Deep Strategy, Simple Game in 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War (@AcademyGames, 2017)

This week’s RockyMountainNavy Game Night featured 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War from Academy Games. What I really love about this game, and the entire Birth of America-series, is that there are deep strategic decisions played out in a very mechanically simple, yet thematically appropriate game.

The publisher’s blurb for 1754 goes like this:

‘1754 Conquest’ is an area control game that continues the award winning Birth of America Series. Players for each side work together in order to coordinate their strategies. To win, each side attempts to control Victory Spaces on the map that represent towns and forts. The militia players receive reinforcements from muster points while the French and English Regulars must ship their reinforcements from overseas. The game ends when the Treaty of Paris is signed and the side controlling the most cities wins the game.

We usually play the three-player variant with myself on one side against the RMN Boys together as a team. This week I asked to mix things up a bit and to be part of the team and not play against both Boys. So when we sat down around the table it was the Middle RMN Boy and myself as the British Regulars and Colonials against the Youngest RMN Boy taking the French Regulars and Canadians. Before the game, the Middle RMN Boy and myself agreed to a “middle” strategy in which we pledged to focus on going thru Fort William Henry to Montreal. Supporting this strategy the British Colonials had Muster Markers in Oneida Carry and Philadelphia.

I played the Colonials in a very aggressive manner and pushed into Canada, seizing Fort Saint-Frederic and Fort de La Presentation early in the campaign. Further to the west, an opportunity arose to seize Fort Dusquesne  and I took it. In the east, around the French bastion at Louisbourg on Nova Scotia, all was static. As the French defense stiffened, they pulled their Muster Marker back to Montreal.

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Campaign Overview (base map courtesy nps.gov)

As the game entered the later turns, Youngest RMN used a special Event card to enter his French Regular reinforcements at a defended harbor. His target was the Chesapeake Bay, which he successfully assaulted, followed by seizing Williamsburg and Alexandria. But his assault in the British rear was too late as both British Treaty of Paris cards were played, ending the game after the current turn. A desperate French attack that saw Fort William Henry fall to the French was offset by the Colonials leading a massive Indian raid through Fort Niagara, Fort Toronto, and into Ottawa with all becoming British controlled. The end result was a major British victory.

This was the longest game of 1754 we have played lasting into the seventh turn of eight possible. Still, total play time was a relatively quick – and very enjoyable – 100 minutes.

Our game this weekend showed the value of choosing a strategy and committing to it, even when major distractions abound. 1754 Conquest, like all of the Birth of America-series, are great teaching games and highly suitable to family game nights. Not only does one learn the geography, but the game mechanics help players explore strategic choices that are very historically thematic.

Featured image courtesy Academy Games.

 

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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.

Let’s hear it for the little guys – or – An appreciation from Convoy and Deadly Waters (Clash of Arms Games, 2009)

My Game of the Week was Convoy and Deadly Waters: The Gibraltar Run 1941-1942 (Convoy – Module Number 1). Convoy is a set of “Fast play tactical rules for the Battle of the Atlantic” based on the Command at Sea portion of the Admiralty Trilogy of games. Deadly Waters is a campaign generator to accompany Convoy. A major reason I enjoy this game collection is that it makes for a great solo campaign game. I was also inspired by my recent discovery of @WestApproaches on Twitter.

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Courtesy @WestApproaches

Setting the Stage

Using the tables provided, I determined that my game was taking place in October-December 1941. I was charged with escorting a slow convoy of 21 ships from Freetown to the UK. My escort group was decent with 2x PG, a single SRE DD, 3x PGE, an ASW trawler and an Aux AA ship. Additionally, I had the benefit of a local escort group (2x AM, 2x ASW trawlers) through the midday of Day 2. Opposing this convoy were eight German U-Boats and 2x Italian submarines.

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Courtesy BGG

The Convoy Sails

After arranging my convoy and escorts, I set off. Each turn is an 8 hour block and for each one rolls against an Event Box. Hard to see in the attached image, I was following the brown route on the far left of the map from south to north.

The first Event Box (midday Day 1) started out with an HF/DF contact against an Italian Sub. Since I had the local escort group in company, I sent two ships out against the contact which surprised the submarine and sank it. Great start!

The first night was a bit difficult with two ships in the convoy colliding. Again taking advantage of the local escort I separated the ship and sent it along the way with an escort. It would eventually beach itself (1/2 VP to Axis players).

Day 2 started out with no contact in the morning, but a fire aboard a ship carrying explosives resulted in a spectacular fireball and lots of smoke that attracted another submarine. Initially located by HF/DF again, a strong response was able to sink this sub too. As the escort commander I was feeling good; two days, two submarines sunk.

The second night would prove to be a nightmare. Early in the night, another Italian submarine and a U-Boat attacked. The U-Boat was especially dangerous as it started out between the columns of the convoy. A valuable tanker was sunk and another damaged before the submarines could be chased away. Obviously skittish, a short time later Panic set through the convoy which gave another U-Boat a virtually free shot. Another merchant ship lost. Before the night was over, another U-Boat would get into the convoy and sink yet another merchant ship.

Day 3 was nerve-racking, as HF/DF showed that there was a U-Boat out there – somewhere – but without a good bearing no attack was possible. All the ships in the convoy were very nervous for the coming night…and rightly so. That night a German Wolf Pack of four U-Boats fell upon the convoy. Before the night was over, all the submarines would escape, and another two merchants were sunk outright.

Day 4 and night miraculous passed with no contacts. Day 5 brought good news with the Coastal Command sinking a German sub in the Bay of Biscay (removing one U-Boat from the German available forces). Day 6 saw a U-Boat attempt a submerged daytime attack but the torpedoes missed and the submarine was driven off. That night, two more submarines attacked, with another merchant ship lost (this one with explosives…more VP for the Germans).

Day 7 was highlighted by air attacks on the convoy. Though the AA ship was still in company, two German Do 217s gained surprise in the morning. Luckily, their bombing was horrible and though there were some near misses no ship was sunk. Later in the day several ships in the convoy were struggling and making heavy smoke. HF/DF revealed more U-Boats around, but the escort command declined to pursue this time. In the afternoon two FW 200s attacked; again no hits. That night, severe weather played havoc with the convoy and saw two ships previously damaged but not sunk develop severe flooding. Both were lost.

Day 8 dawned with good news of another submarine sunk in the Bay of Biscay. Another air attack in the afternoon was driven off with no damage or losses. The night passed quietly with no contact. The next morning, the convoy arrived.

Of the 21 ships that set sail, only eight arrived. The Axis lost four submarines. The result was an Axis Decisive Victory.

Post Script

Although designed for miniatures, I found in my solo game the using my vinyl wet marker map worked best. My plotting was a bit loose, but I was able to quickly lay out the merchants and escorts and then vector in the attacking submarines. It certainly kept the game moving along.

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Courtesy @WestApproaches

The game also reminded me of just how desperate a struggle the convoy war was. A a naval wargamer, I tend to focus on the ‘big boys;” battleships and carriers and the like. Convoy and Deadly Waters is a reminder that it was the little, often unheralded ships (boats?) that carried a large burden of keeping the shipping lanes open. As my campaign shows, it  was often thankless, demoralizing work and not always victorious.

 

 

 

 

“There is something wrong with our Hessians today….” The Battle of White Plains in Command and Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

A snowy day in the mid-Atlantic region on this President’s Day weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to pull out Command and Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017). I categorize this as one of my “lite” wargames that combines easy to understand rules with a thematic experience. In the case of Tricorne, it is the Retreat and Rally rules that make the difference:

Players, that are familiar with other Commands & Colors games, will soon note that unit combat losses in a Tricorne game are typically not as great as other games covered in the Commands & Colors series. This is a direct result of the linear tactic fighting style of the armies that fought during the American Revolution. Unit morale is the main thematic focus in a Tricorne battle as it was historically. Knowing that an entire unit, that has only taken minimal losses when forced to retreat, may actually break and rout from the battlefield, will definitely keep players on the edge of their command chairs during an entire battle. [commandandcolors.net]

The battle of the day was White Plains from 28 October 1776. The British are trying to turn the Continental right flank. I took the British, while Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy took the Continentals.

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Battle of White Plains setup (minus one Continental leader in upper right). Notice Continental Militia in left section. Easy pickings, right?

Understanding that the Continental Militia are the weak link, having less firepower and retreating more for every Flag result, I focused my attack on my left section. The plan was to roll up the Continental right and then push down Chatterson’s Hill. Historically, I was attempting to repeat history:

The British regiments attacked directly against the American positions while the Hessians attempted a flanking manuever against the American right flank. The British were forced back with heavy casualties but the Hessians took up a position beyond the American left flank, which was held by inexperienced New York and Massachusetts militiamen. The fight lasted only a few minutes before the militia fled. The fleeing militia exposed the flank of the Delaware troops. The appearance of the advancing Hessians threw the Delaware troops into confusion. [myrevolutionwar.com]

It almost worked for me, if it had not been for those d*mned Continental Militia!

As my Hessians pushed forward, they pushed back the Militia like I expected. But the Militia refused to Rout. To my great surprise, Middle RMN actually counterattacked with the weakened Militia and, to my greater surprise, Bayonet Charged with them! Caught off guard, the Hessians melted before the Continentals (ok, he got some great die rolls while mine…sucked).

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Continental Bayonet Charge decimates the Hessian Forces. Hessians lost an entire artillery battery in one die roll.

At this point I tried to bring my Elite Infantry Grenadiers into the fray. As much as they tried they just could not push the Continentals back. One leader in particular, Alexander McDougall, just did not give up. I even had a five-die attack against McDougall and a weakened infantry unit and – against all odds – whiffed completely.

After that, it was only a matter of time. Since I had concentrated on my left, I had failed to bring the center to engage and, once I tried to advance, faced the well-prepared Continental artillery. Already behind in Victory Banners, it was only a short matter of time before I lost completely.

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End game. McDougall (upper left) refuses to give ground. British middle takes artillery fire and routs away. Unlike history this is a victory for George Washington.

Total game time, set up to clean up, was only 90 minutes. I really enjoy Tricorne in that it can deliver a very intense game in a short period of time. The game also reminds players that expectations do not always meet reality. Tricorne will definately be getting more play with longer scenarios to come.

Happy Birthday George Washington!

Dragging it out – A Circus Maximus Session Report

Mrs. RockyMountainNavy usually has a student on Sunday afternoons, so the RMN Boys and myself are usualy exiled out of the house or to the basement. With all the rain this weekend we decided to stay in and play another session of Circus Maximus (Avalon Hill, 1980). Unlike our first game, we played with the Advanced Rules that really are nothing more than an expansion on the Basic Game that details what happens after a chariot flips. In the Basic Game the chariot is removed; in the Advanced Game there are Wrecks and Runaway Teams and Dragged Drivers and Drivers Running to deal with.

This afternoon was a full eight-chariot race. I took three chariots, Brown, Yellow and Orange, while the Middle RMN Boy took three others (Black, Green, and Purple) and the Youngest RMN Boy took two (Red and Blue). In Chariot Generation we all ended up with at least one heavy chariot (in my case, a +2 Driver in a Heavy Chariot with a Slow Team and Low Endurance) and one fast chariot (again, in my case a +0 Driver in a Light Chariot with a Fast Team and High Endurance).

This race featured a lot more tactical play then our first game. The speedy chariots pulled out ahead and the heavies fell behind, patiently waiting for the speedy teams to lap them, if they could. Both RMN Boys recognized the danger of my “enforcer” team and took measures to interfere with him. In quick order, Brutus (as I had named him) lost one horse and had another severely injured. He fell way behind the pack as he had to stop and cut the dead horse from the reins.

Meanwhile, Blue tried to get around a corner but was a bit too fast. A super high roll on the Corner Strain Table resulted in a flipped chariot and a dragged driver. He eventually cut himself loose after taking only light wounds. He raced for the wall but could not find an exit.

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The Chariot Race from Ben Hur, 1908; courtesy michenermuseum.org

As Blue was searching for a way out of the arena, the leaders of the pack came around again. Slow Brutus maneuvered himself into position and threatened Red (the Youngest RMN speedster) and forced him to brake hard and evade attacks. Meanwhile, Orange (my speedster) tried to take advantage of the situation and slip past Red. It almost worked, but once again Corner Strain resulted in Orange being spit out of his lane in a Double Sideslip…directly into the wrecked Blue chariot.

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Courtesy movpins.com

Red was in a tough bind as Brutus moved first and blocked his path to a safer lane. Red was forced to keep in his lane and ended up running over the Blue driver who was still unsuccessfully searching for an exit. Running over the driver forced a Movement Factor loss of five. Orange then rolled off the wreck and damaged both wheels. This meant that going too fast would risk the wheels coming off and flipping the chariot. As it was the final stretch there really was no choice and Orange went all-out. The first Wheel Damage roll was passed but the second failed. The Orange chariot flipped and the rider was dragged. Youngest RMN was jumping for joy as he could see his second victory at hand!

After taking damage, I elected not to cut the driver loose and stay dragging. Fate smiled and Orange went first, crossing the finish line first with the driver still dragging. The driver wound roll was made and the result was the driver surviving – just barely. Brutus almost got one last run at Red but Red was able to move away and ended up just short of the finish line.

Total game time was just under two hours from set up to end of clean up. There was much good nature ribbing given during the game. In this game, more than the first, a real narrative feeling came through during play. Youngest RMN was exasperated at the Blue driver constantly failing his exit rolls. I told him there was obviously a centurion on the other side of some gate who refused to open it for him. Apparently not a favorite of the gods, he was unceremoniously run over by Red. The final dramatic victory of Orange, literally being dragged across the finish line barely alive, was the stuff of legends.

Circus Maximus, a long-ago childhood favorite of mine, has been reborn in the 21st century RockyMountainNavy household. Hail to Michael S. Matheny and Don Greenwood for bringing this game to life. It is also interesting to note that the the first credited playtester is Alan R. Moon. Yes, Alan R. Moon the famous designer of Ticket to Ride!

Sinking with Buoyant Feelings – Retroplaying Wooden Ships & Iron Men 2nd Edition (Avalon Hill Game Co., 1981)

The RockyMountainNavy Game Night this week went Old School. As in real Avalon Hill wargaming with Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Second Edition, 1981). This is one of the oldest games in my collection and I have not recorded a play since joining BoardGameGeek in 2004. The last game of WS&IM I can remember playing was with the Sea Cadets in Pearl Harbor in 1997 or ’98.

The Youngest RMN Boy had been asking about the older games in my collection. He also has an interesting naval warfare (being a big Battleship Captain from Minden Games fan). I have fond memories of WS&IM and remember how much fun the Sea Cadets had playing it. I pulled out the rulebook on Friday night and reread the Basic Game in preparation for the weekend.

Our scenario was a home-brew; during the Napoleonic Wars I sailed two French 74-gun Ships-of-the-Line (SOL) with Crack crews attempting to escape a blockaded harbor. The RMN Boys sailed two British 74-gun SOL also with Crack crew to stop the French from escaping.

Both sides started with the wind off their aft quarter (up to full speed in the game). In the first turns the range quickly closed, and the lead French ship actually got past the British and looked to be home free. Unfortunately, the British did get multiple Rigging Hits and succeeded slowing the ship down – significantly. In the meantime, the training French ship got caught in between the two British ships and was pounded, eventually losing all Rigging and “surrendered by striking her colors” and otherwise met the conditions to “surrender by immobility.” 

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The French SOL (2206) just before striking her colors.

The first French ship should of kept on and tried to escape. Before the game, we specified that simply exiting the board edge was the Victory Condition. However, I was too heroic and instead of running away turned parallel to the battle to offer some long-range fire support. This was a mistake, and once the first French ship surrendered the British used their (slightly) superior speed to pursue the French ship. Faced with a hopeless situation, the French SOL turned to flee, but in doing so offered her stern for several Raking shots. Shortly thereafter, this ship too “surrendered from immobility.”

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End of the game. There will be no escaping the blockade for the French today!

Total game time was just over an hour. There were some mistakes and we didn’t have more than one Melee with Boarding Parties. Both RMN Boys agreed the game was fun and want to play again using the Advanced or Optional Rules. During the game, we discussed basic naval tactics and the advantages of shooting Rigging or Hull. The RMN Boys became painfully aware of the wind and its impact on movement as well as the dangers of Raking shots. Overall, the

Compared to many games published today the graphics and components of WS&IM are simple – even crude. That said, the game play is simple and quick. Movement rules are easy to grasp even if they require one to plot their movement (oh, the horror!). The Combat Phase requires a Hit Determination Table lookup and rolling against Hit Tables but the actual mechanics play fast. The RMN Boys were amazed that the entire game can be played with a single old-fashion d6!

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Courtesy BGG

Of course, Wooden Ships & Iron Men is one of the oldest Age of Sail fighting games. I also have Close Action from Clash of Arms and most of the Flying Colors series from GMT Games. The Youngest RMN Boy asked about The Ironclads (Yaquinto/Excalibre) that he sees on my game shelf. I was not sure the RMN Boys would accept “old School” wargames but after playing WS&IM this weekend I think they can handle the game mechanics. Indeed, I think they will even enjoy it!