Back to the Cold War

On the table, BAOR, one of SPI’s Central Front Series.

The dangers of advance after combat

The dangers of advance after combat

I always liked the system used in these games. It essentially combines the friction of combat with the friction of doing anything in wartime, so that units accumulate Friction Points (FP) from both activities. Get too many, and the unit dies. The cool additional feature is that you can activate units multiple times in the same game turn. So, you can push your forces hard, and deciding just how hard is one of the challenges the game gives you.

I recently twice played out the short scenario in this game, which tasks the invading Soviets with the mission of crossing the Weser, or taking Kessel. The defenders are mostly British and West German, with a few Belgian speed bumps for company.

The first time, I screwed up some key rules, and did not give the Soviets the proper benefit of the resources available to them (chemicals, air superiority). Partly this was because I remembered the system as being easier than it actually is. It’s not super complex, but there are some subtle tweaks that can make a big difference. That first effort ended with the Soviet threat being well and truly blunted.

Second time around, the Soviets were significantly more potent, and unsurprisingly more successful.  I’m not sure how easy it would be for the Soviets to win the longer scenario, given the run down in their forces and the growing ranks of the defenders.

It was good to take a trip back to the 1980s with this game. This is from the series that SPI changed horses half way through. It was announced as an ambitious ten game set covering a hypothetical 1980’s Cold War turning hot. The first three games (Hof Gap, Fifth Corps and BAOR) used the same system, even benefiting from a cleaned up second edition rule book. North German Plain and Donau Front belatedly appeared, and were new games almost completely; only the map scale was consistent. The series was never completed with either system. I didn’t take to the latter two games, though much of this may have been driven by my disappointment in the abandonment of the original system. One day, I’ll get them out and give them another try. All I have to do, is find them…

 

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Enemy Action: Ardennes

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Enemy Action: Ardennes is on the table. It’s designed by John Butterfield, published by Compass Games, and gives you three Battle of the Bulge games in one box: Two player, German solitaire, and Allied solitaire. It uses four km hexes, turns of a day, and units at the regiment/brigade level.

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I am starting off with the two player game as that is the recommendation. Each game uses a different map, with the same terrain covered, but different sets of symbols used as part of the card driven artificial intelligence in the solitaire games. The cards are also used in the two player game, offering unit activations, reinforcements, events, and tactics. There are many innovations on show here, but one that stands out is the absence of a combat results table. All combat is resolved by drawing chits from a pool, and applying them according to circumstances. For example, one chit might apply if the attack is at greater than 2:1 odds. Another chit might apply if the attacker has air support. And so on.

The components look beautiful, though there’s a let down because of some minor errata for the map and cards. One day, game companies will master the art of quality control.

I have set up the game, read the rules once, and am now rereading them for comprehension.

John Butterfield’s previous designs have been favorites of mine, and I do not expect to be disappointed here. The fact that this is apparently the first of a series of games with a similar approach is a mouthwatering prospect. I’ll post some more after playing the game.

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Glory, glory, Chickamauga!

[Crossposted from On the table at Consimworld, but updated.]

On the table, Chickamauga from Glory 1. (A Richard Berg design, published by GMT.) Having tried the Gamers’ Barren Victory, and West End’s Chickamauga, I continued my Dave Powell inspired look at the Battle by stepping down another notch in simulation towards playability.

The Glory system is chit pull activation, with three types of combat: artillery fire, charge, and defensive fire. Charge is close combat. Units have a front side and a disordered side. A disordered unit that suffers a disorder is withdrawn off the board. It may then recover – and return on its disordered side, with the possibility of full recovery – or be permanently eliminated.

I used the original activation chits, with the original optional Overall Command Capability rule. (I did not like the Corps level activation shits proposed with the latest rules, as it did not fit my reading of the battle.) Essentially, each division gets two activation chits in the Pool. But each turn, the total number of chits drawn from the Pool for that side which actually activate, is randomly determined. So, you get a good mix of chaos and uncertainty, and excellent solitaire playability.

I have played the first day through to a conclusion, but doubt I will try it again. It’s too bland. The combat system leaves me cold. The activation system makes it a good game – potentially – but I am looking for more than that. I wish I had the space and time to attempt the Regimental level River of Death. When the designer tells you it will take a couple of hours for each game turn, you know you are in for a long game!

I took a look at the Avalanche Press game on Chattanooga and Chickamauga. The division level of the game does not appeal to me, so that will have to wait for another time.

Having finished volume one of Dave Powell’s trilogy, I’ll probably take a break from Chickamauga (unless volume two turns up sooner than expected).

Update

After I posted this on Consimworld, I got some feedback confirming the combat system seemed to give less than acceptable results; basically, unless you get very unlucky with the chit draws, or are caught at a map edge, it is bloodless. In reality, this battle – and most ACW combat, was a bloody grind. I thought the West End game showed that well, though there is some suggestion that it is too easy for units to recover. Well, although I am moving off the battle now, I expect to return. And while I have run out of ready to play games on the battle, I have some mix and match ideas that I would like to try, time and resolve permitting.

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More Chickamauga

Early on the first day, Brannan's Division is set to clobber Pegram (top left), while Bragg gathers his forces for his assault (middle right).

Early on the first day, Brannan’s Division is set to clobber Pegram (middle left), while Bragg gathers his forces for his assault (middle right).

On the table is Chickamauga – about the September 1863 ACW battle of that name – a Jon Southard design, published by West End Games.

Hexes are 275 yards across, turns are 45 minutes, and units are mostly brigades. There are no artillery units, these having been taken account of in rendering the infantry unit strengths.

It is an “I go, you go” system with some command and control limitations popped on top. For example, to get units to move, they either have to be given a command, or have to be in contact. Commands costs CPs, and these are available by random die roll each turn, and a certain potential amount from planning done by the higher level leaders. The effect is to constrain what the players can do, with a certain amount of chaos.

The combat system uses hits – each unit can take 10 – to show the attritional effects. You need to judge when it is time to get units out of danger and allow them to recover. However, recovery takes time, and no unit can completely recover.

I prefer the combat system here to the detail of the Gamers’ Brigade Series, because it is easier to play, there is no bookkeeping, and it gives a realistic impression. The bookkeeping alone would not be a deal breaker, but the Brigade Series has stragglers and casualties, thus complicating matters more than I want. In this game, there is no ‘breaking’ of divisions or Corps Attack Stoppage. However, most players are going to look at a division accumulating too many hits, and do the right thing. OK, I did say ‘most.’

I like the idea behind the command and control system, however I would prefer it were less gamey. For example, in the planning part you can assign points to a future turn to a wing leader. However, you do not need to specify what the points are for. So, at the time of the plan you might be intending to order Division A. But come the time, you might want to give the order to Division B. On Consimworld, I think it was Steve Parker who hinted at a house rule restricting the use of planning points by specifying their use in advance. I have tried that and like it. It still has rough edges, but works OK.

One driver behind getting this and Barren Victory on the table was Dave Powell‘s book, The Chickamauga Campaign: A Mad Irregular Battle. (Highly recommended, but be aware it is only the first volume. I have ordered the second.) Reading the battle history, there are constant descriptions of units and leaders blundering about, not knowing where the enemy were exactly, and not that sure about their own forces, either. Flank attacks happened from chance sometimes. That is difficult to reproduce without adding another layer of complexity, like randomized movement. But I did wonder if a double blind umpired version, especially with a free setup at the start, might get close to it. (Yes, it would be hard work.) Another option might be to use the two map, double blind system from GDW.

I have played through the first day scenario once – a Confederate win – and am restarting because there are a couple of aspects I want to try a different approach with. The hit markers are a bit fiddly, but otherwise the game plays smoothly, and is good fun. The core system promised a bit, though it sadly died out.

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High level gaming

On the table is MMP‘s Battle Above the Clouds, the 8th game of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series. This one, designed by Ed Beach and Mike Belles, covers the Chickamauga campaign (August-September 1863) and the Chattanooga campaign (October-November 1863).
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I have some experience with the system, having played the first three or four fairly extensively, but at some point I stopped playing – but kept buying…

On previous forays into my game collection to select something to play, I have been put off this series by the new standard rulebook. More accurately, the ridiculously tiny font used, is a real barrier. Fortunately, somebody at Consimworld made a Word version, so I can read the rules much more easily. That alone has encouraged me to get the game on the table.

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However, that is only part of the story. The other driving force was this:

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I also have Mr Powell”s The Maps of Chickamauga. Both are wonderful resources. I plan on buying his other Chickamauga books.

So, meanwhile I am taking my time here; reading the rules, pushing some counters around, reading the history, trying to get familiar with the territory – the maps are gorgeous – and the situation, and generally enjoying myself. I love this hobby!

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Tide of Fortune

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From Waterloo to Belgium in the midst of another war: on the table is the old (1993?) 3W game, Tide of Fortune. It’s a two mapper of the campaign in the west (restricted to northern Belgium and the Low Countries) set in September and October 1944, which was when Market Garden took place.

Scale is 1-2 days a turn 3 km per hex, and units are brigades, regiments, and battalions. Most formations are made up of a division (or Kampfgruppe) with 2-3 subsidiary combat units, and occasionally supporting assets.

The design is by John Schettler, being a development of the Italian Campaign system used by Decision Games in several issues of Strategy & Tactics. The core idea is that each side has a supply of Command Points, and it must plan when and how to use them. The high bidder each turn gets the initiative, with the low bidder being forced to rely on reaction and spoiling impulses. But if you spend the CP to get the initiative in one turn, that may leave the opponent able to grab the initiative in the next. (Playing solo means the bidding becomes a bit more involved, as I guesstimate the ranges of suitable bids for each side, and use a die roll or two.)

It’s not too complex – way easier than OCS or GOSS – and that is a definite attraction.

There are some missing counters and essential (setup) errata, but the rules look generally OK – based on an initial read and online feedback. I have made up replacement counters and am part way through setup.

When the setup is complete, it will be time for a proper read through the rules. Then I’m going to try the Market-Garden scenario and see how I get on.

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At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender

1,001 things to achieve with a time machine...

1,001 things to achieve with a time machine…

I have now finished my run through of Waterloo (from the Le Retour de l’Empereur package by Pratzen).  Who won? Check the post headline.

I will try and write a post later with more detail, but am slightly worried I won’t be able to read my hand written notes. The action at times was fast and furious, and I often opted to continue the game action to see what happened next, when I should have stopped to take notes. I also need to round up the shots from my phone. (One day, I am going to properly set up a camera and record every end of turn position for a game.)

It was terrific fun. Not a perfect game – I have some ideas for house rules, of course – but overall I was highly impressed.

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Wing Leader initial impressions

I have now had a chance to play a couple of sessions of Wing Leader, and my initial impressions are generally favorable. There are some minor points that might fairly be described as personal perspectives (or foibles!), but on the whole it’s a good package. For sure, it delivers a fresh perspective into this part of WW2, and it seems like a good way to learn the lessons of large scale aerial combat.

Here, in no particular order, are some initial comments:

  • The environment – the sun and weather – are a welcome, key feature of the design.
  • Combat verges on the bland. This is the weakest part of the experience.
  • To offset the preceding point, it’s readily apparent that the real danger to aircraft is not combat, it’s the after effects: cohesion.
  • The disproportionate effects of pilot quality(good and bad) are well represented.
  • The chaos of war is present to just the right (frustrating) degree. (There’s nothing quite like blowing an easy tally roll!)
  • I would have preferred the identifiers on the plane counters to be larger, to make it easier to see them. The Wing Displays are excellent, but the burden is in matching the counter on the map with the right part of the display.
  • Given the importance of tallying on move sequencing, it might have been preferable to give this more prominence in the rulebook and the player aids.
  • The basic game is fast to learn and play. That makes it a very accessible experience.
  • The basic game left me craving more. The advanced game does not look too difficult, but will slow play down.

This will be getting more play.

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Waterloo

After having thrashed out several enjoyable sessions of Quatre Bras, from Didier Rouy‘s Le Retour de l’Empereur boxed set (from Pratzen Editions), it’s time to move on to the main event: Waterloo.

Setup and ready to go. Now what do I do?

Setup and ready to go. Now what do I do?

The game is set up, and all ready to go. I do, however, need to have another read through the optional rules (to decide what ones I want to use) and the special rules for the Waterloo battle.

I was glad to see a specific restriction on the French use of the guard, as my last outing as an Allied player in this battle (Grognard SimulationsWaterloo at ConsimWorld) might have been more successful had this or something like it been in place.

So far as the optional rules are concerned, I really like those for Voltigeurs. (I just wish there were more skirmish counters available.) I want to impose some form of command and control, and will probably use a bastardized and simplified version of the most complex optional rules for this. Part of me wishes I had the space to run Wavre at the same time, but the realist in me knows it would be too much.

Close up of the front lines

Close up of the front lines

The more I have played this system, the more I have grown to like it. Getting the combined arms effect is a joy when it works out, but sometimes fate and enemy action intervene. I use the log sheets, partly because I find it quicker, and partly because I want to avoid as many markers as I can. Besides, I really like the counters.

I recently read Alessandro Barbero‘s book on the topic, and there might be a slight delay in the game start while I top that up with some further reading.

 

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Still cross at the crossroads

My second attempt at getting a French win at Quatre Bras failed. (See here.) Too many attacks stalled, and the French therefore lost too much time recovering. I need to sharpen that aspect of my play.

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Night falls, and the Allied line holds at Quatre Bras. At the top middle of the picture, the French cavalry are threatening, but previous attacks by the infantry on the line were unsuccessful, and their charges were similarly beaten back. At times it was close, but the French need a better commander!

There were some negative comments on Consimworld by gamers whose opinion was worth noting, but I am glad I didn’t let that stop me buying and playing the game. I have found it enjoyable – if somewhat quirky in places – and evocative.

I’m probably going to have yet another bash at Quatre Bras before I think about tackling the bigger stuff in the box.

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