Eylau

Division level combat in the age of Napoleon, using area movement, lots of step reduction, and buckets of dice for its combat. There’s a command system layered on top which gives a decent impression of the real thing (as I assume it to have been) and little touches of chaos. For example, engaged formations risk not being able to activate in the next turn. And each side’s turn to activate uses a die roll to determine how many formations they must activate. So, perfect planning soon falls apart.

Eylau has scenarios for the opening encounter, the main day of battle, or a two day all out effort. I have been playing the opening encounter scenario through again and again to familiarize myself with the rules – they are not complex, just different – and work out some tactical approaches.

Of course, it also set me off on a mission to read up on the battle…

Death Valley

This is a bumper package in the GBACW series now on my table. It features the battles in the Shenandoah Valley of 1862 and 1864. So far, I have played 1st Kernstown and 1st Winchester. Smallish scenarios that are good fun.  I’ll never make it all the way through the battles provided, but I am impressed at the quality and quantity of the content in the box.

One sad aspect is that the designer of the core system, Richard Berg, recently passed away. It’s a tribute to the strength of the design and the interest in the topic that GMT can see a continuing market for developments of the system and more battles. And kudos to Greg Laubach, the credited designer here, who seems to have done a terrific job of making a top notch product.

 

The Little Land

Having dipped my toe into the water trying out Saipan, a game in Adam Starkweather’s Company Scale System published by Compass Games set in the Pacific, I jumped at the chance of this new east front release, The Little Land. This covers the battle for Novorossiysk, a key port held by the Germans since September 1942, which the Russians decided to invade in 1943 as part of their attempts to unhinge the German defense of the Caucasus. The Russian campaign was not a successful one, and the game gives you the opportunity to try and do better. (Good luck!)

The game has two maps – but most of the scenarios, save the campaign game, are one-mappers – a rulebook and scenario book, a ton of gorgeous counters and plenty of play aids. Combat units are companies, hexes are 500m, and daylight turns are 2 hours long. Activation is by chit, with divisions and (in general) their subordinate formations having their own chits. There is a command system which generates a mix of points restricting how often these chits are available, and offering the opportunity for bonus actions and direct intervention. Combat is by fire and assault, with progressive levels of disorganization leading to unit elimination. The whole thing is a development of Adam Starkweather’s Grand Tactical Series published by Multi-Man Publishing.

I like:

    • Level of complexity – it’s not too complex, and very playable
    • Easy to play solitaire
    • Tactically challenging – it’s not about just piling up units with big combat strengths
    • System shows the durability of company level units, until they begin to wrack up the effects of being in action and start to fall apart
    • While it’s a difficult balancing act, the level of chrome is just about perfect for me

What don’t I like?

    • Absence of range effects for direct fire
    • It’s a marker farm; inevitable, but it can get tiresome
    • Sometimes it’s all about who can roll the most zeroes
    • Absence of unit icon explanation
    • Sloppy rules editing

I have my doubts about how you balance scenarios when the order of the chit draw can materially affect the outcome, but balance is not an issue for me. I’m more interested in seeing the history on show and trying to understand how accurate that appears to be. I need to do more reading to come to an informed view, and that’s not going to happen for this battle. But it’s still fun to play.

So, not a perfect system, but a good one and very enjoyable.

The next release is supposed to be Fulda Gap (WW3 in Germany), and although its four maps are way too big for my game table, the topic seals it for me. (I cannot explain why, and I’m disinclined to try and analyze this.)

Moravian Sun

Moravian Sun, designed by Enrico Acerbi and produced by Acies, is a wargame about the battle of Austerlitz, the decisive encounter of the Third Coalition in the Napoleonic Wars. The scales are hourly turns, brigade sized units, and hexes of 450-500 meters.

The system is a step above the basic – or classic – wargame standard, though it does use odds based combat and traditional zones of control. The command system elevates it, though not as far as I would like. Essentially, each formation (a corps, with provision for creating smaller detachments) gets an order, and that order determines what units can and must do.

For example, the Advance order obliges at least three units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy. The Attack order obliges all units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy, and so on. There are exceptions, but the rules are supported by a good table summary, and do a fair job of imposing some form of command and control realism.

This is helped by adding a priority system. Each side must prioritize its formations – order of activation – though there are separate priorities for the main and the support orders. When your side goes, you have to activate the next formation in priority order, but you can choose between those with main and support orders. One of the support orders is a neat Pursue option which allows (so far as I can tell) that formation to immediately react to an enemy retreat. Cool idea!

Orders can be issued and changed, though fate can intervene which is just the ticket for some true battlefield chaos and winning opportunities.

The part that it’s missing, for me, is the lack of a destination. In other words, I as the player can advance closer to the enemy to my front. But, if I decide the chaps off to the left are a better target, I can simply change the direction of movement. (The Eagles of France series designed by Walter Vejdovsky and published by Hexasim includes a destination hex as part of its orders system.) It’s simple enough to add a geographical restriction, and that produces good results for a modest overhead.

But don’t let that minor carp get in the way of seeing this for the interesting game it is as it stands. The graphics are good, the rules are OK considering their non-native English speaker origin – and supported with living rules – and the thing is playable. Eminently so. For my tastes, there is a decent amount of chrome – cavalry charges, squares, march columns, and weather – but not too much. And with one map and less than 500 counters, about half of which are markers, it’s a relatively compact game.

I have played through several turns of the battle scenario (you get that plus a campaign scenario starting on the previous day) twice to a reasonable conclusion with one victory apiece. I worry that the orders give the Allies more flexibility to counter Napoleon, but have certainly not played the game extensively enough to offer an authoritative opinion. I have enjoyed having this game on the table.

Reports, what reports?

I don’t know why, but I find it difficult to write up gaming reports. This is especially true of my ASL games. But the important thing is that I am actually playing – and loving – the game. (This despite my woeful record.) ASL delivers the most intense gaming experience. I can sit at the game table for hours at end, engrossed, totally enthralled. The closest similar experiences have come from my monster gaming sessions at the various ConsimWorld gatherings in Tempe, Arizona. ASL thrills. But you’ll have to exercise your imagination until I figure out how to motivate myself to write some reports!

Bloody 110

This, from 1989, is the first of Dean Essig’s Tactical Combat Series (TCS). Units are platoons of infantry, mortar and machine gun sections, individual tanks and guns. Hexes are 125 yards and turns – during the day – are 20 minutes. The action covered is the role played by elements of the US 28th Infantry Division in holding up the German Bulge Offensive heading towards Bastogne.

I was getting sick and tired of looking at all the TCS games on my shelves that weren’t getting played because I repeatedly found the latest iteration of the system too much of a slog. (I like it when I read it, but not when I’m playing it.) I decided to start trying out some house rules/variants to see if I could cobble together stuff that worked for me.

I started with a quick run through the tank and infantry learning scenarios, and have now moved on to the 1st day battle scenario.

I have used and rejected several ideas, and while at times it is frustrating, it’s also a fun challenge. And when I think something is getting there…

Oh, and I also enjoyed – as a change from today’s multi-colored environment – going back to the old-style counter graphics. Quaint!

On the beaches at Normandy

This game, one of my ConsimWorld Expo purchases, is about the Normandy Campaign in WW2. Published by Decision Games, it was originally a magazine game (Strategy & Tactics) designed by Brad Hessel, featuring only the Cobra part of that campaign. It has gone through a couple of updates and upgrades of campaign coverage by Decision, of which this newly released boxed version is the latest, led by Joe Youst.

What you get inside the box are two standard maps, 280 die-cut counters of decent quality, a rulebook, and a separate campaign study booklet, as well as dice and some plastic storage bags. Continue reading

Red Badge of Courage

This game was on the table before I went to ConsimWorld. It contains two battles – both at Bull Run – and is part of a long running series (probably one of the oldest) called Great Battles of the American Civil War (GBACW*). The series started with Richard Berg’s groundbreaking design Terrible Swift Sword about Gettysburg, published in 1976 by Simulation Publications Inc. (SPI). Generally, these are tactical games with regimental sized units and hexes of 100-150 yards, and some form of command and control mechanism.

The series is now hosted by GMT, and other designers have utilized the core features to extend its life. Red Badge of Courage dates back to 2001, but this was the first time I had broken it out and played the game. Previously, I had spent most time with Three Days of Gettysburg, Berg’s updated version of Terrible Swift Sword, sometime in the late 1990s.

After bringing myself up to date with the rules, I played through the first Bull Run main scenario a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It uses chit pull which makes it solitaire friendly. And, although the rules are a few iterations out of date, I didn’t come across any major issues. (There were some clashes in the orders system with formations getting March orders and wanting to come out of that order, but I worked something out that seemed to fit well.)

CSA cavalry force Hunter’s marching troops to partially deploy for combat

So far as the battle was concerned, on both occasions the CSA managed to hold up the Union forces well enough to claim victory. I suspect it needs a higher level of skill to get truly successful attacks. But it was still fun. I was more interested in reconnecting with the series, as there is a chunky eight battle package due out from GMT soon, and I am very keen to play that. The smaller battles are more attractive for all sorts of reasons, though I do still hanker to have another bash at Gettysburg.

Tyler in reserve

It was also interesting to compare this system with MMP’s Line of Battle (LOB) output. I do prefer certain aspects of LOB, and wonder how easily they could be adapted into GBACW. For example, LOB’s closing to contact and defensive volley are so much quicker to process than the standard, step by step, unit by unit approach of GBACW.

Jackson marching to the sound of the guns

Expect to see more GBACW posts in the future.

(*You can see all the GBACW games here.)

ConsimWorld 2019

I had a great time playing games at ConsimWorld.

I spent a few days, guided by Tom Holliday, playtesting Greatest Day: Utah Beach, a game in MMP’s Grand Tactical Series to be published at some point in the future. I was responsible for the 101st Airborne Division. The landings were chaotic, with too many stragglers. The 101st did manage to create enough of a cordon, growing in strength as the scattered troops found their way to friendly staging posts. When I left, the seaborne invaders had reached the 101st cordon, and were trying to stage a wider breakout. Continue reading