Pocket on the Table

On the table, a meaty game called Jaws of Victory about the WW2 campaign around Korsun and Cherkassy in early 1944.

It’s designed by Milt Janosky and published by New England Simulations.

Here’s an overall view of the first scenario (on one of the two maps) dealing with the Soviet encirclement.

And here’s a closeup showing where the breakthrough is going to be attempted.

Those red counters are Soviet barrage concentrations. Nasty stuff.

The game features turns of a day, hexes that are two miles across, and units ranging from battalion sized to division. It’s “I go, you go” with some reaction allowed and the creation and utilization of reserves. Other points in no particular order:

  • Airpower uses a simple but effective system so it doesn’t take up disproportionate time. (OCS, I’m looking at you.)
  • Extensive use of artillery on attack and defense.
  • Supply uses points and depots, but is streamlined and easy – no magical tricks as to when to supply units. (OCS…)
  • Easy and evocative armor rules dealing with superiority and taking losses.
  • Stacking is not too bad – 3 units maximum – but there are exceptions and restrictions to learn.
  • Combat is odds based with chunky shifts for terrain, artillery and air support, combined arms, armor, and so on.
  • Most units take losses in steps, with different size and quality catered for by different classes (types) of step loss chit.

The physical components are good quality with only a few small, irritating counter errors. The rulebook and playbook are well done with ‘living’ versions maintained on the publisher’s website.

As usual, putting the game on the table has triggered a flurry of reading (and book buying) so I can have a good grasp of the historical context. Some of the source material quoted by the designer is hard to get or expensive, but there’s other material around that should at least provide the basics.

This is wargaming at its finest for me: a meaty, good-looking game that oozes history and makes me want to learn more. I could probably play nothing but this game for the next year, but of course I’m too much of a gaming butterfly to do that. While it’s on the table, though, I’ll enjoy every minute.

 

Irony

There’s a campaign for a new boardgame about to close on Kickstarter.

Conflict of Wills: Judean Hammer

Judean Hammer is a fast-playing two-player area-control game about guerrilla warfare during the Maccabean Revolt. Take on the role of the Seleucid Greeks or the Maccabean rebels and battle for control of Judea.

I was interested enough to want to back this.

Care to have a guess at one destination this is not shipping to?

No Judean Hammer for me!

It strikes me as somewhat ironical that a game about conflict in Israel cannot be shipped to Israel.

More Fields of Fire

Hogging the table for a good few weeks, Fields of Fire 2. It’s a solitaire game – second in the series – where you command a company of USA troops (in this case, from the 5th Marines) and work your way through campaigns consisting of several consecutive missions. There are campaigns for WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. (I have played the first in the series.)

I have been focusing on the WW2 campaign which is against the Japanese forces on Peleliu.

The missions are, in general, tough. (If it were too easy, that would be no fun and no achievement to win.) You constantly have to think about force conservation – which is a good thing – instead of simply satisfying the victory conditions for the current mission.

The game is very different from typical wargames: the map is a display of cards, troops need orders to do anything, and the different technical aspects of weapons are restricted to only a few categories, with a few more tweaks for vehicles. Troop quality is important. Your soldiers die all too easily, and green replacements often don’t last long. Grittily realistic is how I would describe it. It’s also engrossing, though sometimes frustrating as the system can kick you when you are down. But what do you do except try again.

The major strike against the game is the completeness of the rules. The second edition rules are an improvement, but still – apparently – managed to retain some errata. More important is that the rules are not comprehensive enough. There are too many situations that are not explicitly covered. And in some instances, as I found out thanks to some feedback on BoardGameGeek, essential information is hidden away in highlighted notes.

I should stress that the game is playable as it stands, but there are several events that may arise which are not covered and you have to use your own judgement. For example, in a couple of the Peleliu missions, the table that determines where enemy units appear in a certain row of the ‘map’ will never produce usable results. The table doesn’t take account of the fact that there is no other beyond which enemy units can be located. So, I had to make up my own table.

What makes the whole situation more annoying is that GMT appear to be ignoring any and all rules queries. They have stopped supporting the game. This is most unlike them.

I’m going to continue to play the game and use that old fashioned system of resolution known as ‘making it up’ as and when required. But I do hope that at some point GMT will return to the game system and give us the rulebook we need. And deserve.

UPDATE: In last week’s GMT news email, they announced a new development team for the game and a new module. It’s not been explicitly said that there will be an improved rulebook, but we can live in hope.

Tank Battles at Tobruk

This Harold Hock design, published by Avalon Hill, dates back to 1975. I think this is the first time I have played it since then…

It’s a very detailed game about tank v tank warfare. There are detailed charts which show you how many times a weapon can fire in a turn (which varies according to whether the target has been acquired), the chance of a hit, the hit location, and the type of damage, all while taking into account target aspect. Since you roll dice for each shell, each hit, and each potential penetrating hit, you roll a lot of dice. This is not for the faint hearted.

The playability is further dragged down by the lack of markers. So, for example, you have to keep track of which targets have been acquired, which tanks have suffered mobility or firepower kills and so on.

I played scenario one. A group of nine Grant tanks take on a mixed German force of Panzer IIIh and IIIj tanks with a couple of Panzer IVe’s thrown in as extra targets. Around a dozen turns later there were five Grant tanks still in one piece and one immobile but still firing and no more German tanks, the desert being littered with burning wrecks. The German tanks were shot up as they tried to close in to more effective range. The surprising aspect was that of the Grant two guns, the smaller 37mm seemed to do the most damage.

The game is chock full of great ideas but is a real drag to play. You can see, looking back, how it was an inspiration for others. In fairness, the slow play may be down to the scenarios which are too big for the die rolling required. The other handicap is that the charts were all weapon and vehicle specific. So, it wasn’t like you could (or can) instantly develop versions for other vehicles and weapons that were not included in the box.

I enjoyed it as a diversion and a trip back in time. Forty-five years ago, this was the height of gaming sophistication. I may never go back to it, though.

On the Table Catchup

After finishing off the first scenario of Brazen Chariots (it was a draw) I decided I wanted to play something else. I opted for Ukraine ’43 (first edition), a GMT game designed by Mark Simonitch. I played this against the designer back in 2015 and this was an opportunity to refresh the experience.

There are a lot of Soviet troops out there

The campaign is a puzzle for the Germans: how do you stop the Soviets who have overwhelming superiority and seemingly endless numbers of troops? While many gamers have a tendency to over think their play, this type of game requires it. If you put a unit one hex out of place, or fail to cover the area where the enemy breaks through, you will lose.

Somebody’s about to be encircled

One of the aspects that is worth highlighting is that the game provides a Victory Point level that has to be attained to avoid defeat. This translates into a measure of success – for both sides. It also encouraged me to play the short scenario, reset the game and try it all over again.

Good fun.

In the desert

On the table currently is Brazen Chariots, a game in Dean Essig‘s Battalion Combat Series (BCS) about the 1941 battles around Tobruk. I last played this at ConsimWorld 2019 but fairly recently a new version (2.0) of the rules was produced. I wanted to get up to speed with these as the next game in the BCS is about the battles for Budapest and I am keen to try that out.

The full campaign game is beyond me – I don’t have space for the three maps – but there are plenty of other manageable scenarios that I can make my way through. I’m going to start with the first and keep going until I get bored or otherwise redirected to another game.

Invasion!

On the table has been Salerno, a game in the Variable Combat Series designed by Nathan Kilgore about the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. MMP published it.

It’s an “I go, you go” system with the main wrinkle being the aforementioned variable combat system: bigger units determine their combat strength by drawing from a pool of chits so it becomes that bit more difficult to get the exact combat odds you want. (A really nasty – and therefore worthwhile – option, makes every unit that has a chit redraw it after a certain number of turns. I am unsure how realistic that is, but it’s probably fun.)

The maps (roughly one and a half of them) are split into three areas with tracks allowing movement between them. For example, one covers the landing of the 8th Army, one covers that of the 10th, and so on. Unfortunately, while the mechanics of moving from map to map are easy, the rules were a right royal mess. That was a pain.

Anyway, the invasion starts, the Allied forces land (in special broken down units just for the invasion turns), and then have to battle across the land to secure victory. First, the broken down units reform. That was a pain.

The invading units might get disrupted on landing. The disruption rules were somewhat short and lacking clarity. That was a pain.

The availability of airpower – for both sides – depends on how many airfields the allies capture. OK, got that. But whether your air force turn up or not – on the attack or defense – depends on a die roll. And that si the same for Axis as it is for Allies. I never could get my head around that one. You guessed it; that was a pain.

The annoying thing from my perspective is that I can recognize a ton of work and love went into this. But the rules were not clear enough for key elements, and that was a real barrier to enjoyment. I wanted to like this, but couldn’t. It’s interesting to compare this to games like The Killing Ground and Jaws of Victory (admittedly more complex) which take the same variable system and add some real bite to it, without cocking up the rules.

In a word, disappointing.

Fighting in the Desert

On the table, scenario 5 of Gazala, a game in the Standard Combat Series (SCS) designed by Dean Essig and produced by the Gamers. The scenario is about the British collapse in June 1942 and Rommel’s Afrika Korps’ taking of Tobruk.

As far as I can tell, with competent play, a draw is most likely. The Allies need to get 35 units off the board. To achieve that, they need to strip the Tobruk garrison, allowing the Axis to achieve their goal: the capture of Tobruk. If both sides achieve their goals, it’s a draw. However, that doesn’t mean the game is a bore. Far from it. The SCS can generally be counted on to produce some challenges and that’s what happens here.

SCS games come with a standard rulebook and another specific to the game. So, if you know SCS, you should have little to learn before being able to play any game in the series. Unfortunately, because there are two rulebooks, it also means that you frequently have to check both to see what standard bits remain and what are changed. I prefer a single rulebook. It’s not a major issue, but it’s a pain.

As for the actual system, it’s “I go, you go” with – in this case – an asymmetric sequence of play to reflect tactical and operational differences. Combat is odds based, and the Combat Results Table (CRT) uses 2d6 to provide a range of results. For example, a 3:1 attack on this CRT is likely to succeed, but it is also possible to fail, and badly so. Therefore, each side will typically have crucial combats that go against the grain and from which that side has to recover. That makes games exciting, but the luck element may – not always – seem to be too influential. If that bothers you, don’t play wargames.

I have had fun mucking around and trying to work out a way to get an exclusive win for each side. In that playing, I have come to realize that odds based CRTs may not be fit for purpose.

For instance, if 12 combat factors attack 4, the range of results is the same as if 36 combat factors attacks 12. Doesn’t sound or feel right to me.

Part of my mucking around has been trying out my own fire based CRT, where each unit contributes its attack strength and damage to the enemy is based on a die roll for the column matching the total firepower, with both attacker and defender getting to fire. Going back to my examples, with 12 combat factors on the attack, they are less likely to do as much damage as 36.

The devil is in the detail, however. For example, some of the units have a zero attack strength. What should I do with them? Having them solely as sacrificial lambs doesn’t seem right. Giving such units a nominal firepower of 1 is OK, but perhaps that should only be when defending on their own.

As another example, it’s generally understood that piling in more attackers may not only increase casualties for the defender but also for the attacker. Tricky stuff.

Meantime, until another solution pops up, it’s back to fighting in the desert.

 

Rundstedt Attacks!

For the last couple of weeks my solitaire boardgaming has been taken up exclusively with Scenario Three – Rundstedt Attacks! – from Barbarossa Army Group South. I am glad that I played the two previous (smaller) scenarios first, as they were a good introduction to this one which features more space, more tanks, and more challenges.

The scenario is on one map, and is about the initial attacks through the Lvov Gap. There are several special rules to replicate the historical limits on the forces and both players have much to do. The Axis player has to secure the Victory Point (VP) hexes and destroy enemy tank and artillery units. The Soviet player has to hold the VP hexes and destroy enemy tank, artillery, or motorized division units. Continue reading

Army Group South

On the table for the first time, almost 25 years after buying the game, is Barbarossa: Army Group South, 1941.

The game, designed by Vance Von Borries and published by GMT Games, features an operational level system that made its debut with Typhoon (about the 1941 attempt to take Moscow). This volume is one of a series about Barbarossa, dubbed the East Front Series (EFS). Continue reading