Out of the envelope

Recently collected by yours truly, via the unique experience known as the Israeli Postal Service:

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Ouch! Fortunately, it was packed with a cardboard backing and the damage was minimal. (But I think Chris may want to use tougher envelopes in the future.)

What is it?

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Bay of Bengal is a game about the Japanese raid in the Indian Ocean in April 1942. Designed by Markus Stumptner and Brian McCue, and produced by Chris Harding Simulations, it is a double blind system, with each hex being 185 km, each turn being four hours, and counters representing nine aircraft, one capital ship, or varying amounts of smaller craft.

Breaking free from the envelope were:

  • A 32 page rulebook (including rules of about 16 pages, and the rest consisting of scenarios, notes, and the Uncertain Forces Tables. (I almost resisted asking where the Certain Forces Tables were. Almost.)
  • Two identical A3 sized color maps.
  • Two and a half sheets of one sided, not die -cut, color counters.
  • Seven A4 sized status sheets to organize units (like carrier displays) and the turn record track.
  • Two identical A4 sized, single-sided Player Aid cards.

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It goes into the infernal ‘to be played queue.’ I know very little about this part of the war, so its ranking in the queue may be adjusted (downwards) while I track down some background reading – and add that to the ‘to be read’ queue!

However, I must say that the package looks attractive, and if it had been more solitaire friendly, I may not have been so patient. Meantime, congratulations to the designers in having this released, and also thanks to Chris Harding for feeding the habit that is this hobby. 8)

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Not the Western Front

Also newly arrived and out of the wrapper, is Serbien muß sterbien, Michael Resch‘s game about the 1914 WW1 campaign in Serbia, and also produced by GMT.

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This game uses the system from GMT‘s 1914: Offensive à outrance with brigades and divisions battling it out on a map (with a shade too much white space for my liking) of 8 kilometer hexes, and game turns of 2-4 days.

I bought this because I saw 1914: Offensive à outrance, and was attracted by the high level of detail and apparent historicity. However, that game was way too big. This is much more manageable, and more likely to actually get played.

Another reason was the chance to learn something about other than the Western Front. This may not have been the main arena, but it was still important, and the effects linger on today.

A quick scan of the rulebook suggests that the game is not that complex, but the systems are noticeably different from the regular fare, and may take some getting used to. The package looks good – even if suitably dimly colored – and is already threatening to spark a bout of reading up on the campaign.

Finally, the title. It’s a WW1 slogan, essentially saying “Serbia must die” with the “die” part inheriting an extra “i” so as to make the rhyme in German. Not the most politically correct of titles, albeit accurate. Perhaps that would have been better as a secondary line to follow on from a more bland title. (As things stand, how do you think this game will sell in Serbia?)

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The old country

Newly arrived and out of the wrapper, is the second edition of Mark Simonitch‘s Ukraine ’43 game, produced by GMT.

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I have the first edition, but wanted to buy the new one because it is a complete redesign. Mark has used some of the successful techniques applied in his other recent designs (France ’40, for example) and taken a fresh look at the situation. As usual, the graphical look is crisp, clear, and attractive. A quick scan of the rules suggests it’s going to be fun to play as well.

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Napoleon goes square

Newly arrived:

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This is the Napoleonic version of Richard Borg‘s (“Borg’s” not “Berg’s”) Commands and Colors system.

GMT’s excellent production gives you a hard mounted (folding) game board, with wooden blocks and sheets of self adhesive stickers that you apply to make up the units. There are overlays, some unique dice, a deck of cards to drive the game – the cards limit what you can do with your troops – a color rulebook, and a color book of scenarios.

 

I have the Ancient era version and have had much joy using it as an introductory game for non wargamers. I don’t really need another introductory game, but while that will not hurt, there was another motive for – finally – giving in and buying the damn thing.

I have been thinking about doing some miniatures gaming in this era. But getting and painting the miniatures is a major time consuming endeavor. So, I have this idea of using the blocks from the game instead of miniatures. Of course, I need to settle on some rules and so forth. But getting these soldiers is a good start. Besides, I do fully intent to use the game. There are some who will prefer Napoleonics to Ancients, and now I can cater for both.

First up, I have to apply the stickers to the blocks. Here are some British Grenadier Guard units.

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I still have a way to go. What you see are the remaining British and Portugese blocks. The French blocks are all done, but at the time the photographs were taken, Napoleon had them off on a training march.

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On the warpath

No, not the political warpath…

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A break from politics, with the latest arrival: Strategy and Tactics magazine number 291, with the game Warpath about the Indian Territory in the USA Civil War. The system (Hands of Destiny, apparently) is by Joseph Miranda, and this particular title is by Chris Perello.

Component wise, the game is a standard one map in size, with 228 5/8″ OK counters, and a 16 page rulebook. Units represent battalions of infantry or cavalry, or artillery batteries, turns are 6 months of real time, with a chit draw impulse system providing the game engine and chaos, on a box to box map of the area involved in the conflict.

I know next to nothing about the topic, so the magazine article on this is a very necessary and welcome primer; it gave good background and context, though I would prefer to do more reading on some aspects of the conflict.

The magazine looks the part, though many quibble about the quality of the writing. My take on it is different because I am not looking at the material as the first and last word on any of the covered topics. I see them as tasters, in the main, possibly sparking me on to do more reading of my own – even if it is only to reread or remind me about material I have previously consumed and partly (ahem) forgotten. For example, one of the articles was about Rudolf Witzig, a prime mover in the capture of Eben Emael in 1940. It included parts of an interview with Witzig, and that part was a good supplement to my existing knowledge. Even better, I had done no reading on the ‘Age of Dragons’ in China’s history, and got a lot out of Terence Co‘s article on that topic.

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Blucher lives!

Newly arrived and out of the wrapper is Blucher, the latest game from Sam Mustafa.

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Sam is famous for his miniatures rules, and Blucher is a variation: it is described as a tabletop game because it can be played with cards (or oversize counters for us boardgamers) or miniatures. Indeed the basic game assumes the use of the cards, with the expressed hope that as the player progresses to the advanced game, miniatures will form up on the tabletop. However, the cards will never be far away, as they are a handy way of tracking unit capabilities and current status.

The topic is Napoleonic warfare, with a nominal scale of each unit being 2-3,000 infantry, 1-2,000 cavalry, or 18-24 guns, and 15 pairs of turns to a day’s battle.  I say “nominal” because there are variations of the unit scale offered for smaller or larger battles.

It is infuriatingly hard to pin down a ground scale, but the campaign system hints at each 12 inches equating to 1.5 miles. So that’s about 220 yards per inch. Let’s say 200 yards. The game uses a standard of BWs (base widths) for distances, to accommodate differently based miniatures. Each BW is 3″. Infantry fire is 1 BW (600 yards) for volley fire and 2 BW (1,200 yards) for skirmish fire. Artillery fire goes up to long range at 8 BW which is a whopping 4,800 yards. Hmm. Maybe I have that wrong. The relative ranges seem OK, but the actual numbers feel wrong. I suspect the feel is more important, but we will see when I get a chance to play the game.

I also acquired the Hundred Days set of cards. This has every unit from the campaign on standard sized cards, with leaders, markers, and objectives. In short, everything you need except a flat surface to play on.

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I have only skimmed the rules, but they do look interesting. On neat offset to the “I go, you go” system is the concept of momentum. The opponent rolls 3d6 and keeps the dice hidden under a cup. When the number of your activations first exceeds that number, the opponent reveals the dice and the movement is over. Neat and chaotic, but a pain for solitaire play. I might need to build a chit draw system to get a similar effect.

There’s other cool stuff as well, but I’ll leave that for later. The rules – including the campaign system, a section on army building, some historical scenarios, and rules summaries, comes in at over 170 pages. The Hundred Days package has 216 cards. The production standards are high, and the ability to use ready made cards instead of miniatures is a definite advantage for me. I may get to play it!

Check out the website, here.

And I found this review, which may be of interest.

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Rampage

Out of the wrapper and on the table is Rampage, one of the two solitaire WW2 games included with the magazine World at War, issue 40, published by Strategy and Tactics Press, part of the Decision games stable.

The topic is the Allied campaign in Europe from August to September 1944. The player takes the Allied forces and has to beat the system operated German defenders. There is one scenario of five turns, with each turn representing about ten days of real time. Hexes are 16 miles (24 km) across, and units are almost entirely division sized.

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The map is half sized – the other half features the other solitaire game in the package: Stalingrad Cauldron – and there are about 140 15mm square counters, and an eight page rulebook. (The other game has its own rulebook, though the core systems are the same.)

System

The game starts with the front line marked with German control markers. Each time the Allied player moves into such a hex (and so pushes back the line) he generates random defending forces from a pool – a mug of defenders, as it were – according to a die roll. For example, west of the main line of resistance the die roll is 1d6-3 generating 0, 1, 2, or 3 defenders. East of that line the roll is 1d6, and in a Victory City it is 1d6+2.

The defenders come in two main flavors: regular and elite. Elite get to fire first and impose damage before taking any.

Combat is formation dice rolling (aka buckets of dice) with the USA hitting on 4-6, and the British and Germans hitting on 5-6. The Allies score two hits if they roll a 6. There are terrain modifiers. For example, attacking across a river gives the defender a one round +1, and armor attacking a clear hex from a  clear hex gets a +1.

Allied forces start as two steppers. All the German forces are one steppers.

The Allied forces, if they do not wipe out the defenders in the first round can, if it is available, spend another movement point for another round of combat.

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Pockets

The game starts with 22 German divisions caught inside the Argentan-Falaise pocket. If the Allies complete the trap, the Germans get one round to breakout. So all 22 divisions roll a die, and each 5 or 6 removes an Allied step. The average losses will be 7-8 steps. The maximum Allied stack can be 12 steps, so the pocket should fall – with the units being permanently removed from the game – but it is by no means certain.

During the game, the Allied player can create more pockets. This is to his advantage as each pocket only generates one die roll for the defending force, even if the pocket is several hexes in size. (The broad offensive is not deemed an effective measure here. It’s about drive deep, encircle, and wipe out.)

Play

It’s fast, easy, and light. It’s just the right side of ‘light’ for me, but I suspect for many it will not have enough meat to merit any play. And there is a lot of luck in the game play. For example, the Allies face a supply slowdown. It’s a 50/50 shot – apparently – whether the US or British forces suffer this. It can cripple your chances of winning. I understand why it has been done the way it has, but it doesn’t work for me.

There are some nice ideas. For example, I liked the continuous movement and combat integrated as one. I was glad I had a chance to play it through.

I have played it to completion twice and have yet to manage an Allied victory. I did also have a couple of abortive starts where I realized I had either screwed up the rules, or was doing so badly, I knew there was no point in continuing.

Complaints

How often do you hear about games being described as puzzles? Well, I cannot help but think that the producers of Rampage have taken that to heart as they continue the unfortunate trend of production goofs and less than stellar rules. It does seem that the resources at their call are overstretched, because the output is sure suffering.

For example:

  • The rules give the wrong color for the British Armor units.
  • The rules give the wrong color for the British Infantry units.
  • The rules give the wrong color for the First Allied Airborne Army.
  • This is the first game ever that hides the movement allowance of units in a Designer’s Note!

There are other issues I have with the rules. For example, I found it harder to extract the information I needed to play the game than I should have.

Then there’s stuff like this:

Rule 9.14 – At the very start of Turn 3, roll a die. On a result of one, two or three, the British army group will henceforth be considered the “fully supplied” one and the US army group is considered only “partially supplied.” Once determined, that status never changes for the rest of the game. The fully supplied army group continues to operate as did both groups during the game’s first two turns. The logistical situation is changed, however, for the other one (see below). Also note First Allied Airborne Army never becomes partially supplied (see section 13.0).

Spot anything missing? Well, what happens if you roll 4-6? Presumably it’s the US army group that is fully supplied, but why the hell doesn’t it say so?

And why the hell isn’t there a reminder on the game turn track?

Oh, and to add insult to injury, nowhere in the rules does it tell you what the US army group is or what the British army group is. You can work it out – see what I said above about a puzzle – but the omission is sloppy.

Incidentally, I am sure there are other goofs there that I missed above. I just got on with playing it, making my own decisions when necessary, and did not stop to take better notes.

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Finally

The game didn’t bring the historical campaign to life. It needed a different blend to do that.

As it stands, my overall impression is of a missed opportunity. Given a decent freshen up, and a bit more weight to the system, that would better match my gaming tastes. If you like light and easy games, go for it.

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A long and illustrious career awaits you

With this game, newly out of the wrapper, it’s a career in Napoleon’s Grande Armee.

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Designed by Richard Kane and Mike Ruttler, and published by Clash of Arms, this is a military role playing card game. You take the part of a soldier in the army, and through various campaigns you get the opportunity to fight, progress, and live to tell the tale. (Sometimes.) You may even change history…

The rules feature wine, women, and song, opportunities for heroism and discretion, and a mountain of historical period detail delivered – in the main – by the 200 cards. On top of the cards, you get a lengthy color rulebook, a booklet of examples of play, several playing aids on cards, and a supply of decimal dice.

I suspect the examples were taken out of the rules to keep the rulebook length down. I do not like that approach. I didn’t like the graphical look of the rulebook either, with its faux period font and color scheme. However, it’s the game that matters, and even a brief read through the rules suggests there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here with the right people in the right frame of mind. Even better, it is playable solitaire.

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Thunderbirds are go!

No, not the Gerry Anderson version

Gerry? Gerry? Where are you?

Gerry? Gerry? Where are you?

It’s Paper Wars #79, newly arrived with Thunderbirds at War, a solitaire game by Michel Boucher about the Royal Canadian Air Force 426 Squadron’s bombing of the Reich, from January – June 1943.

The game with the magazine has a half sized map with one of my pet hates – the use of England as a label for Great Britain. (Bastards!) How to insult the Scots and the Welsh in one easy lesson. Beyond that, there are 110 oversized counters, and the rules.

The magazine has several reviews – some of which appear to have been written a while ago – and some enticing news of some new game projects from Eric Lee Smith, Brien Miller, and Mark Herman.

Not sure when I will get to the game, but I have started reading the articles and like what I have read so far. The fact these reviews cover games I do not have makes them more appealing.

Certainly worth a look, and although the issues are too far apart, the subscription was a great deal.

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Ghost in the house

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On the table is Ghost Division, a Joseph Miranda game design from World at War magazine #38 published by Decision Games. This is a solitaire game where you take Rommel’s place as commander of the 7th Panzer Division in the 1940 opening blitzkrieg in the west.

I have laid out the map, cut the counters, and read the setup instructions. Unfortunately, the rules are not as good as they should be – and are hindered by some incorrect printing on the counters – so I have had to spend time on ConsimWorld to find out how you are supposed to setup the game, and how you are supposed to play it. That’s never a great start. However, I’m going to give the game the benefit of the doubt, to see whether it is any good. I like the concept, the situation, and the focus. But how does it actually play?

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