Saturday, 24 October 2015

Pennine Megagames and Sengoku

The creative project that has swallowed most of my time recently is map making for the Pennine Megagames.

At some point I will put together some posts on how do large maps in inkscape (free vector graphics software). Learning to do things in vector has been an interesting experience, but necessary to deal with large maps (4 A0). If you are interested in posts / how to's on large maps drop a comment.

on the 28th we run the Jim Wallman design Sengoku, a political diplomatic war game set in Feudel Japan. If you live in Northern England, its £30 for the day (this just about covers our costs, which is mostly room hire).

You can book by clicking the paypal link on this page.

make sure you click on the player link and not control!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Blocks in the East, physical product review

The quest for a strategy East Front game continues. This is more of a product review, as I only played 3 turns out (almost the complete short Barbarossa scenario) and decided I wasn’t motivated enough to go on.

BITE is not a good example of professional graphic or product design. A pretty good indicator of this is the box cover which has nice art, but you can see the pixels as it is not 200dpi. It looks slightly cheap and this is my general feeling with this game. The map art is garish and in some areas and some parts such as the Siberia box look downright terrible with clashing colours and badly placed icons.
Not only does it fail the form test, but also the function. Key charts are printed on the board. Often this is fine, but here they are not facing either player, and are difficult to see from a sitting position. The end result will be playing standing with a craned neck until you have them memorised.
Finally, and probably the biggest health warning on this game is the block density. There are a lot of blocks with this game and you can in theory stack 4 in a hex. Unfortunately the hexes can barely hold four blocks, let alone any moving in to attack. This has several consequences, first combat is slow as you have to get blocks out and move them around, second unless you know this game well you are going to forget where your blocks are and what you are doing. There is a forest of tightly packed wood in front of you that crowds out any narrative and makes decision making a process of wading through treacle. Finally you cannot see the icons on the board. A key part of the advanced rules game is counting the tiny factory icons or oil wells to determine your resources, this is going to be difficult if these are hidden under a forest of blocks.

Mid-way through turn 2, I stacked the air and invading units on top of defenders to fit them in some hexes.

The game itself is ok, without extensive play I cannot really give it a fair shake. The block system is fairly standard, the turns are igougo, and you throw fists full of dice and rotate units for damage. The basic game is very simple, it doesn’t even really use the HQs for anything of note. The advanced game plus the optional rules is a little more complex and has an interesting looking accounting system which forces you to manage tech levels, factories, and oil reserves. However given the bad information design I wonder whether this would just add to the mental mess.

I’m not sure where my Goldilocks zone is for unit density. I felt that No Retreat the Russian Front was too sparse and abstract, but here there are too many units given the kinds of decisions I was making. This game might work for some, if you can get past the presentation. This is a 2012 game however, given the vast history of war board games, I’m not sure bad presentation is excusable anymore, particularly at this price point. There are more east front games out there than I can shake a stick at, so why would I grind fun out of this one rather than selling up and moving somewhere else?

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A quick review: Clash of Giants II, Ted Racier, GMT

I've played 3 games of this recently, two of the Galicia campaign game and one of the 1st Ypres (reverse side of map sheet) and thought I'd give a quick review.

WW1 is generally an less gamed conflict, and in my view rightly so to some extent. A lot of war games that I play feel like they have been crowbarred into being a competitive or interesting game where the historical situation was rather straight forward, attritional or one sided. However WW1 can work in 1914 or 1918, and hence most non strategic games on the topic focus on these two time periods.

Clash of Giants is a lot lot simpler and easier playing than the previous reviewed Somme 1918. Its a simple hex and counter that uses a chit pull activation system to create command and control chaos and simple but effective supply and combat systems that are evocative of the period.

The command and control system divides the map into areas with each area activated when its chit is drawn. Coupled with this you roll a die and consult a table to see how far units can move in that activation. This generates a lot of chaos, that while historical does not bode well for much strategic thinking. Rather, you might have overall strategic aims, defend this river, take these hexes, but on a turn by turn basis its a game of maximising combats and taking ground piecemeal. This is Ok, but doesn't really get my mind working out operational plans, which is what I like to do.

Galicia Scenario turn 2 (i think).

Combat is also a nice touch. Each player rolls to see how many casualties they suffer after consulting the odds ratio. It is a narrative of lives sacrificed which feels very appropriate. Victory is determined by controlling key hexes, there is a little bit of scenario chrome, trace supply, and some units whose strengths are determined by die roll. 

My copy is however now up on ebay despite only 3 plays after recently trading it in. Its not a bad game, but its chaotic and not that short. 1st Ypres took my opponent and I a full 5 hours to play, Galacia, the better of the two scenarios, took 3 and a half hours each play. It's a cleverly designed game and it is easy to play but it is difficult to think more than a turn ahead. For me the best wargames ask me to think like an operational planner and have a plan for 3-4 turns out even if it has to be adapted. I can do chaotic tactical games, but I prefer them shorter, Napoleonic 20 comes to mind.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

DO PANIC: DON'T PANIC TOO (2), UK Mega Gamers After Action Report from Manchester

I went over to Manchester this past weekend, a tree fell on my motorbike and knocked out the low beam (high beam still works fine though weirdly), but more importantly I joined in with an invasion of blighty.

Kriegsmarine and Royal Navy make moves as the game designers and control team look on.

Mega-games have become a bit of a bigger deal over the past year. The London based organisers, centred around a Jim Wallman, have come up north twice now, I played in the Italy campaign game in Leeds a few months back (I will throw together an article on this at some point) and now I served as the German 8th corps operations officer for an invasion of Britain in 1940. Operation Sea Lion was planned by German high command after the campaign in France but never launched. This game looks at a what if, with a few historical realities papered over a little to make the invasion a little more feasible.

The game involves about 60 players in two teams, who have to essentially learn in one day what a real military staff learns in several years of training. Each side has commander in chief, the able Field Marshal von Rundstedt for the Axis, and an army group HQ of ~5 players around him. These guys never see the map the game is actually played on, but they are responsible for the main plan that everyone else will follow. On this day the plan was pretty simple two pronged attack, the 9th Army would land in a swamp just west of Folkstone, snatch the port and sprint through Ashford and on to London, the 16th would land somewhere between Brighton and east of Portsmouth and slog it in land (my account of the 16th is sketchy as I was in the 9th). It was known one attack would be the sacrificial lamb but not which. In practice the 16th found the majority of the brits around the New Forest and between them and London, and the 9th found the channel ports poorly defended.

End game positions with some labels

Once the main plan had been hashed out, a two hour meeting at the start, the army command staff (4 players) dished out supplies and landing craft to the corps staff and gave more detailed orders. Our commander in the 9th wanted Folkstone by turn 2 (got it about 3 or 4 I think) and Ashford by turn 3 or 4, (we eventually got this, much to wrath of army command). After this, the plan fluctuated between turns but ended up centring on an armoured drive by the 38th corps through a defensive perimeter held by the 8th.

Each corps (2 per army, 4 per side) is a team of 4 or 5 people 2 of which play the actual game, the divisional commanders. The 9th armies divisional commanders were ace, two ladies ran the armoured force of the 38th, after being frustrated for the first 3 turns (we completely missed the landing phase in the 2nd turn) and having to deal with us in the 8th taking longer to get out the way, stormed off, took Ashford and hustled up toward Maidstone. In the 8th our veteran John steadied the whole ship at the table and secured both channel ports and our novice proved good against a British armoured counter attack.
The other three players were an Intel, operations and command staff. Unlike the Italian game I played previously there was almost zero down time, but constant panic instead. In our corps I was operations and basically approached my role as a hustler and spent the whole day conjuring up supplies, trucks and landing craft for out little operation, or passing on information to the army and army group staff. Our Intel officer basically solved the huge problem the divisional commanders had; zero time to do anything other than rush to the map to move stuff. He kept all our resources catalogued and positions detailed on white board, our commander worked out details with the div staff and made all the opportunity decisions, like snatching a poorly defended Canterbury opening up a 2nd road for advance.

8th corps command table with map. Our colouring in and electronic tank commander hard at work

In addition to all this, each side had an air force and navy command who between about 4 players had to run half the operation. The key game mechanic is really poor communication. If this was a two player game with no time limit it would run like a pretty sound hex and counter war game and be fairly calculated and more chess like. With 60 players most players have no real idea as to what is happening and it becomes more about making a simple plan work at 50% efficiency. From the 8th corps perspective we missed one key landing phase, a reserve tank division (7th) ended up having its units split between 4 different divisional commanders and the whole thing was absolute chaos with units and supplies ending up all over the place. The chaos is what makes the game really fun.

close up of end game positions in Kent

Highlights of the game;

  • German spies in police uniforms.
  • The RAF bombing Brighton out of existence, and unfortunately the Germans within it.
  • Ashford finally falling.
  • The Kreigsmarine beating the Royal Navy – this was insane, I think the RN struggled with the rules around mines and Uboats but a nod to the Kreigsmarine player.
  • 116ths ability to live off enemy supply points when they really should have been wiped out.
  • The performance of the seven control players, who ref’d the game at the map and all around.
  • The quality Journalism of the New York Times, lots of good words from 2 players.
  • The Luftwaffe dropping enough bombs to secure our flank for most of the game

  • Missing the landing phase on the 2nd turn
  • Everyone who lived in Brighton
  • The 16th army HQ getting sunk and their players having to go to Tesco to take a selfie.
  • 9th army HQ nearly going Patton on us for failing to take Ashford for so many turns.

If you get the chance I highly recommend playing one of these games.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Free Astonishing Swords and Sorcerers of Hyperborea module PDFs!

I periodically turn my rpg session notes into something more publishable. Below are links to a short adventure I wrote and a campaign locale.

First up, a Lovecraftian romp through a statue on the edge of a volcanic island;

Its a bit linear, but its supposed to be a short adventure. I've tried to channel as much Lovecraftian weirdness as I can into it.

Second up, a city in the dark of the Underborea;

This is more of a campaign setting. The wider Underborea has sections of mega dungeon and hex crawl. This is meant to act as a plot trigger and base camp for the players.

Both are written for the rpg Astonish Swords and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, by Northwind Games, which has become my fantasy ruleset and setting of choice.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Tide of Fortune

I traded off my copy of OCS Reluctant Enemies, something I thought I’d never do.  I’d solo’d it through twice and played the short scenario face to face and sort of felt done with it. It’s a great way into OCS but I think the French strategy can drag the game in a certain direction. If they go defensive they can force the game into a battle of attrition in the Northern Mountains in the late game. The game then descends down to the roll of the dice.

Ever searching for playable but deep Napoleonic Operations I got Seven days of 1809 for it.

But lucky me, (and my dog) the chap I traded with threw in an extra game for free!

Tide of Fortune – a 1992 complex operational war game on the Netherlands in 1944 by John Schettler.

setup for just the western map. I was interested in what happened along the coast before Market Garden. The Germans have the numbers but they are badly out of position (grey counters). If Antwerp falls too quickly they could be out of supply.

Boardgamegeek rates it at an average of … 5.98. So it wasn't a hit. The game has terrible product development. In non-jargon this means they didn’t proofread it and test the final product properly. Some chits are misprinted, there are some gaps in the rule book/scenario setups, and in general it’s a hard game to get into. The rules are pretty complex, though only 20 something pages, might be more complex than OCS actually.

British Armour prepares to assault Antwerp.

But, this is a really interesting game, might be a forgotten treasure. Here’s why;

A unique command and control system. Units are brigades with divisional HQs. Players bid for initiative then as a result of the auction have a series of initiative and reaction operations. The reacting side can also get extra spoiling operations if the other player gets bad results from his or her attacks.

The game is open. The long scenarios puts you in command a week or two before Market Garden and give you all the resources that were used, but you don’t have to do Market Garden. You can instead take the coastal ports, or do something else. You are not shackled to the history, which is a big appeal for me.

It has a low counter density, only one sheet of counters. Whilst the rules are complex, it’s actually simpler in play as there are fewer moving parts than many games.

There is also an appeal in something just being rare and unique. This is a game for deep war game nerds.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Posts I blog in other places March 2015 edition

I've been a little quiet here for much of early 2015 though I have posted a few things of interest on other sites;

A review of the VPG boardgame Star Borders Humanity posted at boargamegeek, since thats the place I felt this style of review would be most useful;

An opinion piece on why boardgames are closing in on mainstream entertainment status;

And an obituary piece on the video game Planetside 2, a great game that perhaps fell short of its potential;

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Airborne Assault: Conquest of the Aegean - A short update on my inept defence of Malta

Computer wargames, as in computer milsims, generally aren't that great. They tend to either be overly simple or completely opaque with most of the best games being those that are really designed for video gamers such as Ultimate General Gettysbury or Wargame Red Dragon, rather than the games for the milsim crowd.

A few years ago I bought a CD copy of Panther Games Airborne Assault: Conquest of the Aegean off Ebay for £5. I’ve always felt Matrix Games were overpriced (The old publisher for this series) and wanted to try the system before I threw real money at it.

Here is the situation just after dawn of day 3. Last night the Safi and the Central Airfields got overwhelmed. Troops guarding the Victoria Line, the Western harbour and around Nignet had to be hastily redeployed for a counterattack, which as the sun rises appear to have been successful. Unfortunately I have to hold out for 6 more days and I have no idea if more German para regiments are in bound. This game is pretty intense.

Red lines = Allied movements of note, Blue = German. Black Crosses = Airfields.

Originally the Germans landed around the south and quickly forced me out of the southern Airfield. My plan was pretty docile and simple (typical British military) contain the enemy in a pocket, hammer them with artillery and hope they have supply problems. For most of day 1 this appeared to be working. Early on day 2, and probably through the previous night, the Germans started to probe down the coast westwards. I figured this was going to be the big break out manoeuvre so I took most of my reserves from Western Malta and the Harbour and sent them over to Rabat. It now appears to have been a ruse to force my redeployment. Instead the Germans continued probing the edges of the pocket before going all in on a b line straight for the Harbour through the Central Airfield. At the same time, what I had thought was just two units slipping eastward along the coast turned out to be four that swung in land past my lines and stole Safi Airfield right from under my nose. I was expecting defeat by morning, but fortunately the AI planners did a good job of counter attacking. A good test of a ‘proper wargame’ is does it reward you for holding reserves.

Airborne Assault is an innovative game. You can micro manage individual units, or you can select the battalion or brigade command unit and issue it a general order. It will then think, come up with a plan and carry it out ordering the subordinate units. Secondly the game has order delays. I had started moving the units from the Victoria Line a few hours before the disaster really unfolded as I felt the Germans were on the move. Once a formation is on the go changing their orders can take quite some time. There were a tense few hours (of game time, really it was minutes) as I wondered whether the new order to launch an attack would hit home in time.

A large part of the appeal here is the layers of the game. There is a rather complex and sophisticated game under the hood of Airborne Assault, but you can play it very simply. Select a HQ unit, tell it what to attack or defend, watch the results. It is a shame the game (in the digital age) is now unavailable. The later games in the line, now rebranded Command Ops, are however (now published by Lock n Load surprisingly) and I might save up some pennies for them.

edit; on day 5, I'm getting hammered.

Those few german para units that swept around and attacked Safi airfield, one of them managed to secure it for about an hour. This was enough time for a ton more german units to land. Coupled with this some heavy assaults on the east and west sides of the pocket gave me a mauling. I am now 3 days out from game end so I'm changing up my plan. I'm going to pull back to the two black lines on the map above and try and stall for 3 days.