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With 2009 Coming to an End, It is Time to look forward to 2010
“Map and Counters,” was launched — pretty much on a whim — in April of this year, and thus far, over one hundred and ninety separate posts have been published on its pages. The steady growth, over time, in the numbers of new and repeat visitors — currently, the site averages about six hundred unique visits and over 2,100 page views per month — has been both a tremendous source of encouragement and the main justification for my decision to continue with this effort in 2010. That being said, I want to take the occasion of the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new, to thank all of you who have taken the time to visit “Map and Counters” and have stayed long enough to read my often eccentric and sometimes frivolous musings. Your interest is deeply appreciated.
From its start, this Blog’s essays have centered on presenting highly-detailed game profiles and operational analysis of traditional board-style wargames. However, in addition to these regular, game-related posts, the site has also occasionally offered commentary on other subjects as diverse as movie and book reviews, our national Holidays, convention announcements and updates, and even a few posts to cover important breaking hobby-related news. This basic format will not change appreciably with the advent of the New Year. On the other hand, what really matters is which subjects you, the “Blog’s” visitors, really want to see featured in the coming year. And for that reason, I have listed a number of topics that I have either begun work on, or that I expect to write about, in the next few months. If any of these or other subjects are of particular interest, please let me know via the comments section of this post.
Possible Topics for Future Posts
Any comments or suggestions about the preceding list or about the future direction of this Blog in the coming year are welcome. Hopefully, “Map and Counters” will continue to be a site worth visiting regularly in 2010. That, at least, is my sincere wish. The year that is now ringing to a close has, for a variety of reasons, been a difficult one; let us all pray that 2010 will be a much better time, in every possible way, for us all!
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An Exhaustive List of the Good, Bad, and Indifferent 'MIDWAY' Articles that Appeared from 1964-79 in the Avalon Hill General
MIDWAY is a historical simulation of the crucial carrier battle between the naval forces of Imperial Japan and the United States that occurred in the Central Pacific near Midway Island, on June 4, 1942. In this aircraft versus ship engagement, the Japanese advance across the Pacific was decisively defeated and turned back by a few hundred intrepid American naval airmen. More than any other single fleet action in the long Allied struggle against Japan, this battle — in which the surface vessels of the two opposing fleets never came into view of each other — represented the strategic turning point in the Pacific War. In the course of a single day’s combat, four of Japan’s best fast carriers were sunk at the cost of a single American flat top. It was a blow from which the Imperial Japanese Navy would never recover. MIDWAY was designed by Larry Pinskey and Lindsley Schutz and published by the Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1964.
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I still remember, after almost four decades, my first attempt at playing MIDWAY. It was during my Junior Year at college. A Friday marathon session of DIPLOMACY had just broken up at about 11:00 pm in the student “commons” and, since I still had a couple of hours to kill before I had to pick my girlfriend up from work, I was pretty much at loose ends. One of the other DIPLOMACY players — who also happened to be both a regular opponent and a friend — suggested that we try something completely different. When I agreed, he trotted off to his dorm room and returned a few minutes later with four Avalon Hill games under his arm: ANZIO, BISMARCK, GUADALCANAL, and MIDWAY. Since I had never played any of these titles before, it took a few minutes for me to decide on a game; but, after briefly looking over the different rules and game boards, I quickly chose MIDWAY as the least offensive of the four.
In our first match, I took the Japanese. My American opponent effortlessly dodged my searches and, with my planes readied but sitting on their flight decks, I saw all four of my carriers sunk before the end of the first day of action. This first game, I reassured myself was just a learning experience. So, having so far spent more time sorting the game pieces than playing, I took the Americans in the rematch. This game turned out to be a little more interesting, if only because it was a little longer; the end result, however, was pretty much the same: by mid-morning on the second day, all three American flat tops had been bottomed and only the Japanese Hiryu had been sunk. And so it went. I think, all told, that we played four games, and I got (deservedly) shellacked in every one of them. Naturally, at the end of this session, I was completely hooked and, with a freshly-kindled desire for cardboard vengeance burning in my heart, I couldn’t wait to get my own copy of MIDWAY. However, since revenge was my ultimate goal, I also decided that it might be a good idea for me to read every article in the General about the play of the game that I could get my hands on. And that is what I proceeded to do.
Interestingly, in the course of my study of the game, I quickly discovered that the usefulness of the different articles presented in the General tended to vary inversely with their publication dates. The early pieces were usually of little real value, and occasionally even counterproductive. The later articles, on the other hand, were, with a few notable exceptions, much more instructive. The writings from acknowledged MIDWAY experts like Harold Totten and William Searight were particularly valuable in helping me to grasp the nuances of this classic title. And even Don Greenwood — who, before he decided to specialize in losing at BREAKOUT: NORMANDY, was a fearsome and diabolical MIDWAY player — provided many useful insights into the finer points of evasion and maneuver on the search board. And the end result of all my study? I freely admit that I didn’t win every one of my subsequent games, but I did win quite a few; and most importantly, I never again suffered the types of crushing defeat that I had endured during my first late-night attempts at MIDWAY.
Which brings me, finally, to the purpose of this list: my hope is that some of my readers will be inspired to revisit this great old title; and further, that they will benefit, as I did many years ago, from the expert analysis contained in the insightful articles written by some of the best players to ever sit on one or the other side of a MIDWAY search board. So, for those of you who still have a pile or two of old issues of the General gathering dust somewhere around the house, or who have a friend who has a lifetime’s stash of gaming magazines stacked up in his game room, this list is for you. Even if you read all or most of these General articles a very long time ago, I encourage you to go back and give them another look. You might even find it hard to put some of these old Generals down, once you start turning through their pages!
For no particular reason, I have arranged this rather long list in chronological order, from the oldest (1964) to the most recent (1979).
I should probably note, by the way, that in addition to this batch of articles, there are actually a number of other MIDWAY essays and “Series Replays” that appeared in the General after 1979 but that — because of a lack of time (read: motivation) on my part — did not make it onto this particular list. On the other hand, who knows? I may yet get around to cataloging these remaining pieces at some later date. In the meantime, this compendium of early articles on one of Avalon Hill’s first naval games should be complete enough to satisfy most of the long-time gamers who, like me, still have a “soft spot” for this classic design. Sadly, MIDWAY, like a number of the other great old games, has been out of popular favor for some years now; which is really too bad because this title — despite its dated graphics, and its “baby” blue and “frou-frou” pink counters — was, besides being a fast-moving and exciting game, actually a ground-breaking design in its day; and, I may be old-fashioned, but I still enjoy playing it whenever I have the opportunity.
Finally, for those gamers who are relatively new to the hobby but who would, none-the-less, still like to check out some of these early MIDWAY articles, your situation is far from hopeless. Happily, there is an internet site (see my “helpful links” sidebar) that offers reprints from the General; alternatively, for those who insist on getting the “real thing,” there are also almost always old copies of the General and other hobby publications surfacing in the “board wargame section” on eBay. So, one way or another and with a little patience, interested gamers should still be able to track down quite a few, if not all of these early pieces, given enough time.
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THE CIVIL WAR: 1861-1865 is a strategic level simulation of the American War Between the States. The game spans the years 1861-1865 and focuses on combat operations in the three main theaters of the Civil War: the East, the West, and the Trans-Mississippi. THE CIVIL WAR was designed by Eric Lee Smith and published by Victory Games, Inc. (VG) in 1983.
In the confused and chaotic days that immediately followed the outbreak of war between the anti-secessionist Northern States and the still-forming, pro-slavery Confederate States of America in the spring of 1861, clashes between the breakaway South and the Unionist North flared up repeatedly, particularly in the states that lay between the two belligerents; however, these actions were typically limited to relatively small-scale skirmishes between opposing bands of militia. Hence, although the War Between the States had actually begun with the Rebel attack on Union forces at Charleston, there had not been another major battle between Confederate and Federal troops in the four months following the surrender of Fort Sumter by its commander, Major Robert Anderson, on the 13th of April, 1861. Neither side, however, spent this period in complete idleness: volunteers were called up and new armies began to take shape on both sides of North-South divide.
Finally, in mid-July, the 35,000 enthusiastic but poorly-trained Union troops bivouacked around Washington, D.C., stirred to action and began to lumber south. The Union commander, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, although deeply skeptical about the battle-worthiness of his freshly-minted army, had at last reluctantly succumbed to political pressure and ordered his soldiers to move against the Confederate Capital at Richmond. Barring McDowell’s path were 20,000 Confederates under the command of the same Rebel general who had accepted Fort Sumter's surrender only a few months earlier, General P. T. Beauregard.
The location and approximate strength of Beauregard's force was no mystery to McDowell; nor did its presence cause the head of the invading Federal army undue concern. Unbeknownst to the Union commander, however, an additional 12,000 Rebel soldiers from the Shenandoah Valley, under General J. E. Johnston, were already rushing to Beauregard’s aid. And by the time the slowly advancing Union troops at last encountered the first Confederate pickets, fresh reinforcements for Beauregard’s army were only miles away. The two opposing hosts — both composed mainly of green recruits and 90-day enlistees — spent the day after their initial contact with each other engaged in desultory sniping and minor skirmishing, but with no serious fighting. This brief period of relative calm did not last, however, and on 21 July, 1861, the two armies violently crashed into each other near the hamlet of Centerville, in Virginia.
The Union soldiers opened the battle with a flanking attack against the Confederate left, and for a time, Beauregard's troops were forced to give ground. Unfortunately for McDowell, Rebel reinforcements began to arrive just in time to shore up the wavering Confederate line. With the timely arrival of Johnston’s troops, the two armies were now almost evenly-matched. The Union soldiers, however, had been in almost constant action throughout the morning and were beginning to tire; gradually, the initiative shifted to Beauregard as Johnston’s fresh regiments continued to enter the fight. The seesaw battle lasted through most of the day, but by late afternoon, the battlefield belonged to Beauregard. Their unexpected defeat at Confederate hands quickly led to a breakdown in both the morale and the discipline of the green Union troops. And just as McDowell had feared, the Union retreat quickly turned into a rout. The confident, even eager, army that had marched out of Washington only a few days earlier, now fled back towards the same city largely as a disordered mob.
This action was the first real preview, for both sides of the conflict, of the true and tragic cost of the war that lay before them. Fourteen hundred and ninety-two Union troops had been killed and 1,600 taken prisoner, while the victorious Confederates’ losses numbered 1,752. Word of the outcome from the fighting at “Manassas” — also known as the “First Battle of Bull Run” — would produce rejoicing in the South, and shocked disbelief in the North. An unknown Union officer, without political connections, named William T. Sherman would first impress his military superiors with his courage and leadership during this bloody clash; while in the enemy camp, an obscure Confederate officer would, after this battle, ever after be known as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Tragically for both sides, a political argument between countrymen had become a life-and-death war between states. And although neither the officers nor the men from either army who fought at Manassas on 21 July, 1861, could have known it at the time, the fight at Centerville had been the first major battle in what would ultimately become the deadliest war in American history.
THE CIVIL WAR is primarily an army/corps level simulation of maneuver and ground combat during the war between the American North and South, 1861-65. The ground operations portion of the game, because it deals with the unique problems of a multi-year, continent-wide land war in the mid-nineteenth century, places special emphasis on what the designer perceives to be the three most important strategic challenges posed to both sides: leadership (which historical leaders command which armies where?); theater resource allocation (where will each side decide to concentrate their main effort?); and initiative (which side acts first during the Action Phase of each game-turn?). These three core game elements are both reasonable and comparatively standard fare in Civil War simulations presented on this scale. However, one aspect of the game’s design is particularly intriguing: this is the simulation’s requirement that players secretly choose a single one of the game map’s three operational theaters as the focus of their impending ground operations. This 'fog of war' aspect of the simulation can be important both to the flow and to the tempo of the game; if both players choose different theaters, for example, one player — typically the one without the 'initiative' — is very likely to find himself with serious operational problems. Thus, strategic misdirection and the lack of intelligence as to the enemy’s intentions and strength play a more significant role in this game than in many other large-scale simulations of the American Civil War.
Naval operations also play an important, if supporting, role in the long-range plans of both sides in the game. And, it should be noted, Eric Lee Smith does a nice job of keeping naval operations both interesting, exciting, and yet easy-to-perform for both players. The United States (Union), as was historically the case, has an enormous advantage over the Confederacy in the realm of sea-going and riverine combat power and capabilities. Nonetheless, naval operations are still relevant to both sides’ conduct of the war; nor is the Southern player completely helpless in the face of the powerful Union Navy. In the turn-to-turn play of THE CIVIL WAR, players will find that the naval conflict between the Confederate States of America (CSA) and the North has been highly abstracted. This part of the game concentrates on the three naval elements of greatest strategic significance to the outcome of the war: the Union sea blockade of Southern maritime commerce; the Southern effort to raid Northern shipping; and the Confederate campaign, using 'blockade runners' and 'ironclads', to break the commercial stranglehold imposed on Southern ports by the Union naval blockade.
THE CIVIL WAR, from a purely graphics’ standpoint, is attractively packaged; and the game is, on the whole, nicely presented. The title’s components are generally good to very good: the counters are a little drab, but clearly-printed, and the maps are colorful and relatively unambiguous. One minor nit regarding the game maps: the Far West map section is — in my opinion, at least — so bland as to be almost off-putting. But, on the other hand, this theater of operations was historically so unimportant to the overall outcome of the war that most players will quickly find that its inclusion in the game — unless the Union player really wants to reprise Freemont’s failed campaign in the Far West, or unless both players want to drag the Southwestern Indian tribes into 'someone else’s' war — is easily dispensed with. The back-printed charts and tables for THE CIVIL WAR are uniformly clear and easy to use. The “Rules Booklet,” on the other hand, although reasonably well-written and fairly complete, seems a little too long and awkwardly organized. For this reason, while I personally found individual rules sections to be relatively clear as to the designer’s intent, I nonetheless found it to be impossible to conduct the first read-through of the game rules without repeated references to earlier sections and rules cases. This is not a big problem, but it does mean that new players should expect to spend a bit of time acquainting themselves with both the familiar and the unorthodox elements of the game’s design architecture.
Although it was designed (and is best) as a two-player game, THE CIVIL WAR can be played by teams. Each game turn in THE CIVIL WAR is equal to two months (except for the winter game-turn) and consists of an integrated, interactive sequence of play. The game turn sequence has eight steps: the Reinforcement Phase; the Command Phase; the CSA Commerce Raider Phase; the Blockade Effects Phase; the Action Phase; the Command Point Table Use Phase; the Rally Phase; and the End Phase. Considering the scope of THE CIVIL WAR as a simulation, these various player operations are neither particularly cumbersome nor tedious. In fact, most player operations are intuitively logical and proceed fairly quickly. This relative simplicity in the game’s design platform, however, is deceptive. Thus, no individual turn phase is unduly complicated or time-consuming, and the piece count, given the simulation’s overall size, is really quite manageable; nonetheless, the game is still richly layered with detail and, because of this fact, is surprisingly difficult to play well. In short, on any given game turn there is almost always a lot going on, both at the strategic and the operational level — even when both sides appear to be relatively inactive — and for this reason, it can be frustratingly easy to make mistakes.
Command and control, logistics, terrain, and manpower all play an important part in THE CIVIL WAR. However the proper use of leaders is, without doubt, the single most important consideration in the game. The Union player needs commanders like Grant and Sherman to spearhead his invasions of southern territory; the South depends on generals like Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet to move decisively during the Reaction Phase to block the invading Yankees as soon as they march into Rebel areas. This fact, however, does lead to the unrealistic player tactic of parking incompetent generals like McClellan and Butler well to the rear where they can do no real harm. Not surprisingly, long-term planning pays, but given the fluid nature of the game system, it is virtually certain that both players will suffer unexpected reversals. Of course, it can also reasonably be argued that the inevitable surprises and missteps that crop up in the course of play add a distinctly historical flavor to the simulation. Presidents Lincoln and Davis, after all, were both plagued by disobedient or incompetent subordinates, and experienced unexpected military setbacks and disappointments of their own; often because of factors completely outside of their direct control.
THE CIVIL WAR offers four basic scenarios: the 1861 Scenario; the 1862 Scenario; the 1863 Scenario; and the 1864 Scenario. Players interested in simulating the entire Civil War may opt to expand the scope of the game to include operations on the American Frontier by adding the Far West Option. In addition, the game offers a number of what-if(?) Optional Rules — for example, Jackson and Lyons aren’t killed, cavalry use in intelligence gathering, changes in restrictions on army sizes and placement, and others — from which the players can pick and choose. These additional rules options can be used either to add variety or more realism to a specific scenario, or alternatively, to adjust play-balance between unequal opponents.
The victory conditions, as might be expected, vary according to the scenario being played. They are also, thankfully, both intuitively logical and historically reasonable. As was the case in the real war, the political significance of attaining certain geographical objectives, particularly the control of the Border States are often central to both players’ plans. Play balance in THE CIVIL WAR, although far from perfect, seems to fall within acceptable bounds; which is to say that, with skillful play, either side has a decent chance of winning.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
All and all, weighing the pros against the cons, THE CIVIL WAR is a very good game. And while it certainly is not a “ground-breaking” new treatment of the war between the North and South, designer Eric Lee Smith still manages to successfully meld a number of traditional gaming concepts with a few clever design wrinkles of his own to produce a well-balanced and exciting simulation. Moreover, despite its size, it is actually, once players become comfortable with the game mechanics, surprisingly playable. Still, all that being said, most players will still want to ask: how does this title stack up against other similar Civil War games? The short answer to this question, I would argue, is probably “better than most.” However, even this answer really depends on which titles this game is being matched against. Set against games like FOR THE PEOPLE and THE WAR FOR THE UNION, Smith’s design looks pretty good, particularly if a player is biased against 'Card Driven Games' (CDG) like FOR THE PEOPLE. But there’s a rub. Because of the subject matter and scale of the game, the temptation to contrast THE CIVIL WAR with Irad Hardy’s WAR BETWEEN THE STATES (WBTS) is well-nigh unavoidable. Unfortunately, this is not an easy comparison to make: the games are simply so very different in concept and execution.
Hardy’s older (1977) WBTS design places far more emphasis on the historical problems that arose from the mobilization and organization of the manpower and economic resources of the North and South. The weekly game turns and low movement factors of the ground units, combined with the virtually perfect information available to both players about the disposition of enemy forces, means that campaigns have to be planned well in advance. Sweeping maneuvers and stunning surprises are, with the exception of rail and naval movement, almost never a factor in the game. Moreover, the combat and leadership rules for WAR BETWEEN THE STATES, although somewhat cumbersome, tend to reproduce the bloody and inconclusive battlefield results that actually characterized most of the engagements fought during the Civil War. The issue of leadership illuminates another frustrating, but historically accurate facet of WBTS: leaders are so scarce — particularly in the early phases of the war — that both sides have no choice but to place incompetent generals in positions of command. And then there is the Strategic Production Cycle that shows up every four game turns. Some players love this aspect of the game, and others just hate it. However, for those McClellan-style plodders, like me, who actually enjoy a heavy dose of administrative and organizational detail, WBTS is probably still the best strategic simulation — despite its several well-documented flaws — ever published on the War for Southern Independence.
Eric Lee Smith’s 1983 design, THE CIVIL WAR, takes a very different approach to America’s bloodiest conflict from that of Irad Hardy’s WAR BETWEEN THE STATES. The two-month game turns and limited intelligence baked into THE CIVIL WAR game system makes for a much more dynamic and free-wheeling (read: nerve-racking) gaming experience. Major surprises are almost nonexistent in SPI’s WBTS; they seem to be almost commonplace in Smith’s newer simulation. By the way, one nice little historical touch in THE CIVIL WAR that is usually absent from games on this subject is that, as the war progresses and the Union naval blockade really starts to bite, Confederate rail capacity steadily deteriorates. This is a little detail, but it is one of many that give Smith’s design its unique flavor. On the down-side, several of the subroutines in THE CIVIL WAR seem almost too simple; and the outcomes of battles, although bloody enough, seem somewhat more decisive than was the case historically. That being said, Smith’s Victory Games design will probably appeal more to the R.E. Lee or Grant-style gamer than WBTS would. THE CIVIL WAR may not have the historical simulation chops that WBTS does, but it is still a richly-textured and challenging treatment of America’s costliest war.
So where does all this leave us? I suppose that one way to put it is that, if I, personally, could only own one Civil War monster game, then, hands down, that game would have to be WBTS; if, on the other hand, I could add one more Civil War monster to my collection, then that second game would probably be THE CIVIL WAR. This is not to say that the Victory Games title is for everyone. This is not a simple game; and learning its game system, even for experienced players, takes a bit of work. For this reason, while THE CIVIL WAR is a good choice for those seasoned players interested in a detailed treatment of this tragic page from American history; given the sheer scope and complexity of its design, this title is probably a very poor choice for the inexperienced or casual gamer.
Alternatively, for those novice or casual players who would like to own a smaller, more manageable (read: non-monster) game that still covers the entire Civil War, and not just a single battle — and for experienced players looking for a great 'beer and pretzels' game, as well — I strongly recommend GDW’s little gem of a game, A HOUSE DIVIDED, in any of its several versions. This title is an excellent game in its own right; it is also a challenging, fun, and very playable alternative to the other more complex simulations discussed in this profile.
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU .
Also see my blog post Book Review of this definitive three volume work on the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia by Douglas S. Freeman.
Also, for those interested in battlefield maps, the "museum book" collection of historical Civil War maps by William J. Miller, released in 2004, or the atlas compiled by Stephen Hyslop in 2009 of Civil war battlefields are worth collecting.
Recommended ArtworkThis Giclee print of a map of the Battle of Gettysburg is suitable for framing and makes a nice wall decoration for a game room with a Civil War theme.
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Discounts on BPA Membership Fees for 2010 will Expire Soon
It’s hard to believe, but it is actually that time of year again. Although the WBC Convention in Lancaster, PA is still a little over eight months away, those gamers who are planning to attend this or any of the other premier gaming events that are hosted by the Boardgame Players Association should start making their arrangements now. This means, among other things, that you “grognards” out there all need to renew your BPA memberships for the 2010 convention season.
Time is running out, so those gamers who wish to vote on next year’s WBC events and who also want to receive a discount (and who doesn’t?) on their BPA membership fee for the coming year should mail in their BPA dues and 2010 WBC event ballot on or before January 2, 2010. Not only could Don Greenwood use the cash right after the Holidays, but a December membership renewal enables next year’s convention attendees to save a little money on their BPA 2010 tournament entry fees; more important, it also allows interested players to vote on their favorite game titles for inclusion in the 2010 WBC tournament event calendar. And if all that weren’t enough, those players who mail in their dues for a “sustaining” or higher level (read: more expensive) membership before the year’s end also get a “free” BPA tee shirt. How can anyone turn down a deal like that?
To register or renew your BPA membership for the coming year’s tournament and convention events, click on this link to the Boardgame Players Association website 2010 membership page.
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Thoughts on an Uncommonly “Dickensonian” Christmas Season
This post is a belated, if somewhat somber Holiday Greeting to all of the visitors who, by one path or another, have found their way to the pages of this Blog during the preceding year. I sincerely appreciate your interest in my sometimes peculiar and always frivolous musings. However, I must confess that in the days leading up to this Christmas Holiday, I had a hard time deciding on what, if anything, to post about the current Holiday Season. We seem to be living through a troubling, even an anxious period in our history; for that reason, the usual festive mood of this time of year seems noticeably muted. Maybe it is just me, but Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has never seemed more poignant or appropriate than it does right now.
Saying Farewell at Christmas
Traditionally, of course, the celebration of Christmas is both an uplifting period of religious renewal, and a festive time for gift-giving and for the gathering together of friends and family. That, at least, is what we and most of our friends typically expect during this, the “happiest” time of year. The Christmas of 2009, on the other hand, has turned out to be a very big let-down for a great many Americans. And, as the present year rapidly winds to a close, I think that it is fitting that we remember the millions of our fellow citizens who are presently without work and who now, through no fault of their own, find themselves facing serious financial hardship. This situation is especially troubling because, in many cases, their plight could actually be far worse.
Welcome Home Daddy
In point of fact, this Holiday Season would be even more difficult for many struggling American families without badly-needed assistance from the privately-funded charities and other non-profit organizations that tirelessly labor on the behalf of those in need. Thus, I think that it is important to remember — particularly when economic conditions are tough, as they are now — that the many worthwhile charities that work in our various communities across the country all depend on the voluntary contributions of individual donors. In times like these, private generosity — not just at Christmas, but year-round — really matters. It truly is “more blessed to give than to receive.”
A Korean War Christmas
In addition, I think that it is fitting that — at this time of year, particularly — we direct our thoughts and prayers towards the American servicemen and women who daily face an implacable enemy on our behalf in many distant and dangerous corners of the world. They are the first and truest guardians of our way of life, and their overseas’ deployment is a hardship that must be borne both by them, and by their family members back home. For that reason, I urge that we all take the time to remember and honor those fellow Americans who, because of their military service, are bound by duty to spend this and other Christmases separated from their families and loved-ones. Their ongoing gift to the rest of us, because of the many sacrifices that it entails, is a very special one, indeed.
American Soldiers, Ardennes, 1944
Finally, as we approach a brand new year, let us all fervently hope that it will, in due course, end on a more up-beat note than 2009! Perhaps, the worst news really is behind us; if so, then ever the optimist, I will, with fingers crossed, wish everyone a Happy New Year for 2010.
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RICHTHOFEN’S WAR: The Air War 1916-1918 is a tactical-level simulation of aerial combat in the skies over France during the years 1916 to 1918. Each player maneuvers his own plane in an effort to match or exceed the aerial victories of Germany’s legendary Ace, the “Red Baron.” RICHTHOFEN’S WAR was designed by Randal C. Reed and published by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC) in 1972.
On an April morning in 1918, seven aircraft from the German Luftstreitkrafte unit, Jasta 11, took off from a temporary airfield in France and flew west to conduct aerial patrols along a very active section of the front lines near the Somme River. Leading this mission was a twenty-five year old Prussian aristocrat and former cavalryman who — because his plane was usually painted bright red — had come to be known by many of his Allied foes as the “Red Baron.” This was a mission that was similar to countless others that the Jasta had flown during the preceding days; in fact, by this stage of the First World War, these types of air operations had become routine. Both sides regularly conducted combat air patrols to prevent enemy air reconnaissance of friendly positions, particularly artillery emplacements and supply depots located behind the lines. Now, however, it was vital for the patrolling pilots to prevent Allied aircraft from penetrating into the German rear areas. The Kaiser’s Army, reinforced by fresh troops from the East, had taken the offensive on 21 March, and it was critically important that German ground operations be shielded from Allied reconnaissance flights.
One of the most active and aggressive of the air units assigned to this section of the Western Front was Jagdgeschwader (wing) 1, which was composed of Jastas 4, 6, 10, and 11. This elite German formation was under the operational command of an expert pilot and brilliant tactician who, with 80 confirmed victories, was also the most successful ace of the entire war, Rittmeister (Cavalry Captain) Manfred Albrecht Freiherr (Baron) von Richthofen. And it was von Richthofen who, at the controls of his red-painted Fokker Dr.I, led Jasta 11 towards the front lines on the fateful morning of 21 April, 1918. Unbeknownst to Germany’s greatest ace, however, this would be his final flight and he would not live long enough to score his 81st victory.
RICHTHOFEN’S WAR is a two-player simulation of pilot-to-pilot combat during the last two years of The Great War: the period during which the war in the air became an important adjunct to the bloody ground fighting in the trenches below. The competing players pilot their planes in an effort to shoot down or disable their opponent’s aircraft in air-to-air combat; alternatively, players may also fly missions to bust enemy observation balloons, conduct trench-strafing, gather photoreconnaissance, or bomb enemy ground targets. Each aircraft counter in the game represents one of the over 30 different types of combat planes that actually saw action in the skies above France during World War I.
In the turn-to-turn action of RICHTHOFEN’S WAR, players will find that each game turn follows a comparatively simple sequence of play: first player Movement Phase; first player Attack (machine gun) Phase; second player Defensive Fire Phase. Roles then reverse with the second player moving, firing, etc. Each map space is essentially a 50 x 50 x 50 meter hexagon, and each game turn equals 10 seconds of real time. To manage the transition from the two-dimensional medium of the game map and aircraft counters to the three-dimensional environment of aerial combat, each player of RICHTHOFEN’S WAR uses a sheet from the Aircraft Status Pad to record the altitude, speed, accumulated damage, ammunition supply, and maneuver schedule of his aircraft, turn-by-turn. The specific performance characteristics of each aircraft type represented in the game are cataloged in the Aircraft Capabilities Chart section of the rules booklet. Although the game system appears somewhat slow-moving and cumbersome, it really isn’t. RICHTHOFEN’S WAR does require a certain amount of recordkeeping, but the sheets from the Aircraft Status Pad are easy to use, and the player operations are generally uncomplicated and intuitively logical. For those players — like me — who may have a little difficulty conceptualizing aerial combat, the game rules offer numerous play examples to help new players understand and master the game system.
RICHTHOFEN’S WAR offers seven basic scenarios: Richthofen vs. Brown; Dogfight Mission; Photo-Recon Mission; Trench-Strafing Mission; Tactical Bombing Mission; Artillery Spotting Mission; Balloon Busting Mission. Each scenario can be played using the Basic Level rules, or, if the players prefer, with the more detailed and complex Advanced Level rules. Players may also opt to expand the scope of the game to encompass an extended series of missions — conducted over time — by playing the Campaign Game. In addition, there are even rules for solitaire play, if opponents are hard to find.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
RICHTHOFEN’S WAR is one of those games — and there are many in this category — that can be fairly described as being widely-familiar, but seldom played. Often, these tend to be “specialty” titles that, although different from each other, usually attempt to simulate unique or unusual types of combat situations. Games like WIZARD’S QUEST, DUNE, MERCHANT OF VENUS, or any design associated with the LORD OF THE RINGS, for example, are virtually guaranteed to appeal to a niche gaming market. Other titles, however, fail to gain large followings because, fairly or not, they are viewed as being too complicated and/or time-consuming to be enjoyable. Sometimes, these are monster games, but more commonly they are highly-detailed, tactical-level simulations.
In the case of most of the tactical-level “also-rans,” I suspect that the failure of these games to achieve wide-spread popularity is usually not the result of a poor choice by the designer of subject matter, or even of an unappealing design platform; instead, I believe that, more times than not, it is because of the strong “miniatures” flavor attributed to many of these titles. Miniatures usually means record-keeping, and gamers, with very few exceptions, do not like to do paperwork. For this reason, I have noticed that both initial player interest and continuing enthusiasm for a new game tend to diminish in inverse proportion to the amount of writing that the game’s design requires of its players. In short, the more detailed a game’s move-by-move records appear to be, the more the typical wargamer’s eyes glaze over. There may be exceptions to this general rule, but they are rare. [Don’t believe me? Then try this little experiment: the next time that you attend a major wargaming convention, see whether it is easier to corral an opponent for WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN or for a game of WAR AT SEA. Speaking for myself, I’ve read every one of the HORNBLOWER novels, and, having tried the game twice, I confess that I really don’t have any interest in ever playing WS&IM again.] This type of thinking, I freely admit, tends to produce a lot of player resistence to some pretty good games. But it also means that I understand why this anti-movement pad bias is so wide-spread in the hobby. Unfortunately, it is probably also the case that this reflexive prejudice, on the part of many gamers, is often ill-founded and unfair.
Such, I believe, is at least partly the case with RICHTHOFEN’S WAR. Admittedly, this simulation of World War I air combat requires players to repeatedly make entries on their individual Aircraft Status Sheets as the game progresses; but, as previously noted, using these game records is really not that big of a chore. And this turn-plotting process gets a lot easier with a little bit of practice. Based on my own experience, I have found that it is really not the record-keeping, but rather the three-dimensional aspect of RICHTHOFEN’S WAR that poses the greatest initial challenge to many new players. This feature, intrinsic to all tactical-level air games, requires a little getting used to — if only because of the two-dimensional nature of the map and counters — but even this turns out to not be as big a challenge as might be supposed. In fact, a few short games are usually all that are required to familiarize most players with the basic ins-and-outs of three-dimensional maneuver and combat. Thus, while the mechanics of this game system might appear to be complicated, they really aren’t.
Is RICHTHOFEN’S WAR the best simulation of World War I aerial combat in print? Even when using some of the post-publication rules modifications, almost certainly not; but nor is it the worst game of its type, either. So granted, KNIGHTS OF THE AIR is both a better game and a much better simulation; however, it also has a significantly more complicated game system and, for this reason, it is much more difficult for a novice player to quickly master the game's basic rules. RICHTHOFEN’S WAR, in spite of its faults, is at least comparatively easy to learn and, unlike a number of the other aerial warfare games, is still both relatively inexpensive and easy to find in the resale market. For this reason, and because of its overall playability, I feel comfortable recommending this title; even for players who have no particular fascination with aerial combat. Moreover, because of its colorful, readily-identifiable subject matter and first-class graphics, RICHTHOFEN’S WAR is probably a reasonable choice not only for the experienced player, but also for the casual or even the social gamer with a passing interest in history.
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NATO is a brigade/division level game, based on the KURSK Game System, which simulates a hypothetical attack by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces on Western Europe in the 1970’s. NATO, like many of the early SPI offerings, was originally published using the white tombstone style cardboard box format. In the mid-seventies, the game was repackaged using the more familiar SPI plastic flat-pack described in this profile. NATO was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published in 1973 by Simulation Publications, Incorporated (SPI).
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAlmost from the day that Nazi high command surrendered to the Allies in 1945, a newly-partitioned Germany became a flashpoint for Cold War tensions between the Eastern Bloc, controlled by the Soviet Union, and the Western Allies, under the leadership of the United States. On 24 June 1948, the Soviets blockaded Berlin by closing off all rail and road access to the city in an attempt to gain complete control of the divided former German Capital. The United States, Great Britain, and other members of the British Commonwealth responded with the Berlin Airlift. Hurriedly organized and directed by American general Curtis LeMay, the relief operation proved to be a stunning success. At its peak, the airlift was delivering over 13,000 tons of food to the beleaguered city every day. Clearly, the cooperation between East and West that had won the Second World War was at an end. However, one positive, if indirect outcome of the Berlin Airlift was the formation, on 4 April 1949, of the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO). Faced with an embarrassing political and military failure, the Soviets finally ended the blockade on 12 May 1949. However, they did not abandon their designs on achieving control of West Germany.
NATO Warsaw Pact Map
Originally, NATO was little more than an administrative organization composed of America and democratic Western European States, but with the outbreak of the Korean War in the early 1950’s, the military component of the organization quickly became the dominant feature of the coalition. The Soviets, confronted with a strong and stable military alliance between Western Europe and the United States, reacted in kind; on 14 May 1955, the eight Communist Countries of the Eastern Bloc formed a military alliance of their own, known — because of the site chosen for the treaty’s formal signing — as the Warsaw Pact. Two great hostile military alliances now faced each other, one on each side of the “Iron Curtain.”
British Army of the Rhine (BOAR) APC, Paderborn Germany 1971
Given the ongoing belligerence of the Communist leadership in the Kremlin; their ruthless suppression of the peoples of Eastern Europe, and their aggressive political adventurism in Africa and Latin America, the possibility of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe became, by the late 1950’s, a key feature of NATO planning as the Cold War continued. The two most likely routes for a Soviet mechanized offensive into West Germany were obvious: the North German Plain, and the Fulda Gap. The British Army of the Rhine was entrusted with covering the North German Plain; while the US Vth Corps was assigned the initial defense of the Fulda Gap. If the Soviets attacked without warning, these British and American formations would have to halt the Warsaw Pact offensive long enough for reinforcements from the other NATO countries to reach the front. Permanently arrayed against these British and American trip-wire units were mechanized divisions from the Soviet, East German, and Polish Armies. The other Warsaw Pact countries, like the supporting NATO members, would be expected to send their own additional front line and reserve units into the battle area, once hostilities actually began.
Soviet T62 Tank, Courtesy Janes Images
This simple East-West divide, however, was not as uncomplicated as it appeared on its face. In actuality, both military alliances presented daunting political and military challenges to their respective operational planners. In 1966, the French formally withdrew from NATO and, although Paris continued to coordinate military planning with NATO headquarters in Brussels, the other member countries — particularly Britain, West Germany, and the United States — had serious reservations about French intentions if a Soviet attack were to come. In the East, the Russians had problems of their own. Because of the brutal Soviet suppression of popular uprisings in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, Warsaw Pact planners could not be sure of the loyalty of these nations’ military contingents should war break out; particularly if their military operations did not meet with obvious initial success. Thus, if war came again to Europe, both NATO and Soviet planners would have to worry both about the actions of their enemy and the reliability of at least some of their allies.
NATO is an operational level simulation of a hypothetical conflict, sometime in the 1970’s, between invading Warsaw Pact forces and the NATO alliance over control of Western Europe. The game is played in game turns, each of which is composed of two symmetrical player turns: a Soviet Player Turn, followed by a NATO Player Turn. The Soviet player always moves first. Each player turn follows an identical sequence of player phases: Initial Movement Phase; Combat Phase; and Second Movement Phase. Stacking rules are simple, but somewhat restrictive: the Soviet player may stack two divisions per hex; the NATO commander may stack only one division or three brigades in a hex. Moreover, stacking limits are in effect throughout the game turn; which means that friendly units may not pass through hexes if those hexes are already occupied by maximum friendly stacks. Zones of control (ZOCs) are rigid, but not locking. All units must halt upon entering an enemy ZOC and may move no further during that movement phase. There are no movement costs to enter or leave an enemy ZOC and no unit (except for airmobile units) may move directly from one enemy ZOC to another. Interestingly, units may retreat as a result of combat directly into an enemy ZOC, but only so long as the flight hex is already occupied by a friendly unit. Combat between adjacent units is voluntary, and is resolved using a traditional “odds differential” type of Combat Results Table (CRT). As is typical of most simulations based on the KURSK Game System, the NATO CRT is heavily weighted, even at higher odds, towards retreat and exchange results. One unique and critical difference that sets this title apart from other games in the KURSK series, however, is that there is no 'advance after combat' for successful attackers in NATO. This subtle rules change tends to force the Soviet player to concentrate on broad-front offensive operations and also makes the capture of key terrain, such as city and forest hexes, much more difficult.
The two-color map sheet is surprisingly featureless given Western Europe’s diverse geography. Moreover, the effects of what terrain there is are relatively simple: river hex-sides cost one additional movement point to cross; forest and mountain pass hexes cost phasing units two movement points; and mountain hexes require six movement points to enter. In addition, the combat strength of units attacking across river hexes is halved; and cities, forests, and mountain hexes all double an occupying unit’s defense strength. To add to the attacker's problems, these terrain combat effects are cumulative.
Logistics, given the level of mechanization and firepower present in the two opposing military alliances, is a critical factor for both players, although it should be noted that the supply rules differ in important ways between the two sides. As might be expected, being 'in supply' is a necessary prerequisite for all of the belligerent armies for regular movement and for combat effectiveness, both in attack and defense. But it is especially important for the assaulting Soviet player because Warsaw Pact units (if adjacent to supply) may expend a supply unit and double their attack strength (called a maximum attack) during the combat phase of their turn. This maximum attack option is not available to the NATO commander, although logistical support for his forces is still made complicated by the requirement that individual units must draw normal attack supply from a supply source of their own nationality.
Combat forces from fourteen different nations are represented in the game’s two orders of battle. NATO, as the game’s designer goes to some length to explain, attempts to model a conflict between conventional ground forces in which neither side resorts to the use of their strategic nuclear arsenals. This assumption, while probably implausible, is essential to the game’s underlying premise: nuclear exchange equals a largely uninhabitable Europe, and hence, no game. For those players who insist on putting mushroom cloud markers on the map, however, the game offers the option of tactical nukes, assuming both players agree on their use before the start of hostilities. Air units are completely absent from the NATO counter-mix and rules; instead, the designer stipulates that airpower’s effects, both tactical and strategic, have been factored into the combat power of the ground forces. Thus, NATO is basically a slugging-match between two highly mechanized armies. The Soviet player will find that his army has been organized to repeat the Red Army's overpowering 'steamroller' type offensives of the latter stages of World War Two. The NATO forces, while less numerous, are faster and more flexible; they also make much greater use of air-mobile and air transportable units than do the Warsaw Pact forces.
Victory is determined based on a comparison of the two sides’ accrued victory points at the end of the game. The Soviet player gains victory points through the destruction of NATO units, and by occupying or controlling certain NATO country city hexes. The NATO player earns victory points by destroying Warsaw Pact units, and by preventing the capture of key NATO territory by the Soviets.
NATO offers two standard scenarios: the M + 1 scenario (which ends twenty turns after the start of hostilities) in which the Warsaw Pact launches a surprise attack across the West German border with their regular peacetime forces; and the (ten turn) M + 31 scenario which begins after the Soviets and NATO have both mobilized in preparation for war. As a variation on these, the game offers the players (as previously noted) the option of using tactical nukes in either scenario. In addition to the tactical nuclear option, the opposing commanders can also experiment with optional rules governing Warsaw Pact unreliability, NATO neutrality, and even Chinese intervention.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONNATO is an intriguing game, both for the design elements that it includes, and for those that it doesn’t. The mechanics of play, purely from a simulation standpoint, are neither particularly innovative nor overly complex. At its heart, NATO is pretty much TURNING POINT: The Battle of Stalingrad, only with helicopters, paratroops, expendable (for the Soviets, at least) supply units, and (optional) tactical nukes. The surprising absence of an air war subroutine — or any air rules, for that matter — is such a noticeable lacunae in the simulation architecture of NATO that the designer, Jim Dunnigan, felt obliged to make excuses for this omission in the game’s “Players’ Notes.” However, for all of the designer’s remonstrations, it is clear that Dunnigan chose not to include NATO-Warsaw Pact air operations both for reasons of economics (too many additional game counters) and because he had not, as yet, come up with a workable method for integrating modern air-ground combat on the design scale of NATO. Nonetheless, despite the strong World War II flavor of the game, NATO is still, in some ways, a transitional game design. Whatever the game’s weaknesses, it clearly establishes a developmental bridge between the SPI library of traditional World War II games that appeared in the early 1970’s, and the 'hypothetical' modern warfare designs that would begin to emerge from SPI in the mid and late seventies. The several critical design problems that NATO first posed — but did not solve in 1973 — would, for the most part, be successfully addressed by SPI in later 'hypothetical' games like FULDA GAP, OBJECTIVE MOSCOW, and THE NEXT WAR, to name only a few. This new generation of SPI titles would ultimately present a more comprehensive and realistic approach for simulating the complex, highly integrated, and lethal modern battlefield than any of the games that had gone before them.
NATO, although events have passed it by — both in historical and in gaming terms — is still an interesting “what if?” simulation of some of the strengths and weaknesses of the two great post-World War II military alliances. These two enormously powerful coalitions, although guided by inimical political and economic ideologies, somehow managed to face-off against each other during the whole of the Cold War without ever actually clashing directly on a European battlefield. NATO, at least in terms of the opposing ground forces, allows players to experiment with several different possible scenarios for just such a clash; surprisingly, it is also a fast-moving, challenging, and enjoyable game.
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BPA Posts This Year’s WBC Tournament “After Action Reports”
For those wargamers who, like me, were unable to attend this year’s WBC Convention, the recent publication of the latest tournament “After Action Reports” represents a welcome opportunity to vicariously enjoy the championship matches from every one of this premier convention’s hundred-plus gaming events. These extensive narratives — which are compiled by the various hard-working tournament Game Masters and which are published every year on the BPA website — provide an overview of virtually all of the late-stage convention action, and, most importantly, allow non-participants to follow the competitive ups and downs in any and all of the games that interest them. Even in those years when I make the trek to Lancaster, I still look forward to checking on the results of the various tournaments; reviewing the different reports always brings back a flood of pleasant memories both of friendships renewed and of the whole recently-past convention experience. These reports are an excellent means for players to check on gaming events that they might be considering entering at some future date; and, I should add, they are also a great way for players to track the tournament fortunes of their friends within the hobby.
For those visitors to this blog who are specifically interested in past or future WBC Conventions, or who have a more general interest in high-level tournament play, I strongly recommend that you visit the BPA 2009 WBC Online Yearbook. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
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EMPIRES AT WAR: Great Battles of the 19th Century is a set of four games each simulating a different European battle during the transitional period between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. The four battles represented in this collection of games are: INKERMAN 1854, SOLFERINO 1859, KÖNIGGRATZ 1866, and GRAVELOTTE 1870. These engagements are little known to many amateur students of military events, yet they each had important consequences for the armies that fought them. EMPIRES AT WAR was designed by Joseph Miranda and published by Decision Games (DG) in 1993.
The four games in EMPIRES AT WAR: Great Battles of the 19th Century utilize a similar mix of game components, and are designed around a set of standard rules that are common to them all. This design format, first popularized by SPI's 'quadri-games', makes it almost effortless to move from one game to the next without a lot of time spent learning a completely new game system with each of the different titles. However, because the historical setting varies from battle to battle, each individual simulation also has its own short set of exclusive rules specific to that game. This means that each game, while similar to the others in this set, still offers the players a different and historically unique gaming experience.
All of the games that make up EMPIRES AT WAR use the same basic game system; although each of them makes use of its own game map and counters. The playing area depicted in each of the four game maps represents the terrain in which most of the major actions of these different 19th Century battles actually took place.
Each of the games in EMPIRES AT WAR is played in game turns which are further divided into two symmetrical player turns. Each player turn (of the basic game) proceeds in the following order: Reinforcement segment; Movement segment; Assault segment; and Rally segment. Once both players have completed their turns, the turn marker is advanced one space, and the next game turn begins. All four games are grand tactical in scale, and because of the short time frames covered by these simulations, there are no supply rules. The movement rules will be familiar to those players used to contemporary American Civil War and Napoleonic game systems. Players must make a “Leadership” die roll for each and every unit that they plan to move. Not surprisingly, command and control figures into this process, and there is even an 'Impetuous Movement' rule which obliges the phasing player to hurl any affected units at the nearest enemy bayonets, post haste. Terrain types vary from game to game, but rivers (except at bridges) are always impassable; in addition, units, if eligible, may use 'Road March' to increase their speed along roads.
Not every element in this game system, however, is immediately familiar. In a few cases, the game designer has assigned new terms to describe well-established game concepts. Instead of zones of control (ZOCs), for example, Mr. Miranda uses the term 'Fire Zone' (FIZ) to describe a combat unit’s influence on the immediately adjacent six hexes. FIZs are 'rigid' and individual units must halt movement immediately upon entering an enemy FIZ. Phasing units may exit an enemy FIZ during a subsequent movement phase, but if they do, they may not reenter another FIZ during the same movement phase. The basic stacking rules are simple, but interesting. A player may place one infantry or one cavalry unit, plus one artillery or mitrailleuse unit, plus one engineer unit, plus any number of other types of game counters in a single hex. Combat, in EMPIRES AT WAR, can take one of two basic forms: Bombardment (using artillery or mitrailleuse units); or Assault (conducted by infantry, cavalry, and/or engineers). Bombardment attacks are resolved using a simple 'bombardment strength' Combat Results Table (CRT); Assaults, however, can take one of two forms: either as 'Skirmish' attacks or as 'Column/Charge' attacks. Both types of Assault use an 'odds differential' Combat Results Table (CRT), but the two tables are somewhat different in the ranges of probable outcomes that they present. Morale and its effects, given the historical period, play an important part in the game. In each of the four games, both sides begin with a starting 'Disintegration' (read: Demoralization) level. In the course of each game, certain events will cause a side’s 'Disintegration' level to rise or fall. Needless-to-say, once an army has disintegrated (that is: its morale has broken), it is no longer capable of meaningful offensive operations. It should be noted, by the way, that the 'Disintegration' of one side does not prevent the 'Disintegration' of the opposing force due to some subsequent action. It is perfectly possible, in EMPIRES AT WAR, to have both opposing armies stumbling around on the game map, each in their own punch-drunk daze.
Once players have played through the games in EMPIRES AT WAR a few times, they may feel the need to add a little more operational detail or historical texture to a few of the basic games, just to jazz them up a little. Happily, the game designer has anticipated this possibility and so, in the second half of the rules booklet, he goes to some length to address precisely this issue. Thus, in addition to the 'Basic' game rules, EMPIRES AT WAR also includes a set of 'Advanced' rules for those players who have mastered the basic game system, or who like a bit more complexity and historical 'chrome' in their games than is offered by the “Basic” rules set. These more complex rules include, among other concepts: additional player operations during each turn segment; Weather, Visibility, and Night rules; rules governing operational 'Friction'; extensive new rules on Leadership, and Command and Control. In addition, the 'Advanced' rules also include provisions for: the 'Fog of War'; Observation and Screens; Cavalry Pursuit; Entrenchments; extensive rules for building, repairing, and destroying Bridges; and rules dealing with 'General Withdrawals'.
Different victory conditions are stipulated in the exclusive rules for each of the four games. However, as a general rule of thumb, winning will usually involve “breaking” the opposing army and/or inflicting a disproportionate level of 'fire strength point' casualties on the enemy force.
INKERMAN (5 November 1854), also known as “the Soldiers’ Battle,” is a grand tactical (brigade) level simulation of the action between British and French forces and the Russians on Inkerman Ridge during the Crimean War. The Russian plan was to attack and defeat the British force in the area of the ridge before reinforcements could arrive from the French Army. Nineteen thousand Russians, under General Soimonov, began their assault on the British outposts at about 0530 hours, but a heavy fog hampered efforts to coordinate with General Paulov’s 16,000 men. With visibility limited to a few yards, the artillery on both sides was restricted to firing at the dimly visible muzzle flashes of the opposing guns. Whatever command and control existed prior to the engagement quickly collapsed, and the battle became a short-range clash between disorganized groups of soldiers stumbling through the fog. This battle was, perhaps, the Russian Army’s best opportunity to smash the exposed Allies; that the attack failed, was more a testament to the high morale and professionalism of the individual British soldier, than to the skill of the Allied commanders who, characteristically for this war, seemed to have been almost totally absent from the fight. Allied losses, considering the disorganized, melee nature of the battle were surprisingly light: the British lost a total of 2,300 killed, wounded, and missing; while total French casualties were slightly less that 1,000. The Tsar’s soldiers, as was typical of the entire campaign, suffered much more heavily, and total Russian casualties — killed, wounded, missing, and captured — probably exceeded 12,000 men. INKERMAN 1854 offers two scenarios: the Historical scenario (9 game turns long); and the Extended scenario (16 game turns).
SOLFERINO is a grand tactical (brigade/division) treatment of one of the key battles in the Wars of Italian Independence. On 24 June 1859, Emperor Franz Josef’s Austrian army of 120,000 men and 451 guns faced a combined French and Piedmontese army, numbering approximately 118,000 with 320 guns, under Napoleon III and Victor Emanuel. Napoleon III, although slightly outnumbered, ordered an all-out French assault against the heights around Solferino; at the same time, the powerful Austrian right, commanded by General Wimpffen, attacked the French-Piedmontese left with its full weight of three corps in an attempt to break, or at least to turn, the Allied position to their front. After hard fighting, the French corps of MacMahon and d’Hilliers managed to drive the Austrians off the Solferino heights; while, unfortunately for the Austrian Emperor, General Wimpffen’s attack against the Allies was stalled throughout the day by the stubborn defense of Marshal Niel’s corps. With the coming of nightfall, and with the Austrian center broken, Emperor Franz Josef I had no choice but to order a general withdrawal. Austrian casualties were 22,000 killed, wounded, and missing; Allied losses totaled approximately 18,000, of which 4,000 were from Victor Emanuel’s Piedmontese corps of 25,000 men. Austria, because of this and other military reversals, was forced to cede all of Lombardy, except for two towns, to a newly resurgent and increasingly unified Italy. SOLFERINO 1859 offers only the Historical game (17 turns long).
This is a grand tactical (brigade/division) level simulation of the most important battle of the Seven Week’s (Austro-Prussian) War. On the morning of 3 July 1866, the Prussian army crashed into the Austrian army which had deployed in a strong defensive position around the Bohemian hamlets of Sadowa and Königgratz. The Austrians, under General Ludwig von Benedek, numbered slightly more than 200,000 men with 650 guns, and significantly outnumbered the 125,000 Prussians — initially the soldiers of the Army of the Elbe and the First Prussian Army — who were first to arrive on the battlefield. None-the-less, this was a battle that Benedek did not want to fight; unsure either of the strength or the whereabouts of the rapidly converging Prussians, the Austrian commander had wanted to withdraw across the Elbe to relative safety, but he had been overruled by his sovereign, Emperor Franz Josef I.
The opening Prussian attacks, ordered by Prince Frederick Charles, made little headway against the larger defending force. Slowly the cautious Benedek — encouraged by the repeated Prussian failures to gain ground —began to take heart. After hesitating for most of the morning, at about 1130 hours, the Austrian commander finally sent his troops forward in a counterattack. Unfortunately, this order could not have come at a more inopportune time; almost as soon as the Austrians advanced out of their defensive positions, they were struck on their northern flank by the fire of newly-arriving troops from the Second Army, commanded by Prussia’s Crown Prince, who were only now beginning to spill onto the field after a long forced march. These reinforcements — numbering 90,000 to 100,000 men — continued to pour in and, by about 1400 hours, both the numerical and the battlefield advantage swung decisively in favor of the Prussians. With Benedek’s counterattack broken and in disarray, the fully-concentrated Prussian force — which, with the Second Army’s arrival, had swelled to over 220,000 men and 700 guns — surged forward to smash into the Austrian center. The Austrians, already disordered and discouraged, began to give way. General Benedek, now confronted with the beginnings of a military catastrophe, scrambled to save his army from complete ruin. This, the Austrian commander managed to do by covering his soldiers’ retreat with repeated cavalry charges. Benedek’s withdrawal was successful, but his army’s losses were heavy: 5,800 killed, 8,000 missing, 8,400 wounded, and nearly 22,000 captured. Prussian casualties, considering the size of the action, were surprisingly light: 1,900 killed, 300 missing, and 7,000 wounded. This victory, by making possible the formation of the pro-Prussian North German Confederation, was an important step in laying the political foundation for a greater, unified Germany. KÖNNIGGRATZ 1866 is 15 game turns long; there are no alternative scenarios.
GRAVELOTTE (18 August 1870), sometimes also called the Battle of St. Privat, was a critical turning point in the Franco-Prussian War. At the start of the battle, the French army, under Marshal Françoise Achille Bazaine, numbered some 113,000 men and 520 guns, while the strength of the Prussian force — under the titular command of William of Prussia, but actually led by Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke — probably exceeded 187,000 with 732 guns. Despite the disparity in numbers, the well-fortified French positions were well-chosen, and although the Prussians repeatedly attempted to break his center, Bazaine’s entrenched soldiers tenaciously held their ground. Deciding that Gravelotte itself was too strongly held, von Moltke finally turned his attention to St. Privat on the French right. Here, as in the center, the Prussian attack — which jumped-off at about 1630 hours — did not begin well. The first units in the assault, including several brigades of the Prussian Guards, were badly mauled by accurate French rifle and machinegun fire as they attempted to close on St. Privat. And despite repeated attacks throughout the late afternoon and early evening, it seemed that the French right, like the center, would hold. In a final desperate effort to force a conclusion, the Prussians massed the artillery from two corps against the strongest positions on the French right, and at the same time threw several additional units, including the fresh 4th Division, against the tiring French line. At about 2000 hours, Prussian infantry finally succeeded in storming into St. Privat. Ironically, although von Moltke had finally turned the French position, the Prussian attack was virtually spent. Bazaine sensed that the Prussians to his front were near their breaking point and that a strong counterattack against the exhausted Prussian line might still carry the day. Unfortunately, this decisive counter-stroke was not to be; when the French commander ordered the commander of the Imperial Guard to make ready for the assault, the Guard’s commander flatly refused, saying that the battle was already lost. Confronted by insubordination among his generals, and a defensive position that, if it could not be restored, was untenable, Marshal Bazaine reluctantly ordered his army to withdraw back to the fortress of Metz, six miles away. The Prussians, as Marshal Bazaine had surmised, were too exhausted to interfere. There, in the fortress of Metz, Bazaine’s army would remain trapped by blockading Prussians until its surrender, two months later. The Prussian Army paid dearly for its victory: over 5,200 were killed, 14,400 wounded, and almost 500 captured and missing. French losses were much lower: 1,150 killed, 6,700 wounded, and 4,450 captured or missing. GRAVELOTTE 1870 presents only the (13 turn) Historical game.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Joseph Miranda’s EMPIRES AT WAR presents an interesting, if somewhat uneven, collection of game situations. The four simulations that make up this set of titles are all historically important, and with the exception of Inkerman, are also relatively unknown. For this reason alone, this batch of games is probably worth a look; particularly, by those players who have an interest in the evolution in both tactics and technology that European warfare underwent during the mid and later 19th Century. Moreover, each of the individual battles in EMPIRES AT WAR represents a critical juncture in their respective campaigns. The outcomes of the battles of Königgratz and Gravelotte are especially fascinating because they each had such far-reaching military and political repercussions for the political future of Germany, and, by extension, for all of Europe. The outcome of neither battle was a sure thing; in both cases, the Prussians could well have been defeated. Thus, intriguing questions about these battles still remain. What if, for instance, Benedek had launched his counterattack against the outnumbered and disordered Prussians even one hour earlier? And how would history have remembered Marshal Bazaine if the commander of his only fresh reserves had not been both insubordinate, and a personal favorite of Napoleon III? History, of course, cannot answer these questions, but the games in EMPIRES AT WAR that deal with these two specific battles — at least in a highly-abstracted, symbolic sense — can. Of the remaining two titles in this set, INKERMAN 1854 is probably, purely from a playability standpoint and despite its tiny map area, the best of the lot; SOLFERINO 1859, on the other hand, is arguably the least satisfying, both as an historical simulation and as a game.
Despite my generally positive take on EMPIRES AT WAR, I do have a few nits to pick when it comes both to the underlying game system and to the rules. First, when it comes to movement, there is simply too much die-rolling. Game designs that emphasize leadership, and command and control, are fine, but there has been a tendency, of late, to overemphasize this simulation factor to the detriment of other, equally important design elements. And Joseph Miranda is not the only well-known designer guilty of this vice. I realize, of course, that often this design approach is taken as an indirect means of improving a game’s appeal for “solitaire” play; none-the-less, it is frequently overdone, and usually off-putting. Second, I am personally getting a little tired of the proliferation of 'Impetuous' or 'Berserker' rules. Historically, these impromptu events were comparatively rare and — excepting for the well-known reaction of the Swedish Army to the death of their charismatic leader, Gustavus Aldophus, at the Battle of Lützen — almost never had any significant impact on events on the battlefield. Finally, Mr. Miranda is one of a growing number of designers who display an annoying penchant for renaming familiar gaming concepts. 'Fire zone' (FIZ) instead of 'zone of control' (ZOC), and 'disintegration' instead of 'demoralization' are just two examples of Mr. Miranda’s use of awkward, unfamiliar terms to describe well-recognized game concepts. If any of these new terms actually added anything to the descriptive power of the originals, I wouldn’t complain, but they don’t, so I will. Conventions exist for a reason; in my view, if a designer cannot offer a convincing argument for changing them, then he should leave well-established conventions alone.
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