On The Table Catchup

There will be trouble ahead…

I am miles behind in gaming stuff, so I will do a quick run through of the wargames I have been playing recently (and not so recently), hopefully getting me up to date. Continue reading

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Lee vs Grant

After Clash of Giants: Civil War, I continued on the ACW theme with Lee vs Grant. This is a Joe Balkoski game, originally published in 1988 by Victory Games, about the 1864 Wilderness Campaign. Game scales are turns of five days, hexes of two miles across, and each strength point representing 2,500 men.

The game uses an interactive initiative system where the active player chooses a leader and, shocking for its time, rolls one or two dice to determine movement allowance. Leaders have ratings that influence the movement result, so better units do actually move faster – most of the time! The actual fighting men can become disorganized if you push them too much – force march them, or suffer adverse results in battle – so part of the campaign challenge is managing your resources, knowing when to conserve them, and when to push them to their limit. The decision about whether to fight a battle is also key, and rarely straightforward.

This Lee also has an important mission

The game comes with a batch of basic game scenarios, all of which I played – they are all shortish, taking around an hour or two at most – before moving on to the advanced game and the campaign game. There is only one scenario really, but you can choose to try for the three, six or nine turn version, with the victory points suitable adjusted.

I very much enjoyed going back to this game. In short, it was fun. It also inspired me to do some reading about the topic, including a quick run through the material I have and a scout around to see what else might be worth buying.

This game is significant because it gave birth to Joe Balkoski’s Great Campaigns of the Civil War series. The series uses a heavily adapted set of rules – with a higher level of complexity – and a change in scale to turns of one day, hexes of one mile, and steps of 1,000 men per strength point. I recently played Battle above the Clouds, and it was interesting to look back at this core design and see how much simpler it was. Balkoski was involved in the GCACW series, but it is now I think in the hands of Ed Beach.

While I am going to try more of the GCACW series, one of the core design decisions that puzzles me is the switch away from leaders affecting movement allowances. In GCACW, all Union infantry leaders, for example, roll 1d6 for movement, and all CSA infantry leaders roll 1d6+1 for movement. So ‘bad’ CSA leaders become good movers, and ‘good’ Union leaders become bad movers, so to speak. Because the GCACW games are more complex anyway, that simplification seems strange to me.

Confusion in the Wilderness Campaign

Anyway, returning to Lee vs Grant, I finished up playing the short three turn Campaign game. I did that twice, trying out different strategies, and had one minor victory for each side. I shied away from the longer campaign games, not because of the length, but because of the rules load, as much of the advanced rules only really come into play with the longer campaign games.

Offline, a correspondent complained about a certain designer who removed any fun from his games. Balkoski could never be accused of that. No doubt enthusiasts will say the GCACW is wonderful, but there’s more than enough to digest, learn, and enjoy in Lee vs Grant. Great fun, indeed.

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Gettysburg Again

Last weekend I finished up two games of the Gettysburg scenario in Ted Raicer and GMT GamesClash of Giants: Civil War. Both were a Union victory, with the CSA forces unable to seize the key defensive (and victory point) positions before the Union could grab them. Thereafter, these positions were too strong, and the CSA suffered huge losses in their assaults. The Union artillery – especially within the framework of the teleport ability such units have in the game system – was a significant barrier as well.

First, given the variable reinforcement timetable that the game uses, I am unsure how definite one can be about play balance. That having been said, there’s no way I was playing the game well enough to say I had tested it out to the limits, and I am sure others will do better as the CSA. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not complaining about the play balance; generally, I am more interested in the history.

Second, I was surprised by how well the game captured the ebb and flow of the battle. Presently, I still think it’s too easy to get round the flanks of enemy lines who simply stand still in the face of the obvious threat. This is partly related to the lack of simultaneous movement, and partly to the all seeing eye in the sky the players have. I wonder if any attempt at a fix – like a limited reaction ability – would be more trouble than it would be worth, or lead to other unwelcome consequences. Also, it’s fair to say that because you know that being outflanked and surrounded is a bad, bad, thing, there are certain defensive tactics that can reduce the potential for this happening.

Third, I used my house rule for artillery availability, and that saved a chunk of time each turn.The game is fast to play.

While this system is not going to be my ACW system of choice, it’s definitely got its place in my collection as a fast, playable, and enjoyable game package. This area of the market is too crowded already, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a turbocharged version of this system – switching to 1d10 or 2d6 resolution, more steps per unit, more variety in combat results, more command and control (like orders, for example), fog of war, the removal of the artillery teleporting ability, and maybe even adopting some of Michael Resch’s ideas from his 1914 system games –  would be well received. For now, this will have to do.

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Clash of Dice

Clash of Giants: Civil War is Ted Raicer‘s new game about the battles of Second Bull Run and Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Published by GMT games, the system is an ACW adaptation of his Clash of Giants system which covered several World War One battles in a couple of much earlier GMT releases.

Inside the box you get one standard backprinted map with the two battlefields done by the excellent Charles Kibler. Second Bull Run is done at 500 yards per hex, and Gettysburg at 270 yards per hex. There are separate countersheets of larger, well printed counters, for each battle with different variations of Blue and Gray, making it less likely you will get the wrong units appearing in the wrong battle. I like that. Continue reading

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1914 Serbien muß sterbien

I am miles behind in blogging about my wargames activity, but finally am getting round to at least posting something. 1914 Serbien muß sterbien is an operational game about the initial World War One campaign on the Balkan front. The designer is Michael Resch, and it is published by GMT Games. Essentially it’s an attempted smash and grab by the Austro-Hungarians that turns out to be more of a poke and twist against the dogged Serbian defenders.

The physical components are excellent: one standard sized map done at 8.8 km per hex, a couple of countersheets, rules booklet, scenario booklet, organization displays, and other play aids. The other scales are turns of 2-4 days, and units ranging from divisions down to regiments and smaller detachments.

The core mechanics are straightforward, but there are plenty of differences to catch you out, so careful reading of the rules is recommended. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the organization of the rulebook, but I did find 99% of what I was looking for, and on the whole the rules are tight, and the designer’s intent is clear.

The system is “I go, you go” but with a neat twist. After you move your units – with 9 movement points (MPs) plus whatever extra you want to force march – your opponent gets to counter move with 5 MPs plus whatever force march extras he risks. You can pin the enemy by declaring a prepared assault, but if you don’t he is free to spoil your plans by moving away, or bringing in reinforcements.

Force marching can degrade a unit’s combat effectiveness. This is something kept track of separately from combat strength, and well models the gradual wearing down of units in combat. It is an extra something you have to pay attention to, and is a little fiddly (only a little) but is well worth the rules cost.

After movement, you attack, then your opponent attacks. In the opponent’s phase, the roles are reversed. I thought it worked quite well. In this theater, the terrain is quite rugged and the armies are slow and ponderous. Supply is key, with an added burden on the Serbian player of having low artillery supply, and having to husband it carefully.

Combat is straight odds comparison, but the results are modifiers to a post combat effectiveness check. This is a 2d6 roll versus the unit’s current combat effectiveness. So, a typical ’10’ rated unit will stand up quite well. However, that check is where the combat result modifier impacts, meaning that if you have a +3 (for example) to your check from the Combat Results Table, it’s no longer so easy. on top of that, each side’s artillery resources can impact the check. Failing the check can degrade the unit’s combat effectiveness, or cause step reduction, or both. There are some detailed nuisances, like having to cross refer the artillery to the size of the opposing force to get the modifier. Also, step losses are not automatically imposed if the other force is small, and instead this is die roll dependent. Both these systems make sense, but they are finicky. Do they work? yes. Are they worth it? Well, that depends on what you are looking for, If you want the level of realism that the designer is trying to portray, you have to think they are worth it. I’m in the pro camp.

Austro Hungarians (blue) just about holding on against the Serbs (khaki)

I have now played the so called training scenario three times to completion, each time a draw. The first time around, the Austro Hungarians swept all before them in the initial offensive, but were sent reeling by the Serbian reinforcements from the east. The second and third tries saw a more cautious offensive which fared much better against the Serbian counter offensive.

The full scenario is too much for me to play solitaire. This is especially so as I repeatedly cocked up by attacking with units whose effectiveness level meant they should not have been able. I eventually solved this by putting the markers under the combat units, and not on the organizational displays. Further, the full scenario brings in the inevitable trenches,and I am unsure how I would enjoy that static element.

What it has given me is a taste for more of the same as part of a team game, maybe at a future Consimworld.

I enjoyed my time with this game. I liked the system, wasn’t too fussed by the finicky bits, and felt it gave a damn fine feel for the campaign. I particularly like the rules that imposed limitations based on the actual strategic plans of the Austro Hungarian forces.

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Dauntless

opdauntless

On the table is Operation Dauntless, Mark Mokszycki‘s game about the June 1944 Normandy battles for Fontenay and Rauray, published by GMT Games. The first game of Mark’s that I played was the excellent Red Winter, and this looks to be even better.

The box is overflowing with gaming goodness: the physical production standards are the usual top notch, though there are one or two minor pieces of errata. Apart from the expected map, counters, rule book, and play aids, there’s a chunky Scenario Book (complete with programmed instruction starter scenarios to teach the system) and a very impressive Reference Book with commentary, supporting notes, and a ton of historical detail. Finally there is a Play Book with many examples of play, material about how to link the scenarios into a campaign game, tips, and other bits and pieces.

The system is somewhat more complicated than Red Winter, the key differences being additional rules to cover defensive fire and anti-tank combat. The latter has a unique action and reaction cycle which took me some time to become comfortable with. However, there is a play aid with a flowchart that handles this subsystem better than the dry body of the rules.

I have played through most of the programmed instruction scenarios, and setup and walked through the first couple of turns of the first actual (historic) scenario. The game has lots of rich tactical detail which makes it play a bit slower than Red Winter. Whether this is worthwhile is a matter of taste. I enjoy the immersive experience, so for me it’s a positive feature. It may have taken a while to get to the table, but the timing is fortuitous, given I have a wee bit extra free time to devote to this beauty.

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Meanwhile, on the table

fof-lotr

I have been plugging away at Fields of Fire, having managed to get through the first two missions of the WW2 campaign. Mission 3 is a series of combat patrols where you have to, in turn, get each of your three platoons to complete a patrol into enemy territory. The defenders are veteran troops, and although the troops have the cover of operating at night, there are likely to be causalties. One tricky aspect here is that the company, having improved in quality by virtue of its experience, will really suffer if the losses are too high, as there are never enough veteran replacements kicking around. So in this game, you cannot only go for the win. Here there are ongoing consequences if your losses are too high.

Thankfully the same does not apply to the Lord of the Rings: the Card game. Thanks to some great material at the Hall of Beorn, I was at last successful on a solo run of the second of the three quests in the box. However, it took half a dozen attempts, and required all the stars to be aligned: a good starting draw, and plenty of luck in the way the encounter deck turned out. That having been said, it proves you can win the game. And it’s also fair to say that I picked up some great tips on technique, improving the quality of my play enormously.  The third quest is even tougher, so there will be a further refining of the deck, and some more reading and preparation before trying that one. After that, I have some of the expansions to work through.

Both these games are solitaire (though LOTR can be played with two players against the system) and it seems that this is what I enjoy most at the moment. I have several non solitaire games that I keep meaning to get to the table, but failing to do so. That’s probably a testament to the high quality of the two games above. They are simply excellent – not without their foibles – but overall, wonderful gaming experiences.

 

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Tabletop Happenings

I have taken MBT off the table after reaching the point of being reasonably happy that I had the rules well enough absorbed, and my own house rule experimentation – for command and control and morale – was stuck in a bit of a rut. I much prefer my own systems, but they are not working completely to my satisfaction. So, I will let the challenge simmer away in the background, and if I return to the game again, a fresh perspective may solve the issue.

First replacement on the table was Panzer Battles from MultiMan Publishing. It is one of their Standard Combat Series games, designed by Dean Essig, featuring the 11th Panzer Divisions’s battles near the Chir River in 1942. It’s a classic, well studied campaign of mobile defense and counter attack. The game’s special rules tack on a chit pull activation, but apart from that it is similar to Day of Days and It Never Snows in its scale and slightly tweaked combat processes (artillery in the main).

The game is very playable solitaire, and cracks along at a decent pace. Given the chit pull mechanism, the replayability and tension are both high, though I wonder if the possibility of a blowout – for either side – may be a touch too high. I played through the main scenario once, and it was fun. I seemed to be doing a better job with the Soviets, so probably need to practice a bit more if the contest is to be more even. Good fun.

The next replacement was, and is, Ben Hull‘s Fields of Fire from GMT Games This is a solitaire game where you command an infantry company of the 9th US Infantry (Regiment). There are individual missions in each of three campaigns (WW2, Korea, and Vietnam) where your progression depends on mission success, and building up the experience and expertise of your forces. Part of the challenge is dealing with replacements (who tend to be green troops) and keeping casualties down (and recovering them from the battlefield) so as not to be operating below strength.

The game uses a deck of cards for terrain (one for each campaign), and another deck to resolve all game action. No dice! Units are HQs and squads with individual weapons teams and vehicles.

It is not an easy game to win, but otherwise it would be boring. You have to plan, measure your risks, and rise your luck. Planning, for example, involves deciding what signals will be allocated to the various colored smoke you have at your disposal.

The down side is that the game’s original production was botched, with incomplete rules. There is a second edition which is much improved, but there are still some gaps. A third edition – by all accounts much improved – is due to be released next year with a second edition printing. The fact that it is being reprinted, despite those rules issues, tells you that this game is worth persevering with. It can be frustrating, and the systems are a touch on the clunky side, but it can also be very rewarding. It’s a different experience from the up close and personal action of ASL, but it is nonetheless engrossing and absorbing.

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War in 1987

The box is full...

The box is full…

On the table is Jim Day‘s game MBT, about the Cold War going hot in 1987, published by GMT. It is a tactical game (units are single vehicles or squads, and each hex is 100 meters) using the same core engine as Panzer, Jim’s WW2 tactical game, also from GMT.

I have the same issues with MBT as I do Panzer (see here) but was always going to get the game and try it out.

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I have now played the initial two scenarios several times, using the basic rules, the advanced rules, and then my own mix of basic and advanced rules. I have also tried out some house rules (or variants, if you prefer) to try and fix bits and pieces. I have not come up with any magical solutions, but it is great fun trying things out.

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