Archive for October, 2010

Revising WGRG WW2 (North Africa game – for 6 Nov 2010)

Sorry for the rather cumbersome title on this post.  It refers to the revised Wargames Research Group 1925-50 rules that Pete Connew and I are developing over a long period of time for the Abbey Wood Irregulars. It’s a lengthy project, since we tend to bring out the WW2 stuff only twice a year.

So far we’ve played four scenarios:

  • Part of Operation Goodwood, in which in our version the Brits got a pasting from Kampfgruppe Waldmuller of 12 SS Pz Div;
  • German counter-attack around Pegasus Bridge on D-Day – a might-have-been scenario in which 21 Pz Div attacked in some force much earlier than historically and achieved significant success;
  • A small part of Operation Crusader in the Western Desert, in which elements of 15 Pz Div attacked prepared British positions; early attacks were beaten off and we ran out of time;
  • Courland Peninsula in January 1945.  The Russian 1 Tank Corps attacked advanced German positions with a view to pushing through enemy lines and exploiting to the rear.  The Russians put in a creditable attack, bearing in mind the inflexibility of Russian doctrine, but the Germans held their main position; again we ran out of time, unfortunately just before a major tank exchange, but it was an excellent game.

The emphasis in our version of the rules is on simulation of the historical doctrines, rather than simply on WW2 theme.  We’re not too fussed about exact differentiation between weapon systems, but we do care about command and control.  For this reason we attempt to model the formations down to company level reasonably accurately, acknowledging that we have limited sources of information (and some of these may represent wishful thinking rather than accuracy).  Communications are vital, and we model specifically the time delays that come with the changing of orders in response to changes to the tactical situation.  Modelling this aspect, including the time required for companies to react to their new orders, means that co-ordination between arms (for example artillery or air support) is realistically difficult.  We don’t have to resort to command pips or activation rolls, which most modern rules sets use as proxies for the confusion of battle.  With realistic force mixes, command levels and time delays, we find that co-ordination is realistically difficult and doesn’t have to rely on dice rolls.

I find that we prefer to use Division or larger formations, which gives us a bit of difficulty, as players can get overwhelmed. But there’s not a real appetite for smaller battles, and for historical accuracy (and I’m doubtful about that term), it seems to me that smaller scale actions don’t give enough context, particularly in relation to what’s going on to each flank of the battlefield.

For our scale of operations to work, we generally need about 4 players per side and 2 umpires, one to keep the sequence of play flowing and the other to regulate the communications delays and historicity.  For our game in a week’s time we’re in the Western Desert again (Stephen Welford is the main umpire; I’m assisting).  For this we’ll need revised artillery templates (for 1mm:1m scale) and revision of the rules for air power, mine fields and pre-game artillery.

I introduced the concept of Hot, Warm and Cold turns in an earlier game, which helps to speed up movement prior to close contact; I think it’s simpler to restrict this to Cold and Hot (effectively scrap Cold and rename Warm as Cold).  In this game units Shoot first then Move (or Communicate or take a Special action), so the range of shooting and visibility of enemy can be used to regulate the type of turn.  For a Warm Turn (now to be renamed Cold!) the bounds are 15 minutes long.  Movement is up to 5 times the advertised rates, but must only be:

(i)             off-table; or

(ii)            on-table in areas outside 500m range of located enemy elements; AND

(iii)           no new direct fire at or less than 500m (‘new direct fire’ is fire from active elements that did not fire in the previous friendly bound).

A warm bound can be interrupted by direct fire from previously unlocated enemy at or within 500m, in which case active player movement ends immediately, but communications are completed as if the full time had elapsed, so orders, requests or reports can be completed during a warm bound with no delays.  This is intended to make players think about the priorities for movement of their own forces – if they forget, it can lead to nasty surprises, as some units can get left behind – representing delays in orders, failures to co-ordinate and so on.

Additional bits and pieces that are needed for this game include:

  • New artillery templates (I think I have them somewhere, but probably won’t be able to find the old ones!)
  • Sequence of Play reference chart for the wall (never underestimate large visual aids)
  • A table-standing flipchart for each side, so that orders can be posted.  I need to revise this to make it simpler to operate.  (Did I mention never underestimate large visual aids?)

I used to produce large cards for each command with the unit compositions and Move / To Hit for each vehicle and weapon, which could also be used for orders, but it just took too much time; and in any case I’m not certain the players appreciated the effort – few players seemed to use the convenient tables on the cards, preferring to look them up in the rules! So now I print out the full tables, three double-sided large print A4 Play Aids for each player, and they work well. These are traditional board game style play aids that include Sequence of Play and list of Special Actions, so most of the time the players won’t need to refer to the main rules at all.

The game relies on good briefings (no pressure on Stephen then!), relatively thoughtful players and decisive rather than accurate umpiring.  It’s better to make quick decisions that give a believable historical result than to agonise at length about what is correct in relation to the rules.

Two things I’d like to try are (i) suppressive area direct fire onto unlocated enemies (for example in terrain that prevents movement), which could result in the elements being neutralised but not destroyed – this is an idea nicked from Tac: WWII; and (ii) permitting a small number of units to be in ambush – when units in ambush shoot they are not automatically detected until their second shot – this is nicked from Battlegroup Panzer Grenadier.

Age of String: a very brief review of String Railway

Played String Railway Wednesday lunchtime. It’s a new Japon Brand game (Okazu Brand) by Hisashi Hayashi fresh from Essen, where it sold out.

The playing area is made from a loop of string, as is a mountain range inside it.  A further piece of string (not looped) forms a river. Within this “field” players will place strings of their own colour, representing track, and square tiles, representing various types of station. You score points for linking up stations and the types of station can also add or subtract points from rivals. Crossing a string deducts a point.

The concept of the game is wonderfully simple. By the end of play you will have a complex cat’s cradle criss-crossing your playing area, but you’ll be able to admire each player’s network construction.  Lots of fun; recommended but may be difficult to find unless another publisher gets hold of it.

2-5 players, 8+, 30 minutes

Essen 10 Purchases

What we’ve bought at Essen Spiel ’10 – too much as usual.

A&C Essen 10 game purchases

Essen 10 Purchases

7 Wonders
Agricola Gamer’s Deck
Bunny Bunny Moose Moose
Cartagena 2
Cat and Chocolate
Dominant Species
Guided Lands
High Frontier + expansion
Inca Empire
Key Market
Magnum Sal
Pocket Battles: Orcs & Elves
Ricochet Robots
Sceptre of Zavandor
String Railway
Sun, Sea & Sand
The Resistance

Essen Sunday

The final day of Spiel ’10 dawned at, well, dawn. A quiet morning (tumbleweed slowly passing by) was followed by a much busier lunchtime and afternoon.

We made a few sales to shops, including the final one in the carpark after we had packed up! Thank you to Swan Asia!

A few last minute swaps for Totemo with other designers included Sun, Sea and Sand (Cwali), Thunderstone, Antics (thanks Gordon). Weren’t able to swap for Mines of Zavandor as there wasn’t an English one available.

We got our copy of the English 7 Wonders and T shirt, so it paid to be at the top of the waiting list. Also picked up Sceptre of Zavandor for 10€.

Packing up was swift if fraught, as we couldn’t bring the van to the stand. Thanks to all the crew (including Julian, Pete and Gavin + Gavin’s dad). Then we had our usual wind down Mexican meal.

Hopefully there will be a more considered blog post later, but now we have to head ferrywards.

Essen Saturday

Frenetic Saturday arrived at Spiel ’10. For the first time Surprised Stare Games has a product in Totemo that could be thought of as a Saturday game; one that will appeal to families and the general public. So it has transpired.

As usual the halls were packed wall to wall – though various exhibitors have said it wasn’t as crowded as usual. For us, it was unusually busy. Previously we have had crowds ignoring us on Saturday. This time we were demoing all day. Sales were good for a Saturday. It helped that we were high up the GeekBuzz rankings for most of the day.

I’ve picked up a copy of Pocket Battles: Orcs v Elves – a follow up to Celts & Romans and one that I helped to play test. It’s a Z-man game by Paolo Mori and Francesco Sirocchi. I was also lucky enough to catch up with Paolo, as he stopped by the stand. Vasco de Gama expansion is due out soon.

In the evening we met up with another Alan, Sebastian and Caroline, and Jonathan and Lucy. Caroline introduced me to Mijnlieff and promptly thrashed me (at the game).

Then we gave Ascension a go. It was enjoyable, but why buy, play or design this rather than Dominion?

Finally we had a 6-player game of Parade. Few turns and I think driven more by the draw of cards than skill (and I won). Probably better with three or four.

Essen Friday

And the campaign continues…

Vicki’s artwork is going down a storm! Specific companies that have been impressed include Adlung Spiele, Gryphon Games and Kosmos, amongst others.

We had the opportunity to take some more space, because the stand opposite was empty. This proved to be too expensive, because Merz Verlag wanted to charge €400 and we would have to get furniture on top. I had a wonderful response from neighbouring companies reflecting cultural differences. Myself, being English, was playing by the rules; the Poles had to refer up to a higher authority, and the Italians were all for just occupying the space without asking!

We met up with even more old friends, including Jonathan and Lucy; we didn’t manage a game with them, because our evening plans did not quite mesh.

We bought Troyes, a new Belgian Eurogame, and played it in the evening, 4-player with Sebastian and Caroline. For the first try it took perhaps 2.5 hours – the rules look pretty comprehensive; no problems with them. It’s a medium to heavy game, and will probably take the 90-120 mins on the box. There’s a lot going on in the game. Worker placement gives access to mechanisms to convert resources to other types, and to generate VPs. However, the resources are primarily in the form of coloured dice – yellow for civil, white for religious, red for military. While high dice rolls help, they are not essential – in this game you can pay to use the other players dice, the price depending on the number of dice – from 1 to 3 – that you want to use for your action. Conversion of dice or adding to the dice total or other dice manipulation happens as part of your action, not as a separate one. Another great twist is that bonus VPs can be achieved through meeting the conditions set by your mentor (a character card randomly dealt at the start). But everyone can get the bonuses from all the characters, so there’s an element of bluff. Recommended.

Essen Thursday

Just lost the whole post for Essen Thursday; iPhone lost it when I published with no Internet connection 😦 So this may be briefer than usual. I’ve switched to composing this in Notes then posting – see, I can learn!

We spent all day demonstrating Totemo (there’s a surprise). Sales were moderate, bearing in mind it will have limited appeal to Euro collectors. We had lots of families on the stand which bodes well for Saturday.

Best moment was Phil explaining Totemo in Japanese to Banesto! Not many stands can do that. Also Chooi had a chat with a Malaysian importer too, so we had a very multicultural day.

We also sold a small number of Confucius and Fzzzt! 2nd edition plus 5-6 player expansion.

We had productive meetings with Schmidt Spiele, FRED and Cryptozoic about future products too.

More later I hope; we’re reassuringly busy.