Adventures in a Gaming Land – Quote of the Con

The auction at Consimworld Expo is a hoot. Most of this arises from the auctioneer, Alan Emrich, who is sharp, fast, and funny. He delivered at the auction what was for me, the quote of the con.

Setting: Alan has been on his feet for about forty-five minutes, acting as auctioneer. In that time, he has sold several Napoleonic themed games: games about Napoleonic campaigns, or battles, or both.  The next game he is asked to auction is Napoleon’s Last Battles.  His response:

“Boy, that Napoleon guy sure got around!”


Adventures in Arizona – Friday

I started my gaming week with Wellington, and ended it the same way; Mark Kramer invited me to try out, under his guidance, the brand new Wellington’s War game from designer Hans von Stockhausen and Pacific Rim Publishing, and I accepted.

The game is about the Napoleonic campaign in Spain from 1808-1814. It comes with an extra large map (32″ x 48″), big hexes, and 100 blocks with stickers to attach to represent the military units. In addition there are decks of cards – one for events and one for commands – and some counters to be used as markers.

There are 12 turns in the campaign scenario, and a shorter 5 turn scenario that runs (I think) from 1812-1814.



The game system melds card driven techniques with buckets of dice for combat resolution. I am not keen on either of these mechanics, so the game started from a bit of a disadvantage. However, while I wouldn’t buy it, the game play was enough to convince me that for gamers who have no prejudices against these systems, it would be a good buy. It has a lot of tactical and operational depth, plenty of options, and more than its fair share of chaos.

The game turn starts with an event card drawn and played immediately by both sides. This is a very clever and well worked part of the system, because the designer has kept the focus on historical events occurring within a reasonable time. He achieves this by limiting the cards in the event deck, and having the contents tweaked according to the game turn. (So, in certain game turns, you add certain event cards.) Also, some events trigger the addition of other cards to the deck. It sounds deterministic, and it probably would be except for the fact that typically you are only drawing two events per turn (there can be more) so it is by no means certain what will happen and what will not. In other words, there is still an element of tension over the events, and that is a good thing.

After that, each player draws six command cards from that deck (seven in turn one). This is like Hammer of the Scots in that the cards limit what you can do. So, when I drew a hand of cards with values of one and two, it was not a surprise that the victory point score went in favor of Mark, as he had drawn cards with values of three and four.


With these cards, you can draw units, move units, conduct sieges, and so on. Battles are fought at the end of round of card play, and use – as already mentioned – buckets of dice. For those not in the know, this means that units roll a number of dice equal to their strength, hitting on a number determined by the type of unit. Also, combat is in order according to the unit rating with A units firing before B rated units which fire before C rated units and so on. It works, but I do not like it.

At the end of the turn you deal with attrition; essentially, it’s hard to amass big forces without suffering losses.

In Winter turns you check Victory Points (VPs). The map is split into areas. Controlling the areas gives you VPs, but these differ for each side.


Things I Liked

  • The rulebook is 30 plus pages, but it’s actually very accessible. So, unless you face an opponent struck down with analysis paralysis, this has the potential to be quite a quick moving game. You will not finish the campaign game is a single afternoon or evening session, perhaps needing two.
  • The game is not scripted; I could see several different strategies for each side, and am sure I only scratched the surface.
  • There’s some neat unit differentiation – the Spanish guerrillas, for example, are a real pain for the French – without a material rules overhead.
  • The events deck must have taken a long time to fine tune. I was very impressed with how this worked.
  • The game has simple and effective mechanisms that reflect the political situation, and thus the availability of military force for each of the main combatants.
  • Any game with fog of war is a game with added tension.


If I were a fan of card driven games using buckets of dice for the combat system, I would buy this. If you are a Napoleonic gamer for whom these two features is not an obstacle, I recommend you give it a look.


For the record, I was just about losing when we called the game. I could blame my crappy hand of command cards, but it’s also fair to say that I was making all sorts of errors, and being punished by the more savvy, and experienced, Mr Kramer.

Thanks to Mark for his patience in explaining the rules, tolerating my questions, and my whining about the cards I kept on drawing. He made it a very enjoyable session, despite those damn buckets of dice!


Adventures in Arizona – Thursday

So, back to Ukraine ’43. When we resumed the game, the German side were back at the Dnieper river, pursued by the Soviets. There were not enough units for a complete defense, but gradually – thanks to replacements and reinforcements – a defensive line was constructed.

Unfortunately, it was weak in places. And the Soviet side eventually broke through. From that point on, as much as matters before had been desperate for the Germans, they were even more so.

Each turn, the Soviets drove forward, picking up VP here and there. Each turn the Germans tried to do some damage with their panzer forces, and to stall what seemed like the inevitable.

With a couple of turns to go, the Soviets launched an offensive on Kiev that would have won the game, had it been successful. The Germans held out.

Kiev holds out

Kiev holds out

Then, out of nothing, Nicholas cobbled together a strike force that smashed into two of the big Soviet stacks and sent them reeling. That bought the Germans precious time.

The Soviets needed 30 VP to win. With two turns left, they had 28 VP. With one turn left, they had 28 VP. That meant, in the final turn, it all came down to the minor city of Nikopol. Surrounded by the Soviets, would they hold out?

Nikopol at the center of the storm

Nikopol at the center of the storm

Yes. Incredibly, at the end of the campaign game, victory could have gone either way, depending on the fates in that last turn.

It had been a hard fought victory for the German side. Nicholas must take much credit for this, as he was much more thoughtful in the positioning of the defenders than I was. His sense of the danger was better developed than mine. (Though I could claim something for having suggested the garrisoning of Nikopol.)

Marc and Daaniel had been unlucky at times during the game. With them having to do most of the attacking, they had suffered from too many low die rolls. Had these gone differently… On the other hand, the weather was way too kind to the Soviets.

A great gaming experience, played with terrific gamers, in a wonderful atmosphere – just like I expect at Consimworld Expo. Simply wonderful.


Adventures in Arizona – Wednesday

My next game was Ukraine ’43, about the Soviet summer 1943 offensive that took them from outside Kharkov, all the way to Kiev. The designer is Marc Simonitch, and it is newly published by GMT Games.

Luckily for me, the designer had arranged to bring along a 125% enlarged version of the game maps, and offered to host the session. He was joined by Daniel Thorpe, and they took the Soviet side. Nicholas Markevich and I were the German side.

Setting up

Setting up

The game is a playable and good looking monster; it has two standard sized maps in the recognizable Simonitch style – that is a compliment by the way – and a campaign game of 21 turns. (We were playing the campaign game, but there are three smaller scenarios included.) The counters are larger sized, with clear and attractive coloring throughout. The counter stacking is minimal, and the system is accessible and easy to understand. Mastering its nuances are another matter.

The situation is that the Soviet side have to drive hard to keep up at least to the historical performance. This is because each turn has a benchmark of victory points, and if the Soviets do not get close enough to the benchmark – within six, they lose. On the other hand, if they can achieve six more than the benchmark, they win an automatic victory. This means there is a level of tension in every turn as both siodes have one eye on the situation, and one eye on the victory point track. Victory Points (VP) incidentally come from control of specified (and marked) locations, with the possibility of extras for the Soviet side that can exit units off the Western map edge.

At game start, the Soviets have massive resources on hand. They will break the German line. So the question for the German side is when to pull back, and to where. Timing is everything.

The Germans pull back from the defensive line - too late?

The Germans pull back from the defensive line – too late?

We managed 11 out of the 21 turns, and at the end of that session my conclusion was that the German side had waited too long to withdraw. Although our panzers had snapped back at times, the Soviet side had kept on going and it looked as if there were almost no German units left to form a line. The only hope was that the Soviet side were at the end of their supply chain, and there was a steady (albeit small) trickle of reinforcements and replacements. Would it be enough?

Adventures in Arizona – Tuesday

To cut to the chase, at the end of several days of gaming, the Allied forces conceded to Napoleon at Waterloo. For all that commentators criticize the Sicilian Ogre for his mishandling of the battle, his gaming counterparts put that right.

Their approach was as follows:

  • To cancel the all out assault on Hougomont, and replace it with a careful, cautious approach from a safer angle.
  • To send out substantial blocking forces so as to prevent the Prussians from doing very much.
  • To hammer the left side of the Allied line using a combination of Guard and regular infantry, preceded by an almighty Grand Battery of artillery.
  • Once they had driven the Allies back, they kept up the pressure until, eventually, there was nowhere left to fall back to.

So, before I forget, a thank you to Clark Daggs, Chris Fasulo, Vinnie Fasulo, and John Foy for their part in making this an awesome gaming experience. It was a pleasure, gentlemen.

The end

The end

Next up, some comments about the game system:

  • Chris Fasulo designs games by reading the history, and working from there. He is not a great believer – and may be unique in this – in seeing what other designers have done.
  • When I first read the rules, I thought the combat model would not work.
  • In essence, troops have a cohesion rating (called “Level of Order”) as well as a combat strength. Combat results affect the cohesion. Units can be badly beaten up, but can also recover.
  • To kill units, you have to hound them to destruction: grind down their cohesion, and keep at them.
  • The combat model does work. It is not perfect. For example, I question whether units could truly recover 100% of their cohesion. But, every combat model has its shortcomings, and so should not be discounted for that reason alone.
  • The game has big stacks of counters at times. This either bothers you, or it doesn’t. That apart, it is very playable. There is some fiddly reference to charts, but that is nothing. It is way, way faster than the other tactical games at this level of this era that I have seen.
  • The counters badly need some way of showing an obvious divisional affiliation – because you move by divisional formations, in the main.
The Prussians were really up against it

The Prussians were really up against it

The gamer in me wants to go away and think of ways of cutting down the stacks, and maybe – dare I say it – tweaking the Levels of Order system. But first I have to work out how to get hold of a copy without being clobbered for import tax. The game has just been released, and there were no copies for sale. (Boo!) On the other hand, it meant that those of us who played it were having a  truly unique gaming experience.

In the top right, you can see the Allies pushed against the map edge

In the top right, you can see the Allies pushed against the map edge

Adventures in a Gaming Land

Today was the day when, among other events, the dealer room opened. Decision Games, Legion Games, Lost Battalion Games, Pacific Rim, and Victory Point Games all had stuff on show and for sale, with GMT, MMP, and other companies’ products available through Decision.

As well as the games fro sale, there were gamer accessories. What’s a gamer accessory? Glad you asked:


A dice tray. Perfect for the gamer in your life!

In addition, John Kranz hosted tonight’s welcome assembly. As the person who had traveled the longest distance, apparently, I was introduced to the crowd and received a game as a special prize. (Cool!)

There was a short but entertaining talk from guest of honor Mark Herman, and we spent some time remembering absent friends, such as the late John Hill.

Tomorrow I am going to tray and get some pictures of the games on offer in the main hall (or at least some of them) to give you an idea of the diversity of stuff being played.

Adventures in Arizona – Monday

Part of setup materials from Grognard Simulations' game called Incredible Courage: Waterloo

Part of setup materials from Grognard Simulations’ game called Incredible Courage: Waterloo

Day two of the Incredible Courage: Waterloo game saw some surprising developments.

The French had clearly decided they were going to take their time so far as Hougomont was concerned, and were content to nibble away at the defenses, hex by hex. However, in the center, bursting through their won artillery batteries, came the Old Guard. These legendary fighters plowed right through the first line of Allied defenders, only to be beaten back by a combination of top quality British Guard Infantry and heavy cavalry. Normally, the Guard are retained for later in the day. But Napoleon in our game was throwing caution to the wind.

On the Allied front, we thought that repulse would force the French to stop and think. Instead, the Guard licked their wounds and came back for more. And, at the same time, were supported by major offenses on either side of them. Suddenly the whole Allied line of defense east of La Haye Sainte was crumbling. Wellington and company raced to try and reform a cohesive line.

The Prussians, meantime, had arrived. Unfortunately for Wellington, the early arrivals are not the best of troops and Napoleon had sent out a considerable high quality force to keep them from doing any mischief while the rest of the French forces battered the Allied defenders. It rather looked as if the Prussians were going to be forced to wait for more troops to arrive before they can even attempt a serious thrust to help Wellington.

That’s where we are at the end of play today, for which the following picture hopefully gives you some further idea.


Adventures in Arizona – Sunday


And so, to battle. My game to start the con is Grognard Simulations’ Incredible Courage: Waterloo. It is a game done with 100 yard hexes, 10 minute turns, and company/battalion and squadron/regiment sized units.

On the Allied side, Chris Fasulo (left flank), Vinnie Fasulo (Prussians) and me (right flank). On the French side, John Foy (right flank) and Clark Daggs (left flank).

The first action consisted of the French hastily sending out couriers to cancel the orders to assault Hougomont. They wanted to take a different approach. Then they sent out a couple of cavalry divisions towards the Allied left flank (and the entry zone for the Prussians). The French First Corps joined the action with a drive at Smohain, then northwards. In addition, the French formed a huge artillery mass south of La Haye Sainte. They cleared that outpost with a deadly fire, and kept the Allied guns quiet.


The Allied response was to shift some cavalry to the left flank, but not to engage, while pulling the main infantry line of defense off the ridge and away from the deadly French artillery. At the same time, the French reignited their desire to take Hougomont, and so it looks like we (the Allies) will be facing a three pronged assault.

Time is on our side, but we will need the Prussians to make an impact pretty much as soon as they arrive.

The game is easy to play, even if the mechanisms are a little unusual. The main practical handicap was that Chris forgot to bring the Order of Battle charts, so it took a bit longer to separate out the troops. I’m having a ball.

Adventures in Arizona – Friday

[Background: I have traveled to Arizona for the forthcoming ConsimWorld Expo, a gathering of gamers. The plan is for me to blog about the games, of course, but also little snippets of my general experiences here. Well, that’s the plan.]

I spent Thursday travelling. I left the house at 5.00 AM and, subjectively, got to my hotel in Scottsdale Arizona about 4.00 AM Friday, having gone first to Heathrow, then Phoenix.

The flight was remarkably easy, and I managed a decent amount of sleep. The kosher food served was even edible, apart from the meat in the main course. (If the IDF is ever looking for a new supplier of boot leather, tell them to get in touch.)  There was so much food, however, I did not go hungry.

I had a very pleasant surprise during the stopover at Heathrow; after passport control and before security, in the transfer area, I bumped into Yan Tiefenbrun en route home from the Paris Air Show. I was in another world, trying to tune out the general hassle, and it was Yan who spotted me. It was so good to see him (and his colleague, Michael) and spend time before they caught the flight to Glasgow. (No, I was not tempted to join them.)

I had not been able to get a room at the convention hotel for Thursday night, so took the opportunity of booking a room in Scottsdale so as to do a bit of looking around at a different part of the Phoenix area. Old Scottsdale, in particular, is very touristy – in a nice sort of way.


  • I stayed in the Hyatt Place in Old Scottsdale. The room was big, clean, fresh, comfortable, and had all I needed. The staff were pleasant and helpful.  (No, this is not a paid endorsement; it was a nice play to stay, and I wanted to give them a mention.)
  • Everything of interest was in walking distance. If you feel suicidal. It was so hot, that walking was not really practical.
  • I took a cab to Scottsdale Fashion Square, a huge modern mall with lots and lots of shops. To my inexperienced, 99% were chain stores of one type or another.
  • There’s a free bus service round the Scottsdale area, so I used that to head to my next stops which were within a short enough distance of each other so as to allow perambulation.
  • Guidon Books is a wonderful store specializing in American Civil War and Western history. I picked up David Powell’s book on the Chickamauga campaign.
  • Poisoned Pen is another wonderful store, this one specializing in crime. I had to hold back here, but did manage some purchases for reading over Shabbat.

Although I enjoy reading on my tablet, and love the convenience of being able to get books electronically, instantly, I still very much enjoy browsing and buying in real bookshops. And, of course, there is still nothing quite like reading a (physical) book.

I could have spent hours in these shops, but time was against me, as I needed to get to the convention hotel in time to get set for Shabbat.

I now realize I did not take a single picture; I was too busy trying to take in the sights and sounds, and clearly was not in camera mode. A shame, because there are parts of Scottsdale that I wish I had more time to explore and photograph. For example, there’s an interesting waterfront development. Next time! It is more important I get pictures of the games at ConsimWorld Expo.