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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On the Road to Waterloo

The Battles of Waterloo is the Richard Berg design published by GMT Games (1994) on the four battles of Waterloo: Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Mont St Jean. Each hex is 210 yards, each turn is half an hour, and each unit is a regiment. Units have strength points at the rate of one per 300 infantry, 200 cavalry, or 6 guns.

The physical components – especially the maps and counters – are very good, but the rules are somewhat troubled. You can play the game with the original rules, but there are some areas where you will have to use your judgement. A later rewrite didn’t completely solve the problems. However, the core design is just so damn enthralling that it is worth slogging away and filling in the blanks. Not ideal, but the absence of any more games using the system meant there was no commercial impetus to fix the rules properly. On Consimworld, Richard said the issues were to do with the complex Allied Army command structure. Unfortunately, that’s only partly correct. The irony is that the game system does quite a good job of replicating command and control issues.

I played it a few times when it first came out, but only tried the Waterloo (Mont St Jean) scenario. It is a bit of a slugfest, and I don’t recall Napoleon ever coming out on top. This time around, I decided to play Quatre Bras – the encounter between Ney and Waterloo that featured the classic non appearance of the entire French I Corps. The historical situation, apart from the I Corps, is that Ney was not aggressive or as forceful as he should have been had Napoleon’s orders been clearer. The special rules handle this well, though it is a bit frustrating for the French side to have the tools to do the job, but be held back by command issues. One good thing about the Quatre Bras game is that there is no guarantee Ney will be so slow as in his real life performance. So, after a first attempt that saw Ney fairly easily rebuffed, it was good to see that in the second run through, the French were victorious.

Here come the French!

Although there were no more in the series, if you look closely you can see how some of the ideas here have been sharpened up and packaged inside the Fallen Eagles system. the scales are similar, though Fallen Eagles allows much more stacking, and uses one hour turns. That series now covers Waterloo, Austerlitz, and Ligny, and seems to be doing well. Also similar in scale is the Napoleonic Battles Series from the Gamers, but there are going to be no more of those as sales, apparently, were disappointing.

The Allies are waiting…

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In the Field of Fire

I recently finished an extended session of Ben Hull‘s excellent solitaire game Fields of Fire. The game puts you in charge of a company of soldiers in one of three different campaigns: WW2, Korea, or Vitenam. You can play one-off scenarios in each of these wars, or a campaign. The campaigns give you the challenge of not only dealing with today’s battle, but managing for the next one: replacing casualties, rotating troops for rest and recovery, building up experience, and so on.

I restarted the WW2 campaign from the beginning because of the release of the second edition – updated rulebook and some components – and thoroughly enjoyed it. Also, by dint of much more preparation, thought, and care, I was able to get through the first four scenarios with wins and my company of soldiers in good order.

The solitaire engine in this game is a good one, so there’s a real sense of satisfaction in the progress made. I am, however, itching to play other games, so this campaign will be temporarily suspended as I move on. I did spot that there is a Vassal (game support) module for this, allowing you to play it on the PC. I am off to investigate that.

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On the beach on the table

On the table, I’m on the beach – Omaha Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944) – trying to recreate the successful amphibious invasion against Nazi occupied Europe. The game is John Butterfield’s D-Day at Omaha Beach, published by Decision, and is a solitaire game with the system controlling the German defenders.

Essentially, the action is controlled by a deck of cards which uses a combination of colors (each matching a defending position), fire symbols (each representing different intensities of fire) and counter symbols (determining which units are hit) to give you a tough opponent. As the American player, you are given the historical forces to achieve your goals, but you have to survive the landing operation, brave the fire on the beaches, and get in close to wipe out the well dug in defenders. And all against the clock.

I have played the standard scenario several times and never got close to a victory. The extended scenario adds actions for the German defenders, making it a lot tougher.

Things I like: a genuine solitaire system that you cannot second guess. There are tough decisions to make every turn. The game does a good job of creating the right atmosphere, transporting you to that time and place. You do get a true sense of the bloody slaughter.

Things I don’t like: my success rate…

There are two more games using a similar system but about Pacific battles.

Highly recommended if you like WW2 and want a good solitaire game. Not recommended for novices, unless you have some to show you the ropes.

 

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On the Table – Catch-Up Time Again

I love gaming. I love writing. One day I will have these in the right balance. For now, it seems that I play more than I write, and that’s not balanced correctly. Which is another way of saying that work on the novel project has hardly progressed, and here’s another writing task I would rather do: catch-up with the wargames that have crossed my game table in the last wee while. Continue reading

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