Operation Market Garden is a well covered wargaming topic.  Others that rank higher include Bulge, Gettysburg, Normandy, Stalingrad, and Waterloo. As a result, there is a deep roster of fantastic designs at all kinds of scales. Few of those games have been poorly received which makes it even more complicated to place this game in their midst without an encyclopedic knowledge of the other games.  As a result, this review will not attempt to rank or compare other Market Garden games to each other. Instead, I’ll be looking at this game solely based on its own merits.

First, though I think we need to establish what the review criteria are going to be for a Market Garden game. After all, what measuring stick do we use outside of just fun (and it is that) if we don’t pick out a few criteria. The essential questions a Market Garden game must answer for me are:

  1. Does the game capture the scale and fragility of the airborne landings?
  2. Does the game force the allied player to move quicker than they would like with the 30th to get them northward?
  3. Does the game provide the Germans with ample reinforcements of increasing strength over the course of the game?
  4. Does the game have a solution for blown bridges and have a fail-safe that provides for the possibility of success in a worst-case bridge scenario (all bridges blown)?
  5. Does the game model supply (and critically the lack thereof) in a reasonable way that hurts, but doesn’t wholly cripple the allied forces?

There are other criteria for a game to successful as a game, but for a Market Garden game to succeed, it must first check at least these checkboxes for me. So, let’s dive in!

Airborne landings are handled smartly with regard for flexibility of drop zones increasing as time goes on while also increasing the difficulty of contested drops. The scattered mechanic limiting movement and combat factors is a sensible approach that temporarily, and at the regiment’s most critical moment, stings the allied player. German players will be challenged to balance holding/blowing bridges and river crossings while contesting drop zones. Early on, the Germans will have the opportunity to roll and see if the 406th releases which has the quickest route to disrupt the 82nd Airborne’s drop zone and create enough force to stage the first meaningful counter-attack by the Germans. Even this opportunity is handled with care though. There’s only a 50/50 chance the 406th enters in turns 1 – 3. For the Germans this can be a huge boon or a hearty reinforcement in turn 4 that can add to the scheduled reinforcements for the area around Nijmegen.

As the game progresses, protecting the drop zones and retaining airborne supply units is a full time job. This is particularly the case around Arnhem with the British 1st Airborne Division who quickly find themselves surrounded and besieged. At first, these are weak German piecemeal reinforcements, but quickly turn into armored opposition and full strength German regiments ready to tear up the Red Devils. I tried both keeping a large defensive perimeter in the woods northwest of Arnhem and falling back into a small defensive perimeter in  Arnhem and found both problematic. In terms of ensuring a successful reinforcement landing in turn 3, it’s important to hold out near the drop zones or the allied player is likely to suffer S-1 or even the dreaded S-2 drop results meaning scatted with one or two step reductions.

Speaking of step reductions, one of the great bits of chrome for airborne landings in the game is the ability of the airborne units to earn replacement steps based on their drop losses. Each division can only earn 1 replacement step per turn, but they quickly become necessary and the Germans though weak early on can land significant punches of their own with a bad die roll or an ill-advised and overly aggressive allied attack against a city hex.

So, does the game model the fragility and scale of the airborne landings? Without qualification, yes

Before we start looking at how the game models the British 30th Corp, let’s look for a moment at combat and Zones of Control. As with all Simonitch Campaign ‘XX designs the CRT is odds based and punishing. Equally important though is the concept of ZOC Bonds which effectively create barriers through which supply and enemy units cannot travel. ZOC Bonds also work a bit like Three Stooges movies. You might remember how someone would kneel behind an unsuspecting character while they’re startled and fall over backwards in retreat only to get dumped on their butt….The same is true in Simonitch’s ZOC Bonds. If a unit is forced to retreat through a ZOC bond, they are eliminated.

Understanding and using ZOC bonds is key to building an effective defense and to create static lines without requiring hundreds and hundreds of counters to pull it off on the map. They also increase the value of the CRT results which require retreat or give the option for determined defense which is also a significant choice. In certain situations, you may be afforded the opportunity to put up a determined defense which allows you a chance to stand your ground and fight. It is risky, but also can punch the attacker in the nose in a desperate defensive final stand. When faced with a retreat though it can sometimes be the far more attractive option.

It’s decisions like these that characterize the success of the fun in a Simonitch design. Whether it’s The Caucasus Campaign, France ’40, Ukraine ’43, Normandy ’44, or Ardennes ’44 you know that the tension in the history and design will remain because of these core principles that help characterize this ruleset. Further, each game has a great way of fulfilling the historical campaign’s unique flavor without invalidating the underlying ruleset established more than a decade ago.

Combat is risky, dangerous, and punishing for attackers who don’t bring sufficient force to bear. This is particularly evident in the required breakout by the 30th Corps who must race northward at breakneck speed to relieve first the 101st Airborne, then the 82nd Airborne, and finally rescue the Red Devils in Arnhem if they have enough steam left…or the Red Devils are left standing. An option for the 1st Airborne I had no considered is holding out until the airborne reinforcements could be landed and then slipping south to hang with the 82nd in Nijmegen only pushing northward again AFTER the 30th arrives.

That’s putting the cart before the horse though. The 30th starts at the southern end of the map and must breakout across a series of bridges. While I’ll cover bridges a bit more, it’s worthwhile to note that Holland ’44 does an admirable job of creating stress on the German AND allied player with the bridge demolition and rebuilding mechanics. After all, if it were too easy to blow the bridges or repair them for that matter, they wouldn’t be as important. They are, after all, key to the 30th getting northward to relieve the 1st Airborne in Arnhem!

The 30th looks stuck at first glance. A lot of firepower with very little room for maneuver and only a few well defended checkpoints against which they can throw that weight of arms. A mistake I made was screwing around with getting the right units in the right position. Throw your weight around blindly in the first turn. The negative combat modifiers and halving of your firepower are going to happen regardless and optimizing your attacks doesn’t actually get you all that much. Key to the success of the initial 30th assaults will be their artillery which gain extra column shifts in the first turn to help overcome the disadvantages. Use the rule helpers in that first turn or suffer mightily!

In subsequent games, I learned that there’s very little you can do wrong in the first turn other than not be aggressive as the allied player. The German player’s hands are tied as well in that first turn, but what they lack in combat stopping power they make up for in Traffic Marker stopping power. The main highway north is surrounded by woods and polder (a misery inducing terrain nightmare unique to this game) making off-road movement a literal slog. So, when the first three traffic markers hit the road and start their +2 Movement Cost punishment of the allied player, they can be devastating. As with other German “power” in the game, the German player starts with just 3, but grows to earn all 6 Traffic markers only removing one. They become less effective as time goes on so the three to start and six to finish seem appropriately strong throughout. Limits on placement mean you don’t run into them well ahead of your lead units or something awful like that.

So, once the 30th cross the Buccholdt-Terrenfals Canal and enter the Netherlands they need to dash to Eindhoven, their first destination in 3 additional turns. In the three games I played, allied players were not able to make this happen. In the one where I screwed up and was overly cautious, this was obviously not going to work, but even knowing I needed to get cooking didn’t help much. There are simply too many German units waiting in the wings that get dislocated and need to be removed that divert a lot of strength away from the main push and for an overly cautious player…too much strength. Again, it benefits the allied player to move swiftly with the knowledge that these German units are the Amuse Bouche of the German forces that are coming…

As the 30th does finally reach Eindhoven and weave its way north we can effectively answer the second challenge of the game design about the requirements of the 30th. Yes, you MUST move more swiftly than you’re probably comfortable moving. It’s evident why the task was too tall an order and failing some exceptionally good luck on the part of the allies, you’re unlikely to feel like you’re making good enough progress. Don’t get hung up on the deadlines set forth by the turn track though, you can exceed those limits later on depending on how well the Airborne divisions have occupied the “middle sector” of the battlefield which can be a bit gooey to get started.

In every game, I found that the Germans were able to put up a significant roadblock just south of Nijmegen and again in the town of Best or Son depending on where the allies try to make their push. So, the 30th is absolutely needed and siphoning off too many forces ruins any real chance of northerly advance.

This leads us to the third important question of the game: Can the German actually stand up to the onslaught of firepower they face through turns 7 or 8? After all, it’s just a math problem that the 30th will break out and that the Airborne will be able to have their way for a little while with the weak units on the map at the start of the game.  Even the clever hidden units aren’t much more than speed bumps for the allies early on in the game.

While German armor appears in turn 4 of the game, it’s not until turn 7 that the Germans get sufficient forces to start really making a difference.  In particular, the most vulnerable units are the 1st Airborne. I’ve alluded to my struggles with them already and the reason is quite simple. They have the largest and most contested distance between their drop zones and their target of Arnhem. Additionally, they have three separate and heavily trafficked reinforcement zones sitting in close proximity to either their drop zone or their target north of the Lower Rhine.

The Germans quickly establish their reinforcement staging areas from which they can push forward once they build up sufficient combat strength. Nijmegen and Arnhem are the two closest to the majority of the reinforcement areas constituting reinforcement zones F, G, H, I, J, and K. After turn 7 there are no more entries outside of B,C,D, and E for the most part.  I seem to recall there was one loner unit that comes straggling on late, but the entire western side of the map is ignored. Coupled with the 30th’s decision that they need to make around Son on how they’re going to travel north it means there is plenty of time for the Germans to set up.

In my games, Groesbeck became a staging area that was powerful enough to go uncontested, but kept launching bullets into Nijmegen until the 82nd was all but eliminated and just scampering around the map Out of Supply. The Germans only worthy opponent going into the night turn of September 20th was a combination of the 30th and 8th corps. I do have to admit though that I did not follow the AO requirements for the 12th Corps, 30th Corps, and 8th Corps through the 2100 row of hexes as a way to experiment with a faster breakout. I’m clearly not a good player here because it didn’t seem to do a whole lot in terms of racing up to meet the Germans or trying to meet strength with strength. Why would Simonitch include them if not to prevent odd CRT bedfellows?

So, in short answer to the problem of German strength increases as the game progresses the answer is yes. I almost feel like it’s a bit too strong, but then again, most of these German reinforcements are 3-5-3 and so they move a little slow and don’t individually pack a punch. Grouped together and launched as divisions rather than regiments they pack a nasty 1-2 knockout punch.

Let’s take a quick look at bridges now to answer the fourth challenge of the design. Simply put, the bridges are handled perfectly. On turn 1, the Germans are at a significant disadvantage. I was surprised by what a -1 modifier does, but it’s significant. In every single game that -1 modifier proved to be a lifesaver. After all, a missed opportunity for a blown bridge requires that the Germans rewire it.  Rewiring requires allied units not have the bridge in their ZOC. That, turns out, to be exactly the right amount of time to get to specific bridges to save them.

That said, on subsequent turns the sound of explosions can be heard across the countryside. It should be pointed out, since the rule is so early on in the rulebook that there are important fail-safes built into the game. The bridges at Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Westervoot cannot be blown. In each case, this would isolate the 1st Airborne to a degree that would assure their destruction beyond hope within a turn or two.

Bridging units are provided to the allies though and it’s important to keep an eye on where they’re at.  It’s one of the trickier little things to do when playing opposed. While your opponent can inspect stacks at any time, they’re probably not checking for those Bridging units if you bury them. However, if you leave them on top of the stack, then it’s clear where that stack may be headed. This is where the breakdown units can be handy to detach and spread out some stacks to try to conceal the direction of your assault and bridge repair efforts.

Finally, it should be noted that bridges aren’t the only way across water. There are also ferries that have their own pathetically small capacity. If you’ve ever seen A Bridge Too Far, you absolutely understand the risk and speed (or lack thereof) with these crossing types.  With this said, it should be clear that I am again strongly responding that yes, Holland ’44 masters the challenge of making the bridges valuable resources while still providing fail-safes that don’t completely isolate and kill off the 1st Airborne or 82nd Airborne solely because of gamey bridge demolition.

Our last consideration is supply. This is the easiest to answer. The Germans have it and in nearly all cases keep it. The allies need to be constantly worried about it and get cut off from it more regularly (at least in my inept playing). As a result, the importance and fragility of airborne supply is highlighted. Pretty early on, it can be attractive to spread out as far as your supply limits allow as the airborne units. However, it is equally apparent how vulnerable you’re leaving your supply source.

In two of my three games at least one airborne supply source was overrun and had to be reconstituted.  In Holland ’44 that means it arrives back in play the next turn (following a supply phase where everyone is out of supply). Another important note here is that airborne supply only lasts through turn 5.  At that point, and moving forward, they need to be able to trace traditional supply lines adding insanely difficult pressure to the 30th and 8th Corps racing north. Yes, artillery can still be supplied from these depleted supply heads, BUT if your units are at half-strength and can only move 2 hexes at a time, it means the Germans have a field day with your units.

In one particularly memorable playthrough the 82nd was holed up in Nijmegen. They had artillery support on defense and the Germans were assaulting. The odds after everything was said and done was 1:1 and the Germans still suffered an A1/DR result. The German lead unit took down a step which eliminated it and then instead of retreating those plucky All Americans went for the Determined Defense and rolled a 5. However, they had an Elite lead unit and Artillery in defense which made it a 7 and the German attackers were forced to lose ANOTHER step while the Americans held. It was triumphant to say the least.

Supply starts out a concern and grows into a full blown anxiety attack. To that end, I would say that its one of the best modeled components of this game and when taken in conjunction with the rest of Simonitch’s rules for Holland ’44 it becomes the foil for the other mechanisms that put pressure on the race to relieve Arnhem.

Conclusion

Without question, Holland ’44 is one of the best games of 2017. It was my second favorite and only fell to 2nd because I felt like Fields of Despair was more innovative. Holland ’44, however, hits every single I expected to find in a Market Garden game. In fact, the design exceeded my expectations by being approachable and deep. I’m most familiar with Ardennes ’44 from Simonitch and that game, at times, feels like it falls on Bulge narrative crutches. That’s not a bad thing for Ardennes ’44, but I wanted to see how Simonitch would tackle Market Garden.

It is something special and unique. I said I wouldn’t rank it against other Market Garden games, and I won’t, but even if you feel like this is “A Game Too Far” for the subject matter, then you’re robbing yourself of one of the best gaming experiences of 2017. I look forward to getting this one to the table again and Holland ’44 is certainly a game that both designer Mark Simonitch and GMT Games should be proud of given the tall order for making a compelling Market Garden game in such a well covered topic.

What If…

Who hasn’t asked themselves this or been a part of a “what if” conversation in their lifetime. Speculation is as much a part of human nature as disappointment, grief, and happiness. Speculation is at the root of faith after all. Throughout human history we have had faith in a great many things like leeching for curing illness, a pantheon of gods to explain the cosmos, and even our own lucky charms that seem to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. We speculate because understanding alternate paths in history or in our lives is both cathartic and typically fun.

In the realm of history, speculation drove some of histories great rivalries. Consider Patton’s assertion that if resources had not been diverted to Montgomery’s Operation Market Garden he could have used them to drive into Germany and end the war sooner. I think this hypothesis is debatable.  After all, without Market Garden could we be sure that Germany would capitulate under the same circumstances? Without Market Garden would resources tied up in Belgium and the Netherlands have been diverted? Would the supplies that Patton sought, namely fuel, have been sufficient to make the final stab into Germany and sustain it?

However, this is an excellent example of what I would deem hypothetical. I would characterize games such as The Next War by SPI, Brezhnev’s War by Compass Games, and the Next War series from GMT Games as examples of hypothetical consims. A game like Talon or Federation Commander while hypothetical are more science fiction than grounded in some sort of reality that makes them both plausible and calculable for their intended outcome. After all, AT&T speculated we would still be using pay phones to make video calls in their 1994 ad campaign while only 14 years later finding a working pay phone would be difficult!

Without further background, here’s what I believe constitutes a great hypothetical consim.

5 – A plausible topic

The card game Smash Up imagines pirates vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Unicorns vs. the cast of Big Bang Theory.  That is all well and good, but it’s not plausible. Fun as that may be, we’re looking at the realm of near future, far future, or historical plausibility. Third World War games, like Third World War from GDW approach their topic matter with historical sensitivity.  At the time, this would have been near-future rather than historical as we see it from 2017, but the objectives, OOB, tactical doctrine allowed by the rules, and the weapon systems modeled show respect for the plausible conflict. The combatants are not half-baked parodies of themselves and the situation isn’t shoehorned to tell the story of the game.

4 – Combatant Forces Modeled Intentionally

This can be an easy place for designers to quickly get it wrong. Hypothetical is always tricky. We learned a lot about Russian’s armament capability that we didn’t know during their invasion of Ukraine and subsequent involvement in the fight against ISIS in Syria. They were well ahead of projections and, as such, this is a bit of a tricky road to walk for designers. How much do you “fudge” the stats in the name of simply not knowing the specific capabilities and how much do you simply rely upon the known and published intel? Furthermore, getting the OOB correct can be tricky. After all, during the last Russian military exercises in Eastern Europe there were outlandish reports circulating that they had 100,000 troops from Belarus northward! The actual number, following the conclusion of the exercises was closer to 45,000. Depending on your scale, how detailed does you knowledge need to be? Tying it in with number five, is the game trying to tell a story about a hypothetical conflict simulation and the OOB is material but only insofar as it furthers that narrative?

3 – Political Awareness

The game needs to have some kind of political awareness.  Whether it’s baked right into the rules (stacking, multi-national coordination, limits of advance or AOs) the game needs to model something to do with the political environment that created the conflict. After all, the political context is what typically drives a solid hypothetical consim. In the case of the Next War series from Mitchell Land, we get treated to a political matrix that helps outline the who and when of intervention. In the case of South China Sea from John Gorkowski we are treated to a card-driven political game that precedes armed conflict and sometimes avoids it all together.

2 – An Opinion

The game needs a story to tell. Persian Incursion from Clash of Arms games is a good example of a game with a message around the plausibility of an Israeli first-strike against a nuclear Iran. Players read briefings, review maps, their order of battle, speculated orders of battle for the aggravating nations, and must put together force packages capable of executing a first strike. For a commercial wargame, this one got quite a bit of media attention and ultimately the story it tells is one of the fragility of relationships in the Middle East. Does Israel gain what they think they’ll gain from such a strike? That core question at the heart of What-If scenarios is key to their success.  Looking outside of the modern world and going back to Gettysburg, we get a hypothetical scenario from Dean Essig in Last Chance for Victory where we can explore whether or not Longstreet’s plan would have actually worked. These hotly debated historical what-ifs provide a solid grounding in opinion and narrative that will drive a great hypothetical consim.

1 – Fun

This goes without saying, but I’ll include it here because the lure of “chroming up” a hypothetical consim is attractive! Again, I’ll refer to Clash of Arms’ Persian Incursion. It is on my shelf and I’ve read through it, but I am not sure I’d want to play it.  The game just doesn’t sound fun. It sounds like work. On the other hand, Essig’s Gettysburg What-If is a fun one because it’s an accessible What-If in American Civil War lore.  The underlying game system was created to model grand tactical combat in that conflict and layering this well researched scenario on top of it is a treat. The Third World War series has sustained its value and longevity by being approachable, plausible, and fun.

It’s entirely possible a game might slip outside these criteria, but the barrier for enjoyment goes up as a result. In the case of Compass Games’ Brezhnev’s War, we see a game that has significant research flaws with regard to the OOB failing on point number 4 made above. The game, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily attempting to be historically accurate. Instead, it’s trying to present a story about the challenges NATO would have had stopping an all out dash for the industrial Ruhr by a motivated Soviet Union aggressor. The game could still be fun and I bought it knowing the faults of the OOB because it just looks like simplistic fun. As a hypothetical consim though, it fails to live up to the promise of a better researched game.

What are some of your favorite hypothetical consims and do they meet these criteria?

 

I watched the Brad Pitt movie War Machine a few days ago.  In this highly satirical look at Stanley McChrystal’s time as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The film wasn’t well loved, earning only a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes and fell only slightly above that with a 56/100 over at Metacritic.

In it, a Rolling Stone journalist has a voiceover that says:

The thing about counterinsurgency is that it doesn’t really work. We tried it in Vietnam. That went well… The British and French gave it a shot trying to hang on to their crumbling empires…It just hasn’t worked. To me, it should seem kind of simple why. You can’t win the trust of a country by invading it. You can’t build a nation a gunpoint.

This oversimplification of the last 60 years of history struck me as fairly crass, but largely a popular sentiment that might be heard around any number of dinner tables or between armchair generals looking at counterinsurgency operations across the span of history. I’m certainly no expert on the topic. My knowledge comes largely from a brief look at counterinsurgency through the Great Courses Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers and David Kilcullen’s book The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

Neither provide much more than a series of anecdotes as a means to give average folks like me a look inside the world of counterinsurgency.  The Great Courses largely looks at the counterinsurgency thoughts of Roger Trinquier and Kilcullen’s work is derived from his own on the ground experiences. Both men have been significant influences upon the current US Counterinsurgency.  In fact, the Combat Studies Institute issued a US Army Command and General Staff College publication in 1985 from Trinquier called A French View of Counterinsurgency

In it, the hard fought lessons of the French are summarized in one simple sentence.

Military tactics and hardware are all well and good, but they are really quite useless if one has lost the confidence of the population among whom one is fighting

With that in mind, let’s reflect on the initial quote from War Machine that got me fired up to write this article.  Is the failure of Vietnam or the French and British a condemnation that all counterinsurgencies are doomed to fail.  Or, is it, as the movie also asserts that every general believes counterinsurgencies aren’t won because their predecessors haven’t been doing it right?

At the heart of the movie and the heart of Trinquier’s treatise is that western nations seek to engage insurgencies with the same methodologies that made them so successful throughout their experience.  In effect, bringing better trained and armed troops to a traditional battlefield and slugging it out.  In Algeria, at one point the French had 300,000 troops against a meager 30,000 insurgents.  In War Machine, we get an indictment of the 2009 “Troop Surge” when President Obama bet 30,000 additional troops in a year would be able to strike a blow to the Afghani insurgency to allow for a troop withdrawal.  In effect, Western nations equate the winning of a counterinsurgency through the lens of warfare they’ve repeatedly used: manpower and mission clarity.

The one-two punch seems to be the concession that IF a western power is to partner with local forces, they need to be able to protect those forces and therefore require additional troops.  Additional troops on the ground looks more like invasion rather than support and makes greater targets which leads to traditional military/police-state tactics to protect those troops and so the quagmire theory popularized by David Halberstram begins to set in motion.

Kilcullen provides an alternate view and a case-study from Afghanistan to back up his point.  He contends that identifying why a stable government is important is at the heart of the matter. Medicine, taxation, regulation, red tape, and increased commerce don’t appeal to people who have lived their lives largely absent of such requirements or exposure. In fact, those byproducts of functioning government may be abhorrent to a population used to self-rule or local junta control that has largely managed and kept them fed and safe for centuries.

Instead, Kilcullen provides an example of isolated mountain valleys that are impassable in the winter for lack of roads. The infrastructure project to build out the roads means jobs. The jobs create ownership of the work. The road provides access to market and travel when it this was previously unthinkable. The people take pride in this new freedom and want to protect it. The road therefore becomes the target of the insurgents who are then fighting against a population that like their new way of life better than their old one and therefore are motivated to defend it.

In effect, custom tailoring solutions for local populations based on needs assessment that derives from the people who are skeptical of a distant government and what they might offer. The downside is huge and should be quite obvious. This doesn’t scale well and it may not be universally applicable. It is overly reliant on savvy local military leaders who can effectively manage their people, coordinate NGOs and local leadership while securing their objectives.

We have, on the other end of this spectrum, Trinquier’s recommendations which include meticulous inventories of people, livestock, supplies, and tight control over access to communities. The idea is to blockade access to the people by the insurgents, account for how insurgents are deriving the supplies that sustain them, and then begin working to dismantle the political organizations supporting insurgent groups. More troubling, and why more modern citations of Trinquier by the US Military are less forthcoming with all the source material is that Trinquier believed:

In modern warfare, as in the traditional wars of the past, it is absolutely essential to make sure of all the weapons the enemy employs. Not to do so would be absurd.

What are “all the weapons the enemy employs?” Simply put, Trinquier believed that, when necessary, it was essential to use torture as a means of intimidating and obtaining information. The April 2012 Jacob Uzzell article “Is Torture Ever Acceptable in COIN Operations?” he concludes that the costs are simply too high. In particular, the loss of the moral high ground needed to establish legitimacy is easily seen in the fallout from the Abu Gharib prison revelations in 2004.

So, why do we even bother trying to model insurgencies for the purposes of wargaming?

First, I would contend that they are exactly as Trinquier suggested 60 years ago a peak into what truly modern warfare has become. Terrorism and insurgencies are linked. Their effectiveness on a global scale against traditional Western and Eastern powers has been unflinching and even when an insurgency fails to achieve its objectives the drain of time and money weakens the traditional with unmatched efficiency. It means, if we’re going to look at modern conflict we need to be examining historical examples of counterinsurgency and our current global counterinsurgency efforts.

Second, I would say that the better we can model specific actions and reactions the better we are breaking out of our traditional modes of thinking about counterinsurgency strategy. If, for example, we look at what it means to establish legitimacy and how fragile that legitimacy is, then we might examine where best to establish legitimacy and how. Do we follow Trinquier’s methodical accounting and extermination followed by Kilcullen’s boutique solutions for local populations to establish that legitmacy?

Finally, it is more important than ever to dispel the average-joe of the notion that there’s a single solution to insurgencies.  After all, if “turning the desert to glass” was a legitimate solution it might have been examined. Instead, revealing the complexity and uncertain nature of an insurgency, along with their relative ease of undetected movement is critically important. Tet achieved incredible surprise because we underestimated the ease with which insurgents can move and coordinate. That was in a pre-cellular era. That was in an pre-internet era. The complexity of systems and communication channels available to insurgents today provide far greater ease in this kind of sophisticated funding and operations coordination.

So, the next question becomes: Do the COIN games get it right?

I think they do to the extent that they answer all three of challenges I lay out for why we must model counterinsurgency. They cover current and historical counterinsurgencies reflecting the underlying challenges and similarities they have to one another.  Each COIN game provides tailored solutions appropriate to the conflict via its rules. In effect, while COIN is a series of games, only the skeleton remains the same between games. The specific factions, rules, and events are each specific to the conflict. In this way, we get a chance to think with the mindset of the leaders of their time and look for opportunities to innovate with the tools at hand as Kilcullen advocates. Finally, the COIN games are accessible. It’s not JUST wargamers who are playing COIN games. The multiplayer nature of the game invites a broad spectrum of gamers into the COIN fold. Further, the topics are ones that remain accessible to non-wargamers like the Cuban Revolution or the American Revolution.

Make no mistake, counterinsurgency theory and strategy will long be debated. We happen to be lucky to be part of a hobby that affords us the opportunity to reflect on them with the aid of fantastic tools.

2017 is still going strong for another two weeks, but I’m ready to talk 2018 wargaming.  Let’s do this!

Rather than just make an exhaustive list of all the cool titles we hope to see in 2018, I’m going to focus on one title per publisher that will make 2018 “Merry & Bright” in wargame-land.  As a result, I want to hear which game you would have selected instead from each publisher if my choices to fit your fancy so to speak.  During 2017, if you’re to believe BoardGameGeek, there were a total of around 140 wargames (excluding expansions, fantasy and sci-fi themed games).

This is a relatively small hobby compared to the relatively small hobby of boardgaming which is a small hobby compared to other leisure-time hobbies folks engage in throughout the year.  As a result, it is tricky to get your game noticed, played, and well reviewed.  Just for fun, I looked at 1997 and there were fewer than 100 wargames released that year and in 1987 there were roughly 67 wargame titles by the same criteria.  What stands out in 1987 is the handful of publishers in the marketplace.  Some absolutely tremendous games came out in 1987, but they largely came from a small core of publishers.

Looking forward to 2018 means we can expect a few things.  The number of publishers to likely increase, or at least remain as diverse as they are today.  We can expect that we’ll see more than 100 titles released again.  We are unlikely to be able to purchase all those titles, so narrowing the listing down is a massive undertaking.  Don’t get me wrong when I say I’d rather make an exhaustive list, but that’s no fun!  It’s more fun when we can debate and discuss.

Without further ado…  The list of games I’m most anticipating for 2018.

Academy Games

While I know it’s likely a long-shot, Bloody Crossroads is one I would love to see in 2018.  This Gettysburg game started its life on the Academy Games publication list maybe 5 years ago and it is still languishing in development.  The last update is that it is no longer a “Day 1” game, but rather will be split into two games with one covering the northern and one the southern parts of the battle.  I am a sucker for Gettysburg games and the 3D modeling that Academy Games has done for this title results in some spectacular maps.  So, for nothing else, this one could be the game folks point to and say, “this has the most accurate accounting of the terrain to date because it was based on GIS modeling.”

Australian Design Group

Could this be the year where we FINALLY get to see the new Deluxe editions come to press. As with previous ADG releases of this game, they are intended to confound and obfuscate what you’re getting.  There are clear listings on each game’s page, but for a new player, it’s confusing to know what comes in each expansion and what comes in the base game to get a feel for what you would want to add.  My typical compulsive behavior screams “ADD EVERYTHING.”  That said, I’m trying not to go overboard.

Avalanche Press

I picked up a goodly chunk of the Second World War at Sea series, so the updated version of South Pacific has me very interested.  In this version, we’ll have 60 scenarios and whatever it is when Avalanche says, “a story arc format.”  Is that a campaign?  Something new?  Who knows?  That said, the Soloman’s Campaign is one that greatly interests Pacific Theater buffs, so I’m keen to see this one get to print in 2018.

Bellica Third Generation

I’m not super familiar with this publisher, but their Eagles Rising game is now on pre-order.  From what I understand, their treatment of the Coral Sea was quite good.  This is an “Age of Musket” series game covering Napoleon’s Campaigns in Northern Italy.

Bounding Fire Productions

If you’re an ASL fan and you aren’t a BFP fan…you don’t know what you’re missing out on.  Every release from BFP is full of ASL goodness.  Their oversized releases are one of the highlights of every year for me.  This time around, we’re looking at Objective: Schmidt which covers battles in and around the Hurtgen Forest.  BFP products come with high-quality counters, maps, well-balanced scenarios, historical magazines, and enough ASL to fill the better part of a year.

Clash of Arms

Triumph of Chaos version 2.  Herr Doctor’s updated version has been in the works for a number of years now and I’m excited to see this one.  I missed out on it because of the complexity and topic back when it was first available.  After hearing people rave about it, including my local FLGS owner, I know I need to get my hands on this one because it’s something special.  In the same way that Nick Karp’s Vietnam is considered THE treatment of the Vietnam war by many, this game has a similar reputation for the Russian Civil War.

Columbia Games

I’ll probably shy away from this one until I get some reviews, but Columbia Games has Combat Infantry coming out.  It looks VERY good, but I just got into Old School Tactical and Tactical Combat Series and CSS and GTS.  How many more tactical and grand tactical game systems can my brain handle?  Probably not many!  It’s only holding onto 2% of what I know as it stands!  That said, for fans of the Columbia block-style games this is a welcome addition to their lineup in 2018.

Command Post Games

Gettysburg is coming out, hopefully in 2018 though there was no date provided online, and I think I already mentioned I’m a Gettysburg junkie.  Command Post Games is worth checking out for their Kriegspiel style wargame maps and content.  Very interesting fit in our community and they’re doing great things with the Pub Battle system.

Compass Games

Modern warfare is another topic I quite enjoy so, after picking up both South China Sea and Brezhnev’s War from Compass in 2017, I think I’ll go with Blue Water Navy in 2018.  What intrigues me most about this one is the low Earth orbit theater.  The game takes place in the 1980s so do we get to see what “Star Wars” investment potentially would have brought to us?

Consim Press

This is a no-brainer.  The Russian Campaign coming back into print is just awesome.  I kept waiting and waiting to find a reasonably priced and unpunched copy.  I had a few sniped from me at the last moments on eBay, but this release will be sweet justice.  I think we’ll see a lot written about this game by both recent and longtime wargamers.

Dan Verssen Games

I have Warfighter, but not the World War II variant.  The only thing that sort of has my interest piqued is Corsair Leader, but I got burned so badly by U-Boat Leader and Tiger Leader that I will never buy one of these games without some seriously positive reviews post-release.  How will he capture WW2?  What elements, other than payload and graphics will make it WW2 themed?  In what campaigns will the missions be set and how well will those missions/campaigns capture their historic feel?  Slapping a new coat of paint on existing designs is a forte for DVG.  Sometimes they are brilliant and at others they are miserable.  I hope for the former because of the subject matter.

Decision Games

This isn’t a single game.  Instead, it’s the fulfillment of a promise to myself years ago that someday when I had the money I would become a subscriber.  2018 will mark my first year as a subscriber.  I subscribed to both Strategy & Tactics and Modern War in November, so I think my first games will come in Jan/Feb.  Strategy & Tactics Pacific Subs game looks like it’ll be good fun judging from the upcoming titles that’ll be in my subscription.

Europa Simulazioni

I’m not at all familiar with this company, but their game La Guerra di Gradisca.  The topic is also cool in that this conflict pre-dated the Thirty Years War and included Venice coming out on top while eliminating a pirate threat.  These are the niche titles that smaller publishers bring to the table that are a breath of fresh air for the hobby.  Can’t wait to check it out.

Flying Pig Games

Yeah, you know what this one will be already.  Platoon Commander Kursk which is a deluxe treatment with tons of Kickstarter stretch goals to sweeten the deal.

GMT Games

Fields of Fire Volume 2 is coming in 2018.  I’ve watched it slip each year into the next year, but I feel pretty confident about 2018.  I’ve had it on pre-order since the Bronze Age, so to say this one can’t get here soon enough would be an “epoch” understatement.  The Battle of Hue campaign and the addition of urban rules are the two highlights on this one that make it so interesting.  I sincerely hope we continue to see Fields of Fire releases in 2018 and well beyond.  The system is ingenious.

Hexasim

I know this came out in 2017 technically, but it JUST got released.  Ligny 1815: Last Eagles looks incredible.  I didn’t think too much about it until I was seeing the gorgeous components over on BGG on the homepage.  After buying a bunch of Zucker’s Napoleonic titles this year, I will branch out in 2018 and this is at the top of my Napoleonic list.

High Flying Dice Games

Thunder Upon the Water is under development and the reason I’m excited for this one is that it covers a naval battle right here in my home state of North Carolina.  The battle of Abermarle Sound.  Though the battle was inconclusive, the tech involved was pretty awesome.  There was a Confederate ironclad with two other warships against eight Union gunboats.  The outcome of the battle may not have been decisive, but the long-term effect was that a number of coastal North Carolina cities fell back into Union hands in the subsequent months.

Hollandspiele

Though they haven’t revealed all the goodness headed our way in 2018, it’s easy enough for me to say that Hollandspiele was my favorite “new-to-me” publisher in 2017.  I bought Charlemagne, Supply Lines of the American Revolution, Teutons!, Table Battles, and The Scheldt Campaign from them in 2017.  2018 is likely to see me expanding upon those purchases, but since I’ve limited myself to just one pick…it’s going to be another topic covering North Carolina: Supply Lines of the American Revolution – The Southern Strategy.

Legion Wargames

This is another no-brainer right here with Kim Kanger’s Nemesis covering Burma headed to tables in 2018.  I wanted so much for this to be A Glorious Chance covering naval combat in the War of 1812 on Lake Ontario, but there’s no denying a new Kanger game.  Dien Bien Phu is headed back to print I believe and my sincere hope is that both see table time at my house in 2018.

Lock n’ Load Publishing

I have no clue whether this is officially going to see publication in 2018, but given the length of time in development, I am hopeful.  I was a fan of the dice chucking, ridiculously fast playing, low complexity World at War series.  This series is getting a facelift and upgrade while simultaneously being rebranded as World at War ’85.  The new series features re-releases of some of the original titles but also covers new ground by heading to Asia with a Chinese module it seems.  All very promising and my hope is that Storming the Gap hits shelves in 2018. I suspect this is the new entry point like Eisenbach Gap was for the original series.

Lost Battalion Games

They’ve been around since 2010, but I don’t really know them that well.  That was…until I heard about Rally Round the Flag which is their upcoming Gettysburg Game.  Does this make 3 Gettysburg titles on this list so far for 2018?  Yes.  I don’t care, because this one features cool little cardboard standees that look awesome and the map is an 1872 surveyor’s map of Gettysburg.

Marshal Enterprises

La Bataille game are incredible.  I had a chance a few years ago to play in a multiplayer day-long La Bataille de Moscowa when that was the fresh release from Clash of Arms.  La Bataille Pour La Prousse is the next game in the series released by Marshal Enterprises.  Their releases of these games are pricier because of the incredibly limited print runs, but they both keep their value and cover topics that the Clash of Arms titles do not.

Miku Games

Miku Games published the acclaimed Finnish Trilogy a few years back and for those lucky enough to have purchased they were rewarded with a richly detailed and well-researched game.  Now, Miku Games is turning their attention to the eastern front with The Soviet Theater 1941.  This game will cover the opening moves of Operation Barbarossa and if it’s anything like The Finnish Trilogy these games will be collector’s items and well loved.  While the pre-orders are sitting at just 32 games right now, it only needs 400 pre-orders to make the cut and get produced.  There’s a chance we’ll see this one in 2018!

Multiman Publishing

I’m having a hard time picking here.  Both Advanced Squad Leader and Great Campaigns of the American Civil War have titles in the queue that will likely see publication in 2018, I find it hard to pick between them.  So, I flipped a coin and I’m going to go with Red October for ASL.  This one is exciting because the maps have been repainted and digitized for Red Barricades AND it adds a whole new extension to the historical module for Red Factories.

New England Simulations

I had NO IDEA how awesome The Killing Ground was going to be or I would have snatched up a copy.  Instead, I will patiently away their 2018 release of The Jaws of Victory.  As a Detroit Lions fan, I can only imagine this means stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.  I am QUITE familiar with that.  Though, to my excitement, the website says it covers the Battle of Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket.  New England Simulations is on my watchlist as of 2018!

Nuts! Publishing

I don’t think it’ll make the shelves this year, but I certainly hope it does…Mark Herman’s Pacific War.  This is not just a straight reprint from Nuts! of the Victory Games classic title.  Instead, it’s a reworking of the artwork and rules to some degree.  I don’t know much more than that about it, but would love to see this one on my shelf in 2018.

Operational Studies Group

After 2017 was filled with Zucker based purchases across three different publishers, I would be remiss not to mention that 1813: Napoleon’s Resurgence The War of Liberation Part 1: The Spring Campaign is coming in 2018.  With such a short and catchy title, I think the marketing will be concise and speak for itself.  1813:NRTWoLP1TSC as I like to call it.  It should be ready for your home in February of 2018 and covers: Lützen, Bautzen, Luckau.

Revolution Games

Is it time for a FOURTH Gettysburg game on this list?  Why yes it is.  This time, we’re talking about Longstreet Attacks: A Game of the Second Day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Another concise title.  Rick Barber on the maps.  Rev games on the counters and production with the ruleset from Stonewall’s Sword and Thunder in the Ozarks?  YES PLEASE.

Vento Nuovo

Without question, the game I’m most excited to see hit my table (though it might not hit in 2018 because it’s a Kickstarter) is Stalingrad: Inferno on the Volga.  This game looks spectacular.  The attention to detail, map options, and fantastic reputation of Veno Nuovo means you should give this one a quick look before it’s off Kickstarter.  At the time of this writing, there are 11 days left.

Didn’t See Your Favorite Publisher or Game?

I’m not surprised to be fair.  After all, not all games for the upcoming year are available on the publisher’s homepage or in their newsletters so I know I must have missed a few publishers with a published list to evaluate.  That said, I want to hear about the game(s) you’re excited to see in 2018!  Share them here or with me on Twitter @wargamehq!

 

It’s time to reflect on a year of wargaming.  Sadly, the transition to a new job with significantly increased hours has limited my availability to play wargames.  I used to have more time for this!  Enough excuses.  If 2016 was a banner year in wargaming with new designs, series, designers, and a bumper crop of fantastic games, then 2017 must be magic.  It was everything 2016 was and then some.

My top two wargames of the year were Holland ’44 and Fields of Despair

Fields of Despair was everything I was told it would be.  I found out about this game a few years back playing a VASSAL game with a guy who knew Kurt and said this was going to be a special title based on the handful of playthroughs he had with it.  I felt like I had enough WW1 games at the time and opted to P500 it knowing full well that I might cancel it.  I didn’t and I couldn’t be happier about it.

I’ll lead off with my skepticism over wargames featuring blocks.  I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of wargames featuring blocks.  However, Triumph & Tragedy, 1805 Sea of Glory, and now Fields of Despair have totally changed my mind.  The fear of the unknown is a powerful tool when you’re sitting across the table from a savvy wargamer.  Bluffing and pulling off feints are actually legitimate options when you have imperfect knowledge of forces across from you.  This is not new though and certainly not unique to Fields of Despair.

The tech investment available to players, in my mind, is an area where this game shines.  Early on, my opponent and I were pretty much in lockstep teching up aircraft and Tanks.  However, as soon as we realized the power of the logistics points in the game everything changed.  It is easy to discount how powerful these things are until you NEED an attack to succeed or you NEED to preserve your forces as the French.  That’s when the whole technology investment in advancements changed.  Soon, as the German player, I was going all-in on Poison Gas hoping my opponent would stick with aircraft and tanks.  I was struggling to keep my artillery ready to fire and the “cliff” of Economic Points was looming.

In a sense, the urgency felt by both players in Fields of Despair is both immediate and vastly different.  For the French, they must hang on at all costs.  Clever bluffing and shuffling units during Strategic Re-organization become critically important skills.  You need to be ready to pounce on opportunities and ensure that you’re reading where the Germans are building up for an attack.  The Germans are faced with the grim reality that every failed siege hurts them both in units and in time.  A concentration of force risks losing out on opportunities to seize French forts early on in the game while you’re struggling through Belgium.

During my playthroughs of the game, the Allied player also had to contend with the German staying north to contest allied reinforcement landings.  It was a sacrifice, but allowed a two-pronged push for the Germans that swept in behind the Allied lines until they could adjust and set up a new solid front.  This stalemate, breakthrough, stalemate and then in reverse is exactly what I wanted to see.  It was fun, both players have a chance for excitement and deception.  I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of everything in the game, but it sure feels right and that was good enough for me!

How About Holland ’44?

Holland ’44, on the other hand, was like sitting down with an old friend having a new adventure.  Simonitch’s games aren’t a series but they share so many elements that it’s hard for me not to think of them as one.  Holland ’44 was a prime example of the power of building an eminently playable base set of rules that you customize for each game.  In this case, getting the airborne landings and supply drama captured was critical and Simonitch rose to the occasion with aplomb.  At no point have I felt comfortable as the allied player even when beating up on the ingenious anonymous units who start the game unknown to both players.  Germans, as they should, trace supply almost automatically as they should reinforcing the concept that this was a risky enterprise for the allies.

The ZOC bonds are a core feature of the game and, again, savvy German players can use these to their advantage as they work to slow the 30th’s push northward as a relief force.  The first turn is a bit brutal for the Germans, but over time their increasing strength and the flood of reinforcements means the Allied player has to be almost perfect in the way they conceive of holding cities, rebuilding bridges, and deploying their reinforcements.

Speaking of bridges, Simonitch captures the race for bridges in a tense manner.  The early detonations of bridges and missed opportunities mean that both sides are either re-wiring bridges or repairing them making the Engineer units the Allies bring to play valuable as the crown jewels.  Without ferries and bridging opportunities the Allies get stuck.  In my playthroughs, that has been the learning curve for the Allied player because you need to understand the bridge and water crossing rules in order to make the most of your units.

While combat is a relatively standard affair here that reflects years of refinement in the series, it is still tense.  The presence of armor can be a game changer and for the Germans, particularly as time goes on, that advantage wears down the Allied player as effectively as massing forces.

So, which of these games wins the Game of the Year?

Both.

Just kidding…that would be lame.

Fields of Despair gets the nod this time around for me.  There’s just so much to like in addition to the ~4’ish hour playtime, the ease of teaching the rules, and the sometimes agonizing decision-making required to be effective at the game.  I think enough digital ink has been spilled about it over the past 8 months in particular that I’m only really gilding the lilly at this point.

What was your game of the year?

While I would love to say that I’m going to play every game I buy…I’d be lying to you and to myself.  The reality is that I buy wargames because I love the hobby.  Sometimes, that means buying games for the sake of completion of a series or because the topic is one I don’t already own.  So, as I look back and reflect on the wargame purchases of 2017, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

Eastern Front Tank Leader

This is one that I bought from a sense of completion and nostalgia.  Western Fron Tank Leader was the first tactical WW2 game I ever encountered.  My friend Chuck bought it and I was totally blown away by the concept of both geomorphic maps and the cinematic style gameplay.  We used to go to a game store that carried wargames called Red Dragon Inn up in Otisville Michigan.  It’s still open from what I understand.  It was there we saw Advanced Squad Leader and began drooling for a tactical game system.  West End Games delivered the fun at a price middle school kids could pay!

Desert Steel

Same as above!

Rise & Decline of the Third Reich

This is the second or third time I’ve owned this game for some dumb reason… I buy a copy out of an urgency to play it.  I then read through the rules and get ready to play it and something newer comes along and I lose track of the rules knowledge.  I then decide I don’t need to play it because there are so many great strategic WW2 games and I sell it.  Rinse and repeat for the past 7 years.

Advanced Third Reich

See Rise & Decline of the Third Reich.  I sold this one last time in 2008 when my wife and I welcomed our son and I thought, “Let’s free up some space in the closet!”

Pax Britannica

I had a chance to playtest an Asian history version of this game that dealt with Chinese Dynasties that captured my attention.  As a result, I bought this Victory Games classic.  One of my goals for 2017 was to complete my purchase of every wargame Victory Games ever released.  I was successful in that endeavor and now look to get more of them to table as a retrospective on their nearly flawless history (looking at you Open Fire…).

Arctic Front

World War 3 speculative games caught my attention late in 2016 and everyone kept coming back to the GDW Third World War series.  As a result, I started hunting and found that there are no bargains in this series.  So, when I see one pop up…I snag it.  Arctic Front was the first “deal” at around $50 so I snatched it.

Axis & Allies Pacific & Europe 1940

Axis & Allies was my introduction to a meatier wargame than what I was used to playing.  The big box back in 1985 was pretty “radical.”  So, it stood to reason that I would want to own the latest and biggest edition for teaching my son.  I got it all set up, the thing took up both banquet tables I have in my game room and then played a game with my son.  I think starting with the base game would have been FAR better…this one takes some time to build up steam and get moving whereas the classic 1942 setup and scenario from the original.  See Axis & Allison Anniversary Edition later in this list…

Great Battles of Alexander: Macedonian Art of War

I love SPQR (who doesn’t?) and so I was stoked when this one finally made the cut at GMT and then found its way to my doorstep in early 2017.  Like a fool, I wanted to finish up SPQR before I dove into Alexander and it is still patiently awaiting its turn on my shelf.

The Siege of Alesia

I was inspired by my acquisition of Alexander and wanted to get as many of the GBOH titles as I could that I didn’t already own from my SPQR fueled purchasing frenzy around this series.  Someday, my goal is to play the various Alesia games out there and see which one I like best and do a lengthier article about my experiences with each.  Ancient siege warfare games pique my interest.

The Lamps Are Going Out

My friend Jared and I enjoy World War I titles and after resisting the urge to pick this one up for a while, I bit the bullet and snagged it in anticipation of Fields of Despair and Teutons which I’d also be adding in the near future.

Luftwaffe

This was sitting on Jared’s shelf and he offered it up to me.  It is now sitting on my shelf.  Sometimes packaging is all you need to sell a game I guess!

Napoleon Against Europe

Hexasim holds a growing place in my heart.  Their titles are beautifully produced and they ship from Europe to my door quickly.  Not sure how they pull it off, but it’s incredible.  Since I had a hole in my collection around strategic Napoleonic era games, this one fit the bill nicely.  I did have some buyer’s remorse though as my FLGS had this one in stock the day after I received it…

Fields of Despair

Got this one to the table in early April and loved the gambling elements of the gameplay.  The secret “bidding” on technology and those blasted intercepts/retreats made the game incredibly fun even on the first playthrough.  This is one of those games that captures the feel and flow of the topic, but maybe not the specific history.  I don’t care either way though because it’s easy to teach, plays quickly, and leaves plenty of room for those moments when you scream in despair or delight.

Teutons!: Assaults on the West 1870-1940 & The Scheldt Campaign

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous buying from Hollandspiele at first.  However, with the guidance and reassurance of roughly EVERY person who’s purchased a game from Tom & Mary….I was glad I did.

To The Last Man!

Remember how I said World War I games are a particular favorite for Jared and I?  This was one I couldn’t let get away.  One split corner on the box and the guy was selling it for next to nothing.  How could I pass it up?  The game has made it to the setup phase a few times and then hurried back into its box for one reason or another sadly.  I hope to get this one to the table in 2018.

1812: The Invasion of Canada & 1754 Conquest – The French & Indian War

I am a sucker for Academy Games and I own 1775 already so these were games of great interest to me.  I got these as a part of the 1754 Conquest Kickstarter Campaign. They play quickly while maintaining the incredible artwork and feel.  I got 1812 to the table, but for my time I’d rather play GMT’s Mr. Madison’s War.  I think the game fails to capture the intrigue of Great Lakes naval warfare in quite the same way as Mr. Madison’s War.  I suspect these are titles that my son will enjoy because he can learn and get engaged with in no time.

The Hell of Stalingrad

A few years back on Advance After Combat, I heard a description of this game from Marshall who sold it based purely on his emotional investment in the game’s outcome.  I knew I had to have it as well.  I waited around for this to be ~$20 and found a copy pretty cheap to make it happen.

Elusive Victory: The Air War Over the Suez Canal, 1967-1973

Jared owned this game and I was looking forward to playing it, but he purged most of his wargame collection because games weren’t getting played.  When I found out, I started hunting for this one.  Terry Simo’s Bloody April is a favorite of ours and so I wanted to ensure we had this one in the library for when we were ready.  With Red Storm coming out…I kind of wish I’d just passed on this one because I suspect Red Storm will eat up our time.

Second World War at Sea Collection

A guy on CSW was selling his Second World War at Sea collection (most unpunched even) and I had to take advantage.  I ended up getting Bomb Alley, Midway, SOPAC, Strike South, Eastern Fleet, and Coral Sea for like $100.  It was too good of a deal to miss and, at the time, I was listening to the excellent Pacific Crucible by Ian Toll so this checked the box for a game series covering a topic I didn’t have already in the collection.

Next War: Poland

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… The resurrection of the Next War series by Mitchell Land and GMT is one of the best things GMT has ever done.  The games are insanely well researched, produced, and the rules are perfect.  They are clear, concise, and provide sufficient examples.  Moving from eastern conflicts to a western conflict was a big jump and the stakes were certainly high for this game.  I got it prepped shortly after Thanksgiving and hope to get it on the table over Christmas.

Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars

The second in the Great Leaders series from Mark Herman is another example of why I contend that Hex & Counter mechanics represents the Luddites view of the hobby.  At this point, enough designers and series have proven that great conflict simulations don’t just cover the battlefield experience.  They look at politics, logistics, and strategic interpersonal conflict.  I am working on transcribing a great interview with Herman and in it, he talks about his widely recognized expertise on this subject.  This is a must own for ancient era fans.

Three Days of Gettysburg

My first hex & counter wargame was Gettysburg: 125th Anniversary Edition.  Ever since, I’ve been a nut for Gettysburg games so getting my hands on a sub $200 copy of this classic was a grail moment for me.  I’ve been stalking eBay for probably 4 years to try and snipe an auction to get this game at a reasonable price.  It finally came true and I’ve been reading the rulebook off and on, but it’s conflated in my head with Line of Battle for some reason.  I just need to dedicate the time to this one.

Ace of Aces Series

While putting together a podcast team (hopefully we’ll re-convene after Puerto Rico gets power and stability back) I had a conversation with one of the hosts was encouraged me to check out this series.  As we chatted, I looked up the game’s marketplace on BGG and found someone selling their collection of books.  As a result, I now have the Handy Rotary Deluxe Edition and Powerhouse Series.

Time of Crisis

Strategic dynastic Roman world game from local Wray Farrell?   This was on my P500 from the day it was announced I think.  Sword of Rome is such a fantastic game that how could I possibly pass up on another Wray inspired Roman game?

Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62

The COIN series has become emblematic, for me, of the kind of boundary-pushing that the hobby needs to experience at regular intervals in order to grow.  Not just the topics, but also the audience.  A quick look at Twitter and Volko’s likes or retweets shows the effect of the COIN series beyond the confines of our hobby.  These are games you learn about our modern world from rather than just looking at the history.  In Colonial Twilight you get a conflict expert in Brian Train revisiting a topic he’s already covered in a two-player format.  Cuba Libre is Jared’s favorite COIN title to date and I’m hoping this will dethrone that for him.

The Last Success: Napoleon’s March to Vienna, 1809

As soon as I learned how much I enjoyed OSG Library of Napoleonic Battles games, I knew I had to snatch up as many as possible.  While I hate the flimsy and voluminous player aids, the games themselves are awesome.   This one is headed for the table in 2018.  I finished up a playthrough of the Borodino battle from Napoleon Against Russia in early November.  This purchase set of a flurry of Zucker related purchases.

The 6 Days of Glory

Another Zucker.

The Struggle of Nations

Another Zucker.

1809: Napoleon’s Danube Campaign

They say a Zucker is born every day?

Brezhnev’s War: NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact in Germany 1980

Some folks got their noses bent out of shape about this one because of the representation of the OOB for non-American national forces.  In particular, the British felt shortchanged.  I don’t know and, frankly, don’t care that much about it.  The game is, at its heart a battle game about bending not breaking.  I’m not sure that the historical accuracy matters overly much for it to achieve that goal and the theme is sufficient to give the design credibility.  It’s based on the fear mixed with a dose of reality rather than reality mixed with a dose of jingoism.

Baptism By Fire: The Battle of Kasserine

The Batallion Combat Series from The Games & MMP earned instant respect from me with The Last Blitzkrieg in 2016.  Getting a Kasserine game less than a year later was a treat.  I’m still messing around with Last Blitzkrieg, so once I’m done with that one I’ll move on to the desert.  This series is all about harsh conditions to get started I guess!

The American Revolution in the South

I subscribed to Strategy & Tactics this year along with Modern War as a fulfillment of a childhood promise to myself.  In order to get the ball rolling, I purchased a few magazine games and this was one that caught my eye.  I live in NC after all!

Commandos: Europe

See above!  I packed this one for a Thanksgiving trip to see family and then promptly forgot that I had packed it and the thing remained in my laptop bag instead of getting played…

South China Sea

John Gorkowski is building a great reputation for these games.  I was perhaps overly critical of his first release, Breaking the Chains.  That said, the game series does a nice job bringing the Victory Games Fleet series into the 21st Century.  He’s contending with design issues that just didn’t have to be considered because of the immaturity of weapon platforms and the (pardon my pun) sea change in communications technology since the mid-1980s.  As a result, Gorkowski has had to streamline these as neatly as possible, so either you’re going to buy into his tradeoffs or you won’t.  I think, I understand them better now and do.  What attracted me to this game was the political element the precedes any combat (maybe even prevents it).

Antietam: Burnished Rows of Steel

This game came up in a discussion over on BGG about solitaire American Civil War designs.  As a result, I went out to find it since it was a consensus favorite.  It sat on my nightstand for a while and posited a question from the cleaning lady, but other than that has stayed unpunched and ready for (pun intended) glory.

Flashpoint: Golan

This one is mentioned in the rulebook for the Next War series and, as a result, I had to pick it up because it was between the Fast Action Battles on the topic or this one.

Europe Engulfed

I bought Asia Engulfed last year, but couldn’t find a suitable deal on this one until this year.  As a result, it waited for a while.  I got Asia Engulfed to the table and quickly realized my understanding of the rules was so poor, I needed to go back and re-read them which lead to a new game taking its place on the table in the interim.  I’m just not sure if I’ll buy another European strategic level WW2 game again.  It’ll have to be of the Unconditional Surrender caliber or better which is going to be a TALL order.

Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid

I blame Ian Toll for this purchase as well.  His retelling of the raid was harrowing!

Illusions of Glory

Again, this is purely for the sake of completionism.  I’ll probably get it to the table at some point, but it’s low on the priority list right now.  I have so many other WW1 games in the queue ahead of it.

Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition

WotC did a re-release this fall of this edition and I bit the bullet.  The 1940 Europe & Pacific was just too cumbersome for an 8-year-old.  This one, on the other hand, I think will be just right and the fantastic production value on it won’t hurt either.

Saipan: The Bloody Rock

I was reading Their Backs Against the Sea about this battle and was well aware of Starkweather’s involvement.  That meant an easy purchase.  Hoping to get Guam this Christmas and definitely looking forward to the next installment which brings the action to Europe from the Pacific.  I will say though, that I’m impressed with the variety of grand tactical options.  I think it can be easy to look at ASL or Panzer Grenadier and think that they’re it.  That’s just not the truth and ignores some innovative work that is going on from Starkweather and in the series he has entrusted with MMP GTS.

Rifles in the Ardennes, In The Trenches: Devil Dogs, & Cruel Morning Shiloh

I was again trying out a new publisher for me.  Tiny Battles Publishing.  I picked up this one along with In the Trenches: Devil Dogs and Cruel Morning: Shiloh to get a broad spectrum of their titles.  I have to admit that after cutting Rifles in the Ardennes from the frames, I was impressed.  The die cutting sucked, but the component design felt great and the layout for the rules looked inviting.  Hoping to get this one to the table in the next week or so.

Across 5 Aprils

Gettysburg…check! This was the last piece of the Victory Games library in my collection.  I will probably get this one to the table in 2018 when I do a big Gettysburg rundown on a variety of systems for this blog in summer 2018 to celebrate the 155th anniversary.

Target for Today

Legion Wargames has been calling for quite some time and they were the third new to me publisher this year.  I’ve been a boring wargamer only treading in Avalon Hill, MMP, GMT, and Compass in the past.  It was eye-opening just how awesome this package was and I keep hearing the siren song as I watch the AARs on BGG for this game.  I have B-17: Queen of the Skies, but this is a whole new level of awesomeness.

Tactical Combat Series from The Gamers

Again, this was the third massive collection I spotted someone selling and after seeing the planning phase documents I was hooked.  I like the orders system in Line of Battle / Regimental Sub Series from The Gamers so I was pretty sure I’d like this too.  I’m not so sure how it plays out in person because I have my doubts about telling my opponent he needs to wait while I re-write orders….yuck!  That said, the topics are fantastic and the rules are top notch.  Again, this is an innovative approach.  It’s just sad to see that we’re unlikely to get further titles outside of a new publisher or some kind of zip-lock bagged edition.  I was able to snag a copy of Canadian Crucible: Brigade at Fortress Norrey, Screaming Eagles in Holland, Black Wednesday, GD 40, 41, and 42, Leros, Hunters from the Sky, Matanikau, A Frozen Hell, and Bloody Ridge.

Old School Tactical & Stalingrad Expansion

After seeing the stories about this one I bit the bullet and bought into another tactical series.  I am a sucker I guess?  The GIGANTIC maps were definitely a selling point for me though.  These just arrived during Thanksgiving though so I’ve not even had a chance to do much more than ogle the maps.

Urban Operations

Nuts Publishing makes its second appearance on the list with their take on modern urban combat.  The topics seemed great and I like the idea of a block design for this style game.  Just arrived this week though so I haven’t do anything with it other than wish I had more time to check it out.

Table Battles

Back in stock meant I had to grab it.  I think this is something I’ll be keen to take to a friend’s house or use to introduce wargaming.  The look and tactile feel of this game is appealing and certainly will be a conversation starter.  It’s no wonder that a) it’s selling so quickly and b) that it’s hard to keep the wooden bits in stock!  Hollandspiele has emerged this year as one of my favorite publishers.

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777

Did I mention Hollanspiele on this list yet? hehe . The exhaustive coverage from Katie’s Game Corner, Mark Herman, and others was MORE than enough to convince me so when this went on sale I snapped it up.

Thunder in the Ozarks

I missed out on the boxed version, but I do have the baggie version.  Maybe I can buy a box for it someday, but ziplock versions don’t really bother me to be honest.  Especially since my collection has outgrown my game room and now occupies all our upstairs closets, cabinets, and a massive built-in bookshelf in the living room.

Wild Blue Yonder

Coming VERY soon (have my delivery notice from UPS) this one is going to displace the older editions…maybe…  The new artwork is flat out gorgeous though.

So…goodbye to 2017 and I am looking forward to 2018!  I’ll preview 2018 in another article very soon!

 

 

 

You bought it.  You opened it up and reviewed all the glorious components following the method I outlined last week…so…what’s next?

It is now time to separate those cardboard counters from their frames.  As with most things in the hobby, this is largely a matter of preference, but I’m going to tell you the two most common ways I prep counters.  Both will leave you with undamaged and photo-worthy components for your game sessions.  The first is a quick punch and and clip method.  The second is a more surgical approach, but you won’t need the hands of a surgeon to pull it off.

Our Tools

Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll want to assemble some gear:

  • Trays, Baggies, or some other storage container.  Not all of my games go into counter trays, but the vast majority do.  I am partial to the GMT Trays because the size of the “pots” inside the tray are just right for three counters abreast in most games.  DVG Games offers a deeper alternative, but they stand less of a chance to fit in DVG or GMT or any other game box.
  • Label Maker – I label everything so that I’m not guessing at what counter tray goes to what game.  All series game counters look remarkably similar…so determining which counter tray goes with which game in the series can be a chore.
  • Hobby Knife & FRESH blades – Whether you’re punching or slicing, you’ll start with the hobby knife to get the counters out of the frames or you’re far more likely to end up with tears in counters when the die cut machine didn’t do a complete job.  This is true regardless of game publication date.  I had trouble with Rifles in the Ardennes just last night!
  • Nail Clippers or Oregon Laminations Punch – Back in the dark ages when wargaming was fresh and new folks just used fingernail clippers to trim the excess off the corners of their counters.  It was inconsistent until each wargamer got a feel for the process and left counters from newbie clippers looking like little stop signs.  Then Oregon Laminations released their 2mm to 3mm corner rounder and clipping excellence was achieved.  Whichever method you choose is personal, but if you don’t want to make your games suffer while you learn your clippers…go for the Oregon Laminations…pamper yourself a little.

Method 1 – Rip & Clip

This has been the method used for generations of wargamers.  You can punch the counters from their die cuts off the frame and then tear apart the rows by hand.  Once done, you’ll find your counters are dog-eared and don’t stack very well.  As a method to clean that up and to preserve the life of the counter by pinching the edges together compressing the layers of paper each counter is then clipped by fingernail clippers or some other device.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach.  In fact, I would venture to guess that it’s the dominant methodology for prepping games to this day.  It’s fast, efficient, and longtime wargamers have built up their own rituals around it.  Personally, I binge Netflix shows while I’m prepping my games and I think I watched all of Breaking Bad while prepping a huge chunk of my Advanced Squad Leader collection.

Here’s one thought you might consider that helped me get over the hours of prep-time for a larger game.  Rip & DON’T clip.  Yeah, I said it.  Go ahead and rip the counters apart and set up the game straight-away.  When you handle a game piece during gameplay go ahead and clip it.  It takes seconds and while you’re considering your move, you’re clipping.  This is a great way to play the game, clip the counters, and reduce that nasty lag time between shrink rip and playing the game.  You’ll work through the clipping and leave your between gaming clipping as a far more manageable task.

Method 2 – Slice & Dice

This has become my new favorite method.  Everyone can have counters with beautifully rounded corners or perfectly trimmed and angled corners.  What is better?  Not having to handle every counter multiple times.  How about, not having raggedy edges on counters?  What about getting from the counter frame to the game map quickly?

Here’s the trick…use that hobby knife you bought and cut from the inside to the outside.  In frame segment that contains two rows of counters, you’ll cut where they join first.  Next, you cut the outsides horizontal strips away from the frame.  Finally, you cut the two vertical sides.  Again, there’s a little trick here…overcut slightly on the corners to ensure that you get a good separation in the corners.  Just as it is with punching out counters and pulling them apart, the corners are the trickiest ones to get out.

I like to give my counters a quick visual scan to ensure they look crisp.  Will they be perfect?  Probably not, but they’ll be so close and they won’t have raggedy edges that you won’t care.  If aesthetics and quick shrink-tear to game play is your goal, slice & dice should be something you consider.

Conclusion

There are meditative reasons for the methods that wargamers use to prep their games.  Some folks have jars full of counter clippings.  Some have a favorite task they do while they punch and clip.  Others love the aesthetic look of the corner rounder.  Others still believe in the preservative effects of clipping/rounding.  Some (savages) never do anything other than pull their counters apart and play!

Whatever you choose…it’s up to you!

This article presents two methods you can consider if you’re interested in a brief comparison of the methods I’ve used and that seem fairly common in the hobby.  Tell me which method you use in the comments!

 

 

 

Gatekeeper: When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.

Why bring it up?  Well, the board wargaming world is full of gatekeepers.  It’s not that unusual.  In fact, I suspect every hobby has their version of gatekeeping.  The term most commonly associated with “gatekeepers” in the wargaming world is: Grognard.  These are the stodgy old-timers who can tell you all about when wargames were first getting started and how good they were before cubes and other nonsense got involved.  There are even neo-grognards who want to gatekeep what is and isn’t a wargame just as vehemently as the old guard.

Why bother even bringing it up?

Simply, gatekeepers can have a chilling effect on a small community.  Even a community that seeks to find new members and that has success like wargaming can turn folks off.  I look at some of the nonsense related to Katie’s Game Corner and opposition she’s received to everything from playing solitaire, to being a woman, to calling Twilight Struggle her favorite wargame.  Frankly, this kind of garbage is what turns folks off of wargaming and makes them want to shy away for fear of not liking the things other people like or feeling inferior in their enjoyment of the hobby.

This article isn’t really about people though.  It’s about games.  It’s about games that don’t get a shot because folks want to value their view of wargames over what the game has to offer.  The central question I’ll try to get at today is: Can a wargame be FUN and have that be enough?

Yes

Maybe I should make you read a bit further, but why bother.  The answer is unequivocally, yes.

The real question then is WHY is it okay for a wargame to be fun above all else?  This requires a little more investigation into the nature of why people might play wargames.  There are as many wargamers as there are reasons for why they love wargaming.  There is bound to be overlap and it’s typically found somewhere in the neighborhood of enjoyment of history, competition, social interaction, and strategic thinking.  That’s not an exclusive list, of course, but it’s a start and tends to be the reasons rolled out by folks explicitly in their forum discussions or implicitly in what their gaming preference.

If the causes for wargaming have some common ground, perhaps that explains the degree to which different aspects of a wargame are valued.  I would argue that there are three critical components to the evaluation of a wargame that, while not exhaustive, tend to be cited most frequently in reviews as either an exemplar of excellence or indicator of poor design.

  • Components
  • Historical Accuracy
  • Gameplay

What do reviewers mean, in general, when bringing these things up?  It’s hard to pinpoint, honestly, because without being the author of every review I have to rely solely on what they write or say.  In fact, even that can be misleading.  Often times I’m left wondering whether the reviewer played the game more than once, or took the time to learn the rules at all.  As a result, I need to infer quite a bit from reviews.  Let’s take a quick look at each element of a wargame review.

Components

This is pretty straightforward.  Compare all those “shrink tear” and “whats inside the box” videos with the number of videos that actually show the game being played or reviewed.  There are FAR more folks showing off what they own than what they’ve played.  I hate to admit it, but I fall into that category…in my defense, I have more wargames than I suspect I’ll play in my lifetime though so who can hold it against a person?

What a reviewer is really saying during a component overview is … “Do I like/approve of the items found inside the box.”

A good reviewer will note whether the complete Order of Battle is there, the level of detail for the units, and any interesting quirks with the game.  I better hear all about those odd little circular units when someone reviews the components of No Retreat: The Italian Front.  The stranger the component mix or individual components, the more I want to hear about them.  After all, if the designers included non-standard components that should be a klaxon going off in a reviewer’s mind.

The underlying point here is that components have become a closely evaluated element of a good game.  We expect digital counters with high resolution, perfect die cuts, and accurate information.  We expect to see a nice map, mounted more frequently now than even 10 years ago, and above all, we want to see a well-written rulebook.  These expectations aren’t necessarily about the tactile feel or look of a game.  Instead, it’s the first blush with the fun of the game.  How quickly can I go from shrink rip to gaming with a friend?

Historical Accuracy

If we take for granted that folks who enjoy board wargaming are also interested, at least in some part, in the history of the topic they’re gaming, then historical accuracy is going to get some attention.  This begs the question…upon whose version of history are we evaluating the game?

I would argue that we’re relying on the designer’s view of history.  After all, many games to great lengths to provide a handy bibliography.  I’ve pulled some great books from those lists over the years.  More often than not, I see reviewers relying upon their own sense of history.  I won’t even say their expertise in history because for every well intentioned and well-informed wargamer on the topic there are a dozen (or more) who are simply spitballing their interpretation of history based upon a survey level course in high school or college.

So, why bother with historical accuracy at all?  After all, the game was designed, refined, playtested, refined some more, and published.  It must have passed quite a few sniff tests before making it into our hypothetical reviewer’s hands right?

In the immortal words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast there…”

Historical accuracy is relativistic when it comes to each person playing the game.  As such, the reviewer’s impression of the history of a game is critical to the opinion of their audience.  I will admit to trusting a friend’s opinion of the history more than my own far more often than not.  It’s not that I’m unwilling to speak up, but if they like or dislike the historical accuracy of our game based upon their interpretation of history…well…how would I ever overcome that?  Would such a discussion end with my gaming opponent willing to play against me again? Perhaps.

The fun of a game can directly be tied back to a person’s perception of its historical accuracy.  Since this is tied so specifically to each person’s sense of history…bias will undoubtedly show through here with all other elements of the game being equal.  After all, if we enjoy the history we’re more likely to buy into the narrative unfolding on our table!

Gameplay

Finally, it falls to yet another wildly subjective topic: Gameplay.

When I hear or see something reviewing gameplay I immediately jump to the actual act of playing the game.  Was it fun?  Were there too many markers to manage and thus the game became “fiddly?” How long did it take to play a turn?  Were the rules manageable?

You likely have your list of questions that pop into your mind as well!

If we consider the FUN of a game and have established that the game has adequate components, an adequate historical basis for the rules, then what’s left is playing the game.  Here’s where games can fall apart, particularly in our age of the non-stop release cycle.  Few games, especially three to five-hour wargames, get sufficient play to warrant what I’d call a fair evaluation of its merits.  We are hard-pressed to find time to play these games and it can be equally challenging to find opponents willing to give up their time when your schedules both permit.

A lot is riding on that first gameplay experience and, as we’ve discovered, each player is going to bring baggage about everything from their opinion of the topic to the history to their understanding of the rules.  That can leave players on different sides of the table feeling totally different even though they just played the same game.  I won’t lie…I’m more likely to enjoy a game I feel competent playing as opposed to one where I’m totally lost in the rules.

Therein lies the heart of the question.  Is it okay to like a game JUST because it’s fun?  Does a game need anything more than that?  Does it need to look a certain way?  Handle the rules for historical accuracy in a specific way?  What about play out on the map the way both players expect?

I would, again, assert that the answer is no.  Fun for the sake of fun is what hobbies like ours are built upon.  The more judgmental the hobbyist, the more distant from the spirit of the hobby they become.  Every hobby hopes to sustain itself.  Take quilting, the concept of the quilting bee is inherently social and attempts to bring others in rather than turn them away.  Games, and wargaming can be profoundly accepting.  It can, however, also show off a level of judgemental childishness that it’s no wonder the term Grognard has found a pejorative meaning.

So … have fun if only just to have fun with your games!

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and bought a traditional hex and counter wargame. What should you expect when you open the box? How long will it take for you to learn the rules? What about teaching someone else to play?
 
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can get the most out of your new wargame. You’ll learn one possible pathway to enjoying your new game. In a future article, we’ll look at how to recruit and teach your new wargame.
 

Let’s put first things first…tear that shrink and grab the components from the box. You are likely to find some variation on the following:

  • One or more countersheets
  • One or more rulebooks / scenario guides
  • One or more maps (mounted on cardboard or heavy-weight paper stock
  • One or more player aid cards with charts and summaries of the game

Maps First

 
I always go for the maps first. After all, getting a lay of the land is important for any general. It’s worthwhile to see what information is on the map. Look specifically for the following:
 
  1. Terrain – What is the terrain and what are the terrain types on which we’ll be playing this game. In some games this is simple. Flying Colors, for example, only features ocean hexes. A game like Holland ’44, on the other hand, features many terrain types ranging from rivers and canals to cities, forests, and a special terrain type called Polder.
  2. Play Aids – What are the on-map player aids?  Does the game feature a turn-track, reinforcement schedule, Combat Resolution Table (CRT), or some other display of data?
  3. Size – How big of a space will I need to play this game?  It may seem obvious, but if you’re coming from a non-wargaming background you may be surprised to find just how much space some wargames can take.

Countersheets Second

If we know where we’ll be fighting, the next step is to determine who is doing that fighting!  Countersheets typically come in a few varieties, but the most common layout of a counter is to show the type of the unit as a NATO symbol with the statistics about the unit underneath the type.  There are generally other bits of information, but those are the two most important areas of each unit counter to examine.

If you see three number separated by a dash at the bottom of the counter, that typically means:

Attack – Defense – Movement

This isn’t universally true, but more often than not you can infer that as a start.  If you just see two numbers, typically those will be attack and defense.  Some counters may go well beyond the basics or use silhouettes instead of the NATO unit type symbols.  What is important is getting familiar with the shapes, symbols, and numbers found on a counter.

Next, you’ll want to look at the informational markers.  Most games include house-keeping markers to help you track different unit statuses throughout the game.  A game like Last Chance for Victory may provide you with unit strength markers while other games may have markers for things like supply, traffic, rubble, fires, broken units, hidden units, and a vast array of other details that might be tracked by the game.

While maps about the same topic generally look roughly the same, countersheets for different games, even covering the same subjects will typically look quite different.  This is your first chance to put a critical eye to what rules you might encounter when you skim the rulebook and how you’ll use the included player aid cards with the game.  Looking at the number of counters included will also reveal a lot about how many of those counters the game expects you to use.  So, if you see a lot of Out of Supply markers, expect rules that will leave units out of supply frequently if not managed properly.

Player Aid Cards Third

The player aid cards provide you with information on what rules are used most frequently in the game.  A good player aid card is developed throughout the playtest process as playtesters forget rules, need a quick place to look up information, and almost always for reference to information like the Combat Resolution Table (CRT) and Terrain Effects Chart (TEC).  Let’s take a minute to look at these two sections of the player aid card in detail.

Terrain Effects Chart

Almost always, you’ll find a small representation of the terrain depiction in a single hex listed alongside information about movement, attacking, and defending in that terrain.  Pay close attention to the defense and attack restrictions or notes.  Rulebooks tend to over-explain the TEC and if you keep this card handy you’ll be able to skip quite a bit and focus on the gnarly exceptions that might be included.

Combat Results Table

You don’t need to memorize this thing, but if you play the game enough…you will.  Most ASL players who have played for even a few months can start to rattle off most of the CRT for that game.  The important part of this chart is looking at whether there are odds listed as a ratio like 3:1 or whether combat strength is listed as a whole number.  This will give you some insight as you read those counters.

Rulebooks Last

That’s right.  I said it and I won’t back down either.  Rulebooks come last when I’m looking through a new game.  The simple reason is that without seeing the components first I’m not sure what I’ll be reading about in the rulebook.

How are most rulebooks organized?

From the broadest level you’re typically going to read an overview of the game first.  It may be some flavor text, a short paragraph, or even a page of background information.  This is typically followed by a breakdown of the components and terms found in the game.  Spend some time here looking at the components you reviewed and seeing how your expectations align with the game.  If they’re way off, this game may require a closer reading of the rules!

Next, you’ll begin seeing the famous “case system” rules organization.  Older games, particularly SPI games, will go into detail about how to read the “case system,” but suffice it to say that it reads like legalese and is sometimes about that engaging.  There are far more examples of poorly organized or confusing rulebooks in the wargaming world than the truly exceptional ones.  This isn’t the fault of an editor, designer, developer, or proof-reader.  It’s a function of hobby and the, at times, complex nature of the games.

Each rules section is give a number.  Each sub-rule is given a point number.  Each case found within that sub-rule is given another point number.  So you might see section 1 is for movement rules.  The sub-section covering armored movement may be 1.3.  The case that explains when armor bogs on soft ground may be covered in 1.3.4.

NATO Symbols Guide

NATO Symbols Guide

This seems far more intimidating that it actually is.  In fact, wargame rules, you’ll find are hierarchical by nature.  The rules that apply in the broadest terms most frequently in your games are found at the section and sub-rule level.  The cases typically refer to specific things that may or may not always come up in a phase, turn, or even in the entire game.

Don’t get tricked into thinking you must read and memorize this rulebook.  There lies danger and madness.

 So, as you look through the next wargame (or your first), give this method a little try.  In a future article, I’ll be talking about actually learning that first wargame.  Until then…learn up on those NATO symbols!