July 1863

Ahead of the 158th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, I have been indulging in the heady mix of gaming and reading that brings history to life.

On the games table:

This game, part of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series, includes three campaigns:

  • Here Come the Rebels – 1862 Antietam Campaign
  • Roads to Gettysburg – 1863 Gettysburg Campaign
  • Rebels in the White House – Early’s 1864 Raid on Washington

Each has several basic game scenarios and one or more advanced game scenarios. I am playing the basic game of the 1863 set which runs from June 30 to July 3, allowing me to see the situation before the great battle and how it developed.

To help put everything into context, I have been reading this alongside my game playing:

It’s well written and quick thorough, but – so far – avoiding putting too much detail before the reader so as to blur the overall picture.

Although I am fairly well read about the battle, there are always fresh perspectives; there’s always something new to learn. In addition, it’s fun and educational to compare a serious historical narrative with how the situation is expressed in the game.

For example, in the real campaign, each side only had the roughest idea about the location of the main enemy forces. The battle happened almost by accident, starting as a small encounter that mushroomed. Because the game doesn’t give you that lack of knowledge, it has to use other techniques to try and recreate the situation. For now, let’s say that they work, and although the game that arises is enjoyable, there’s a sliver of a sensation that an umpired version of the game with full fog of war is what we need. Till then, gaming and reading are pretty damn good as they are.

Sixth Fleet

Just got this off my table.

I played through all the basic scenarios to get the rules sorted, then one of the intermediate scenarios.

The strategic air allocation is the most challenging part for the solo player, but that apart it’s a breeze.

It was fun. I’d forgotten how much fun.

And now the other Fleet Series games are calling to me.

Doomsday

This is part of the Operational System Series designed by Adam Starkweather and published by Compass. The particular game is about hypothetical Cold War going hot in the 1980s.

The game comes with three standard sized maps and one small add-on for Berlin, a mountain of play-aid cards, over a thousand 9/16″ glorious counters, as well as a rule book and scenario book.

There’s a lot to like here. Continue reading

Finishing the Pocket

A few weeks back I finished an extended session of play with Jaws of Victory. Here are my likes and dislikes.

What I liked

  • The maps are gorgeous.
  • The counters are equally nicely done.
  • The rule book, scenario book, and play aids are also of high quality.
  • Game play is immersive. (There’s a downside to this which I’ll cover in the dislikes.) While you can just push the counters around, to be successful you must come up with a plan and then execute it. For example, when and how to use artillery. As another example, which troops to commit first and which to be reserves.
  • The supply rules are a lovely balance of playability and realism. You cannot simply attack everywhere all the time. So, naturally, there are lulls as supplies are built up before the next offensive.
  • The air support rules are another wonderful creation. You can call for support but you are never sure if you will get any. It’s easy to play and adds to the suspense. (And reflects real-life doubts.)
  • The tank and anti-tank interaction is superb. It’s easy to use and delivers believable results.
  • Similar to the last point, the terrain effects and different unit types give a real sense of the limitation the actual forces faced. This is not a game where you get your powerful tank units up front and they sweep all foes away. Oh no. You need infantry, engineers, and artillery. And you need replacements to fill the ranks.
  • There are plenty of one map scenarios.
  • Achieving historical results is challenging. That’s the way it should be. The result is not scripted. I know that I only scratched the surface of the game play and I am much happier knowing that the Soviets, for example, cannot simply just attack away and succeed. I’m also pretty certain that watching an expert play this game would be highly entertaining and instructive.

What I didn’t like

  • It’s slow to play if you are doing things properly. There are three sources for this. First, most hexes have more than one unit in them, so there’s a stack with one visible and one or more hidden. Second, only infantry units with 3 steps or more project a Zone of Control. (ZOC). So, you often need to disturb a stack to see if a ZOC is in effect. Third, there are rules for armor interception. So, you may need to check to see if a stack has a potential interceptor. This is the price you pay for the level of detail on display.
  • There are lots of special rules setting up the historical restrictions on when units, for example, may be activated and where they may go in early turns of the scenario. You get the history, but it’s not for free. No, I don’t know a way around this. (Yes, I am trying to have my cake and eat it.)
  • That’s it…

In summary, this game has been one of my best buys. I spent hours playing it and enjoying it. And if I can ever get back to a convention, this will be high on my ‘to-be-played’ list because I very much want to see how the campaign goes.

Pocket on the Table

On the table, a meaty game called Jaws of Victory about the WW2 campaign around Korsun and Cherkassy in early 1944.

It’s designed by Milt Janosky and published by New England Simulations.

Here’s an overall view of the first scenario (on one of the two maps) dealing with the Soviet encirclement.

And here’s a closeup showing where the breakthrough is going to be attempted.

Those red counters are Soviet barrage concentrations. Nasty stuff.

The game features turns of a day, hexes that are two miles across, and units ranging from battalion sized to division. It’s “I go, you go” with some reaction allowed and the creation and utilization of reserves. Other points in no particular order:

  • Airpower uses a simple but effective system so it doesn’t take up disproportionate time. (OCS, I’m looking at you.)
  • Extensive use of artillery on attack and defense.
  • Supply uses points and depots, but is streamlined and easy – no magical tricks as to when to supply units. (OCS…)
  • Easy and evocative armor rules dealing with superiority and taking losses.
  • Stacking is not too bad – 3 units maximum – but there are exceptions and restrictions to learn.
  • Combat is odds based with chunky shifts for terrain, artillery and air support, combined arms, armor, and so on.
  • Most units take losses in steps, with different size and quality catered for by different classes (types) of step loss chit.

The physical components are good quality with only a few small, irritating counter errors. The rulebook and playbook are well done with ‘living’ versions maintained on the publisher’s website.

As usual, putting the game on the table has triggered a flurry of reading (and book buying) so I can have a good grasp of the historical context. Some of the source material quoted by the designer is hard to get or expensive, but there’s other material around that should at least provide the basics.

This is wargaming at its finest for me: a meaty, good-looking game that oozes history and makes me want to learn more. I could probably play nothing but this game for the next year, but of course I’m too much of a gaming butterfly to do that. While it’s on the table, though, I’ll enjoy every minute.

 

Irony

There’s a campaign for a new boardgame about to close on Kickstarter.

Conflict of Wills: Judean Hammer

Judean Hammer is a fast-playing two-player area-control game about guerrilla warfare during the Maccabean Revolt. Take on the role of the Seleucid Greeks or the Maccabean rebels and battle for control of Judea.

I was interested enough to want to back this.

Care to have a guess at one destination this is not shipping to?

No Judean Hammer for me!

It strikes me as somewhat ironical that a game about conflict in Israel cannot be shipped to Israel.

More Fields of Fire

Hogging the table for a good few weeks, Fields of Fire 2. It’s a solitaire game – second in the series – where you command a company of USA troops (in this case, from the 5th Marines) and work your way through campaigns consisting of several consecutive missions. There are campaigns for WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. (I have played the first in the series.)

I have been focusing on the WW2 campaign which is against the Japanese forces on Peleliu.

The missions are, in general, tough. (If it were too easy, that would be no fun and no achievement to win.) You constantly have to think about force conservation – which is a good thing – instead of simply satisfying the victory conditions for the current mission.

The game is very different from typical wargames: the map is a display of cards, troops need orders to do anything, and the different technical aspects of weapons are restricted to only a few categories, with a few more tweaks for vehicles. Troop quality is important. Your soldiers die all too easily, and green replacements often don’t last long. Grittily realistic is how I would describe it. It’s also engrossing, though sometimes frustrating as the system can kick you when you are down. But what do you do except try again.

The major strike against the game is the completeness of the rules. The second edition rules are an improvement, but still – apparently – managed to retain some errata. More important is that the rules are not comprehensive enough. There are too many situations that are not explicitly covered. And in some instances, as I found out thanks to some feedback on BoardGameGeek, essential information is hidden away in highlighted notes.

I should stress that the game is playable as it stands, but there are several events that may arise which are not covered and you have to use your own judgement. For example, in a couple of the Peleliu missions, the table that determines where enemy units appear in a certain row of the ‘map’ will never produce usable results. The table doesn’t take account of the fact that there is no other beyond which enemy units can be located. So, I had to make up my own table.

What makes the whole situation more annoying is that GMT appear to be ignoring any and all rules queries. They have stopped supporting the game. This is most unlike them.

I’m going to continue to play the game and use that old fashioned system of resolution known as ‘making it up’ as and when required. But I do hope that at some point GMT will return to the game system and give us the rulebook we need. And deserve.

UPDATE: In last week’s GMT news email, they announced a new development team for the game and a new module. It’s not been explicitly said that there will be an improved rulebook, but we can live in hope.

Tank Battles at Tobruk

This Harold Hock design, published by Avalon Hill, dates back to 1975. I think this is the first time I have played it since then…

It’s a very detailed game about tank v tank warfare. There are detailed charts which show you how many times a weapon can fire in a turn (which varies according to whether the target has been acquired), the chance of a hit, the hit location, and the type of damage, all while taking into account target aspect. Since you roll dice for each shell, each hit, and each potential penetrating hit, you roll a lot of dice. This is not for the faint hearted.

The playability is further dragged down by the lack of markers. So, for example, you have to keep track of which targets have been acquired, which tanks have suffered mobility or firepower kills and so on.

I played scenario one. A group of nine Grant tanks take on a mixed German force of Panzer IIIh and IIIj tanks with a couple of Panzer IVe’s thrown in as extra targets. Around a dozen turns later there were five Grant tanks still in one piece and one immobile but still firing and no more German tanks, the desert being littered with burning wrecks. The German tanks were shot up as they tried to close in to more effective range. The surprising aspect was that of the Grant two guns, the smaller 37mm seemed to do the most damage.

The game is chock full of great ideas but is a real drag to play. You can see, looking back, how it was an inspiration for others. In fairness, the slow play may be down to the scenarios which are too big for the die rolling required. The other handicap is that the charts were all weapon and vehicle specific. So, it wasn’t like you could (or can) instantly develop versions for other vehicles and weapons that were not included in the box.

I enjoyed it as a diversion and a trip back in time. Forty-five years ago, this was the height of gaming sophistication. I may never go back to it, though.

On the Table Catchup

After finishing off the first scenario of Brazen Chariots (it was a draw) I decided I wanted to play something else. I opted for Ukraine ’43 (first edition), a GMT game designed by Mark Simonitch. I played this against the designer back in 2015 and this was an opportunity to refresh the experience.

There are a lot of Soviet troops out there

The campaign is a puzzle for the Germans: how do you stop the Soviets who have overwhelming superiority and seemingly endless numbers of troops? While many gamers have a tendency to over think their play, this type of game requires it. If you put a unit one hex out of place, or fail to cover the area where the enemy breaks through, you will lose.

Somebody’s about to be encircled

One of the aspects that is worth highlighting is that the game provides a Victory Point level that has to be attained to avoid defeat. This translates into a measure of success – for both sides. It also encouraged me to play the short scenario, reset the game and try it all over again.

Good fun.

In the desert

On the table currently is Brazen Chariots, a game in Dean Essig‘s Battalion Combat Series (BCS) about the 1941 battles around Tobruk. I last played this at ConsimWorld 2019 but fairly recently a new version (2.0) of the rules was produced. I wanted to get up to speed with these as the next game in the BCS is about the battles for Budapest and I am keen to try that out.

The full campaign game is beyond me – I don’t have space for the three maps – but there are plenty of other manageable scenarios that I can make my way through. I’m going to start with the first and keep going until I get bored or otherwise redirected to another game.