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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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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