On the table – Ligny 1815

I am currently playing Ligny 1815. It is the third game in the Eagles of France series  (after Fallen Eagles (Waterloo) and Rising Eagles (Austerlitz)), all designed by Walter Vejdovsky, and published by Hexasim. Turns are  1 hour, hexes are about 200 m, and units are regiment sized with each strength point representing 100 combatants.

I played the first in the series long enough to have a good grasp of the rules, but I needed to pay attention to the tweaks to the system that extended playing has brought about. As usual, I’m supplementing the gaming with some reading on the topic to refresh my knowledge and enhance the experience. Should be good fun.

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Currently playing – Elusive Victory

About ten years after it came out, I finally have Terry Simo’s game Elusive Victory on the table. It’s a GMT game focusing on air warfare over the Suez Canal, with scenarios on the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.

Let’s see how this goes…

(PS: For the avoidance of doubt, the fact this game is on the table now and things have gone hot in Gaza at the same time is a coincidence. I started reading the rules over a week ago. Honest!)
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Enduring the fire

Axis forces attacking north of Sidi Abdallah

I finished my second play through of the campaign scenario of Baptism by Fire. I abandoned my first after a few turns because I realized I had screwed up some of the important rules about Combat Trains and Headquarters. If nothing else, that initial run meant I was more comfortable with the rules and fairly rattled through the turns. With low unit density and lots of space, this is a nice game to look at and play.

The initial turns were an Axis whirlwind as their forces cut the defending Allies to shreds. While this was followed by a lull for a few days – representing the confusion that actually occurred as the Axis decided what their campaign goals should be – most of the game involved wave after wave of Axis attack, punctuated by the occasional Allied counter attack to seal a hole in a line, or just to give the axis something to think about.

Qualitatively, the Axis forces are better. The challenge for the Allied player is to put up enough resistance so as to delay the Axis, without hanging on too long and being encircled. The Axis challenge is to keep pushing, just Enough to keep the Allies off balance and the victory point hexes in reach, but not too much for fear of suffering a nasty counter-attack.

At the end, it as an Allied victory because the Axis failed to take enough of the victory point hexes. The lesson learned? As the attacker, you have to push your forces harder than I was doing.

Some notes.

First, the scenario includes two possible victory conditions (VC), but the Axis doesn’t know what one is relevant at the start. After a few turns, a chit is drawn to determine the applicable VC. While it’s not the best for solo play, it’s a good twist and is A simple layer of realism since the Axis seem to have gone through the same uncertainty.

Second, this game in the Battalion Combat Series introduces a new rule: Screening. It’s used by recon forces to delay attackers. It’s quite handy, but the Allies only have one such unit on hand, so the application is likely to have more effect in other games in the series. Cool rule, though.

Third, I used one of the system’s optional rules: Unit Traffic. This means that units can only use the road rate if the road hex they move through is clear of other units. Since the Axis forces are leapfrogging attacking formations in a forward direction, and the Allies are leapfrogging defensive formations in a backwards direction, it had an extensive impact. It also slowed play. I like the historicity, but am less keen on the added time it took.

Closing

I like the system a lot. I like the mix of unit capabilities, the effects of fatigue, the chaos, the fortunes of war, and the simple supply rules which combine to give an entertaining and challenging gaming experience. (My post about the first game in the series is here.) The minor niggle about Baptism by Fire is that I wasn’t able to get hold of a decent book on the campaign.

The next in the series is Brazen Chariots (the Brevity, Battleaxe, and Crusader battles in North Africa during WW2) and I have ordered it even though the game’s three maps mean some of the scenarios will be too big for my game table. (There’s always Vassal.) I am reasonably knowledgeable about these battles, but will probably do a bit of top-up reading before I play it.

Now, what game to play next?

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Baptism by Fire

On the table, as it has been for a few weeks, Baptism by Fire: MMP’s game of the Battle of Kasserine in February 1943, using Dean Essig’s Battalion Combat Series.

I am playing the campaign game solo, and having a blast.

The game system is different – very different. Although it started as a lower scale version of the designer’s lauded Operational Combat System, it is very far removed from that.

BCS is formation based, with each formation activating and acting individually. Each side alternates activations. Each formation can then use its (generally) battalion sized units to achieve its goals. There are no written orders, but command and control is well imposed, forcing you to plan ahead. In addition, formations accumulate fatigue, so pacing your troops, and giving them some rest also takes thought.

In addition, supply and areas of operation are catered for. Formations which become mixed reduce the chances of effective activation. And woe betide the formation which has its HQ thrown back or its supply line overrun.

Armor has its own niche here, engaging enemy armor and anti-tank units, while offering up the potential for shock attacks and support for common or garden assaults.

The game is not complex, but there are lots of fiddly details, and it takes time to master.

This particular battle is a good one to learn the system, as there are not as many units as the huge Last Blitzkrieg (Battle of the Bulge).

The action starts with the Axis forces rushing on to the map and cutting through woeful Allied defenses. From there, it’s a scramble for the Allies to put up a defense line, or at least delay, while the Axis hunts down units and victory point hexes. One of the twists here is that not all VP hexes count, and the Axis player only finds out which after a few turns. So, both sides have their challenges.

I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a decent book about the battle. That apart, this has been a terrific gaming experience.

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Returning to Holland

Well, I finally got to play Holland ’44. (This well illustrates my challenge: too many games, not enough time.)

It’s worth noting that I put this on the table after a debate came to life on ConsimWorld, driven by queries from David Hughes for an article he was researching. That set off a burst of book reading by me, and then I got out the game and played it through.

I only played it once, and the Allies got thumped. But it was fun. It was cool to see how Mark Simonitch handled various aspects of the battle, and how the narrative developed.

I had no problems with the rules. The components were, as usual, gorgeous, and the system is one I find to be playable and immersive.

The potential criticisms raised in the online debate included suggesting that units in the game can cover greater amounts of territory than they could in real life. While I think that’s true, there are several responses.

First, it’s a common ‘failing’ of many wargames, because designers are so wedded to the concept of zones of control.

Second, in the game it doesn’t seem to materially interfere with the historicity of the overall flow. In other words, it doesn’t matter.

Third, it’s easy to apply some house rules and see the impact. For example, I set up a mini scenario that applied a no ZOC rule. Wow, that was wild and very different. But it opened up some possibilities.

So, another good game from Mark and GMT. That won’t stop me listening to the ongoing debate, and waiting for David’s article.

 

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Normandy: The Beginning of the End

This has been on the table for the last wee while. It’s the latest in the War Storm Series (my review of an earlier version is here) and this is a good improvement. In a nutshell, the rules are better, though there are still gaps. And the proofreading and translation is not perfect. But, it’s a highly playable system, easily tweaked, and delivers a lot of gaming goodness. The components are gorgeous. Highly recommended.

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Wargame Catchup

Since finishing my game of Zama, here’s what’s been on my game table.

Continuing my play of the Simple Great Battles of History system, I had a run through of The Catalaunian Fields. This is battle that came with the Attila module for Cataphract, a GMT published game designed by Richard Berg and Mark Herman. The battle pits a Roman/Visigoth force with a suspect bunch of Alans against Attila, his Huns, the Ostrogoths, and other allies.

In this era, the overwhelming combat encounter was bow and arrow armed light cavalry engaging in hit and run fire. Close combat was to be avoided by these light troops. The system does a good job of replicating this, but it can be tricky working out how to bring enough force to bear so as to be able to inflict high enough casualties. Games with such forces seem to take a bit longer. I wrapped this one up when the writing was on the wall for the Huns. Their repeated attacks against the suspect Alans had been for naught, and the combination of Visigothic heavy and light cavalry, had been much more effective.

I really like the system, but probably prefer the battles of an earlier era. There’s something about the light cavalry archers that doesn’t appeal to me.

That having been said, next up was a later battle, albeit a different system.

Another Richard Berg design, again from GMT,  Infidel is the third in a series of four games called Men of Iron. The system is a cousin of Simple Great Battles of History, with a combat system that does not involve tracking hits, and a lean command and control system.

The game has six scenarios in the box, and I chose to play Dorylaeum, the 11th century battle in northwest Anatolia between a Crusader army and a Seljuk army. The Crusader forces have fallen into a trap, and are doomed unless their reinforcements – the part of the Crusader army that the Seljuks appear to have forgotten about – can heed the call and arrive before it’s too late.

The scenario features lots of chivalrous knights against lots of less than chivalrous light infantry archers who, like in the Attila scenario, will hit and run. So, it was interesting to compare the systems and the playing experience.

In my replay, the Crusaders made too many bad reinforcement rolls, and were carved up before help arrived.

The command and control system is easy, and while it is very solitaire friendly, you do have to keep track of who went last with what. I would prefer to avoid that bookkeeping, though it is fair to say you probably don’t need it for face to face play as each player will surely remember what’s going on!

On balance, I prefer SGBOH, but now having properly dipped my toe into the system’s waters, I will probably have a go at others in the series.

Time for a complete change.

Skies Above the Reich is a solitaire game designed by Mark Aasted and Jerry Smith (again from GMT) which puts you in command of a group of Luftwaffe pilots trying to bring down the bombers that are pulverizing the Nazi empire.

The game is played in seasons, each comprising several missions. In each mission, your pilots encounter bombers and escorts, and have to get in, do some damage, get out, and survive well enough to take part in the next mission. Pilots can acquire expert skills, and green replacements can try and lose their rookie disadvantages. (Rookie pilot losses are horrendous.)

The rulebook presentation is extensive, and shies away from traditional structure. It leads you through a turn, and does a great job of getting you into the game without having to read the rules first.

It’s a challenge for you to win – which is how it should be – and gets harder as you progress through later chronological seasons. I found it tough enough in 1942, so dread to think how hard the 1944 or 1945 seasons would be to play.

I was very impressed by the design, the physical production, and how easy it was to get into the system and understand it. I’m not that big a fan of air warfare, and in the end that is probably why I put it away. The game just wasn’t holding my attention enough. There’s nothing wrong with the game; it just doesn’t seem to fit my personal tastes well enough.

That’s better. Now I have caught up in my wargame blogging.

What is next, I wonder. I’m off to find a game to play.

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Zama

Get ready, get steady…

I am terrible at blogging about my game playing; I guess I would rather play games than write about them. However, let’s see if I can change that as from this point on.

On the table, the battle of Zama from the game SPQR from GMT Games. The battle is the one which brought the Second Punic War to an end, with Scipio Africanus beating up Hannibal. The game system is Berg and Herman’s Great Battles of History (GBOH),  with SPQR being one of many games in that series. I am using the Simple version (SGBOH). There’s a reason.

I came back from my time at ConsimWorld Expo determined to spend more time playing my wargames, as opposed to reading rules and thinking about playing them. One direct consequence is that I have shied away from more complex systems, preferring material that I can get to the table quicker.

I started with full blown GBOH and the game Hoplite. Once I got started, I played every game in the box except for the monster Platea. I then moved onto Great Battles of Alexander (GBA), again starting with the full game system. At some point, I broke out SGBOH and tried it. Wow! So much faster. So much more fun. With SGBOH I can get through a medium sized scenario in under a couple of hours play, maybe three at a pinch. I decided to stick with SGBOH.

I did all the GBA battles, save for Gaugamela, before moving on to SPQR.

As is usual for me, my playing of the games has started a blast of reading (and rereading) relevant historical material. And, as always, it’s fascinating to note what historical elements mentioned in the literature are represented in the game system, and how.

In short, I’m really enjoying this.

Now, let’s see if Scipio can triumph again.

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The damn crossroads

16 June, 1815, 14:30, on the road to Quatre Bras.

Still on the table is the Quatre Bras battle from Battles of Waterloo.

Generally, I have to fit in my wargaming in snatches of time, so I rarely get a chance for a single long session to immerse myself in a game. That’s when I get the best out of playing a wargame. It’s one reason why I love playing ASL, because you have to be at it for hours! It’s another reason why I treasure my trips to Consimworld. Therefore, this game hasn’t had the best of chances to shine. However, there’s a lot to like, and I’ve enjoyed playing and replaying the battle for the famous crossroads.

The French Cavalry are about to cross the stream and outflank the Allied line, threatening mass slaughter. Will Ney seize the chance, or is he worried what’s behind the ridge?

I want to try the Ligny battle in the Battles of Waterloo box. However, the Ligny game by Walter Vejdovsky (Ligny 1815: Last Eagles, published by Hexasim) has received rave reviews, and I am more likely to play that first.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if the original command system were given some love, care, and attention, it might be worth reusing.  That having been said, in this particular battle, there’s a need for straitjacket rules to prevent grossly ahistorical developments. No French player worth his salt would dilly-dally the way Ney did.

The combat system – like Fallen Eagles – uses both fire and shock combat. The Gamers‘ Napoleonic Battle Series (NBS) took fire combat out for infantry, and rolled up into a quite brilliant shock combat system. That does speed play enormously. I fiddled around with implementing a combat system like that into Battles of Waterloo, and it sort of worked. But, why was I going halfway towards NBS instead of just using full blown NBS? Another gaming project for retirement!

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