off New England, the British and American players vie for dominance. Most importantly, the Strategic Turn features a Naval Phase for both players where the war at sea takes place. Although part of the Strategic Turn, these Naval Phases virtually count as a separate game unto themselves!

Following the Strategic Turn, play shifts to the second game in the Operational Turn which is played out on a map of the Great Lakes border area between the US and Canada. Here, in addition to the expected land combat, there can be naval operations on the Great Lakes.

Mechanics

Amazingly, playing the two levels of war in Rockets Red Glare is accomplished using a common set of counters and fairly unsophisticated rules. Three mechanics of the game jump out at me; the Naval Phase in the Strategic Turn, Land Unit movement, and Combat.

As a long-time naval wargamer, the war at sea has always interested me. Rockets Red Glare pits a small US Navy against the might of the Royal Navy. It portrays this war as a cat-n-mouse battle between individual US warships and Squadrons of the Royal Navy. The a US ship encounters a Royal Navy Squadron, a die roll is made against the squadron composition to determine what individual ships are actually met. This simple mechanic keeps the counter density low and adds a nice fog-of-war element to each battle. For instance, Squadron ‘E’ is rated as 3L, 3F, 1B. When encountered, the American player rolls a die against each category (Line, Frigate, Brig, or Troopship). If the die roll is equal to or less than the number, one of that class is encountered. Individual ships are picked from a set of face down counters meaning the actual ship may be the best, or the worst, or even a detached vessel (no encounter). Naval Combat uses the Strength Difference but each ship is rated A/B/C where A causes a column shift to the left (unfavorable) and C causes a shift to the right (favorable). A simple way to show a quality rating!

There is no movement factor on the Land Unit counters. In the Land Phase of the Strategic Turn, units instead have a number of movement points based the season. In the Operational Turn, each side has a maximum movement allowance based on the season. As easy as this is, it did bring up one of two gripes I have with the game.

As I already stated, in the Operational Turn, each side has a maximum movement allowance. As a unit (or sick of units) moves they draw down against this movement cap. The rules recommend using a piece of paper to keep track of MP expenditures for the turn. I created a simple player board track of 10 boxes using a 1x and 10x counter to cost down. Although the map is already full, I think a low-use map edge could of been set aside to support this important mechanic.

Land Combat uses a classic Combat Odds CRT. Like Naval Combat, Land Units are rated with A/B/C Class. As with Naval Combat, the Class provided a favorable or unfavorable column shift to the CRT. A very easy way to show troop quality. Additionally, on the Strategic Map, each hex has an Intrinsic Defense Strength. This mechanic again keeps the counter density low yet portrays the need to “battle” through certain areas.

The last mechanic I will discuss, and my second gripe with the game, is Victory Points and VP tracking. Rule D3.2X Victory Point Events is actually found on the map. There are nine events that generate victory points. Rule D3.1 Victory Points – General warns that, “Since the sums can be very high a calculator is useful….” THEY WEREN’T KIDDING. To determine the winner, the VP is reduced to ratio:

At the end of the scenario the player with the higher total compares his total with the lower total and produces a ratio. In all scenarios if the higher player has a victory point ratio of 1.5 to 1.0 or greater he is the winner of the game. If the ratio is less than 1.5 to 1.0 the game is considered a draw.

This has to be a mistake because, using the Rules as Written, the higher total will always win and there can be no draw. I think the intended rule may be a VP ratio equal to or greater than 1.5 is the winner and a ratio of 1.5 to 1.0 is a draw.

Historical Flavor

I am not heavy into 19th Century gaming outside of the American Civil War. The only other War of 1812 games I have is the lite wargame 1812: The Invasion of Canada from Academy Games and the unfortunately closely named Rocket’s Red Glare from Canadian Wargamer’s Group in 1994 which is more a set of miniatures rules. Rockets Red Glare does something that I have rarely experienced in a wargame; mix two levels of war (Strategic & Operational) as well as Land-Sea into a single functional gaming system. It certainly feels true to the themes of the war. The large Royal Navy against the small US frigates. The generally more experienced British operating at the end of supply against the numerous but less-experienced Americans. Indian allies for the British. It’s all here and can be experienced in a wargame of around 2 hours playing time.

Support

As an older game, there is not a lot of support available for this title. Compass Games published a new edition in 2013 as the issue game in Paper Wars 78 (Spring 2013) but it is out of stock. Even BGG has only errata for the second edition and nothing for the first.

Bottom Line

For wargamers this game is a relatively quick, easy to play, very insightful game of the War of 1812. The need to play the two levels of war and control both the land and sea campaigns makes this a very different game from many others. If for no other reason than to experience a game of this type, I recommend it to you.

For wargame designers, there is a lot to unpack here. I the last few months, I have heard the phrases “wargames are models” and “paper models” thrown around a lot. Rockets Red Glare is a paper model of the War of 1812 that successfully integrates Strategic and Operational levels of war as well as Land and Sea campaigns together. There is a lot that can be learned by today’s wargame designers from this Stephen Newberg classic.

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Retroplay Retrospective – Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

Air Force is a very old school-style wargame that has, for the most part, aged well. This week it was my Game of the Week. It is actually a very simple game that can mechanically be reduced to “Spot-Plot-Scoot-Shoot.” The game strikes a good balance between realism and playability – with a welcome emphasis on the playability. This week I have come to appreciate how awesome this game still is even after 40 years.

Spot – Maybe the only real negative. The rules only account for lack of spotting at the start of a scenario. Outside of a night scenario, spotting is almost automatic. Add in the lack of initiative or movement advantage for tailing and it’s hard to see value of the spotting game mechanic. But does it matter? This is one area that playability was obviously emphasized over realism.

Plot – A very old school mechanic that I know many “modern” gamers cringe at. Although there may be mechanisms that could achieve similar design effects, the truth is that plotting is fast and simple; it plain works. Among the greatest criticisms of the pre-plot mechanics in Air Force is the fact the rules do not have any initiative or tailing considerations. This can lead to situations where your opponent surprises you by going one way when you were expecting (plotted for) another. At first I was appalled by the lack of any sort of tailing rules, but after playing am not so sure this is a real negative. Given the limitations the flight model creates (see below) the ability to (generally) predict your opponents moves exist.

Scoot – I am coming to admire the simplicity of the flight model in Air Force the more I play. Fighter pilots talk about “energy management” in combat. In Air Force, your aircraft’s energy is a combination of speed and altitude. You lose speed for maneuvers or climbing and you gain speed through engine power or diving. The speed of the aircraft is also important for maneuverability. Staying at Maneuver Speed makes for the most cost-efficient maneuvers. Going faster (Level Speed) or diving (Dive Speed) means maneuvers cost more.

Altitude becomes a very precious commodity in Air Force as it can be traded for speed (energy) and more maneuvers. In several of my play-thrus this week, I found myself clawing for an altitude advantage as it allows you to dive into the target and maybe gain an extra maneuver to line-up the shot. If you are beneath the target your options are much more limited unless you have powerful engines.

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Battleline ADC (Courtesy BGG.com)

The flight model defines how aircraft move, and a worthy opponent will pay attention to not only where the opponent is, but what altitude and at what Bank they are. These are key considerations for plotting and if one is paying attention it signals the limits of what the opponent can do. For example, an aircraft in a Right Bank is going to have hard time turning left! Using the FW-190A ADC above, if the aircraft starts in a Bank Right attitude at altitude 15.0 (15,000 feet), it will have to move 1 hex forward before it can Bank Left to Level attitude, then 1 hex again before it can Bank Left again to get to a Left Bank attitude for a left turn. Now it can turn left, but needs to move 3 hexes ahead before the turn happens. This maneuver needs a speed of 5, which is actually Level Speed which penalizes maneuvers, meaning each Bank needs 2 hexes and the turn 4 hexes (speed 8). The flight model actually limits the ability for an opponent to rapidly change direction in a single turn, making plotting against this aircraft more predictable – assuming one is paying attention!

Shoot – Combat is dead-simple…and resolved with a single d6. Modifiers move you across the table. Damage is simple.

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Fan-made plot sheet (Courtesy BGG.com)

Look-n-FeelAs I alluded to before, the look-n-feel of Air Force is very dated. The physical components are very plain and simple. The plot sheets are ergonomically horrible (too small) and the tables poorly laid out. I own the later Avalon Hill version of Air Force with its rainbow Aircraft Data Cards. It would be interesting to see Air Force redone today with modern graphics or player interfaces.

Over the past 40 years I have changed my view of wargames. I am constantly balancing my gaming interests between my simulationist and gamer sides. Air Force has been criticized as not being a realistic model of flight, but does that really matter? To me, it is “realistic enough” that I get a taste of what air combat is using a fun, playable flight model that considers a few key factors. The real bottom line is that the game is simple FUN; easy to set up, easy to teach, easy to play, and downright enjoyable!

#RPGThursday – 2017 #RPG Retrospective

I have said before that 2017 was the year of the wargame for me as I rediscovered by wargaming roots. But that is not to say I have forgotten the roleplaying game part of my gaming expereince. In 2017, I still managed to get some make a few RPG purchases and get in a few plays.

In March of this year, I listed out my Top 10 RPG games/systems. Looking back, my top 3 (Classic Traveller, Diaspora, and Cepheus Engine) have not changed. In 2017, of the over 50 game products I purchased, about 30% are RPG-related. I definitely focused my RPG purchases on Cepheus Engine with around 90% of the products in that one system.

Gypsy Knights Games continues to support their awesome The Clement Sector setting. In addition to their great Wendy’s Naval-series which lays out the fleet of various subsectors, this year also focused on pirates and uplifts or alterants. All three introduce true grey-areas into the setting morality and can be used to play anything from a campy to dark setting. I like this; GKG has given me many tools to make the setting I want.

Stellagama Publishing also caught my attention with the These Stars Are Ours! setting. I really enjoyed SOLO for Cepheus Engine by Zozer Games.  Zozer Games’ Orbital setting remains my favorite, probably because it fits right into and feels like it can support The Expanse.

This year, I pledged to support the Cortex Prime Kickstarter campaign. I am not sure why. I like the Cortex Plus system (especially in Firefly) but I have turned towards smaller rules sets (like Cepheus Engine) and settings that are more controlled by me. This is why I passed on purchasing the new Genesys rules from Fantasy Flight Games.

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Courtesy DriveThruRPG

In early December, Zozer Games released their new rules/setting called Hostile for Cepheus Engine. This “Gritty Sci-Fi RPG” draws heavily from popular franchises like Alien or movies like Outland. The setting is right in my wheelhouse and it certainly deserves its own deeper dive in the near future (no pun intended).

To put in another way, in 2017 I found my own version of the Old School Renaissance. My “OSR” game in this case is Cepheus Engine. This year I turned my back on settings with voluminous new rules and a well defined IP-based setting like Star Trek Adventures.

I know my RPG tastes are not mainstream; I am not a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition fan nor have I dug deeper into the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. In 2017, as wargames and family boardgames grew in popularity in the RockyMountainNavy house, something else in my gaming world had to give. I have given up a lot of RPG experiences, but by keeping to a simple rules system with wonderful setting support I still find a way to keep my RPG gaming going.

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?

#RPGaDay August 11, 2017

When is a game “dead?” I guess the intent of this question is different than August 2 which asked “What is an RPG you would like to see published?” because it specifically asks about an RPG that was published but is just not popular now?

This sounds to me too much like a publisher’s question; a fishing expedition to get the RPG community during #RPGaDay 2017 to do their marketing research. I think the question is a red herring.

There are no ‘dead’ RPGs. From a publisher’s perspective, there may be a long out-of-print RPG that the fan base still pines for. From the gamer’s perspective, there are RPGs that don’t get played as much, or maybe even forgotten.

As part of my RPG Retrospective I looked at many of my older games. A few will be “reborn” in campaigns this winter. A few will stay “dormant.” But none of them are “dead” – just lesser used.

#WargameWednesday Retroactive – Hammer’s Slammers (Mayfair Games Inc., 1984)

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Courtesy BGG.com

After looking to create a Hammer’s Slammers hover tank in #CepheusEngine RPG last week, I decided to pull out my “real” Hammer’s Slammers wargame. I kinda remember playing this one several times when it first came out but it never reached the same status in my mind as the Yaquinto Panzer-88-Armor-series that my friends and I played so much. Much to my surprise, this simple game actually packages great depth of gameplay.

Hammer’s Slammers is a true hex-n-counter game using small counters, a thick modular mapboard, and a 2d6 Combat Results Table (CRT). There are four forces provided; Hammer’s Slammers (blue), another Mercenary Force (red), and two Conventional Armies (green and tan). Interestingly, there is no scale designated although units look to be platoon/battery organizations and each hex multiple (?) kilometers.

Hammer’s Slammers is taken straight from the first book. Hover Tanks, Combat Cars, Infantry on hover scooters, and Hover Self-Propelled Artillery. The “Red” Mercenary Force is the same plus optional Large/Small guns (for indirect or direct fire), Howitzers (indirect fire only), or a Self-Propelled Calliope (for Counter Paratrooper or Counter Artillery Fires). Slammers and Mercenary units generally pack more firepower, have better protection, and come with superior speed. Conventional Forces use Tracked Tanks, Armored Cars, Armored Personnel Carriers, Large/Small Guns, Howitzers, Tracked Self-Propelled Artillery, Wheeled Self-Propelled Calliopes, and towed Calliopes. This mix of units lets one recreate many of the battles found in the books where the technologically superior but numerically inferior Slammers fought against other mercenary or conventional units.

The main rulebook is 16 pages long, but the first nine are reprints of the “Interludes” found in the original Hammer’s Slammers book. This leaves seven pages of two-column text and tables for the rules. Every turn each player sequentially resolves their action in the order of Rally (Moving Player) – Paradrop & Counter Paradrop FireMove (Moving Player) – Ranged Combat (All Players – Indirect Artillery & Counter Artillery Fire – Direct Fire) – Close Assaults (All Players). Once all players have gone the next turn begins.

Units that are Disrupted in Combat can Rally. For this each force has a Morale Number that must be rolled above on 2d6. Many scenarios have a variable Morale Number based on increasing losses – the more units lost the harder it becomes to rally a unit. A simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of play but adds a nice layer of realism.

I don’t remember any paradrop operations in the original stories so Paradrop & Counter Paradrop Fire seems a bit out of place to me. It does allow a nice way to enter units onto the map quickly.

Movement is again very traditional with each hex having a movement cost to enter. Hover and Conventional units have separate movement charts reflecting the different mobility of hover versus tracked/wheeled. There is not much difference but there is enough to be evocative of the setting.

Ranged Combat is where the differences between forces really stands out beginning with Indirect Fire & Counter Artillery Fire. Indirect Fire attacks the defense factor of the hex, not the units. This makes indirect fire very dangerous because the 8-defense factor Hover Tank in the Clear hex actually has a defense factor of 2 against artillery. To offset this vulnerability, Hover Tanks and Calliopes have the Counter Artillery Fire (CAF) capability which allows each unit to cancel a single artillery barrage in range. Of course, this comes at a cost; units firing CAF cannot fire in the Direct Fire phase.

Direct Fire is very simple; compare Attack Factor to Defense Factor, convert to odds, roll on CRT. Stacked units can combine fire and attack other stacks or individual units. Firing out to twice your range cuts the Attack Factor in half. Terrain Modifiers add to the Defense Factor. Combat results are No Effect, Disrupted (no indirect or direct fire, half movement), Defender Eliminated, or Defender Eliminated with Rubble (adds to movement and defense). There is an optional rule for Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) which allows Mercenary and Slammer Hover Tanks to “jam” conventional units which means the target cannot combine their attack nor spot for an indirect fire unit.

Close Assault takes place when units are in the same hex. All undisrupted units get a positive column shift and infantry fights with doubled Attack Factors. Units in Close Assault cannot leave the hex until all enemy units are eliminated.

There are other rules for Fortresses and Gas Attacks but generally that is it. You can play one of the 14 scenarios or Design Your Own using the point-buy system provided.

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Slammers in Action

I played two scenarios. “Badger Hunt” is the introductory scenario that uses Conventional Forces only. I also played “Slammers” which is a three-way brawl with the Slammers squaring off against the Green Army (lots of long-range artillery and infantry with few mechanized) and the Tan Army (Mechanized and supported by a few Small Guns – no infantry). Each player has six turns to get as many points as possible (points are scored using the Design Your Own Scenario values). I used the Slammers with ECM to get as much high-tech effect as possible.

Hammer’s Slammers plays out much differently than I remember. I kinda remember the CPF and CAF rules and I don’t think I ever actually played with the ECM rules. I sorta remember the game as being very vanilla; simple and bland.

This time it was a much deeper experience. The low rules overhead meant the game could be played with minimal relearning. The differences in forces is just enough that there is no one-size-fits-all approach or best strategy. In the “Slammers” scenario, the Slammers start in the center and must determine how to deal with each force. I painfully learned that the Hover Tanks greatest asset is not its firepower but its CAF capability. The Hover Tanks ended up providing cover for the Combat Cars until they got close enough to dash in and deal with the guns. Of course, nipping at the flanks or blocking the direct route was that pesky tracked armor. This forced a decision; drop the CAF for Direct Fire or cover the force and let the lesser combat cars try to deal with the threat? For the Green or Tan Conventional Armies the key is combined arms and interlocking fields of fire. Artillery is in many ways still the King of the Battle.

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Courtesy BGG.com

As much as Mayfair’s Hammer’s Slammers game captures the flavor the of books, it best replicates battlefield force-on-force situations. There is one scenario, “Hangman,” where a Mercenary force takes on Militia and Buses. It’s a one-sided bloodbath. The game has no real ability to present an asymmetric combat situation. I have to admit the best game I have in my collection for that is actually Tomorrow’s War: Science Fiction Wargaming Rules (Ambush Alley Games/Osprey Publishing 2011). This is a skirmish game played at a much more granular scale than Hammer’s Slammers. In many ways, Tomorrow’s War is a direct competitor to my other HS game, The Hammer’s Slammers Handbook (Pireme Publishing Ltd, 2004) which is a set of miniatures skirmish rules published in the UK which still has its own website.

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Courtesy BGG.com

I also think back to the Hammer’s Slammers sourcebook from Mongoose Publishing for their Mongoose Traveller (1st Edition) RPG. As I have written before that product was a real disaster.

So when I look at the Mayfair Hammer’s Slammers game today I actually see a real gem. The game is a close to an introductory-level game in terms of rules, but the variable forces and modular map make for endless play variations. As simple as the rules are, the designer has actually captured a good deal of the flavor of combat in the Hammerverse. The game also has a very small footprint; the “Slammers” scenario map was playable in an area literally 18’x24″. A 3’x3′ table is more than sufficient for even the largest scenarios!

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MUST PLAY MORE!

 

 

#WargameWednesday Retrospective – Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977 Second Edition)

pic188896_mdVictory in the Pacific (VITP) is one of the oldest games in my collection. Originally published in 1977, it won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Strategic Game that year. My copy is a Second Edition with a 1988 Avalon Hill Game Company catalog inside. For many years the game sat on my shelf partially because – as itself states – it is an Introductory-level wargame and my personal tastes run to other difficulty levels. However, with the RMN boys now getting into more wargaming, I pulled VITP out to see if it would make a good game for them. What I discovered is that VITP is a “diamond in the rough.” The game itself (mechanics and gameplay) are wonderful, but the game suffers from early wargame publishing issues that present challenges.

1.0 Rules

pic669500_md1.01 The rulebook for VITP is short but difficult to understand. It is laid out in the old SPI style (numbered paragraphs) that should make it easy to cross reference. However, the arrangement of the rules is not intuitively easy to follow; finding even basic game concepts like the Sequence of Play or the Combat Round Action Sequence [my term] is very difficult. It’s all there, but buried within walls of text with little real cross-reference or even logical order. I do not want to turn this game over to the RMN boys “as-is” because the rules will likely create confusion. Even if I was to introduce the game to them, I eventually will need to let them go it alone; the rules as written are not very supportive of that course of action.

Mapboard

pic669499_mdThe mapboard is functional. The colors are very 1970’s – not totally hideous but abstract in a classic Monopoly sort of way. The mapboard is in some ways too big; there is some real estate around the edges that could possibly be used for port holding boxes (like Yokosuka or Truk or Ceylon or Pearl Harbor). This would certainly help with stacking counters on the map!

Counters

pic175059_mdSpeaking of counters, they are nice and big. This makes them easy to stack or sort. The counters themselves are a great example of functional simplicity with easy-to-read factors. The color palate is a bit bland, but once again it was the 1970’s!

Game Mechanics

Reinforcements – Movement – Combat – Control. Speed Rolls can be a bit confusing because the Speed Factor on the counter is not a “speed” in terms of areas moved but number that must be rolled under to move an additional area. Combat resolution is from the school of “Yahtzee combat”; roll a number of d6 equal to your Attack Factor and try to get 6’s (or 5-6 if the firing unit has an Attack Bonus). A 5 Disables, a 6 is a Hit with another d6 rolled for the amount of Damage. When Damage exceeds the Armor Factor (defense rating) a ship is Sunk (removed from the game) or an air unit/amphib destroyed (to return two turns later). Doesn’t really get much simpler.

Now that I look at it, I see that movement is “roll low” but combat is “roll high.” Another rules area of potential confusion?

Gameplay

Although VITP is an Introductory-level game, I was pleasantly surprised (and delighted) with the “historical feel” of the game. At the strategic level, the Japanese start out dominating in force but must husband ships for the long conflict. This is neatly in contrast to the Allies who over the course of several turns build up huge forces. Thus, the Allies will likely favor a longer view of battle (i.e. the Allies must be patient and not rush for a quick victory). This in turn drives a strategy that is very historical where the Japanese player pushes out to establish a defensive perimeter and then tries to attrite the Allied player as they start the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. Having the US move second in each phase also is a nice nod to the historical intelligence advantage the US possessed.

At the operational level, the choice of Patroller or Raider makes for an interesting dynamic. Patrollers move first and can control an area at the end of the turn. Raiders move later in the turn (after Patrollers have been set) but cannot control an area. Like at the strategic level, having the Allies move second is a nice nod to the operational advantage intelligence gave Allied commanders.

At the tactical level the choice of Day (air strikes) or Night (surface gunnery) actions is evocative of the era. Even the use of a simple Attack Bonus creates the feel more capable/better trained/elite forces.

All that said, it is indicative of just how “game changing” the Japanese battle plan for the opening of the war was that it requires special rules to handle. The Turn 1 Pearl Harbor Air Raid and Indonesia rules actually “break” the game to force a more historical opening. I look forward to playing where the Japanese forego the Pearl Harbor Air Raid and see how that war develops.

Metagaming

pic207078_mdIf I had to pick a weakness of the game, I would point to the Order of Appearance charts. Not that they are ahistorical, but I wonder if they give too much information to the players. The Japanese player can easily see that the forces they start with are pretty much going to be it for the war, whereas the Allied player will see his forces grow turn after turn. This potentially creates a metagame situation for the players; does knowing what reinforcements are coming unduly influence player decisions? I understand that this is addressed by the Japanese player bidding Points of Control at the beginning of the game, but this is a mechanic to balance between players and in effect recognizes that the game (like the historical situation?) is not balanced. In effect, VITP is “play with what you get” not necessarily “what you need.” Does this make it a failed game? No, but it explains other strategic Pacific War games that introduce resources and variable reinforcements. It certainly gives me a new appreciation of the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic used in games like Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005) which has, to borrow an RPG term, more player agency (and complexity).

Conclusion

Even given its warts, VITP is a good introductory-level wargame. Like I did for GDW’s Mayday game before, I come back to my “simply complex” characterization; the game is simple in mechanics but complex in the depth of gameplay. That said, on the scale of game vs. simulation VITP certainly falls on the game side of the spectrum. That doesn’t make it bad, but highlights to me how I need to frame any “history lesson” that my boys may derive from play. I will eventually hand VITP over to the boys, but not before I search grognard.com or ConSimWorld for some player aids to help “smooth the edges” of this great game.

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All images courtesy BoardGameGeek

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Classic Traveller (1979)

In late 1979, I found a small store in the upper levels of the old Southglenn Mall in south Denver. Fascination Corner was a store unlike any I had seen before; it had games of war! For Christmas that year, I convinced my parents to get me Panzer by Yaquinto Games.

Not long after, I was browsing through the store and came across a small black box with a simple message:

This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone..turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is the Free Trade Beowulf…Mayday…

Thus began my life-long passion for Traveller and science-fiction role-playing games.

What I Remember at the TimeTraveller instantly became THE GAME for my group of friends. We didn’t understand design intent behind task resolution or core mechanics and we barely used the setting. What we did do was HAVE FUN. Our favorite scenario was a simple, straight-up bar brawl.

What I Think of It Today – Over the years, I always found myself coming back to (Classic) Traveller because so many parts of the game worked together. The system allows for complete world-building; characters, equipment, ships, worlds, combat from tactical to strategic. It is very wargaming-centric. Today I see the core mechanic as very simplistic, but appealing. Judging from the success of Mongoose Traveller and now the Cepheus Engine (2d6 SciFi) it apparently is not only popular with me. I also have branched out to using the rules in other settings and not automatically the default Third Imperium.

(Classic) Traveller also became a touchstone of my RPG experience. Given it was my first RPG, all others are inevitably compared to it. For the longest time I thought that character generation in ALL RPGs was done in a career system! I also thought a “real” RPG doesn’t need funny dice – any old set of 2d6 will do!

Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5)

  • System Crunch = 2  (Classic Traveller didn’t really have a formal Task Resolution system, or Core Mechanic – the real crunch was in the design segments making ships or vehicles or creatures)
  • Simulationist = 3.5 (There are many ways to DIE in this game)
  • Narrativism = 1 (No Hero Points or Bennies or Fate Points or whatever; GM controls all)