Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wargame Wednesdays - GEV map, The Delta

I have been working on some OGRE/GEV scenarios.  Playing around with a mini campaign, that will involve multiple maps.  I have completed the first one and wanted to post it.  Please leave suggestions.  This map is called THE DELTA, and features a natural resource area (Oil rigs in a river delta).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Theremin Thursdays - Gaming in the Viking Age

While there are possibly a few different pieces of music that would be appropriate for this theme, one of my favorites is Steve McDonald's "Sons of Somerled".

This is telling the story of Somerled, who was a ruler of the Kingdom of the Isles (gaining parts, through marriage and conquest, until he ruled everything from the Island of Lewis to the Isle of Man) in the 12th century.  His name (Somerled, or Somairle) is from a Norse word meaning "Summer Traveler".  A Summer Traveler, to the Norse, was one who did his "business trips" in the summer months - a Viking.

On one of his other albums, Steve McDonald has another song, called Seawulf.  Here are the lyrics (another great song).
In the long-boats Seawulf came,
Crying out the War god's name,
Highlander, raise your warning fire,
Seawulf's on his way,
To feed the battle-crow's desire today.

Isle of Man and Isle Tiree,
Faced Odin's giants of Valkyre,
Gaining control of Argyle,
The western highlands too,
Somerled has delivered us from you;

Seawulf will rise

Oh, oh, oh, oh, ooh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ooh

Viking child, oh Viking child, oh Viking child,
Who will tame the wolf behind your smile...
Viking child

Viking child, so free and so wild,
Tell me why do you roam,
Battle on, the Seawulf in search of home. 

(A lot of oh-oh's in the middle, but a good song nevertheless).  Again, from the same period (late dark ages, during the times when men of the north were raiding and setting up kingdoms in the coastal regions of Scotland, the Isles, England and Ireland).  

As far as gaming in this time period goes, there are a lot of different "collection" games of medieval and dark ages battles (based on the old SPI idea of a Quad wargame - one set of core rules, with a number of different scenarios, each with a different map and counters, and different special rules).  But there are also a fair number of games that deal with the Norse world in general, and Viking ideas and ideals in particular.

One that has fantastic artwork and production values, but the theme could have been just about anything related to economic competition, the game Vikings is one I own and enjoy playing.  Sadly, there is little or nothing involving conquest, raids, or combat in this game.  It is a Michael Kiesling game, and (as I mentioned already) one I find very enjoyable to play.

Another game about this time period, but one more in line with what the Vikings themselves thought about the world, and their own destiny, is the old TSR minigame, Saga.  I have a copy of this game, and although I haven't played it in years, I used to play it quite a lot, in high school with my two brothers, and later on with gaming buddies.  A great game - you begin as a hero, and have to travel the Norse world, dealing with creatures and foes (both mortal and from myth), slay monsters and dragons, fight trolls and berserkers, gain a named (magic) sword, and construct a Saga about yourself.  

Great game.  Text from the box, reads like this -

"Saga minigame recreates a mythical time period occuring sometime after the fall of Rome - the age of heroes and vikings! Each player takes a heroic figure and attempts to perform deeds that will generate enough glory to ensure that the hero's memory will live in the sagas composed after his or her death. 
To gain glory, the heros slay monsters, accumulate treasure hoards, recruit lesser heros ("jarls", or earls) as their companions, and establish kingdoms. The hero who gains the most glory is the one whose fame will live on in the sagas, while the others are doomed to be forgotten by posterity. Each player must be decisive and alert to grasp chances and avoid having other heroes gain glory at his or her expense."

Those were the days.  At that time (around 1980) TSR was riding high on HUGE success from AD&D, and they wanted to get into the hot Sci-Fi/Fantasy microgame market (made successful by companies like Metagaming and Task Force Games).

Two other microgames come to mind in this theme.  First is the great game from Metagaming, Fury of the Norsemen.  This was one of their historical micros, and although it isn't a phenomenal design, it was pretty solid for its size, and I really enjoyed playing it.  The cover art, and the rulebook art, was atrocious.  It was a bad pastiche of Frank Frazetta barbarian artwork (which I DO enjoy, but which is NOT historical).  The counter art was, on the other hand, really good.  The map, well, it was a map.  Here is a picture of a setup for the game - Monks, women, livestock - in the backfield lots of peasant soldiery.  And out of the mists, on the shoreline, appears a Dragon Ship.

The other title was the microgame "Viking Gods" by TSR. This one had a really good looking map, and represented a battle at the end of time (Ragnarok) between the Gods and the Giants (and other evil aligned personages - like Loki).  Great little game, but horrible game balance.  True to the sagas, and myth, Good loses this battle.  But it is fun to play.

Mentioned are the fact that there are several games that are basically a single set of core rules with a lot of different scenarios, or battles, included that play off that base set of rules.  These games often, to me, feel ALMOST like a set of miniature rules, but with the action taking place on the map.  One of the best, and one that is available in multiple different versions, is William Banks' design, Ancients.  Ancients is currently available from Victory Point Games in a very nice professional version.  But it is also available online, as a free download.

Pictured here is the Vassal Module, but the game, in some of its versions, looks quite good - especially the counters from Victory Point Games.  There are some definite Viking age battles including in the massive list of scenarios, including Clontarf, Ashdown, and Hastings (pictured above).  These are all good, solid Dark Ages battles, and certainly in the feel of anyone who wants to roll dice, hear the clang of the battle axe, and sing to Odin while playing the game.

An older game, that is based on a set of core rules, and then expanded with optional rules, is the game Viking, in the PRESTAGs series of games from SPI.  It was billed as "Tactical Warfare in the Dark Ages" but as it covered 700AD to 1300AD, I think that most historians would call this the end of the Dark Ages, and the Early Middle Ages (if not also the period of Chivalry).  The scenarios included with Viking were impressive, here is a list...

  • Qadisiya (Persians vs. Arabs, AD 637)
  • Tours (Arabs vs. Franks, AD 732)
  • Constantinople (Byzantines vs. Varangians, AD 860)
  • Paris (Vikings vs. Franks, AD 885)
  • Lourain (Franks vs. Vikings, AD 891)
  • Hamburg (Vikings vs. Germans, AD 988)
  • Balthusta (Byzantines vs. Bulgars, AD 1014)
  • Clontarf (Vikings vs. Irish, AD 1014)
  • Cannae II (Byzantines vs. Lombards, AD 1017)
  • Civitate (Normans vs. Papists, AD 1053)
  • Cerami (Normans vs. Arabs, AD 1063)
  • Stamford Bridge (Anglo-Saxons vs. Vikings, AD 1066)
  • Hastings (Normans vs. Anglo-Saxons, AD 1066)
  • Manzikert (Byzantines vs. Seljuq Turks, AD 1071)
  • Durazzo (Byzantines vs. Normans, AD 1082)
  • Dorylaeum (Crusaders vs. Seljuq Turks, 1097)
  • Hattin (Crusaders vs. Moslems, AD 1187)
  • Liegnitz (Mongols vs. Germans, AD 1241)
  • El Mansura (French vs. Arabs, AD 1250)
The front cover has a great picture of the metal statue of Leif Erikson, the real statue of which is in front of the beautiful, and very informative, Mariner's Museum, in Newport News Virginia (one of my favorite haunts, especially their historical Naval library).
The box cover from SPI

The fantastic statue from the Mariner's Museum

Back in the 1980s, the great Cry Havoc series of tactical Medieval and Dark Ages battles include a volume dedicated to Norsemen and their fights.  It was called Viking Raiders, and was a pretty good addition to that series - including, amongst other things, pieces for Longships, so that naval fights (which were basically infantry fights, but on floating platforms) could be accomplished in the game.  Fun series.

No discussion of games about Vikings would be complete without mention of the Game Of the Vikings, Hnefatafl, or "The King's Board".  It is an abstract game, where one player plays a King and his huscarls, and the other player plays an army trying to kill the King.  Very exciting game, and loads of fun, even in the 21st century.  Here is a picture of a handmade set, made by the Father and Grandfather of Boardgame Geek member, Jerzy Brzozowski, from Brazil.

Of course, Diplomacy and its many variants was not free from Dark Ages efforts.  Two that stand out, are Heptarchy and Bretwalda, both by Geoff Bache.  The first is set from about 650AD, and the second about 30 years earlier, in 620AD.  Both feature the British Isles in the early Dark Ages, when there were competing kingdoms. at war.  Here is the map for Heptarchy, which is very nice.

And here is the map for Bretwalda (which, by the way, is the word for High King).  As mentioned, both of these are by Geoff Bache, who just wanted to have Diplomacy games based on territory he was familiar with.

Some years ago, I ran a Hordes of the Things (fantasy miniatures rules, based on DBA) campaign based on the Bretwalda map.  There was also a Dragon moving around (eating troops, at random); a Sea Wyrm, moving around sinking fleets, and Merlin (wandering around, making peace, and halting wars).  A fun game, although there were some player incompatibility problems (mostly personality).

There is also a variant called Viking Diplomacy, which is a nice overview of the period that most of this article is concerned with (9th-11th century, northern British Isles).  But it covers all of Western Europe, to even include North Africa (can't ignore the possibility of Norsemen battling it out with Moors).

These days, in miniatures however I really like the (now out of production) ruleset Warhammer Ancient Battles.  Although there are problems with the series (in print? out of print?) there were some books that were put out, as period supporting books, with lots of info on miniatures, army lists, painting, history, and scenarios in them.

The first is the Age of Arthur (written by Steven Jones and James Morris) which covers that period in the Dark Ages (approx 6th century) when many surmise that a historical Arthur lived.  It is set in the early Dark Ages, and the armies are just right for the region and period covered in this article.  The army lists from this book cover the span from 400AD to 800AD.  The armies covered are these:

  • The Romano-British Civitates - including the armies of Vortigern, Ambrosius and the Bretons.
  • The British and Welsh Kingdoms - including the kingdoms of Gododdin, Gwynedd, Strathclyde and Dumnonia.
  • The Saxons - including Saxon raiders as well as the kingdoms of the Heptarchy.
  • The Franks - the armies of the early Merovingians.
  • The Picts - including the Northern and Southern Picts, and the enigmatic Attecotti.
  • The Scots-Irish - including Irish raiders and the kingdoms of Dalriada and Ireland.

It should be mentioned that in addition to the history and the great army lists, both this book (and the next one) offer a number of very, very good scenarios that are a lot of fun to read and to play, as well as a number of different campaign ideas.  And the pictures (both black and white, and color photos of painted miniatures) are very evocative, and extremely nicely done.

The second Warhammer Ancient Battles book that I will mention here is Shieldwall, which is more appropriately themed for the Viking age.  Written by Stephen Patten, this is an excellent wargamer's guide.  It has army lists (in detail) for the following:
  • Kingdoms of the North (Armies of the Danish and Danelaw, Norwegian, Dublin-Norse, Orkneyinga, and Islemen)
  • Kingdoms of English (Saxon armies of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, Anglia, Kent and Sussex)
  • Kingdoms of Caledonia (Armies of Dal Riata, the Pictish Lands, Strathclyde, Alba and Scotland)
  • Kingdoms of the Welsh (Armies of Gwynneth, Powys, Dumnonia, and the South Welsh Kingdoms)
  • Kingdoms of Hibernia (Armies of Connacht, Munster, Ulster, and Leinster)
  • Western Franks (Kingdoms of Normandy, Brittany, Flanders and France - the Normans)
   An excellent gamer's resource, for the history, army lists, background reading, and scenarios.  Even if you don't play Warhammer Ancient Battles.

A really nice photo of some painted figures from the period is here, and it comes from Kevs Wargames blog.

My own miniatures for this period include a vast assortment of painted 15mm figures covering lots of Dark Ages armies.  I also have a really large collection of 28mm figures.  Many of which are painted, but I have a whole project awaiting my attention - half of it in the really nice Somerled line from Old Glory, and the other half of it in Wargames Factory plastic Viking figures.  I am really looking forward to painting the Old Glory figures, and the Plastics give lots of kitbash and individualizing possibilities.
Finally, a few last music pieces to end the article with.  The first is the theme song from the Richard Widmark movie, The Long Ships.  Which also features Sidney Poitier and the Mare of Steel!

More fun for me, however, was the movie The Vikings, staring Ernest Borgnine and Kirk Douglas.  This was a GREAT movie, and didn't have "the mare of steel" (who's idea was that, anyway?). HAIL RAGNAR!!

And finally, the modern epic of the Viking Age, none other than Eric the Viking.  Enjoy!  This is not the soundtrack, which is elusive, but it is the trailer of the movie.  Highlighting just how good (bad?) this movie is.  But it has a cast of thousands (Eartha Kitt?  In a Viking movie?), and is really fun to watch.  At least once.

Thanks, and I hope you get a chance to enjoy some gaming in the Viking World!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wargaming Review: "Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815-1878"

I am a fan of the rules from Neil Thomas. I have his earlier books, and recently acquired his newest publication, Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815-1878.

First, I'll say that the rules are similar to his earlier publications (Wargaming, An Introduction; Ancient and Medieval Wargaming; and Napoleonic Wargaming).  Second, I'll say that I like these rules, and this time out is no exception.  For a nice basic review of the rules, take a look at Jonathan Freitag's Palouse Wargaming Journal.

One of the things in the rules that I really like is how Thomas has handled the army lists, and scenarios, this time out.  First of all, he covers a lot of conflicts from the period of interest.  And rather than doing generic army lists (except in a very few cases, such as Revolutionary Army 1815-1848, which represents a number of forces for which, in this particular case, there is very little documentation), Thomas provides us with paired opponents (or several armies) from individual conflicts, or campaigns.

Additionally, rather than laying out a basic army list that is good for all uses, he instead just details what the different categories (in general, these are Infanty, Cavalry, Skirmishers, and Artillery) are for the different armies.  Each army has one or more troop types for each of these categories, or some reason as to why it is not represented (for instance, in the Crimean War lists, the Russian army does not get any skirmishers; instead, the would get artillery units replacing skirmishers).

Finally, the third thing concerning armies and scenarios is that each scenario gives a method for determing a number of units, for each side in the scenario, that correspond to Thomas' basic categories that he has provided.  So, for instance, a number of Infantry, Skirmishers, Cavalry and Artillery might be generated for side "A" in a scenario, and these would then be replaced by the units matching that category for the army being used for side "A".  This allows the scenarios (which are pretty general, but still quite interesting) to be used for all of the conflicts, and for participant armies to take either side.

Some examles: For the Franco-Austrian war of 1859, the French Army has:
Line Infantry (Average, Rifled Musket, Loose Order)
Chasseurs (Elite, Rifled Musket, Loose Order)
Skirmishers (Elite, Rifled Musket)
French Cavalry (Average)
Piedmontese Cavalry (Elite)
Artillery (Smoothbore)

So we have the Infantry Category covered (Line Infantry, and Chasseurs), the Skirmishers, the Cavalry (both French and Piedmontese), and the Artillery.  Then there are some special rules that go along with it -
  1. Infantry - When Infantry units are called for, 1-2 of them will be Chasseurs, and the remainder will be Line Infantry.
  2. Cavalry - When Cavalry units are called for, 0-1 of them will be Piedmontese, and the remainder will be French.
  3. Infantry Elan - Infantry always charge their counterparts, even if they have fewer bases.
  4. Rifled Artillery -  0-1 units of artillery have Bronze Rifled guns, rather than Smoothbore.
  5. Command Level - Average.
  6. Broken Terrain - All units in open terrain have a saving roll of 5-6 when shot at.
This gives a good representation of the French Army for this conflict.  There is also a similar treatment for the Austrians (different composition, and different special rules).

So, lets say we are using this army for Scenario #1 in the rulebook (pp. 51-54).  The player, having determined (by dice toss) if he is on offense or defense, would then roll 1d6, and consult the table in the book, determining how many units of each category he has.  Let's say, for example, that the player rolls a "2".  This means that his army will get 4 units of infantry, 2 units of skirmishers, 2 units of cavalry, and 2 units of artillery.  For this army this means -

The army will (50/50 chance) either have 2 units of Chasseurs and 2 units of Line, or 1 unit of Chasseurs and 3 units of line.  The army will have 2 units of Skirmishers.  The army will have (50/50) either 1 unit of Piedmontese and 1 unit of French Cavalry, or no Piedmontese and 2 units of French Cavalry.  Finally, the army will have (50/50) 1 Bronze Rifled Gun section and 1 Smoothbore section, or 2 Smoothbore sections.

So, the simple system of generic scenarios, with force level determination, along with army lists detailing the contents (and special contents) of each of the basic categories, gives some really nice scenario driven wargaming results.  Hats off to you Neil Thomas - I already plan to "steal" the system for a game design I am working on.

Gygax Magazine

Gygax Magazine.  Now available for Subscription.  And I did.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reprints from Wizards continue . . OD&D this time

Yes, it is true, the Wizards over at Wizards of the Coast have found that there is a sound audience for reprints of their older (but still fine) roleplaying games.  They suckered me for the First Edition AD&D books, and I am on tap to get a set of the Second Edition AD&D books when they become available at Amazon.

But recently, thanks to info from John, I see that they are also republishing the original 1974 game (as in Original D&D or OD&D), as a set (all the books, and supplements):
  •  Volume 1: Men & Magic
  • Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure
  • Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures
  • Supplement I: Greyhawk
  • Supplement II: Blackmoor
  • Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry
  • Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes
It comes in what appears to be a nice brown box, with some foam cutouts for holding some polyhedral dice.

It isn't available yet through amazon, but keep an eye out for ISBN 978-0-7869-6465-9.

The posting from WOTC is here, and states that the release date is November 19, 2013.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jad the Pious - Old School Human Cleric

So, John is running an online (using Google Hangouts) old school RPG. He is using the Labyrinth Lord basic rules, which are quite similar to old Basic D&D.

My character in the game is a simple Human Cleric.  Since John is basing the game in the World of Greyhawk, I chose (no game effects, just background material) to be a cleric of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel.  My avowed goal in the world is to smite evil.

I picture the character as having started out as a simple convert to the earthy teachings of the church of St. Cuthbert, and sometime while an acolyte my character had some run in with evil.  Probably while wandering the land, as a wide eyed youth, doing good deeds and ministering to the peasants of the central lands of the Flanaess.
A young version of Jad, wandering the lands.  The City of Greyhawk can be see in the background, no doubt he is checking on the doughty miners of the Flinty Hills.

After the eye opening experience, whatever it was, young Jad became dedicated to crusading across the land, and smiting evil as a crusading cleric.  His game stats are:

Jad the Pious.
3rd Level Cleric
Alignment: Lawful
STR 11
DEX  8
CON 10
INT 16
WIS 14
CHA 11

HP 18
AC 4 (chain mail, shield +1; DEX -1)

1 GP
3 SP

Magic Equipment
Shield of St. Philbert (+1 shield)
Potion of Animal Control
Vial of Oil of Slipperiness

Armor, Weapons
Sling, pouch full of bullets

Adventuring Gear
Silver Holy Symbol of St. Cuthbert
Hammer, Spikes (6)
Flint and Steel
Cooking knife
Candles (10)
Walking staff
25' rope
5 days Trail Rations
5 flasks of oil (each for 4 hours of lantern light)
2 large sacks
2 small sacks
(sacks, initially, used to wrap equipment in backpack - later, for loot)

These days, as a traveling ruffian - avowed enemy of evil - Jad appears this way:
A more worldly and martial soul, Jad the Pious is now prepared for dealing justice against the forces of evil.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cold War Wargaming - Theremin Thursdays

It has been a while since I got to write about Gaming and Music. Today's topic is the Cold War. Specifically, the Soviet Union, and military actions in the cold war.

First, as a great library of song titles from the Cold War, I could do no better than the list already at the "In the 80s" website. They list just about everything, and give a brief description about what makes the song a Cold Wars song.

For my musical contribution today, however, I would like to point to a great little piece from the movie "The Hunt for Red October". The movie, by the way, is an excellent Cold War tale, based on the terrific novel by Tom Clancey. In brief it is about a Submarine Captain (Captain Marko Ramius, the Vilnius Schoolmaster) in the Soviet Navy that wants to defect, and the CIA analyst (hero Jack Ryan) who figures it out, and then has to convince the US/NATO side to allow the Soviet Captain the leeway to try it. Good stuff, very tense, and lots of background material about the political and military situation of the cold war. The fact that the Soviet Captain is played by Sean Connery.

The musical piece, from the soundtrack of the movie, is "The Hymn of the Red October", which is track 5 on the soundtrack.

The soundtrack is credited to Basil Poledouris (a favorite here at Gaming with Chuck HQ).  He was mentioned, prominently, in an earlier Theremin Thursdays article, for his fine work on the Conan the Barbarian movie.

The song "Hymn of the Red October" was made up for the movie, but it certainly sounds like a lot of Soviet martial music.  A lot of that music is very, very good - for military music.  Readers take notice: my admiration of the music, in no way extends to admiration for any of the horrors and atrocities committed during the Soviet era.  Much of the history of that state fascinates, but it also detests.

Another example of some fine (real world) Soviet era military music is the song "Invincible and Legendary - Glory to the Soviet Army" - here is a link to a version that I think is by the Red Army Choir.

For anyone interested, there is a LOT of music from the former Soviet Union, as well as pop music from both sides of the Iron Curtain, that detail the mood and feelings of the Cold War. One that I have to mention, because I was such a fan at the time, is from the German performer Gabriele Susanne Kerner, performed in the group called Nena.

There was a strong anti-military and anti-cold war, and even anti-NATO (and anti-US) movement in central Europe in the 80s. Politically one of the chief proponents was the Greens Party in West Germany (Sonstige Politische Vereinigung, Die Grünen).  They are even mentioned as setting the stage for the events in the cold war movie, "Red Dawn".  In that setting - with an environmentalist party appealing to the young, and also an anti war movement - songs like 99 luftballons were popular.  Here is a link to the song. (by the way, Nena did an English version of the song.  It doesn't work as well, in my opinion).

I recall at the time this came out, I was a college student at Christopher Newport College, in Newport News Virginia.  I was also a very active gamer at Campaign Headquarters in Hampton, Virginia (later moved to Newport News).  At the time, one of my chief interests was Cold War land actions.  This included a lot of the regional conflicts between super-power backed client states.  This included some of the brush wars in Africa; potential regional power conflicts, like India vs. Pakistan; and of course all the Middle East conflicts featuring Israel vs. a cast of thousands.  All of these had implications for the Cold War, and I think my fascination with the military and political situation was my response to the horrible situation of being 2 minutes from midnight on the Nuclear clock.  It was an interesting time.

As far as wargaming goes, I was playing with several different miniatures rule sets, mainly home brew and the games for Modern conflict from Wargames Research Group.  In 1988, however, Tabletop Games released Challenger II - and that became our favorite rules to play.  Looking back, they are overly fiddly and detailed, at least by the fashions of today, and they have a overly complex and long turn sequence.  But at the time we loved it.  All of us were fascinated with everything and anything about the military situation of the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, so we were steeped deep in technical details, doctrine details, reports of regional conflicts, and specs on new equipment that was spotted and reported on in Jane's Defense Weekly.  Because of that, we THRIVED on the detail of the game.

The rules were backed up by a series of publications from Tabletop Games that dealt with specifications on all the equipment from all the world's armies, as well as new and speculative equipment descriptions.  These came out in Army List books, Digests, and Supplements.  I still have some of these, they are incredible sources of detailed information.  The Army List books have all sorts of ORBAT information on the different formations of the different branches and deployment configurations of the world's military organizations.  The Digests (which describe equipment) gave detailed shopping lists of all the pertinent systems that are included on each vehicle platform, as well as information on the Infantry and Aircraft weapon systems in use.

There were times when we would dip back into the WRG rules, or play around with Homebrew rules. Of particular note were the many Warlords games ran by Dan Conley, using early precursors to his popular Quickfire rules. The Warlords games were set some time after the 4th world war, with local Warlords in the nuclear blasted wasteland assembling small armies of WW2 and Modern equipment, and going to battle with each other over ruined cities, military bases, and other sites of potential salvage value.  Lots of fun.

Fast forward to today.  As I mentioned, the older rules are definitely not in the style that many gamers prefer today.  One set of rules that really captures a modern feel - meaning that it is not too detailed, not too chart heavy, has an innovative and fun way to play and control turn sequencing and C2 (command and control), but gives a rewarding game with good results in spite of detail being abstracted away - is the set of rules called Cold War Commander.  They are by Peter Jones, and published by his company Specialist Military Publishing.

At the time of my writing this, I think that SMP are sold out of physical copies of the book, but you can order a PDF from them, or order a physical copy printed by Lulu. The rules are great, and are a real pleasure to play, and they are also self contained - they include everything you need to know in order to play conflicts from the 1950s on up through tomorrow - with loads and loads of army lists.  All of the regional conflicts that we watched and were interested in during the 60s, 70s, 80s, etc are all covered, as well as extensive coverage of all the "potential" participants in a WWIII scenario that could have happened during the Cold War.  A nice review of the rules, and contents, is on Youtube by TheTableTopGamer - a nice 19 year old wargamer from the UK.

I have several miniature armies for this era, that are usable with the Cold War Commander rules.  I try to collect them in pairs, so I have some Israeli and generic Arabs (that could be Syrians, Egyptians, etc).  For those conflicts I really favor 1967 and 1973.  I have some second and third tier NATO equipment, and an equivalent set of Warsaw Pact equipment.  This allows me to do fun things like Poland vs. Belgium in 1989, and so on.

The key feature of the game is that there is a dice and decision driven Command and Control structure.  Your army will feature a hierarchy of commanders of different elements, and each has a command value, representing a number from 2 to 12.  A very good commander would be rated a 9 or 10.  Players will identify a commander, roll 2d6, and if successful be able to issue orders to units under control of that commander.  Orders are basically move, or shoot, or move AND shoot. If you pass your test, then after your order is carried out, you can roll to do it again, but with a negative dice modifier.  When you first miss your dice test, then that commander is over for the turn.

There is a lot more to the rules, but for me that is the heart of the game.  It is very similar to the sister publications from SMP - Blitzkrieg Commander (covering WW2), and Future War Commander (covering a wide variety of Science Fiction settings).  The command and control rules in all of these are very similar to, and are rumored to be borrowed from (by Peter Jones, and with permission and blessing) the Warmaster series of Fantasy and Historical (Ancients and Medievals) rules by Rick Priestley.

Some of Rick's more recent efforts (such as Blackpowder for battles from 1700-1900; and others, such as Hail Caesar also from Warlord Games) have a modified version of the same structure.  In this modern version, you make one dice toss for your commander, and depending on how well it is passed, that determines (ahead of time) how many actions the command will have.  Very useful.  Takes out some of the guessworks,

So, all told, this is a very nice family of wargames.  In the words of the Vilnius Schoolmaster (Captain Marko Ramius), "Shplendid".

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Comparison of Ticket To Ride variants

The following is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to a friend comparing the various Ticket to Ride variants.  The official ones, anyway.  I thought other people would find it useful.

Ok, here is the rundown. The dice add on, as I said, makes for a different, faster, but still enjoyable game. We like it a lot, but it does feel different from regular TTR.

Both the Nordic Countries and the Switzerland alternative are loads of fun, especially for small groups. They are both designed for only 2 or 3 players. Both incorporate rules for tunnels, and Nordic Countries has rules for Ferries. Very simple rule changes, but fun. Tunnels are specially marked train routes that may require extra cards to build them. It is random (you draw three extra cards every time you build a tunnel; if any match the color you are building, it means you need an extra card). The effect on play is that it is a little risky to build a tunnel route, unless you have collected a few extra cards of that color. We find it to be a nice rule addition. Ferries are routes that require either one or two of your cards to be locomotives. Also a fun addition. The maps themselves also have differences.

In Nordic Countries, the map has lots of short routes in the southwest, and lots of long routes in the north east. It means that depending on the tickets you select, your strategy will be different. In Switzerland, almost all of the tickets are easy, and short, and you tend to complete a LOT of tickets. Scores can run high in Switzerland. Both are lots of fun and we (Anita, my wife, and Heidi, our daughter) like them. Nordic Countries also has a Christmas-y feel to he artwork, so we often pull it out to play over Christmas break.

There is a Europe version, that is great for family play. He reason is that it allows you to build a Station if you like, on a city. It has the effect of allowing you to use a route that was claimed by another player, so being cut off is not as disastrous as in the other versions of the game. It really is only important for larger games, or games where one or more of the players are somewhat aggressive. The tickets for Europe are much more evenly spread out than the base game. Europe also incorporates tunnels and ferries.

There is a Legendary Asia version, that features a map stretching from the Ukraine to Japan, and from Siberia to India. It is a lovely map, and the tickets are the most spread out and even of all the variants. It features Ferries, and Mountain Passes. The latter require you to discard a train piece every time you build one. Those discarded pieces are worth 2 points each at the end of each turn, and they have the effect on the game of making the many short routes in the higher population areas of the map as being worth a decent amount more than the regular 2 or 4 points they would be in other versions. It is a very fun version and has a great feel to it, but less player interaction (like racing to complete a route) because of how evenly placed the tickets are.

There is a Team Asia version (the map focuses on China) that allows you to play as teams, possibly including a Sixth player. You can also play without teams, but the team rules look interesting. Each player has their own train cards, plus train cards that belong to the team. Team mates are not allowed to share info about what they plan to do, and can't show each other their non team cards. Looks interesting, but we haven't played the team version.

There is an India version that just is a different board, but one that is a lot of fun to play. It gives bonus points for completing tickets using two or more different paths. Very interesting feel, and a bit more competitive than other versions.

There is a Germany version called Märklin. Märklin is a German manufacturer of model trains, and they sponsored this one. Every train card has a picture of a different model train car on it of the right color. The map has Passenger markers on it at the beginning of the game, and a player may choose to collect all the markers on a train route instead of a regular play. Knowing when and if to do that adds another level of decision making to the game. I love this version, but Anita and Heidi have said it is the hardest to play, and quite competitive. I love the cards because I love railroading history, so maybe that clouds my judgement!

There is a Heart of Africa version, that has special cards allowing you to multiply your points for jungle, mountain, or desert train routes. I have not played it, but it looks beautiful (the map and the cards).

These are the official map board variants. Switzerland and India come packaged together. Legendary Asia and Team Asia come packaged together. Africa comes alone in a box. Europe and Märklin and Nordic Countries all come packaged alone, and they each include basic pieces (plastic trains and train cards). The others only have rules and ticket cards, so require a basic set to play.

Other than the variant map boards, there are four other add ons. First, already mentioned, are the Dice, which work with any variant, but building the special 9-car ferry in Nordic Countries would be very hard using the dice system.

Another (Excellent) add on is the 1910 box. It has very nice full sized train and ticket cards for the North America game (I really don't like the little cards, they are fiddly and hard to shuffle). It also includes a number of variant ticket cards hat each give the basic game a very different feel. For a small add on it really improves the game experience (better cards) and gives lots of different game play alternatives.

Europe has a similar boxed add on called 1912. I also adds extra tickets for Europe (the Europe base game comes with larger cards, they learned their lesson after the first set), and another variant. This is the Warehouse, which is a way to collect extra cards that come in handy.

There is also the Alvin and Dexter add on. Alvin the alien and Dexter the dinosaur are plastic pieces that move around and block cities from being developed. Very cute, but it was not a favorite at our house.

Finally there is the Halloween add on. It is a full set of plastic trains in gray, witH plastic pumpkins in them. Very cute, and a nice add on set of pieces, but no real changes to he rules.