Saturday, 8 April 2017

Quick Looks: Won by the Sword

Won by the Sword went down like Fat Man over Nagasaki on most wargame forums when released by GMT back in 2014. Lots of misprints on the components and errors in the rules gave it a bad rep to such an extent that GMT decided to bail it out with a patch. James and I have played a couple of games reworked version, it still rides like a bike with two missing gears but its probably the most innovative and insightful design to hit the scene in the past 10 years.


The rules; they work fine for the most part, James is clearer on the gaps than me, he reads them, I'm the opponent. What I will say is that they work if you can put the daddy pants on and make common sense decisions to fill any minor gaps.



Forage; Some games are about movement, some about concentration of fire, some moral, others unit composition, some bluff or even supply routes. Won by the Sword is about burning peoples villages and taking all their food, mostly just to stop your opponent doing it. This is the 30 years war, armies are big and supply chains  are poor, so armies ravage southern Germany for food and booty. Each turn end every army has to consume a certain amount of forage tokens or take corresponding losses, equally large moves or deploying for battle all costs forage. Forage is generated by scourging the land. What this leads to is strategic deprivation of your opponents likely objectives and cat and mouse with the balance of your force. In English what I mean is this; You want to try and burn the areas your opponent is likely to go, even if they are your own country, and you want to split your forces up to maximize foraging but with out getting caught in a battle. Concentration of force is a big deal here.

At the most basic level this is a game where each player has 1-5 armies and has a set of target cities to take. The siege, combat and CDG elements of the game are all slick and well thought through. It's the forage that makes the game really something though. It leads to double think, moral ambiguity (a great feature in any game) and high tension gambits. Armies are made up of dozens of counters on display hidden behind a screen, as such you don't know who has run out of food, and how large a force really is until you drag it into battle.

Book I borrowed off Pete on fortress design in this era

The only major downside is the scenarios. They are fine, but they all boil down to start your armies here and take these cities. They feel rather samey given how easy it is to traverse the map. 

In many respects its a shame this system had such bad teething issues as this could the first game in a fantastic series. Who knows perhaps Ben Hull will come back to it.

Napoleon's Triumph and repeat play

I bought Napoleon's Triumph several years ago when it was cheap and life was easy. I found it pretty hardcore and only pulled it off the shelf once every six months so I sold it to some dude from Sheffield. Since then I've moved to Sheffield and that dude (James) is one of my main game opponents. Recently (relatively) we've been playing Napoleon's Triumph.

Image by Mitte_70, borrowed from BGG.
I think my initial feels about this game have been validated. If you play it regularly there is some thing really unique and excellent here. With single sporadic games you have to relearn the un-intuitive rules and live through the same mistakes. It becomes a game of who makes biggest blunder first.

In our most recent game James took me by surprise by effectively using his cavalry to screen. I know that this is the primary role of cavalry in most warfare but this was the first game I have seen it done effectively in. It tied down my best infantry corps more or less taking it out of the game. In the centre we pushed around, I avoided Jame's trap and even took the upper hand for me to lose it all in one large and badly thought through push. Things then went to pot pretty fast with the allied centre collapsing a few turns later.

We've played Rachel's other more recent game, Guns of Gettysburg, a couple of times too. Until this game of Napoleon's Triumph I felt that Guns was actually the better title, now I'm not so sure. Napoleon's Triumph is actually a little short for what it is. Normally brevity if a good thing in a game but with NT I feel that the room for mistakes is so great an extra hour of run time and a little more forgiveness may benefit it. Guns on the other hand is a little longer.

My main point in write in this post is this, only get one of Rachel's games if you have a regular opponent and you both want to invest in really learning the game. As dedicated games these are great, as one off experiences they are a frustration.

Found this in Vienna, nice holiday surprise after the boredom of Baroque

Metal Ships!

My friend Pete convinced me to buy some 1:1200 scale metal ships for fleet battle games. He picked up some Russo Japanese War Battleships and frigates and I being the most dapper of war gaming hipsters acquired some 30 ships from the well known Sino-Japanese War. I spent today gluing my fingers together and basing the ships.


Yesterday we played a short skirmish with the Russo Jap ships using a simplish rule set.

It is grey at sea

The game is pretty simple, ships are split in to squadrons, plays roll for initiative then take it in turns to move each squadron and fire with each squadron and there's a phase for damage control and spotting (no ships start on the table instead you move dummy paper counters around until you are spotted). Combat is bucket o dice with a mixture of better dice and modifiers for the bigger guns. It makes sense, does a reasonable job of simulation and plays quick. The game adds colour with some interesting critical hit tables and a wide range of weaponry. The odds are fairly long (roll a d10 hit on an 8+) giving the game quite a realistic feel.


Pete is a much better naval commander than me, he picked a better approach angle and managed to maximize his firing arcs on my ships, as such he scored a lot more hits and seriously crippled both of my battleships. In response I swung into the middle of his line rather suicidally, lucked out and managed to critical one of his ships with a ram and another with a torpedo strike. It ended with both fleets limping off in a draw.

As someone who has zero desire to own a large box full of toy soldiers or learn lots of rules this is a pretty good way into minis gaming. It is comparable to boardgame alternatives, such as Star Wars Armada or the rather silly Dreadfleet by GW but its a bit lighter on arbitrary nonsense and doubles down on the manouvre warfare.

I've started to put together a campaign map / simple system for our future Sino Japanese war game.


Status of the Blog

April and my first post for 2017. Like most blogs at some point the writer losses interest or time. I intend to keep posting but far less regularly as I spend more timing down the climbing wall and less time gaming, and when I do play wargames I feel less compelled to write about my experiences.

Solo gaming has sort of died for me, as has reading rules. Who knows perhaps it will come back but in the past 5 months all the games I have played have been short face to face affairs as I still enjoy the social aspects of the hobby. I do intend to solo my copy of the Dark Valley by Ted Racier at some point, and perhaps round of Quatre Batailles en Espagne but that's about it and that could take me a good year.

Having said this I do intend to publish several quick posts in quick succession.


I considered adding a meme, but the Battleship Yamoto is better than any I could think of.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Quick Looks: Next War Taiwan

If there is a series for hex and counter hipsters at the moment it is Next War games by Mitch Land and Gene Billingsley. Kev Sharp's been blogging it 1, 3MA have been talking about it 2, these drunken reprobates have been playing it 3, two of my friends have picked up Next War India Pakistan 4, one of whom as his first hex and counter game. When I first saw the GMT Next War series with Next War Korea a few years back, I passed on it because it was pricey and I thought future wars were boring. I thought these things because I was a fool. I'm not entirely sure why the series has become popular, as speculative future wars seems like a hard sell but the continued releases (now three soon four) and the quality of the product seem to have carried it into the wargamer consciousness if not the popular.
Initial Taiwanese deployment around Taichung, not as well defended as it first looked.


Next War Taiwan depicts an invasion of Taiwan by mainland China sometime in the near future. I say sometime because the game has no fluff text paragraphs, opting instead to insert a few choice quotes from diplomats here and there, stylish but if you want your background narrative to the internet with you.

The PRC have a lot of planes


This is an AIR,SEA LAND battle to use the unimaginative military jargon terms and it might be the only recent game of its kind. Mechanically the game has a quasi Igougo sequence of play with a clever initiative system driven by victory point acquisition that allows players to first send in their special forces, then fight for air superiority, then cruise missile and air strike, then move and attack with ground and naval units. All this is followed by a few book keeping phases, and in between the initiative player gets a few bonus moves/strikes. It all sounds very complex, and it sort of is in the advanced game at least.

Detection begets airstrikes on the PRC navy. Stealth fighters are good..

Most aspects of the game are fairly traditional and simple of themselves, special forces equate to assigning each token to a mission and rolling on a chart, air superiority combat is three rounds of dicing off on a CRT with modifiers, the land game is move and attack with column shifts and a ton of modifiers on the CRT. What makes the game especially interesting, where most of the complexity lies is in how all the different elements interact.

Perhaps you want to chopper in the 45th Chinese Airborne in the flat ground near Jhongli city with your four airborne transport points. Well unless you have used your special forces and cruise missiles to whittle down the Taiwanese air detection and SAM tracks you are probably just going to get shot down or aborted, unless you have dominated the sea and forced the allied navies out of the Taiwanese straights you wont be able to get supply to any ports you might capture and unless you have air superiority and escort fighters you might get intercepted. Then once you have landed you can consider the Tai army. Next War Taiwan forces you to think through your combined operations and spend your limited fighter jets, transport points and cruise missiles wisely. In this sense it is a fantastic operational game and a vivid picture of modern warfare.

Foggy camera over foggy battle, Taichung has fallen.


Being an invasion game Next War Taiwan offers early strategic choices followed by a developing narrative. Initially the Chinese have to choose an invasion site, or sites, and then hit as hard as they can hoping to secure a beach head, then a port (preferably a big one) and city hexes. In addition to this they need to consider whether snatching either the Penghu or Ryukyu islands is worth the victory points. The Taiwanese must cling on defending as many critical assets as they can whilst trying to exploit any Chinese weakness, most of all however they must hope help arrives sooner rather than later. When the international posture matrix allows, the US and perhaps Japan or even Vietnam may intervene. For the US it is largely a question of strategic push your luck. If they hold on at range until they are sure of air and naval supremacy there's a good chance the Chinese will have already forced a victory. The US can use their superior pilots at range for a while but sooner or alter they will have to go all in and try seize the Straits of Taiwan. I suspect many games will be decided on this dicey moment.


5 turns in, the PRC still have air superiority.



I've spent some ten hours with this game and it has been a really immersive fulfilling experience and for me, on this play, totally worth it despite a lot of flipping between the two rule books and frequent miscounting of combat factors. It educated me on the terrible effectiveness of SAM systems and the importance of special forces as a counter to them, its given me great stories on the fall of Taichung and the battle of the Straits but I've had to work for it. Not that the game bit by bit is complex but an inevitable consequence of detailed Air Sea Land battle is the whole is more sophisticated than the parts. If I was to play opposed, I'd be inclined to stick to the basic rules (which are actually fairly accessible) and almost certainly drop the advanced air rules. This is a good game, and a good series but it is juggling a lot of balls and keeping them all in the air is rather tricky.





1 http://bigboardgaming.com/next-war-india-pakistan-nwip-lose-nukes-1/
2 https://www.idlethumbs.net/3ma/episodes/modern-warfare
3 https://boardgamegeek.com/guild/1660
4 https://twitter.com/ConsimsSheffied/status/752133901909458944

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Chosin Few, a Post Mortem

Pete and I ran our megagame on the Chosin campaign this weekend and things went well for the most part. Here are some post-mortem thoughts

 - we lost about 30% of our bookings in the week running up to the game. From our experiences across Pennine Megagames this year, this seams to be about par for the course. There is a good reason that many Megagames have reserve lists, unfortunately the Chosin Reservoir campaign in North Korea was not quite a big enough draw to warrant a reserve list.

- The game itself ran pretty smoothly, relatively simple mechanics, good game materials and a very experienced control team facilitated this.

- Having fewer players actually benefited the game, the UN players lost all but one of their executive officers (XOs) meaning that it was one player per Marine regimental team. This actually helped as the game was streamlined enough that two players were not really required to write 3 sets of orders. The Chinese Commissars had a bit more latitude but even this was a weakness in the game. With this experience I would say that one player can easily handle a dozen or so units or 3-5 orders a turn if the system is easily understood. Only in games where players are restricted from talking to each other or some players are required to go to a main map are multi-person teams really necessary at this level.


- The combat system worked. We took the OPCOM system by Jim Wallman and modified it heavily for this game. I had two main worries; first, that it would be either too deadly or not deadly enough, or second that it would be too complex for control to resolve in time. The both sides suffered somewhere in the region of 50-70% casualties. The Chinese suffered more (and in terms of actual men, a lot more) but given that the historical casualty ratio was in the region of 15-25 to 1 this felt reasonable. Neither side ran out of men at 1pm and both sides were able to have a major impact on the game. That being said it could have been improved, the Chinese divisions did loose their potency a little fast for my liking, whilst the UN could still hit quite hard late on due to their air support. Control did an incredible job turning out turn 1 through 9s orders within the 15 minutes allotted. Late on we did over run by 5 minutes on a few turns, but this wasn't an issue as the game had some time to spare at the end. If I were to run a bigger game with more units, or try and reduce the number of control the system would need further simplification, but around 20 order sheets for 6 control was workable in 15 minutes.

- things I would improve:

  • I tried to keep a company level game fairly abstract on the map. This benefited the UN a little as they were able to dig in a little easier than they were historically. I kept things simple for control by only allowing digging in (read take defensive position) anywhere which wasn't at the bottom of a valley/road/pass. In reality the Marines were able to heavily defend certain key hills and points. I did consider covering the map in strong point markers but decided against it as I didn't have the terrain mapping to find all such locations, perhaps I could have given different zones a defense rating or something that would have been a halfway house.
  • The Chinese briefings were probably a little light. In part this is due to a lack of sources, but I could have given out more game pertinent information. For the Chinese there is a race against the weather as their troops are heavily attritioned from frost bite. Whilst the players historical counter parts did not anticipate this, keeping the players in the dark here added a bit of confusion. As such many Chinese divisions waited a little to long before launching really heavy attacks. As such they had already lost 10-30% of their strength already and had less impact than expected. There is always a difficult dilemma for the megagame designer on how much information to give the players. Too much and it becomes a calculated boardgame rather than an immersive experience, too little and it becomes a guessing game that can feel rather random and unfair.
  • The mini map could have covered Wonsan. Once we put Hamhung on the main map it was always likely that the Chinese would try and take it, so we made a second smaller map zoomed in on Hamhung for city fighting. This worked really well and the Chinese 58th battled the US 3rd Infantry around the city. But given the close proximity of Wonsan I could have added it to this map and potentially even had a battle over the UN beachhead/port.
  • One Chinese Commissar suggested that he should have a spy network, given the allegiance of North Koreans to the communist cause. This was an excellent idea, it gave the PLA an intel capability to rival the UN air recon and created a great interactive side game. Pete drew up lists of informants and rated them for reliability, loyalty eagerness etc and had them submit conflicting reports to the Chinese. We both agree that this added a lot to the game and would considered adding something like it in future games.
  • As already stated, I would have each bottom level command team ran by one player and either increase the number of teams or have the support players have other problems to solve in addition to assisting in planning.

Ms Higgins made a short appearance in the game as she interviewed the unflappable Oliver P Smith around turn 9.




- In general the players seem really engaged. Interesting strategies were played out, gambits were taken and great stories generated. There didn't seem to be much of a lull in the game and everyone seemed happy at the pub afterwards.

Monday, 26 September 2016

6th Fleet: A quick look


I might be a Balkowski fan boi. There are things he does in his designs that just seem to work for me. I like good tables printed on the map, that are loaded with possibility, I like irregular turn sequences that don't use chit pulls, and I like the way he front loads his games with tense challenging decisions. He creates those smokey room nail brighter moments. 


In 6th fleet this is done with your airforce. At the start of each three turn day you have to decide how many planes to allocate to strategic air missions and to which air zones they will be sent. Both players do this in secret. It is a mental game of chicken, as you need those fighters for CAP (combat air patrol) over your carriers and airbases but you also want to clear the Black Sea so your recon planes don't get downed by MIGs, but your opponent only has limited interceptors too, what will he or she do?


It's a game about guessing and gambling and then watching the dice roll as a T16 bombers attempt to knock out the Nimtz. This game is a good Sandy Woodward simulator, how cautious should I be?


If you are looking for a spec for this game, its about middle weight in rules, with several scenarios that can be played within 3 hours. The advanced game will take a bit of grokking but I found the regular rules easy enough to process. You get a ton of 80s mil tech hardware to play with. Weirdly, Russian subs seem to be a bit weak compared with USN, but other than that its great.