Saturday, December 22, 2012


Back in the day I remember reading a  article in the old "General" about how to play the United States side in the game Pax Brittanica.

Now, I thought the game Pax B. was pretty cool and I played it with a group of people and we had fun doing it despite it's flaws.  However, that "General" article always stuck with me because it said that if you play the near perfect game as the US, you can hope to finish 4rth or maybe 3rd.


The idea that a game doesn't give a near equal chance of success, or what is called balance, is kind of silly right?  A game almost by definition is about fair competition.

Games are designed to do that right?

Well. not so much.

The  truth in the wargaming hobby is that a large number of gamers play "solitairy."  I don't mean to put solitary gamers down by any means, however, the end result is that many wargames are not designed with balance as a primary concern.

Take for example, "Flying Colors."  FC is a great system of showing age of sail battles, yet there was no attempt to try and balance the battles.  "Tragalgar" is a total joke in regards to balance; the British player will win every time.  There was no attempt to make an equal battle through victory conditions. 

This to me goes to the point of poor game design combined with the solitairy nature of wargamers.

Now, if you compare games like Ben Hull's Musket & Pike or Mark Miklo's Battles of the American Revolution, you see designers who attempt to create a competative game experience.

In the end for me, which you can see represented in my Top 10 GMT games, balance is as important in a game design as any other factor.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Fun

ASL-WO7 "Hell for the Holidays"

I recently finished up a couple of plays of Pete Shelling's Winter Offensive scenario, "Hell for the Holidays."  This scenario takes place in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.  The attacking Germans are attempting to gain control of 5 stone building hexes while avoiding a rather high CVP cap.  I played the defending Americans in both plays.  My first was against Dave Kleinschmidt and you can listen to our comments here:  It is at the 9 minute mark in Episode 81.

My second play was against Matt Book who had also played it once before as the Germans and who felt it favored the Germans.

The current ROAR record has it 20-8 in favor of the Americans.

German Advantages:  Mobility, Armor, Smoke
German Disadvantages:  Leadership, Numbers, SSR's, Sniper

The German force is an impressive one in many ways.  It features 7 elite squads supported, and transported by 6 half-tracks and 4 tanks, including a Jagdpanzer.  Also, all 5 of the gunarmed AFV have good smoke potential.  The German force is a very mobile one and the tanks are superior to the Americans in a face to face fight.

However, the Germans have some pretty big disadvantages.  Their leadership is poor with only an 8-1 and 8-0 leader.  They have only an equal amount of squad equivalents as the Americans.  They are also Lax and vulnerable to HTH close combat.  They have to enter as PRC and can't unload unless next to a building and crew survival is NA so any PRC will die with their transport.  Also, a SAN of 2 means the American Stuart tanks can be CE with little fear of sniper recall.

American Advantages:  Firepower, AT Gun, Bounding Fire
American Disadvantages:  Mobility, Low TK numbers

The American player has a nice infantry force with 6.5 6-6-7 squads armed with 2 MMG, 3 BAZ and a DC.  They outshoot the attacking German infantry 47 FP to 35 FP.  In addition, they have a big advantage in CC due to that firepower along with the German player being Lax.

Supporting the infantry is a HIP 37LL ATG.  The German vehicles will be in danger until this is revealed and dealt with.  Also, 4 small target Stuart tanks and a 9-1 AL will be a constant source of harassment against the German force.  They are fast and difficult for the German armor to come to grips with but fragile against the German guns.  Don't forget they have cannister and multiple hits on doubles.

The Americans though will have a tough time trying to catch the mounted German infantry should they break through the frontline defense.  The German tanks will also severly limit movement of both the Stuarts and the American infantry.  And while the Stuart can flit in and out of German LOS, taking Boudning Fire shots, those 37LL guns will have a tough time getting a kill result against the German armor.

Balance:  55-45 Americans

The German player has plenty of options for his attack.  In my game with Dave, he choose to split his force in 2, attacking both on the right and left.  The advantage in this is that the Americans are forced to fight 2 battles with a loss in either one meaning they will likely lose the scenario.

In my game with Matt, he choose to attack with everyone on his right, planning on using the open ground of board 65 to achieve a breakthrough, laying a smoke screen to cover his half-tracks.

Neither plan worked.  In Dave's case, i was able to kill his 2 Mk4 tanks escorting his board 65 force, and his infantry had no chance of breaking through without armor support, while i KO'd his infantry on his board 64 force meaning he couldn't take buildings with that group.

Matt's attack was stymied due to his tankers not bringing smoke.  He was only able to lay 1 smoke marker down and my Stuart's were able to kill a Mk4, he recalled another due to a gun malf, and finally, he broke the Jagpanzer gun on an IF shot.  I was also able to kill another half-track with an MG shot.  Overall though, Matt had atrocious luck shooting.  He couldn't hit anything as the only casualties inflicted were the ATG crew whom he broke and FTR'd along with a single Stuart.  He never broke any other American unit.

While both games were easy American wins, i don't rate this scenario particularly pro-American.  Both Dave and Matt's plans were sound but bad luck on their part--Matt with not getting Smoke and Dave with having his tanks killed through front shots--played a key role.

One thing to remember is that the German tanks can gain control of single story stone building hexes.  There are a few on the board.  The German should set up his turn 5 movement to be able to move tanks into these buildings on turn 6 and stay in motion.  This can be a nasty surprise to the American player and for that reason, the German should not attempt to fix any MA malfs for fear of recall.

Overall, "Hell for the Holidays" delivers a very tense and challenging ASL experience with 2 great OB's.   This is something we've come to expect and enjoy from designer Pete Shelling.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Top Ten GMT Games

There was a very interesting topic on BGG about rating all the GMT games.  It was an interesting read so i thought i would borrow the idea and do my own list, only limiting it to my Top 10 Favorite GMT Games.

At first i thought it would be easy to list my top 10 from GMT but there were a lot of tough decisions and good games i enjoy left off.

Without further ado, here goes:

#10.  "Paths of Glory"

I played quite a bit of POG in the early part of the last decade.  It is a fantastic competetive gaming experience full of difficult choices.  It also spawned a slew of great card driven games, some of which are on this list.  Overall though, i grew out of love with it as good game play never resembled WWI much and also became fairly pre-determined.

Still, POG will always have a place in my Top 10 GMT games.

#9.  "Successors"

While technically not a GMT "original," Successors was improved by the GMT reprint and survives due to that.  It is a cut throat free for all multi-player affair.  Games tend to play out differently due to the random initial draw of generals.  The game systems are fantastic and the card events interesting.

It does have it's flaws though including the possibility of drawing two really good or bad generals as well as a fairly lengthy playtime.

#8.  "Wilderness War"

What a rulebook!  WW set the standard for CDG rules with a clear amd concise rulebook that is virtually error free.  It is also a heck of a good game that packs a lot of fun into a realatively short play time.

However, gameplay tends to be "samey" after awhile as there are limited avenues of attack.  Still, i want to get this game back on the table as it's been about 7 years since i last played.

#7.  "Napoleonic Wars"

Ah, the fantastic Nappy Wars!  On it's release, my gaming group must have played this 20+ times that year.  Great fun and a great design that plays well with 2-5 players.  While i would gladly play it anytime, it does have the issue of not really being all that historically accurate--to say the least--and that does seem a bit weird at times.  Nevertheless, a great gaming experience that also plays out fairly quickly.

#6.  "Musket & Pike Series"

I cheated a bit here as i grouped all the games in this fantastic series into one.  Ben Hull's MPS series is the ASL of the gunpowder era.  Yes, the game is fairly complex and uses systems that take awhile to get the hang of, but man does it pay off.  The game actually plays out like the battles did and the command system does a great job of simulating how difficult it was to command such armies without resorting to written commands or "handi-cap" rules.

The scenarios i've played, about a dozen, have all been well balanced and competetive affairs.  Play time can be long though for many of the scenarios which can make weeknight gaming a bit difficult.  In fact, that's the only reason i don't play the series more often.

#5.  "The Thirty Year's War"

A very underrated game IMO that is loads of fun with a lot of strategic options.  I love this game, especially if it goes until the last turn and you view a once pristine map of Europe filled with pillage markers and the once mighty armies reduced to small bands of desperate mercenaries.  Good times.

It does require 6 hours+ to play though so it's not a single weeknight game.

#4.  "Ardennes '44"

I am not a traditional hex and counter, CRT kind of gamer in general.  The old Avalon Hill/SPI games don't hold much appeal to me.  I am also not a big Battle of the Bulge fan.  Which is why Ardennes '44 was such a surprise to me in how much i loved it. 

First off, it is a stunningly beautiful game.  The map is amazing and the counters are colorful yet totally functional.  But secondly and most improtantly, the gameplay is superb.  I am not a solitaire gamer and usually only play a game solitaire for a couple of turns to get the rules down before i have a FTF game scheduled.  With Ardennes 44 though, i couldn't stop playing it solitaire.  In fact, i restarted it and played it again.  And again.

I can't see how a game could do the "Bulge" better than Ardennes '44. 

#3.  "Virgin Queen/Here I Stand"

Again, i kind of cheated, if such a thing is possible in a personal Top 10 list, by combining Here I Stand and Virgin Queen together.  But they both use the same basic game engine and also, i doubt i'll play HIS again after playing VQ for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

These games are all about diplomacy, which is nothing new in the gaming world, however, it's what you can do with diplomacy and how the different sides have sometimes very different goals and abilities that make these games my favorite multi-player games ever.

The fact that you can trade tangible assets such as card draws, troops, and territory as well as make deals to play certain cards to help players make this game stand out from all other diplomacy type games.  All the powers play differently too which makes each game almost a new experience when you switch sides.

The amount of thought that designer Ed Beach put into these games is amazing.  GMT also did an outstanding job with the production.  The VQ map is stunning as are the counters and other components.  The main downside to this game is the playtime.  You need to plan 8+ hours to get the campaign in and it plays best with 6 players so that can be a difficult thing to coordinate.  That i'm regularly able to coordinate this game with others in the Chicago area speaks to how much fun this game is to play.

#2.  "Battles of the American Revolution"

Mark Miklos designed a winner with "Saratoga" and continued on with great game after great game in this series.  These games hit the sweet spot for me in terms of simple and easily understandable rules plus short play time plus a good amount of decision making.  Throw in a entertaining battle tactics system as well which provides for a great way to trash talk with your opponent, and we have one of my alltime favorites.

I've played every game in the series except for Germantown and Savannah and every game has been a different experience with tense gameplay where the game seems to hinge on every roll. 
This is classic wargaming at it's best and i'm looking forward to the next in this series.

#1.  "1805:  Sea of Glory"

1805 as my #1?  Most likely a shocker to most gamers as this game i think flew under most people's radar.  In fact, although i bought this game when it first came out, i put it on the shelf and didn't really look at it until a year later.  I'm glad i did and i'm glad my main gaming buddy decided to give this a go with me.  We set it up that first night and it remained on the table for the next 3 months as we played game after game.

Of all the games i've played, 1805 is the game that most squarely places me in the place the admirals of that time occupied.  The uncertainty, the feeling of helplessness against wind and weather and your political superiors, the lack of good intelligence.  It's all there.  The fact that designer Phil Fry could design a operational game on the Age of Sail is amazing in itself.  That he did it so well is a thing of beauty.

So why so little fanfare over this game?  For one thing, it can be a long game.  We're talking 12+ hours if you go the distance.  For another, it's a game of patience.  Each player is fighting other factors-weather, provisions, wind-as much as their opponent.  You can spend half a dozen turns with nothing happening.

But i think the main factor in it's lack of popularity is that it cannot be played solitaire.  Considering a decent percentage of wargamers only play solitaire, this has hurt it's popularity more than anything.

But all of that is okay with me.  I look forward to the next time i try and lead the French fleet out past the British blockade and sneak into Alexandria with my transports full of the Emperor's finest troops or as Nelson, track down that French fleet sailing to Barbados and bring them to glorious battle.

So there you have it, my Top 10 GMT Games.  Here's a couple that i struggled to leave out:  Twighlight Struggle, Barbarossa to Berlin, and SPQR.