The Start of the WBC Convention is Rapidly Approaching!

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The Cardboard Wars in Lancaster are Just around the Corner, Aug 2nd – Aug 8th, 2010

It’s hard to believe, but it is already getting to be that time of year again. On July 31st, Bruno Sinigaglio’s Grognard Qualifying Tournament, along with a number of other Pre-Con events, kicks-off the early festivities at what is, without doubt, the premiere war gaming convention of the year: The World Boardgaming Championship (WBC). This tournament convention is hosted by the Boardgaming Players Association (Don Greenwood and gang), and has been meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — in the heart of Amish country — for the last few years. The convention’s seven days of nonstop boardgaming (nine if you attend one of the Pre-Cons) offers attendees the opportunity to compete in well over 100 different titles; in fact, attending players’ options are limited only by the various tournament start-times and the players’ own stamina.

A direct descendant of the earlier AvalonCon Tournaments, the annual WBC Convention is truly an international event with some of the best and most affable players from as far afield as Europe, the pacific Rim, and South America, as well as the United States and Canada attending the week-long (or longer) celebration of the board gaming hobby. Moreover, tournament competition and ‘open gaming’ are not limited only to wargames. Quite the contrary, various types of old and new titles are all part of the WBC Convention experience. Thus, for anyone who enjoys almost any type of board gaming, the convention is large enough to offer a broad menu of both conflict simulations and multi-player social gaming that — new attendees will quickly discover — suit virtually any competitive taste. Nor is the convention aimed strictly at long-time (hard-core) participants in the hobby. Instead, players who make the trek to Lancaster will all find that there are abundant opportunities for the young and not-so-young, and for both inexperienced and seasoned players to enjoy their favorite titles in a matchless gaming environment.

The WBC Convention only comes around once a year; so, if you can possibly find a way to get to Lancaster during the first part of August, I strongly recommend that you do so; I absolutely guarantee that, if you enjoy gaming, you’ll have a great time.

To find out more about this year’s WBC Convention, visit the website.
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RGA, MISSILE BOAT (1974)

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MISSILE BOAT: Tactical Combat on, over and beneath the Sea, 1964-1984 is a tactical-level simulation encompassing both historical and hypothetical seaborne combat in the modern era, 1964-1984. The game allows players to assume the roles of opposing ship or flotilla commanders and to direct various types of vessels in the complex and highly lethal environment of modern naval warfare. MISSILE BOAT was the sixth title of Volume I of the ‘Command Series Games’ — composed of nine different games — offered by Rand Game Associates (RGA) during the first year of the company’s entry into the conflict simulation market. The game was designed by David C. Isby and published in 1974.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Pakistani Mirage over the Karohakam Mountains, 1971

At 1740 hours on 3 December, 1971, months of violent political turmoil in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) boiled over into open warfare between Pakistan and India. On the evening of December 3rd, approximately fifty Pakistani aircraft launched a preemptive raid against eleven different Indian airfields that lay within close proximity to the Indo-Pakistani border. Although the air attack achieved some surprise, its effectiveness was minimal; in fact, while it resulted in a few cratered landing strips, it managed to inflict no significant damage to India’s air forces or bases. Not surprisingly, following the Pakistani air raid, the armies and air forces of the two belligerents crashed into each other almost immediately. Conventional ground fighting quickly erupted on the frontiers of East and West Pakistan. However, in addition to ground operations, Indian military planners also prepared a very different surprise raid of their own. The Indian Navy, it was decided, would launch a major attack against Pakistan’s main port and naval base at Karachi, in West Pakistan. This secret naval operation was slated to begin almost immediately, and was given the codename: Operation Trident.

Indian K83 Vidyut class missle boat launching a missle.

On 4 December, 1971, the ‘Trident’ naval task group — composed of three Vidyut class missile boats (the INS Nipat, INS Nirghat, and INS Veer), two Petya class corvettes (the INS Tir and INS Kiltan), and two anti-submarine patrol vessels — sailed undetected to within 250 nautical miles (just out of Pakistani air range) of Karachi and then halted, waiting for darkness. As soon as night fell, the task group resumed its advance and at 2150 hours encountered a patrolling Pakistani naval force about 70 nautical miles south of Karachi. The engagement that ensued was both furious and one-sided. In short order, the Pakistani minesweeper PNS Muhafiz and an accompanying destroyer, the PNS Khaibar, were both sunk by surface-to-surface missiles. In addition, a third Pakistani destroyer, the PNS Shahjahan, was also severely damaged in the action and forced to withdraw. With the ‘Trident’ group’s way now clear, the Indian missile boats continued north to attack the Pakistani fleet’s fuel depot at Karachi harbor, lighting up the night sky with explosions and fires from the naval storage facility’s burning fuel tanks.

Indian Petya II class corvette.

The surface action on 4-5 December was India’s greatest modern naval victory and, to this day, December 4th is commemorated in India as ‘Navy Day’. The Pakistani ground forces fared little better in the war than their naval forces. East Pakistan was quickly overrun by Indian army units and some 90,000 military and paramilitary Pakistanis were taken prisoner by the occupying Indian army. Although fighting on the western frontier produced, for the most part, a bloody military stalemate, Pakistan’s defeat was sealed by the collapse of its forces in the east.

Pakistan surrender signing in Dhaka, December, 1971.

The end of the war came surprisingly quickly. On 16 December, 1971, Pakistani military representatives signed the instrument of surrender at Rama Race Course in Dhaka, East Pakistan, effectively bringing hostilities to a close. Pakistan’s military losses as a direct result of the two-week conflict were staggering: one half of Pakistan’s navy, one quarter of its air force, and a third of its army had been eliminated or destroyed. And even more demoralizing for the Pakistani populace and their leaders in West Pakistan, one-half of their country had, in the space of a few short days, been irretrievably lost. It was a national humiliation that neither the Pakistani people nor their military could bring themselves to accept. Thus, the repercussions from Pakistan’s crushing defeat in the 1971 war at the hands of its arch-rival, India, were far-reaching and, to a large degree, unfortunate.

Indian air force attack, 1971.

East Pakistan did, of course, gain its independence as the newly-established nation of Bangladesh, but few other benefits, humanitarian or political, emerged from the war. Hatred and mistrust of India spurred government leaders in Islamabad to redouble their efforts to gain nuclear weapons; in addition, as a covert means of attacking both India and its then ally, the Soviet Union, clandestine support for the fanatical Islamists in Kashmir and Afghanistan was substantially increased. None of the outcomes from these various Pakistani efforts to avenge its 1971 defeat at the hands of India has, in the end, proven to be particularly beneficial to Islamabad’s long-term geo-political interests. Nonetheless, the forces unleashed by Pakistan’s understandable, but destabilizing, desire for retribution against India continue to be active; and for this reason, the world, to this day, still lives with the aftermath of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

MISSILE BOAT: Tactical Combat on, over and beneath the Sea, 1964-1884 is two-player tactical-level simulation of medium and small vessel (guided missile cruisers, destroyers, frigates, missile boats, and PT boats) combat during the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. The two-color, hexagonal grid game map depicts 785 square miles of Open Ocean over which the opposing players maneuver their units and fight. Each hex is one nautical mile from side to side. The game counters represent four different basic types of naval combat assets: surface vessels, submarines, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. MISSILE BOAT is played in game turns each of which are equivalent to six minutes of real time. Game turns are further divided into two symmetrical segments: a First Commander (FC) and a Second Commander (SC) player turn. The player turn order is stipulated by the scenario being played, and each player turn proceeds in an interwoven sequence of player actions: FC Ship Movement Segment; SC Ship Movement Segment; FC Turning Segment (only the FC can exercise this option); FC Submarine Detection Segment; SC Submarine Detection Segment; Joint (simultaneous) Gunnery Segment; Joint (simultaneous) Missile Combat Segment; Joint (simultaneous) Anti-Submarine (ASW) and Torpedo Combat Segment; FC Aircraft Movement Segment; SC Aircraft Movement Segment; Joint (simultaneous) Anti-Aircraft Combat Segment; and the Joint (simultaneous) Aircraft Combat Segment. Once the joint Aircraft Combat Segment is completed, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence is repeated until the game ends. The number of turns in a complete game of MISSILE BOAT will, of course, vary depending on the scenario being played.

The game mechanics of MISSILE BOAT are, for the most part, both relatively easy-to-learn and intuitively logical. One reason for this is that the designer has (wisely, I think) decided to introduce different game concepts and weapons systems using a ‘modular’ rules system. Thus, additional units and types of units, and combat subroutines can be added as players master each element of the game system. The game’s regular operations revolve around the maneuver elements (vessels and aircraft) and the 'Combat Information Center' (CIC) tracks that record the turn-by-turn capabilities of the different ships in play. Each player has four separate CIC tracks at his disposal, and each CIC track can display up to six different ‘unit capabilities’ for each vessel on the game map. Players obtain the specific values for each of their vessels by cross-indexing their scenario Orders of Battle with the ‘Ship Type and Capabilities Chart’; the values listed on the ‘capabilities’ chart are then recorded using the appropriate counters on the different ships’ CIC tracks. It is also, by the way, a good idea for players to write down the name, counter number, and starting capabilities of each of their ships and to note which CIC track is assigned to each of their vessels: this bit of extra bookkeeping will keep players from inadvertently adjusting the wrong ship’s track in the course of the game. These individual ship capabilities are what one might expect in a modern naval game and include the following: Movement Allowance; Gunnery Strength (Forward “A” Battery); Hull Value; Electronic Warfare Rating; Gunnery Strength (After “B” Battery); and Surface-to-Surface Missiles Carried. Aircraft units only appear in a few of the historical game situations. However, in those historical and future (World War III) scenarios in which they do appear, the characteristics and weapons capabilities of the air unit or units are standardized by aircraft type. In addition, almost all of the different aircraft types (helicopters, fighters, fighter-bombers, strike airplanes, and ASW aircraft) have the option of employing various types of weapons systems. For this reason, players will usually find it necessary to make a written record of every one of their aircraft (by counter number) and the type of ordinance each is carrying prior to the beginning of play.

Egyptian Kohmar missle attack craft, Arab Israeli Six Day War, 1967.

For players who are unfamiliar with naval games, the movement rules for MISSILE BOAT, although reasonable, will take a little getting used to. First, of course, all ships in the game have a bow (front) and a stern (rear). This ‘hull facing’ is critically important for both combat (which will be discussed later) and for movement. Ships in MISSILE BOAT may only move forward (the direction that the bow is facing); they may not back up. Second, in the real world, ships cannot start or stop “on a dime.” Thus, vessels that begin their movement segment from a ‘dead-stop’ are not permitted to use all of their movement allowance during a player turn in which they resume movement; nor may vessels that have moved more than two hexes during the preceding movement segment come to a complete stop in one turn. Ships may ‘turn’ as they move from hex to hex; however, each vessel’s ability to turn is dependent on its ‘hull value’. In game terms, this means that ships with lower ‘hull values’ (smaller vessels) are more nimble and can turn more easily than those with higher values (bigger ships). Movement allowances (MAs) vary widely depending on unit type: thus, different ships may be permitted to move as little as one or as many as six hexes per movement segment; the MA of submarines typically ranges from one to three hexes, and this movement allowance also varies depending on whether submarines are running on the surface or are submerged; the MA of all aircraft is unlimited. Also, a cautionary note: as players become more accustomed to the MISSILE BOAT game system, they will quickly discover a problem with the standard game turn sequence: it gives the Second Commander a slight edge in maneuver and combat over the FC. To compensate for this imbalance, the designer has included a set of optional rules for simultaneous movement; and, in my opinion, players should adopt these alternative rules as soon as they have become comfortable with the game’s mechanics of play.

INS Eliat, Arab Israeli Six Day War, 1967.

Once new players master the basics of maneuvering their ships across the game map, other aspects of the MISSILE BOAT game system will probably be a lot more familiar to land-based players than the game’s movement rules. The Concentration (stacking) rules, for example, are quite simple: only one friendly ship or one friendly and one enemy ship may occupy a sea hex at the end of a movement segment. Aircraft and submarine counters, as might be expected, are completely exempt from this rule and never count against stacking. Moreover, the supply rules, such as they are, are also very straight forward and a bit less complicated than those found in most simulations of ground warfare. In actuality, because of the time scale of the various naval actions represented in the game, there are really no conventional supply rules in MISSILE BOAT. However, each ship’s starting inventory of missiles and/or torpedoes is recorded on the CIC, and these inventories are reduced as these weapons are expended. The same requirement, by the way, also applies to any aircraft that appear in the game. As attack aircraft expend bombs, missiles, or torpedoes in combat, their inventory of these weapons is depleted. Thus, it is essential that players keep a short written log for each of their air units. Fighter aircraft, because they cannot attack ships, are a special case: after fulfilling one of several possible fighter counter-air missions, they are automatically returned to base and removed from further play due to ammunition depletion.

COMBAT SYSTEM

Phalanx missle system mounted on a ship's fantail.

Combat between opposing units in MISSILE BOAT is voluntary and — as might be expected, given the different types of weapons systems available to modern naval forces during the period depicted — relatively complicated. Not surprisingly, the various forms of armament present in the game (guns, missiles, torpedoes, mines, and bombs) call for the use of a variety of different tables to determine both the outcomes of specific types of attacks, and to determine the level of damage that results from those attacks. For this reason, the detailed, multi-case rules governing the major categories of naval combat represented in the game are quite dense and very richly-textured. Distilled down to the basics, however, there are five distinct forms of combat in MISSILE BOAT; each with its own subroutine. Moreover, each type of combat is assumed to occur simultaneously, and all five types follow a rigid sequence (as outlined previously) within the structure of the overall game turn. These five types of combat — listed in the order that they are most likely to occur during play — are, as follows: Gunnery Combat (ship-to-ship combat using the “A” and/or “B” batteries); Missile Combat (combat between non-adjacent ships using anti-ship missiles); Anti-Submarine (ASW) and Torpedo Combat (either one or the other or both ‘ASW’ and ‘Torpedo’ attacks may be conducted during this segment); Anti-Aircraft Combat (ships use gunnery or surface-to-air missiles against enemy aircraft); and Aircraft Combat (aircraft that survive defensive anti-aircraft fire attack enemy ships or aircraft during this segment).

The procedures for the different types of combat in MISSILE BOAT represent the real core of the game system; moreover, these different combat segments tend to vary greatly, one from another. And for this reason, the steps required by the combat subroutines for gunnery, ASW and torpedo, missile, and air attacks range from being relatively simple, to being quite detailed and complex.

Osa class missle boat.

Gunnery attacks, as might be expected, are the simplest to execute and typically require only that the attacking player be within range of his target, that his vessel’s ‘electronic warfare’ (EW) rating be sufficient for the attack, and that the field of fire for his battery or batteries be clear (ships, needless to say, cannot fire through their own superstructures); thus, the forward “A” battery could fire directly ahead, for example, but the aft “B” battery would be blocked and unable to fire. Gunnery attacks occurring in the same hex or within one-third of maximum range or less (rounded down) are doubled. Also, an attacking ship with a low (1 or 0) EW rating is significantly penalized during night actions.

Soviet missle cruiser.

Torpedo and ASW attacks, like gunnery combat, are also comparatively straight forward in MISSILE BOAT. Ships may only engage enemy vessels with torpedoes that are within range and are either to the port or starboard of the attacking vessel. On the other hand, submarines — because of the limitations imposed by their bow and stern torpedo tubes — can only fire at targets to their front or rear. ASW combat may be conducted against submarines once they have been detected; and although the ASW weapons systems represented in the game vary widely, the actual procedures for resolving attacks and assessing damage are virtually identical to those used to resolve missile attacks and, for this reason, readers are referred to the detailed discussion on combat procedures in the section on missile combat.

Wessex HU5 hovers above two Harrier GR3s on the MMS Hermes during the Falklands War.

Aircraft, depending on their type, may attack ships, submarines, or — in the case of fighters and fighter bombers — other aircraft. Anti-aircraft combat — which relies primarily on gunnery and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) — although somewhat detailed, is nonetheless familiar enough in its player operations that it need not be discussed at length. Fighters are an exception, however, because they serve a unique, if somewhat abstracted, role in the game: their mission is to protect friendly surface vessels by shooting down or driving off enemy aircraft (planes or helicopters), or by forcing enemy aircraft to jettison their bomb loads. And bombs — both the smart and dumb variety — represent the primary difference between the weapons systems available to aircraft and those of the other combat assets in the game. Aircraft that attack ships using bombs, unlike those armed with short or long range missiles, must do so from the same hex (dumb bombs) or from an adjacent hex (smart bombs); this means, in short, that bombers cannot ‘standoff’ and attack their targets from a distance.

HMS Antrim, 1970, damaged during the Falklands War.

Not surprisingly, given that the title of this game is MISSILE BOAT, missile combat is, in some ways, both the most interesting and the most tedious of the game’s several combat subroutines. It and ASW combat are also the most time-consuming. For starters, the missile combat segment involves a total of seventeen different player operations. Moreover, unlike most of the game’s other combat segments (except for ASW combat), once weapons have been assigned to specific targets and the ‘Missile Combat Ratio’ — a complex compilation based on missile type, target speed, and both the attacker’s and defender’s EW ratings — have been determined, the two players, in their dual (and simultaneous) roles as both attacker and defender, secretly select — using the game’s two sets of six ‘TAC’ cards — their offensive and defensive tactics from the menu of options listed on the ‘Missile Combat Analysis Chart’ (MCAC) for each and every one of the segment’s missile attacks. This means, for example, that the firing player would choose one ‘TAC’ card for each of his missile targets (however many missiles were being launched against that target) from among the following six offensive options: ‘TAC’ Card #1 — Individual Shots; #2 — Salvo; #3 — Pattern Right; #4 — Pattern Astern; #5 — Sequence; and #6 — Pattern Left. At the same time, the opposing player (in his role as the defender) would secretly choose a specific defensive countermeasure for each of his targeted ships from the following alternatives: #1 — Turn Right; #2 — Rely on Countermeasures; #3 — Turn 180 degrees; #4 — Turn Left; #5 — Zig-Zag; and #6 — Full Speed Ahead. Once ‘firing’ and ‘target’ tactics have been selected for a specific missile firing, both players then reveal their ‘TAC’ cards and cross-index their tactical choices on the MCAC matrix to determine if the missile attack resulted in a ‘potential’ hit. This preliminary outcome, however, does not guarantee that the missile attack is successful. Instead, if a ‘potential’ hit is scored, the players next refer to the ‘Anti-Missile Table’ (AMT) and a die is rolled to determine if, based on the target ship’s total Gunnery Strength (GS), the missile actually scores a hit, or not. If the target ship is hit and has a high enough ‘hull value’ to not be destroyed outright, then the attacker — depending on the type of missile (or missiles) fired — rolls on either the ‘Gunnery Damage Analysis Table’ (GDAT) or the ‘Torpedo Damage Table’ (TDT) to determine the actual damage to the target. This process is repeated for each missile attack until the final outcomes of all of both players’ attacks have been resolved.

MISCELLANEOUS ODDS & ENDS

USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) DD-748 destroyer, shown operating in the Gulf of Tonkin, November 2,1964.

In addition to the basic rules that underpin the MISSILE BOAT game platform, the designer has included a number of specialized and optional rules which add significantly both to the ‘nautical warfare’ feel of the game, and also to the variability of play. These rules include: Unalerted Ships (ships that are restricted in movement, and in offensive and defensive combat until converted by an enemy attack or a random die-roll to ‘alerted’ status); Mines (and mine-clearing); Hidden Movement (for submerged submarines); the Variable Forces Option (opposing players secretly spend a predetermined number of points — based on the values listed on the ‘Ship Types and Capabilities Chart’ — to purchase their respective starting forces and weapons for a pre-selected scenario); and the Ship Construction Option (players freely design the various capabilities of their own ships prior to the selection of a scenario). To reproduce the ‘fog of war’, the designer also suggests that players insert a screen (the large Rand game cupboard works nicely) between the two sets of CICs, so that neither commander can see the types or capabilities of any of the enemy’s vessels until such time as they come within twenty hexes of a friendly ship.

The winner in MISSILE BOAT is usually determined by destroying or inflicting damage on enemy vessels. In certain cases, victory may also be dependent on a player’s ability to protect or to damage an enemy convoy, or to penetrate an enemy sea zone. Thus, given the variety of different types of naval engagements represented in the game, it should probably be noted that actual victory conditions will depend on the type of action being simulated and are listed with the instructions for the individual scenarios. Moreover, a particular action need not end in a victory for either side; for this reason, in MISSILE BOAT, it is completely possible, although somewhat unlikely, for an individual game to end in a draw.

USS Harry E. Hubbard DD-748 destroyer operating in the Gulf of Tonkin, 1966.

MISSILE BOAT offers nine two-player Historical Scenarios, five two-player Future Scenarios, a Future War Solitaire Scenario, and a virtually unlimited number of Design Your Own Scenarios for players to try. The various historical scenarios cover a broad spectrum of different types of medium and small ship actions; these include: Scenario 1 — Incident in the Gulf of Tonkin (8/2/64); Scenario 2 — Quemoy-Matsu (8/9/65); Scenario 3 — The Sinking of the ‘Eliat’ (10/23/67); Scenario 4 — Attack Off Karachi (12/4-5/71); Scenario 5 — Action in the Arabian Sea (12/5/71); Scenario 6 — The Sinking of the ‘Khukri’ (12/7/71); Scenario 7 — Israeli Attack off Latakia (10/6/73); Scenario 8 — Action of Port Said (10/10/73); and Scenario 9 — Action in the Red Sea (10/11/73). The five future (World War III) scenarios include: Future Scenario 1 — Sea Control; Future Scenario 2 — Convoy Defense; Future Scenario 3 — ASW Warfare; Future Scenario 4 — Island Defense; and Future Scenario 5 — Attack on Anti-Mine Forces. The single ‘Future War’ solitaire scenario pits the commander of a British County-Class missile and helicopter cruiser, the H.M.S. Norfolk, against a group of four Russian Nanuchka missile boats that are attempting to break out of the Skagerrak in order to raid NATO sea lanes. Finally, the selection by the players of any of the many possible Design Your Own Scenarios can be made using the Variable Historical Option (VHO) or the Ship Construction Option (SCO). These options are particularly interesting if the starting forces are selected in advance, and then one of the five Future (World War III) Scenarios is chosen at random.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

The motor torpedo boat, Phaethon, comes under Turkish air attack during the Battle of Tilliria, Cyprus Turkish War, 1964.

MISSILE BOAT, although somewhat unorthodox in its design, is still, along with CAMBRAI, 1917 and SARATOGA: 1777, one of my favorite picks of the nine games published by Rand Game Associates as part of the ‘Command Series, Volume I’ collection of titles. Moreover, according to its surprisingly good ‘Geek’ rating of 6.55/10 over at http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13800/cambrai-1917-the-first-blitzkrieg, it would appear that at least a few other players agree with me. Granted, the graphics for MISSILE BOAT are painfully drab and even a little ‘hokey’ by today’s standards, and the rules could probably be a bit clearer and better organized; nonetheless, the mix of interesting ideas and the game’s virtually unlimited capacity to produce fresh combat situations makes this obscure little game — in my opinion, at least — a real ‘undiscovered gem’ among modern naval warfare simulations. Despite this well-deserved praise, however, MISSILE BOAT is not without its blemishes.

Cyprus navy's Arion patrol boat of R151 Group received Turkish F100 fighter jet strafing during the Battle of Tilliria, but escaped to Paphos, 1964.

A minor but recurrent criticism of the game comes from the fact that, despite the designer’s inclusion of the multiple CIC displays (useful as they are), players are, even when not using the Simultaneous Movement rules, often required to maintain and update written records as the game progresses. This is particularly true for those scenarios that include submarines or aircraft, or both. This problem is further exacerbated by the faint, almost indistinguishable difference in colors between the ship counters of the two opposing sides, and the uniform color scheme used for all of the aircraft and submarine pieces. Players really do have to maintain careful written records just to keep track of which of the non-ship counters belong to which player.

The various multi-step combat subroutines, upon which the MISSILE BOAT game system depends, not surprisingly, are another major source of frustration for some gamers. This is certainly a fair criticism: the various player operations required by ASW and missile combat, in particular, can be both confusing and time-consuming to plow through, turn after turn. And these procedures are not made any easier by the fact that the characteristics of different ASW and missile weapons systems vary widely and so, must all be meticulously recorded and updated as these weapons are expended in combat. Thus, under most circumstances, I would probably find myself firmly on the side of the critics. However, in the case of MISSILE BOAT, I am inclined to give the game a pass. First, because the additional procedural steps required by the various types of combat actually contribute something tangible to both the historical content and the modern naval ‘feel’ of the game. Moreover, I also personally find it reassuring that the designer took the time to incorporate the varying performance characteristics of ten different types of surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs), nine different types of SAMs, and six different types of ASW systems into the fabric of a game with only seventy-two counters and a 17” x 24” map sheet. Second, unlike a more conventional simulation such as WOODEN SHIPS & IRON MEN (1975) in which a player might have to record and execute the moves of literally dozens of different vessels (think the Battle of the Nile or Trafalgar), in MISSILE BOAT, neither of the opposing players is ever required to direct and record the moves of more than four ships and, in some scenarios, a few additional aircraft or submarine counters. Moreover, none of the vessels in the game is equipped with an unlimited number of missiles or ASW weapons so these combat segments, time-consuming as there are, do not occur all that frequently.

MISSILE BOAT is a promising, innovative game that, for whatever reason, just never really caught on with a lot of gamers, including many of my friends. Still, it is interesting to ponder what this title’s fate might have been had it had a bigger map, additional and more colorful counters, and a few more game charts and tracks when it first came out in 1974. Alas, it had none of those things, so we will never know. In any case, while I personally like MISSILE BOAT a lot, I would hesitate to recommend the game to anyone who does not have an interest either in tactical-level games dealing with contemporary conflicts or in modern small-scale naval actions. The scenarios that deal mainly with naval gunnery duels are exciting and usually relatively fast-moving; the scenarios that incorporate the more sophisticated types of weapons systems, on the other hand, are a bit more cumbersome and considerably more challenging to play. In short, this is really not a simple game. Despite its size, the game’s designer, David Isby, managed to pack a surprising amount of simulation density and operational detail into a relatively small package. For this reason, MISSILE BOAT is probably a poor choice for either novices or inexperienced gamers. That being said, I still recommend it highly both to collectors with a penchant for unorthodox, but innovative game systems, and to those experienced players with an interest in simulations of modern-era naval warfare. And finally, for those eccentric players (like myself) who enjoy late Twentieth-Century games, but who also like to experiment and to design their own scenarios, this game is probably a MUST OWN.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 6 minutes per game turn
  • Map Scale: 1 nautical mile per hex
  • Unit Size: individual surface or aircraft
  • Unit Types: various surface ships, submarines, helicopters, airplanes, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-3 + hours (depending on whether optional rules are in use)

Game Components:

  • One 17’’ x 24” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with multiple — four per player — ‘Combat Information Center’ Tracks incorporated)
  • 72 ⅝” cardboard Counters
  • One 8” x 8” MISSILE BOAT Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions incorporated)
  • One 16½” x 12” back-printed MISSILE BOAT Ship Type and Capabilities Chart (with Gunnery Results Table, Gunnery Damage Analysis table, GS Hit Allocation Table, Missile Combat Analysis Chart, Missile Characteristic Table, Anti-Missile Table, Torpedo Combat Table, and Torpedo Damage Table incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” Rand Games four page combined ‘Future Titles’ Survey Letter and Special ‘Gamut of Games’ Discount Offer

Universal ‘Command Series’ Components Required:

  • Universal Turn Recorder
  • ‘TAC’ Cards
  • One six-sided Die
Read On

SPI, NORMANDY, 2nd Ed. (1971)

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NORMANDY is a historical simulation (based on the same game system as KOREA) of the opening, widely-separated battles between the Germans and Allies as invading American, British, and Canadian troops attempted first to establish, and then to expand the Allied lodgment along a 50 mile stretch of the Normandy peninsula. NORMANDY, 2nd Ed., was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published in 1971 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).
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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

General Dwight Eisenhower with the Paratroopers on the eve of D-Day, June 5, 1944
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 Late on the night of 5 June 1944, thousands of Allied paratroops began to parachute into occupied France. Their mission was to seal the approaches to the nearby invasion beaches and to secure safe landing zones for the glider-borne infantry that was scheduled to come in behind them. Within a few hours, the follow-up glider infantry — along with heavy equipment and artillery — began their landings to reinforce the paratroopers who were already on the ground. Because of unexpected cloud cover over the drop zones, however, these airborne units were widely scattered and disorganized during the first hours after the drop. At the same time the gliders were plowing into French fields, waves of Allied planes roared over the Cotentin Peninsula. It was now 0300 on 6 June, D-Day, and flights of Allied bombers had begun to rain thousands of tons of bombs down on the German coastal defenses that bristled along the beaches of the Normandy Peninsula. The initial phases of the most complex military operation in history were finally under way.          


Field Marshal Gerd von Runstedt

At 0500 hours, the vast naval armada that had escorted the 150,000 American, British, Canadian, French, and Polish troops who would shortly be landing in occupied France began to shell the German defenses directly behind the beach landing zones. Operation “Overlord,” the amphibious invasion of Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” was about to begin. In the coastal waters off the 7,000 yard wide American landing sector, code-named “Omaha Beach,” the first of many assault teams prepared to come ashore in occupied France. Naval bombardment had commenced almost as soon as the Allied air strikes had stopped. At 0630 hours, 96 specially-equipped amphibious Sherman tanks, the Special Engineer Task Force, and eight companies of assault infantry — four each from the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions — began their invasion run into the target beach.

The Allied plan called for 34,000 men to land in the Omaha Beach sector in the first wave of landings. The second wave was scheduled to begin after 1200 hours and was expected to put another 25,000 men ashore by nightfall. Instead, the landings went wrong almost from the very beginning because of a five mile-per-hour tidal current; virtually every assault group drifted well east of their original objective. American units became hopelessly mingled; finally small ad-hoc teams of thirty to forty soldiers clambered over the seawall and attacked the German positions in the beach draws and on the overlooking bluffs. Gradually, despite heavy German resistance, the American infantrymen pushed inland. But the Allied gains came at a terrible cost; by the end of this first day of the invasion, Omaha Beach had earned the dubious nickname: “Bloody Omaha.” In this one beach sector, over five thousand men would be killed, wounded, or go missing during just the first fourteen hours of D-Day. However, despite heavy casualties, the beachhead would be held and expanded. General Eisenhower’s Great Crusade to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation had finally begun.
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DESCRIPTION

NORMANDY is a grand tactical (battalion/regiment/brigade) level simulation of the fighting that occurred on the beaches and on the fields of France, between the landing Allied forces and the defending Wehrmacht, from 6 through 11 June, 1944. The two-color, hexagonal grid game map covers that part of the Cotentin peninsula over which the contesting armies maneuvered and fought during the six-day time period covered by the game. Each hex is two kilometers from side to side. The game counters represent the actual battalions, regiments, and brigades that either participated, or that could have taken part, in the historical fighting. The simulation is played in game turns, each of which is divided into an Allied and a German player turn. A complete game turn is equal to one day of real time. Each game turn in NORMANDY is asymmetrical and is sequenced as follows (the Allied player always moves first): the Allied First Movement Phase; the three-step Allied Combat Phase (attack allocation segment, offensive ‘naval gunfire’ allocation segment, and combat resolution segment); the Allied Reinforcement Phase; and the Allied Second Movement Phase. The German player turn then proceeds with a similar sequence of player actions: the German First Movement and Reinforcement Phase; the three-step German Combat Phase (attack allocation segment, Allied defensive ‘naval gunfire’ allocation segment, and combat resolution segment); and the German Second Movement Phase. At the conclusion of both player turns, the turn record marker is advanced one space, and the next game turn begins.

The actual mechanics of play for NORMANDY, like the other titles in this small SPI family of games, are comparatively simple, but nonetheless interesting. One of this title’s most notable differences from most of SPI’s other early World War II simulations is that all units, not just mechanized units, are allowed to move during the Second Movement Phase. Other game rules are more conventional. Stacking restrictions, for both players, are identical and are determined by terrain: two regiments/brigades, or one regiment/brigade plus two battalions, or three battalions may stack in a non-Bocage hex. Only one regiment/brigade or two battalions, however, may stack in a Bocage hex. Stacking limits apply throughout the entire combat phase, but only at the end of a movement phase. Therefore, there is no penalty to stack or unstack with other friendly units during movement; however, any units forced to retreat because of combat through other friendly units, in excess of legal stacking limits, are eliminated. Combat between adjacent enemy units is voluntary; nonetheless, defending stacks must be attacked as a unitary whole. In contrast, different units in an attacking stack may choose to attack the same or a different adjacent hex, or even to make no attack at all.

Zones of control (ZOCs) are semi-active, but not ‘sticky’. Interestingly, in NORMANDY, all Allied and German units must pay a movement penalty to move adjacent to an enemy unit, but only Allied units are required to pay a penalty to exit an enemy-controlled hex. These ZOC costs vary according to the movement allowance of the phasing unit; for example: all units with a movement allowance of four or less pay one additional movement point to enter an enemy zone of control; all units with a movement allowance of six or more pay three additional movement points to enter an enemy ZOC. All Allied units (only) pay an exit cost of one additional movement point in the first case, and two additional movement points in the second instance. Thus, the ZOC rules in NORMANDY permit a unit with sufficient movement factors to move directly from one enemy ZOC to another. In addition, ZOCs block both supply paths and retreat routes; however, the presence of a friendly unit in the affected hex negates an enemy ZOC for purposes of retreat, but NOT for purposes of tracing supply.

The terrain and movement rules for NORMANDY — except for one significant innovation — are familiar and quite conventional. Variations in terrain are relatively few, and their effects on movement and combat are intuitively logical and hence, are easy to keep track of. Terrain types, in NORMANDY, are limited to eight basic types: clear; Bocage; city; road; fortification; entrenchment; river hexside; and flooded hexside. The movement costs imposed by these different types of hexes vary based on the movement allowance of the phasing unit. For example, units with a movement factor of four or less pay only one movement point to enter clear or Bocage hexes; two additional movement points to cross a river hexside; and four additional movement points to cross a flooded hexside. Units with a movement allowance of six or more pay a single movement point to enter a clear hex; three movement points to enter a Bocage hex; four additional movement points to cross a river hexside; and six additional movement points to cross a flooded hexside. In most cases, a unit may always move one hex, even if accumulated terrain penalties exceed the basic movement allowance of the phasing unit; ‘unsupplied’ armored units, however, are an exception: these units cannot always move a single hex; and, so long as they are unsupplied, must pay regular terrain costs to enter an adjacent hex. Also, the units of both sides — except for German reconnaissance and Allied commando units — may not move out of supply; and if they are placed out of supply by either enemy units or their zones of control, are required to move towards the nearest friendly supply source. Road and city hexes are a special case: all units may move at the rate of 1/3 movement point per hex as long as they are moving along a connecting line of road and/or city hexes.

Terrain effects on combat in NORMANDY always take the form of ‘die roll modifications’ (DRMs). Attacks against enemy units in Bocage, fortifications, and entrenchments require the phasing player to add four to his combat die rolls; while assaults against cities or across river hexsides add three to the attacker’s die roll. Attacks across flooded hexsides are completely prohibited. The special rules governing entrenchments are the most unusual feature of the NORMANDY terrain rules. The combat units of both players, assuming that they have not moved or retreated, may voluntarily attempt to entrench and thereby significantly improve their defensive posture. Regiments and brigades may entrench on a die roll of 1, 2, or 3; battalions may entrench with a die roll of 1 or 2. On any other die roll result, the entrenching units must remain in place, but may try again during the next player turn.

Combat in NORMANDY takes place between adjacent enemy units at the discretion of the phasing player. The outcomes of battles are resolved using a traditional ‘odds differential’ type of Combat Results Table (CRT). As is typical of most of SPI’s World War II games from this period, the CRT is relatively bloodless. In fact, six-to-one or better odds are required before an attack — unaltered by a defensive DRM — has any prospect of producing a Defender Eliminated (DX) result; instead, Exchange (EX) and Retreat (AR and DR) results tend to dominate the CRT’s range of probable outcomes until very high odds are attained by the attacker. Along with his regular ground units, the Allied player also has the use of a limited amount of long-range ‘Naval Gunfire Support’ to augment both his offensive and defensive strength. The Germans have no ‘ranged’ counterpart to Naval Gunfire, but do possess a small number of anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery units; these special combat units, however, may be used for defensive purposes only. The rules affecting armored combat are interesting, if a little frustrating: armored units may not attack at all and have their defense strength halved unless stacked with a non-armored unit; moreover, they may never attack Bocage hexes, whether stacked with a non-armored unit, or not. Another interesting wrinkle in the combat rules, besides the special rules governing the use of armor, harkens back to the early Avalon Hill game, THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965). In a nutshell, the ability of the Allies to conduct offensive battles is restricted for much of the game; thus, while the invading Allies may make an unlimited number of attacks on the first game turn, beginning on turn two, they are restricted to four or fewer attacks per turn. Moreover, any unused Allied attacks may not be saved for use during a subsequent game turn. The German player’s attacks, on the other hand, are unlimited.

B-26 Marauder bomber over Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The supply rules to NORMANDY impose somewhat different requirements on the two sides. German units are in supply if they are able to trace a supply path of three or fewer hexes to a road that connects via unbroken road hexes of any length to the land portions of all four edges of the game map. For an Allied unit to be in supply, it must be within three hexes of a road that can then follow an unblocked path back to one of the five pre-designated Allied supply areas. In addition, German units that can trace an unblocked route of three hexes or less to a viable map edge (a map edge from which an Allied unit has not exited) are in supply; Allied units occupying supply areas are automatically in supply, even if German units are adjacent. However, if a German unit enters an Allied supply area — even temporarily — it is considered to be destroyed for the remainder of the game. Supply effects for both sides are identical: unsupplied units may not attack and are halved for both movement and defensive combat; ZOCs are unaffected. Only German reconnaissance units and Allied commandos may voluntarily move out of supply; all other units must remain within supply range, if possible; should a unit be placed out of supply by enemy movement or combat, it must move by the most direct path to reestablish its supply line. All Allied units, except paratroops, are automatically in supply on the invasion game turn.

Omaha Beach, American troops landing on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

 Besides the rules already described, NORMANDY (2nd Edition), also includes a number of special rules cases. For example, most Allied and German regiments and brigades may be broken-down into battalions, and these component battalions may also be recombined to form their parent regiments or brigades. In addition, to reflect the critical importance of shore bombardment during the first days of the battle, the Allied player is allocated eight ‘Naval Gunfire Support’ missions which can be used on each game turn, assuming the targeted units are within range, to increase both the attack and defense strength of Allied ground units. Along with naval support, the Allied player also starts the game with seven operational ‘Paratroop’ units that — if they are to be used in an airborne role — must be dropped on the first turn of the game. It should be noted, however, that paratroop units are automatically eliminated if they scatter onto a German unit and, once dropped, may not move or attack until they have been brought into conventional supply. In addition, as noted previously, both sides may attempt to ‘Entrench’ any units that are designated for this purpose at the end of their player turn, and do not move or retreat during the following game turn. Entrenched units are covered by a blank counter and the contents of an entrenched hex may not be examined until the hex has actually been designated for an attack. Entrenched units may not attack, but do receive a significant defensive bonus because of their entrenched status. Interestingly, this ‘Improved Position’ concept shows up again in David Isby’s SOLDIERS (1972), but really comes into its own as a critically important element for Russian strategic planning in Dunnigan’s WAR IN THE EAST (1974).

Tank belonging to the Panzer Lehr Division, at Normandy, 1944.

 To duplicate the imperfect nature of Allied pre-invasion intelligence, the first game turn of NORMANDY imposes a number of special restrictions on the Allied player prior to the start of the game. Before play actually begins, the Allied commander must select his landing beaches, his supply beaches (important both as future supply sources and as entry points for later-arriving reinforcements), and the specific hexes to be targeted by his paratroopers and commandos. These various sites are all written down by the Allied player; only when the Allied player has completed his pre-invasion planning, does the German player set-up his own defending units. Finally, Allied units may not use ‘road movement’ on the first ‘invasion’ game turn.

British Royal Marines landing on D-Day.

 The winner of NORMANDY is determined by tallying the total number of ‘victory points’ that the Allied player has accrued by the end of the game. The Allied player receives victory points in two ways: through the capture and uncontested control of certain geographical objectives; and ‘bonus’ victory points depending on the strength of the German Order of Battle actually used in the game. The German player wins by denying the Allied player victory points; the lower the number of Allied victory points, the more advantageous it is for the German player.

Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Besides simulating the historical battle, NORMANDY also offers five optional scenarios, each of which presents various possible battlefield situations through the use of different German ‘Orders of Battle’ and reinforcement schedules. The Allied Order of Battle and reinforcement schedule, however, always remains the same. Thus, NORMANDY actually provides the players with six different gaming situations; these are: Order of Battle “A” — The Armored Reserve Plan; Order of Battle “B” — the Historical Deployment of German forces; Order of Battle “C” — the Fast Response option; Order of Battle “D” — the Strong Seventh Army option; Order of Battle “E” — the OKW Plan; and Order of Battle “F” — the Rommel Plan. To increase the ‘fog of war’, particularly for the Allied player, the game’s designer recommends that the German player secretly draw one of the six possible Order of Battle options, but hold off revealing his draw until the end of the game. There are no other ‘optional’ rules.
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A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel inspecting the German defenses, Normandy, 1944.

The second edition of SPI’s NORMANDY appeared in 1971. It was an upgraded replacement for the original version of the game which had first seen print in 1969. This 2nd edition version of SPI’s first attempt at a D-Day game was an improvement over the first edition mainly because it received some much-needed, additional development work at the hands of John Young, Redmond Simonsen, and the game’s original developer, Bob Champer. Interestingly, the original game started out, like PANZERBLITZ (1970), as one of SPI’s ‘Test Series’ of simulations — in this case, Test Game #6 — and, after its second edition make-over, ended up being published in both a US and a UK (SPUK) version. The primary difference between the two, by the way, was that the UK version had a nicer (colored) game map than its American counterpart.

D-Day, Gold Beach, King Red Sector, Normandy.
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 Not surprisingly, like the rest of the games from the early days of SPI, NORMANDY (2nd Ed.) is, to put it kindly, a little on the plain side. Nonetheless, despite its bland game map and drab counters, NORMANDY introduces a number of interesting ideas that, as already noted, show up in later SPI designs. For players who are used to the KURSK Game System, the dual movement phases of non-mechanized units take a little getting used to; on the whole, however, the design works well enough at simulating many of the critical elements of the battle. One of the game’s main appeals is that it is relatively short and comparatively easy to learn. Another is the game’s built in “fog of war”: the mix of variable German orders of Battle with the requirement that the Allied player commit to his invasion plan before he sees the actual German deployment can make for some very exciting, even hair-raising, game situations.

German prisoners at Utah Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Where NORMANDY seems to fall down most, in my opinion, is in two important areas: the German Orders of Battle and the supply rules. In the first case, this is particularly noticeable when it comes to the Historical German starting forces. In point of fact, the units defending the beaches arguably are, given the actual record, just a little too weak, both in units and in combat power. So far as the game’s supply rules go: these appear to be both too restrictive and too liberal, depending on which aspect of the rules system one examines. The draconian requirement that — on each and every game turn — units must be rigidly tethered to their supply lines seems, at first blush, to be a little severe. On the other hand, the ability of the Allied player to comingle British, Canadian, and American forces with no restrictions on their supply sources appears to be overgenerous, especially given the significant differences in the logistical requirements of the different national contingents. Interestingly, SPI quickly moved to correct this obvious historical lapse. By the time that Dunnigan's next Normandy game, BREAKOUT & PURSUIT, appeared in 1972, the logistical rules had become a lot more restictive when it came to supplying the different multi-national Allied armies; and when Brad Hessel's COBRA appeared in 1977, the logistical divide between Dempsey's British Second Army, and Bradley's First and Patton's Third American Armies had been made, more-or-less, complete.

Finally, the game procedures governing the actual invasion have been greatly simplified, so players should expect to get very little sense either of the historical drama or the nerve-racking uncertainty of the first few hours of "Overlord." Thus, unlike the real landings, the invasion troops in NORMANDY are always going to come ashore where the Allied player wants them to, and the majority of the Allied amphibious (DD) tanks (unlike their historical counterparts) are not going to be swamped and sunk by the heavy Channel surf.

German reinforced concrete casement, Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, gun removed to escape Allied bombardment.


In the end, I suspect that players will either like or dislike this title based on their taste for simulation detail. Certainly, NORMANDY is readily accessible to almost any type of player, but its relative simplicity and lack of much in the way of historical texture will probably be off-putting to experienced players who are used to denser, more complex game systems. On the other hand, like John Hill’s OVERLORD (1977), it may not be all that complicated, but it still can be both an interesting and exciting game to play. And, perhaps most importantly, unlike virtually every other game that has attempted to simulate the battle for the beaches and hedgerows of Normandy, it doesn’t require a major investment in time to play.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 24 hours (1 day) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) per hex
  • Unit Size: brigade, regiment, battalion
  • Unit Types: armor, reconnaissance, infantry, parachute infantry, glider infantry, commando, anti-tank artillery, anti-aircraft artillery, naval gunfire counters, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 2½-3 hours

Game Components:

  • One 23” x 29” hexagonal Grid Map Sheet (with Allied Invasion Boxes, Paratroop Scatter Diagram, and Turn Record Track incorporated)
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters (the piece count on the box — 214 counters — is incorrect)
  • One 5½” x 11¼” map-fold style Set of Rules
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed combined Combat Results Table, Naval Gunfire Chart, and “Designer’s Notes” on the game
  • One 8½” x 11” Allied Order of Battle and Appearance Sheet
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One 8½” x 11” Errata Sheet (August 1973)
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat card board 24 compartment tombstone-style printed Game Box (with clear plastic compartment tray covers)

Recommended Reading


See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are 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

Recommended Reference

This book is a handy guide of maps for the Normandy landing beaches.

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BOOK REVIEW: LEE’S LIEUTENANTS (3 Volumes)

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‘LEE’S LIEUTENANTS’ (in 3 Volumes); by Douglas Southall Freeman; Charles Scribner’s Sons. (1942, 1970); SBN: 684-10175-0

Gods and Generals, Antietam Campaign, Leesburg, Virginia, September 5, 1862. Painting by Mort Kunstler 

The wheel of history is often turned as much by luck as it is by the conscious plans of men. This, at least, is the underlying thesis of Douglas Southall Freeman’s brilliant Civil War study of the commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’. If Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had not been mortally wounded by his own pickets at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, the dynamic and aggressive General Jackson, “Lee’s strong right arm” — and not the cautious Lt. General Richard Ewell — would have commanded the corps on the left wing of Lee’s army at Gettysburg on 1 July, 1863. And unlike Ewell, who broke off his attack in the afternoon just when the Union right was most in peril, Jackson would almost certainly have thrown his exhausted troops forward, with or without orders from his commanding general, to storm and capture Cemetery Hill on the first day of the battle. By such accidents, history is determined. The Confederate capture of Cemetery Hill on the first day would have broken the Union position and forced General Meade to abandon the field to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia; there would not have been a second or a third day at Gettysburg, and the Civil War might well have followed a very different and possibly much more unfortunate course.

Lees Lieutenants Volume 1 (Vol 1. Repr ed) (1st of a 3 Vol Set)‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ is, first and foremost, a chronicle of the many campaigns of the premiere army of the South, the Army of Northern Virginia; it is, however, also a study of the gradual deterioration of that critically-important Confederate force, as the ongoing war gradually removed, through death or injury, the best of the army’s commanders: both the famous, and the relatively unknown. This is, by the way, a relatively common theme among previous generations of military historians; for example, Chandler’s masterpiece, ‘The Campaigns of Napoleon’, also catalogs the slow decline of the French army as one after another of Napoleon’s best commanders is cut down on the field of battle. In the eyes of a military scholar like Freeman, great generals matter, but equally important are the men who serve under them. In ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’, all of Lee’s most important subordinates are considered; senior officers like Jackson, Longstreet, Early, J. E. B. Stuart, Ewell, and John Bell Hood are each examined in their turn; but the performances of less famous leaders, such as Magruder, D. H. Hill, McLaws, Pendleton, Hampton, R. H. Anderson, and Rodes are also carefully and, I think, fairly evaluated by the author. Clearly, Freeman is a traditional, even old-fashioned type of historical scholar; thus, he does not examine past events or persons from a Materialist, Critical Theory, or Counterfactual historical perspective. This means, however, that it is unlikely that his view of the historian’s role would find unanimous or even wide-spread support among many of the current crop of academic historiographers. So be it. The facts speak for themselves: even after almost seventy years, Freeman’s work is still in print; and his patient and uniquely-detailed investigations into the biographies and events of America’s past remain as relevant as when his books were originally published.

General J.E.B. Stuart's Ride Around McClellan, painting by Mort Kunstler

Besides the quality of his scholarship, another reason that Freeman’s works have remained popular with serious students of history for so long is that he just writes very well. The author’s prose, although a little formal by today’s standards, is nonetheless graceful, compelling, and even elegant; moreover, it draws the reader’s eye effortlessly from page to page. This is probably a good thing, because although the author may be a careful scholar and a gifted wordsmith, he is not particularly stingy with his prose. ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ requires three volumes and well over two thousand pages to bring its narrative to a satisfactory conclusion. As such, it is actually one of the author’s shorter works: ‘Washington’, Freeman’s biography of our first president, weighs in at seven volumes, and the author’s chronicle of the life of the South’s greatest general, ‘R. E. Lee’, is told in a mere four volumes.

Of course, Douglas Southall Freeman was a Virginian as well as an historian, and he labored during the first half of the Twentieth Century; thus, he wrote from a different perspective and, I suspect, for a different, more patient audience. Not surprisingly, his admiration for Lee, the man, is obvious; but Freeman is not a Confederate apologist: nowhere in any of the author's writings does he suggest that a Southern victory in the Civil War should have been preferred to that of the ultimate historical outcome. Thus, the author is sympathetic to the men he writes about, but not to the greater cause that they served. And understandably, Freeman's chronicle of the Army of Northern Virginia and its leaders is, given the author's interests and background, exhaustive in its breadth. Still, in the age of MTV and half-hour TV ‘Sit-com’ — were the author working now — I have a hard time believing that any present-day publishing house would have undertaken to print and market his long and meticulously researched works without a considerable amount of editing. And, in fact, Freeman’s wonderfully-detailed works are all now available in much shorter — at least, compared to the originals — abridged versions. For my own part, however, I have found it worthwhile to stick with the author’s original writings; although I confess that while I have reread ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ several times, I have yet to take on the challenge posed by ‘Washington’.

As the preceding commentary should make amply clear, ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ is not intended for the recreational reader, or even for those with only a casual interest in history. However, for those students of past events with a genuine curiosity about the American Civil War, in general, and about R. E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, in particular, I consider this book to be a Must Read. ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ may be long, and the numerous and carefully documented annotations may be tiresome to some; but, in my opinion, it is nonetheless one of the truly great works on the subject of the War Between the States, and on both the powers and the limitations of command.

General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson on Little Sorrel, painting by Mort Kunstler

Finally, I feel obliged to conclude this review by at least noting my one criticism of this book. The only real shortcoming of ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ is the disappointing and inexplicable paucity of useful, detailed cartography. This is not to say that Freeman’s work does not include maps of the movements of specific Confederate commanders (i.e., Stuart’s “ride around McClellan,” 12-15 June, 1862) or of the numerous engagements described in the text; only that the maps used, without exception, tend to be very simple line drawings and hence, surprisingly uninformative as to terrain and specific unit positions. More importantly, even the few diagrams provided by the author to illustrate the strategic movements of different elements of the Army of Northern Virginia are invariably too small, and of only limited utility because of their omission of important geographical detail. For my own part, I found it very helpful to follow the author’s chronicle of events with my copy of ‘The West Point Atlas of American Wars’ near at hand. I probably should add, however, that, as a nice off-set to the generally disappointing maps, each of the volumes of ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ is prefaced with a collection of full-page, and often little-known photographs of the major characters featured in that particular volume’s narrative.

For anyone interested in the American Civil War, this is an incredibly useful resource.For that reason, and despite its cartographical shortcomings, I give ‘Lee’s Lieutenants’ my strongest possible recommendation; it is the definitive scholarly work on the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee, and an absolutely essential reference on the War for Southern Independence for anyone, like me, whose avocation is the study of military affairs.

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GDW, SOLDIER KING (1982)

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SOLDIER KING is a fantasy conflict simulation — based on the A HOUSE DIVIDED Game System — of a hypothetical war of succession set in a mythical European kingdom during the 18th Century. The game is intended to be played by two, three, or four players and is based very loosely on the major adversaries and events of the Seven years War; as such, SOLDIER KING presents a highly abstracted treatment of battle and diplomacy during the era of Frederick the Great. The game was designed by Frank A. Chadwick and published by Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1982.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

A Hunt in Honor of Charles V at the Castle of Torgau, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1544, Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Emperor had ruled over his people for almost four decades; however, his sudden death from an unlucky fall, while hunting stag, had unexpectedly thrown the Empire into turmoil. With no undisputed heir to the now empty Crimson Throne, four ambitious rivals hurriedly prepared to press their claims for the Imperial crown: King Ronalf of Arcadia; King Zog of Hrvatska; King Leonardo of Bravance; and King Ludwig of Argozia. Each of the four rulers saw himself as the natural and obvious successor to the Emperor, but each also knew that the imperial prize could only be gained through a combination of diplomacy, subterfuge, and warfare. Moreover, all four rivals knew that their long-term goals would have to be subordinated to short-term threats. King Ludwig’s territorial holdings were, by an accident of geography, particularly well positioned to support a successful early military advance into the heart of the old Empire; thus, if his three rivals were to have any chance at grabbing the imperial crown for themselves, they would have to put aside their mutual distrust and immediately unite to block the Argozian usurper before he could seize the throne. In short, Ludwig would have to be deceived and then lured into a trap.

To lull Ludwig into a false sense of security, peaceful delegations and offers of diplomatic support were quickly dispatched from Arcadia, Hrvatska, and Bravance to the Argozian capital. Ludwig, already blinded by ambition and conceit, foolishly received these overtures with barely concealed disdain. Clearly, the ruler of Argozia told himself, this was indisputable proof that the other kings, weaklings that they were, all sought to sit at his right hand once he had become Emperor. And so, while the various diplomatic missions sought to outdo each other in their craven fawning in front of the Argozian King, sinister plans for betrayal were being hatched behind the scenes. Unbeknownst to the over-confident King Ludwig, the natural advantages of his position had actually placed his life and throne in mortal danger. And while the King of Argozia prepared his army to take the field, his rivals completed the final steps in their plot against him.

With the onset of good campaign weather, all was ready. When spring at last arrived, the Argozian King’s troops began to advance south into the Imperial heartland with the still unsuspecting King Ludwig at their head; at the same time, three enemy armies marched out of winter quarters to intercept them. A battle was coming, and King Ludwig and his veteran troopers would soon unexpectedly find themselves attacked by enemy armies each approaching from three different directions.

DESCRIPTION

SOLDIER KING is an operational/strategic (division/corps) simulation of a fantasy war of succession fought over control of a mythical continent. The rules and game system are intended to represent, in relatively simple terms, 18th Century warfare as it was conducted during the time of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Interestingly, unlike most other games dealing with real or hypothetical conflicts on this scale, this title uses a point-to-point — rather than a hexagonal-grid or area-movement — map system. The four-color game map covers the mythical, vaguely Switzerland-shaped continent over which the four contesting armies maneuver and fight. The transportation lines on the game map link different cities and fortresses (permanent entrenchments) via highways, roads, or rivers. Only entrenchments and rivers affect combat. The unit counters represent abstract formations of infantry, light cavalry, and heavy cavalry; moreover, each of these types of units will display a combat strength rating based on the individual unit’s level of experience: levy, veteran, or guard. Also, one other particularly appealing aspect of the game is that it has only four pages of ‘Basic’ rules and two pages of ‘Advanced and/or Optional’ rules.

SOLDIER KING is played in game turns each of which is divided into four player turns: the first player and subsequent turn order varies from game to game and is determined, once players have all selected their individual sides, with a die roll. The player with the highest die roll sets up his starting forces and becomes the first to act for the rest of the game; the other players then set up and move in a clock-wise sequence beginning with the player to the left of the die-roll winner. During each player turn, the ‘phasing’ player performs a simple sequence of game actions: Movement, Combat, and Recovery; each player then repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends and the Game Turn Marker is advanced one space on the Turn/Season Record Track. The Movement Rules are simple, but quite interesting. At the beginning of his turn, the ‘phasing’ player rolls a single die; the number rolled indicates the number of ‘Marches’ or individual groups (from six to two: a die roll of ‘one’ still permits two marches) that he may move. Players allot their marches to different city boxes, and all units in a single box count as one ‘march’. Moreover, a single force may receive a maximum of two ‘march orders’ in the same game turn. All infantry may move one space (city box) along a road or up-river; they may move two boxes along a highway or down-river, but only if the first space entered was not occupied by enemy units. Both heavy and light cavalry may move two city boxes along roads or highways, but may not combine water with road movement. In addition, light cavalry (only) may make a ‘Jump Move’ by passing through an enemy occupied city, so long as the second space is not also occupied by an opposing unit or units. In both the ‘Basic’ and the ‘Advanced’ versions of SOLDIER KING, a unit may expend one march in a ‘recruitment city’ or two marches in a regular box and ‘entrench’ rather than move to a different city box.

Supply rules are not used in the ‘Basic’ version of SOLDIER KING, but become quite important in the play of the ‘Advanced’ game. To begin with, supply depends on the players’ total control of individual provinces; all four players begin the game with two provinces, but can acquire more through one of two ways: either via a Plebiscite or through a Direct Grant. For a successful Plebiscite to take place, the prospective provincial ruler must have a unit in each and every recruitment city in the targeted province, and the Plebiscite must be called at the beginning of the player’s turn, prior to any movement. A Direct Grant, on the other hand, occurs when one player voluntarily gives control of a province to another, typically allied player. The actual mechanics of supply are comparatively simple: at the beginning of every spring game turn, each player receives a single ‘magazine’ for every province that he controls, and this ‘magazine’ can be placed in any city within its province of origin. Thus, if the king of Argozia controls four provinces, he may place four ‘magazines’ on the game map; but only one ‘magazine’ can be sited in each of the four Argozia-controlled provinces. Once placed, a ‘magazine’ may be moved, but only by river. In addition, each ‘magazine’ move requires its own specific ‘march’. The total number of ‘magazines’ that a player possesses is important because this total determines the maximum number of attacks that he can make on each game turn. In order for an army to use a friendly ‘magazine’ to supply an attack, the units being supplied must be able to trace a path along conventional transportation lines that is unobstructed by enemy ruled or controlled cities. Finally, ‘magazines’ like combat units are not immune to enemy action. For example, if a box containing a ‘magazine’ is occupied solely by a unit or units from the army of another commander, several different things can happen: it can be destroyed at the occupying player’s option; alternatively, the ‘magazine’ could also be left undamaged and, with the acquiescence of the occupying player, continue to serve as a normal supply source for the owning player. This second possibility, of course, would typically arise when both the owning and the occupying commanders are allied against one or more of the other players.

The Combat system used in SOLDIER KING is both familiar and intuitively reasonable. Battles are initiated when enemy units move into a movement box already occupied by an opposing unit or units. Once the phasing player has completed all of his marches, any battles that have been created by his movement are resolved, one-by-one, in any order that the phasing player wishes. The actual battle subroutine is very simple: much like naval battles in WAR AT SEA (1975), the opposing units are lined up opposite each other and blast away in successive battle rounds until one side retreats or is eliminated completely. Excess units may be added to any attack or attacks the owning player wishes, but unlike WAS, defensive and offensive fires are not simultaneous. Thus, because the defender always shoots first, it is possible to eliminate attacking units prior to the target unit’s own round of offensive combat. Each unit fires at an enemy unit and scores a hit or miss depending on whether its combat die roll is higher than, equal to, or lower than the unit’s combat factor. For example, a ‘2’ strength levy infantry unit firing at any other type of enemy unit (other than ‘guard’ infantry) would score a ‘hit’ on a die roll of ‘1’ or ‘2’, and a miss on any other result. This means that combat effects are apportioned on the basis of ‘hits’ and two hits are required to eliminate an enemy unit. To keep track of hits, the game uses a modified (inverted counter) step-reduction system to account for combat losses. As might be expected, attacks against ‘guard’ infantry, entrenchments, or across rivers are penalized in regards to combat resolution. Heavy cavalry units present a special case. During the first round of combat — and ONLY during the first round of combat — heavy cavalry may ‘charge’ enemy units that are not entrenched. During a cavalry charge, each heavy cavalry unit is permitted to attack a target unit twice. After the resolution of this one turn of cavalry ‘charge’ combat, heavy cavalry units fire just like other types of units. Beginning with the second round of combat, both players may reinforce the battle with units in adjacent boxes. This reinforcing action takes place just prior to the fire phase, with one unit per adjacent box being allowed to move into the battle at the beginning of each fire phase. This means, just to be clear, that a stack of three units in a single adjacent space would require three rounds of combat for all three units to finally enter onto the battlefield. Once the outcome of a battle has been resolved, the Recovery Phase immediately follows, during which the attacking player returns any ‘flipped’ (hit) units to their normal (undamaged) side. Finally, the victorious player — whether he was the attacker or the defender — is permitted to ‘promote’ (if possible) any one of his surviving units.

In SOLDIER KING, promotion — that is: replacing a unit with the next stronger version of the unit — can occur in one of two ways: as a result of a victorious battle and/or as a normal consequence of the once-per-game-year promotion phase. In the second instance, each player is allowed to promote two or more units during the movement phase of the winter game turn, whether the promoted units have participated in any battles or not. Each ‘winter promotion’, however, requires the expenditure of a ‘march’. In addition, during the ‘recovery phase’ of his winter game turn (only), the phasing player completes his part of the game turn by ‘recruiting’ any available levy units (of any type) not already in play. These incoming units must each be placed in a different recruitment city, and only one can appear in any city during the same recruitment phase. ‘Recruitment’ is limited to the pool of available (off-map) levy units, and it may not exceed the phasing player’s current ‘Maximum Army Size’. Each player begins the game with an army made up of any eight veteran and four guards units of his choice; from there on out, however, a player’s Maximum Army Size is based exclusively on the number of friendly recruitment cities that he controls as the game continues. As should be obvious, a player’s Maximum Army Size will be reduced by the value of any friendly recruitment cities that fall into enemy hands, and increased by the value of any enemy or neutral recruitment cities that can be brought under the player’s control.

A player wins SOLDIER KING when he controls (through capture or rule) four of the seven ‘electoral’ cities — those marked with a crown — on the game map. To be counted for control, all four cities must be held against all comers for one complete non-winter game turn.

SOLDIER KING offers only the open-ended (unlimited game turns) Standard Campaign Game, but the standard game can be played using either the 'Basic' or the 'Advanced' rules. The ‘Advanced and/or Optional’ rules increase complexity and uncertainty by adding two new strategic factors to the game: Supply and Random Events. Supply affects the number of Attacks that a player may make per game turn. Uncertainty — that is: both good and bad effects — are introduced into the game through the use of sixteen (two markers per event) Random Events counters. At the beginning of every spring game turn, each player blindly draws a single Random Events marker and, before examining the effects of the counter, assigns it to a specific province (enemy or friendly). Random Events include the following eight — four good, four bad — possible outcomes: Good Harvest; Healthy Troops; Natural Fortress; Drillmaster; Poor Harvest; Typhus; Equine Encephalitis; and Revolt. It should be noted that, because of the simplicity of the basic game system, most players will almost immediately incorporate the ‘Advanced and Optional’ rules into their play.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

Although a reader might reasonably conclude, based on the preceding description, that SOLDIER KING is pretty much a multi-player version of A HOUSE DIVIDED (1981), I contend that such a conclusion would be wrong. Three factors really set this game apart from its Civil War cousin: first, the ability of all four players’ to choose the specific make-up of their own starting armies; second, each game’s randomly determined order of play; and third, the influence of changing diplomacy on the course of the game. The combination of these three design features tend — at, least among experienced players — to neutralize positional or other advantages as the game progresses. Moreover, when these game elements are combined with the Random Events rule and with the standard (variable ‘marches’) movement rules, play — despite the game’s apparent simplicity — can get very tricky, indeed. Of course, if players decide to just wade in against each other in a general mêlée, then much of the cleverness of the game design is lost. However, for those gamers with a little DIPLOMACY (1959) experience in their background, and particularly for those with a taste for subterfuge and duplicity, SOLDIER KING can become quite an interesting challenge. There is, unfortunately, one downside to playing the game with experienced, patient, and cunning opponents: each match will almost always end up being a lot longer than one in which players decide on an “every man for himself” free-for-all approach to the game. But then again, the Seven Years War got its name for a reason, so maybe a game based, however loosely, on its mix of strategic elements shouldn’t be all that easy to play to a quick conclusion.

SOLDIER KING, for those readers looking for a short, snappy profile, can probably be best described — at least in the view of one of my regular opponents who was also a big fan of the game — as a stir-fried mix of A HOUSE DIVIDED and KING MAKER (1974). This description underscores the game’s greatest strength and also its greatest weakness: it is an excellent and challenging (if long) four-player contest that cleverly combines diplomacy and luck, with treachery and toe-to-toe combat; unfortunately, the two and three player versions just don’t seem to work that well. So, unless a gamer can round up three other players who are prepared to invest a long afternoon in the game, SOLDIER KING tends to be a bit unbalanced and disappointing in its play. This also means, by the way, that the game is very susceptible to the DIPLOMACY Syndrome; that is: it tends to ‘blow up’ unless all four players are fairly evenly-matched in both skill and experience.

Interestingly, despite a game system that is virtually errata-free, SOLDIER KING never managed to garner the kind of long-term interest that led to the extensive post-production design improvements that fans like Alan Emerich lavished on A HOUSE DIVIDED. This is probably too bad. The addition of STRATEGO type counter-stands to hide unit strengths (to create an element of the ‘fog of war’), and even the addition of a few leader counters might have added significantly to the excitement level of this game. A more interesting game map, and nicer unit counters probably wouldn’t have hurt the game either. In any case, none of that happened; so SOLDIER KING remains the same today as it was when it first appeared, twenty-eight years ago.

Finally, there is the inevitable question: which types of players do I think might actually like SOLDIER KING, despite its several flaws? This is — for me, at least — a difficult question to answer. Certainly, with only six pages of rules, it is an easy-to-learn introductory game; and four novices battling it out until only one is left standing would, I think, probably provide those players with an action-packed, enjoyable time. However, my personal opinion is that, because this game really only comes into its own when it is played by seasoned gamers, it is probably precisely those players who would enjoy the game the most. Moreover, I think that the perfect type of player for this title, based on my own experience, would be a cut-throat competitor who plays both multi-player wargames and DIPLOMACY; and who plays both types of games well. If someone is lucky enough to be able to sit three other players who fit that description around a SOLDIER KING game map, then I think that he is virtually guaranteed to have a real nail-biter of a struggle on his hands.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 3 months (one season) per game turn
  • Map Scale: (irrelevant) point to point movement system
  • Unit Size: division/corps (10,000 to 15,000 infantry; 7,000 to 10,000 cavalry)
  • Unit Types: levy/veteran/guard infantry, levy/veteran/guard heavy cavalry, levy/veteran light cavalry, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two, three, or four (best with four)
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 3- 5+ hours

Game Components:

  • Two 17” x 22” point-to-point Map Sheets (with Turn/Season Record and Army Maximum Size Track incorporated)
  • 320 ⅝” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” SOLDIER KING Rules Booklet (with Set-up Instructions and Examples of Play incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Advanced and Optional Rules Sheet
  • One 4” x 6” GDW Customer Survey Card
  • Two six-sided Dice
  • One 9¼” x 11½” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box
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