Today, I’m going to lighten the mood a little with a silly Ode. This three stanza ode is dedicated to the Die Roll Modifier. I hope you enjoy…or at least get a chuckle…

Clatter and tumble, rattle and rumble
A two, by nature, not so by design
If only for you, this roll I soundly fumble
The cry, raises once, an excited “HEY!”
Away to the chart, the terrain’s in my favor
Could dense wood be my savior?

The dice are capricious, its just in their nature
We grognards crave control
With each single roll
What is an inventive designer to do?
Build in a tool that benefits me or you
The Die Roll Modifier is glory or pain
Did you have too much ale on the brain?
Forgot that the unit was veteran not green
The outcome of this battle remains to be seen

Most every design comes down to the dice
Proud egos are cast or down they are sliced
I cannot imagine a game having none
Accounting for parts means adjusting the sum
So, look upon this
A chart in full glory
To DRMS we praise
Remember them all
Or you’ll surely be sorry

Today we’re taking a look at Zone of Control Basics. This is first of a two-part series. We’re going to cover what zones of control represent, how they are generally employed in this basics article. We will also look at some basics for how you might approach them in a game.

Let’s pay homage to the first formal written summary provided to us by SPI back in 1977 before we get started. SPI released an Introduction to Wargaming publication that covered many of the terms we still use regularly today in the hobby. There are still many concepts that find their roots in the first wargames released by Avalon Hill back in 1961 despite 50+ years of commercial board wargaming evolution:

Introduction to Wargaming Cover from SPI

Zone of Control

Excerpt from Zone of Control Gamespeak
Original Excerpt…

The area of effect surrounding a unit; usually defined as the six immediately adjacent hexes. In theory, the exact character of a Zone of Control in a given game-system may be delineated by the use of a combination of adjectives, taking one from each of the following groups:

Effects on Movement

  • Locking – Units must stop upon entering an Enemy controlled hex and may leave only at the beginning of a Movement phase.
  • Rigid – Units must stop upon entering an Enemy controlled hex and may leave only at the beginning of a Movement Phase.
  • Elastic – Units may enter and leave Enemy Zones of Control by paying an additional cost in Movement Points.
  • Open – Zones of Control have no effect on Movement.

Effects on Combat

  • Active – Requires that every Enemy unit in a Friendly Zone of Control be attacked in the Combat Phase.
  • Inactive – Makes no requirement for attack.

Effects on Supply Line and Retreat

  • Interdicting – Prohibits the path of retreat or supply from being traced through an Enemy Controlled hex regardless of the presence of Friendly units.’
  • Suppressive – Prohibits the path of supply or retreat from being traced through an Enemy controlled hex if the hex is not occupied by Friendly Units.
  • Permissive – Does not affect the path of supply or retreat in any way.

Modern wargames owe a lot to the visionary work of Jim Dunnigan who created, as Mark Herman has suggested, a “skill trades guild system” for developers and designers in the 1970’s. Dunnigan was visionary in the way he documented how SPI games worked, outside of the contribution to the games and designers. It’s probably why even the Department of Defense listened when he spoke. The summary presented in 1977 is as good an introduction today as it was then.

Mechanics vs. “Reality”

I won’t get into the debate over what is real or not. I will say that Zone of Control (ZOC) is used to help sustain the illusion of influence over distance. Wargames are frequently controlled by arbitrary boundaries. They might be hexes, squares, or even small geographic areas. So, it is frequently necessary to demonstrate the combat effectiveness of units beyond these “walls.”

Zone of Control is handled differently by almost every game. As a result, the SPI definition from 1977 is mostly good as an introduction. It doesn’t intend to be more, but nor should it be confused with the final word on the subject. Instead, we must look at the game itself and what it is trying to accomplish.

There are a few fundamental things that Zone of Control tends to express:

  • Sub-units – The units in strategic and operational level games are so large that often a ZOC rule helps flesh out the areas in which sub-units are deployed.
  • Mobility – The scale of a game’s individual turns and hex sizes may allow for units to exert “reactionary” control over a larger area.
  • Weapon Systems – The scale of the game’s hexes compared to the “reach” of the weapon and detection systems allows units to exert a much larger area of control.

As a Game Mechanic

Zone of Control adds depth to the tactical and strategic considerations a player must make. This is particularly true as you layer the effects of Zone of Control. A ZOC rule section that covers movement, supply, combat, and retreat rules makes a player’s awareness of the effects crucial to understanding the game.

All great wargame mechanics share a common theme. Malleability.

Zone of Control clearly fits theme of malleable. In fact, ZOCs have proven to be some of the most malleable rules in all of wargaming. We’ll be looking at the varied ways designers have employed ZOC in next Monday’s article.

Food for Thought

Here are a few things I always consider when a game presents me with ZOC rules:

  • How can I use Zone of Control to maximize my “front?”
    • Many games that employ ZOC expect players to incorporate the rules into the way they position their units. It is critical to figure out how to best use ZOC to take advantage of the rules. This is something to consider if your opponent is outflanking your lines.
  • Are there opportunities to force my opponent into an unfavorable position using Zone of Control?
    • ZOC typically creates severe penalties for retreating units. This often means additional step losses. You can also consider forcing units out of supply using ZOC since many supply rules do not allow supply lines to pass through an enemy controlled ZOC. This can be a subtle way to outfox your opponent since many wargamers (myself included) can be myopic when reviewing the board state.
  • Does the terrain allow me to create artificial bottlenecks using Zones of Control from my units?
    • Most wargames feature some sort of impassable terrain. That might be water, mountains, bogs, or countries through which units may not travel. So, finding ways to abut these areas with ZOC can create bottlenecks that wouldn’t otherwise exist. This is useful for blocking and for trapping opponents, especially when reaction movement is allowed.

Every wargame brings its own flavor to the core ZOC concept. As a result, understanding how each game designer expects players to interact with ZOC is key. Finding the secret of that interaction is one of the fun little “mini games” of the wargaming hobby.

Share your thoughts on SPI’s summary definition and your favorite ZOC tricks in the comments below!

Be sure to check back next Monday when we’ll be following up on this article with examples of unique ZOC concepts.

It happens. The shelves get over burdened. Games start piling up around the house. Your significant other gives you that knowing eyebrow raise. It’s time to sell some games. Today, we’re looking at lessons I learned from selling a game collection.

In the summer of 2018, I did a major cull of my almost 1,500 game and expansion collection. I sold 80 games via the BoardGameGeek GeekAuction process. This ensured that I was getting boardgamer eyes on the collection and facilitated the sale of games through the GeekMarket. The end result was supporting a site I use frequently with their take on each sale.

So what did I learn?

Use PayPal

PayPal can be a burden when there is a dispute. Often, PayPal will take the side of the buyer, absent substantive proof, over the seller. You can mitigate this with a SOLID record of your terms of sale, and documentation though.

So, why use PayPal?

Simply put, it makes shipping your games cheaper and easier. The PayPal user puts in their address already. That gives you a validation that the buyer hasn’t fat fingered their address causing concern. Further, the PayPal shipping rates for their shipping tool are SUBSTANTIALLY less than what you would pay at your local ship-it store or even through the USPS location.

Build the Price of Packing into your GAME price

People are savvy about shipping rates. They know what they pay when they go through eBay or from an online store. Instead, you need to account for shipping oddities in the price of your GAME.

In the case of a few games I sold, I had to buy a custom box from Staples. The price wasn’t outrageous, but it was not accounted for in the game. So, I ended up taking a smaller chunk of the profits.

In the end, that’s what this is about…protecting your profits. If you go the route I went, you’ll lose ~6% between PayPal and BoardGameGeek.

That means a game you sell for $20 will only net you $18.80 following the sale assuming you also nail the shipping costs on the nose. In my experience, I was pretty close on shipping costs, but even still managed to lose about 2% overall when you looked at all 80 games I sold.

For a large lot, that can add up!

So, include the additional packing costs as a description in the game. People understand weight and size…not so much distance.

Buy a Postal Scale

They are cheap. They will let you figure out shipping costs to the penny. Don’t estimate or promise estimate shipping rates! As a result, you might end up keeping more of your money! ;)

Here’s the one I bought from Amazon

Scale from Amazon

You Live & Die By Your Terms of Sale

A good sample terms of sale is provided in the BoardGameGeek wiki for geeklist auctions. As a result, I wholeheartedly recommend using it as your starting point!

I would add the following details as well:

  1. Explain how you will communicate with the apparent successful bidder.
  2. Explain the terms of non-responsiveness (Ex. If I do not receive payment within 5 business days of notification that the GeekMarket listing has been created, I will contact the next highest bidder)
  3. Explain when items will ship. In my case, I shipped the Saturday following receipt of confirmed payment.
  4. Explain your dispute resolution requirements. You will want to be charitable and reasonable here. Things to include might be:
    • Under what conditions you’ll accept a return
    • Disputes about game quality
    • Games damaged in shipping
    • How much time a buyer has to verify their item and file a dispute
    • How you will communicate and track the dispute (email, GeekMail, etc.)

These are for YOUR protection and should not be ignored. I am not a lawyer, but the clearer you can make your expectations the more informed the buyer will be. Subsequently, this will make your sale go more smoothly.

In the case of disputes…these extra items can be a lifesaver with PayPal, especially if you can demonstrate that the buyer is acting against the terms they agreed to prior to the sale.

80 Games and 1 Person is TOO MUCH

I like to dive into gaming projects head first. With the exception of Sundays this year you’ll be getting a fresh blog post or review every day! That’s a tall order for anyone.

As a result, I felt like I could manage 80 games even if I knew the time investment would be substantial!

It was … and I ended up splitting orders into chunks by pacing out how many games I would list in the marketplace and by letting all buyers know where they stood in the queue. I only lost 1 sale as a result of this to someone who was impatient. I got everything listed and sold in 5 days, so it wasn’t like some massive delay or anything either.

Instead, I would recommend you do MANY auctions. I think the sweet spot is probably around 20 games per auction. That will help people find everything in the auction. People SAY they want big lists…but they’ll rarely get to the games at the end!

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Measure your game boxes and ensure you have quality boxes already at the house or a good source of them readily handy. Have printer ink, paper, and some template messages ready since you may be communicating with LOTS of people about the same thing over and over. Have your scale ready to go as well!

Copying and pasting is far easier than trying to remember everything you said to the last person. I had messages for congratulations, geekmarket listing, geekmarket item terms of sale, and receipt of payment prior to shipping.

It took a few minutes to write, but it saved me a LOT of time.

I also built a spreadsheet to track everything

Auction Tracking Sheet

The sheet included everything I needed to track the process and proved invaluable as I was reviewing everything. I also included the tracking numbers so I could just pull it up and see where everything was at. This was SUPER handy because in a pinch, my copy shortcut didn’t get pressed properly and I gave a person the wrong tracking code! It was quickly identified and fixed.

Don’t Skimp on Packing Materials

Overall, for 80 games, I spent ~$150 on boxes and peanuts.

That was roughly triple what I intended to spend. So, make sure you’re saving up peanuts, newspapers, airbags, and other packing materials WELL before your auction! Also, check out the whole pricing the shipping indirect costs into the price of the game!

YOU are responsible for packing the game. This is particularly true in an era when video has shown that postal workers often throw packages to front door steps. That doesn’t mention the abuse a package sees along the way as it winds its way through rollers, belts, bins, and carts! So, taking the extra $1.00 to ensure a package has proper packing materials is critical.

Tips for Packing

  • Wrap the box in a plastic bag. This will ensure that when a game is left on a wet surface, or when something inevitably spills or rains on the package that the game inside won’t suffer. Cost … nothing. Use a grocery bag!
  • Newspaper is NOT GOOD PACKING MATERIAL…. Unless, you’re using it to ensure the contents INSIDE the game box are held in place. Then it works pretty well actually. No amount of crinkled up newspaper doesn’t flatten and stay flat after the first drop.
  • Use the right sized box. If you have a giant game and the box is too small every ding and dent is going to show on the game box. Don’t tell the seller you’re surprised or that you didn’t want the contents to shift around…packing peanuts are a real thing and everyone knows they exist!
  • Stabilize the game on all sides. Top & Bottom. Too often sellers just throw a game in a box and put some newspaper around it. That’s bush league garbage.
  • No loose counters. I cannot tell you how many games I’ve received where the counters were dumped out of trays or baggies into the box and then just shipped. First of all…screw you if you’re so lazy you do this to buyers. Secondly, it has caused damage to counters every single time I’ve seen it happen. No loose counters.

Describe the condition of your games well.

You own the game. Describe its condition in some detail. Buyers want to know what they’re buying. The rating systems used by various sites are often insufficient for this task.

Wargames get rated as Good simply because they’re punched. Frankly, I’d almost rather a well cared for punched copy than an unpunched copy. This is doubly true if the seller indicates they used an Oregon Laminations corner rounder.

Simply saying a game is “good” isn’t going to get to that point.

It is far more problematic when sellers don’t disclose things like smells or box condition. I got a copy of Up Front that took 6 months for me to get the smoke smell out of with a mix of potpourri, dryer sheets, and a fan that ran constantly in the guest bedroom. If you smoke now, or have ever smoked, you NEED to disclose this. Frankly, it should be the first thing listed. Nobody wants to have your smokey smelling games stinking up their homes.

The Bottom Line

This is mostly common sense. Be honest. Everything above here is all about making an earnest attempt to sell the game. Take pride in your collection, even as you transfer it to a buyer. Work with them if there’s a significant difference in what they received vs. what you sold.

Be organized, accurate, and reasonable and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Share other lessons with us in the comments below!

One of the many hats I wear in my day job is Public Information Officer. As a result, I deal with PR opportunities from time to time and think about stakeholder engagement all the time. One of the things I’ve observed in the Wargaming hobby is the staggering disparity between publishers in stakeholder engagement. These 10 PR strategies will begin to help you today!

To be certain, this doesn’t stem from any anti-consumer sentiment. It just evolves out of the skillset that publisher principals have when they found the company. In many cases, it may not even be apparent where or how they’re lacking.

This article will provide 10 no-nonsense strategies for wargame publishers who want to up their PR game.

10 – Know Yourself

The days of simply being a “Wargame Publisher” are over. Wave goodbye to that notion as we drive deeper into the 21st century.

  • What are your core values as a publisher?
  • How do you select the kinds of games will you publish?
  • In what ways will you distinguish your company from the others?
  • What characteristics of your products will stand out?
  • Why did you decide to publish wargames?

As Simon Sinek says, “Start with Why.”

In short…

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Simon Sinek

Sanity Checkpoint

  1. Write down your “Why” on a sheet of paper.
  2. Go to your website (you have one right?)
  3. Write down all of the places where your why is evident to consumers who may not know your company at all.

This seems like a simple exercise, and it is! The problem that you’re going to run into is that your website is probably extolling the What and How far more frequently than it is showing the Why.

9 – Let your content work for you

PR is not advertising…usually.

In order to share your why, you’re going to have to tell people and demonstrate how that why motivates every part of what you do. As a result, you will need to generate content.

Online Marketing

There are many ways to generate quality content and we’re going to get into a few of those strategies in this article. However, you are always going to be the best person to tell the story of your publishing business. Why? Because you are the person who cares most deeply about its success. After all, you’re the reason it exists and you started it because something deep down drove you to do it!

If you’re not consistently creating some kind of content about your products, then you’re failing to let your content work for you! This might take many forms. Perhaps you’re writing blog articles, designer diaries, social media photo teases of products, retweeting session reports, or the hundreds of other outlets to engage your work before, during and after its release.

Sanity Checkpoint

  1. Search for your latest game on Google
    • Write down how far you had to go to find the first reference to it.
  2. Search social media (BGG, Twitter, Facebook) for your latest game
    • Write down how many instances you found of people talking about it.
  3. Go to your website
    • Write down how many articles, blog posts, photos, or other pieces of content are about your latest game.

What you’re likely to find is that your game results don’t rank all that high on Google. That’s an SEO issue. A part of that is because not enough people are linking to your site or covering your game. Sometimes, that means YOU aren’t covering. That will become apparent when you’re scanning social media (you’re on social media right?) and looking at your website.

So, remember that you need to get the word out, simply adding a game and hoping your fans will find it isn’t good enough. Direct e-mail marketing to just the people who have already found you won’t be sufficient. You put a lot of effort and care into your product, make sure people know about it!

8 – You Are Your Website

For better or worse, you are your website.

This is a pretty simple section and I’m going to give you a quick checklist you can run through to figure out whether your website is working for or against you.

  1. It is easy to find details about products on my website.
  2. Consumers can search my website to find information about my products.
  3. Consumers can easily purchase, or find where to purchase, games from my website.
  4. My website works on mobile and desktop browsers.
  5. There are high quality photos, renderings, and descriptions of my products.
  6. Consumers can find articles and more information about my products easily as links.
  7. It is apparent what my WHY is based on my website.
  8. Consumers can contact me and understand my company policies from reading my website.
  9. Consumers can search for my company name and find me on the first Google results page (preferably near the top).

Sanity Checkpoint

If you are unable to complete any of the tasks above when reviewing your website, then it’s not working for you. There are PLENTY of folks who can help with these tasks, but if you don’t seek help, then the issues will remain obstacles for growing your business.

7 – Be Social

People want to know who the principals are behind their favorite publishers!

Social Media on phone

There are lots of great social media tools and sites available for wargame publishers today. Here are a few you might want to consider being consistently active to build your brand awareness:

  • BoardGameGeek– Participation beyond your product pages is essential. There are great wargames that won’t ever be discovered if wargamers don’t know they exist! I’ve been wargaming for 30 years and there are STILL tons of games I have never seen or heard about.
  • ConSimWorld – John Kranz runs one of the best wargame focused discussion sites in the world. As a result, a lot of wargamers go there to interact with designers, developers and publishers. Consistent participation will get you access to a number of hobby influencers who frequent ConSimWorld.
  • Facebook – Facebook is a thriving place for wargamers. This has grown exponentially with the advent of specific wargame groups and marketplaces that call Facebook home. While I don’t personally like Facebook for a variety of ethical reasons, I fully recognize it’s power as a PR and marketing tool.
  • Twitter – It’s not just for presidents. Much of what I’ve said about Facebook holds true for Twitter. Tools like Hootsuite can centralize your management of both.
  • Instagram, SnapChat, & Others – Social Media platforms typically follow age demographics. As a result, you need to match your WHY and its audience with the appropriate tool.
  • Conventions! – Convention attendance will go a LONG way to building the relationships you want with customers. Not just at the booth, but in games shoulder-to-shoulder with your fans. Let them see you as a person. There are so many cheap (free?) PR opportunities you can engage in at a convention!

If you only post press releases, and product photos then you’re taking the first step. You need to follow-up on that by engaging in conversation and sharing the things you enjoy and like. This helps people find your WHY and to get to know you (and your company) better.

There’s nothing cringier than a publisher that swoops in when there’s trouble and then vanishes once the concern has been dealt with on social media.

Sanity Checkpoint

Count the number of channels (different locations) through which you’re engaging socially with potential customers.

  • 0 – 1 – I would be seriously concerned about the longevity of your company.
  • 2 – 3 – You’re definitely getting out there to get your name and company noticed.
  • 4+ – It’s a lot of work, but you’ve make a great effort to find your customers where they are and to engage them.

Make sure the quality of your engagement is social and business related not just one or the other!

6 – Be Consistent

Consumers have notoriously short memories for marketing. There are maybe 20 TV commercials that stand out over time. Rarely were those commercials shown a single time. Think about ALL the money spent on Superbowl commercials. We remember only a handful, and the ones we are MOST LIKELY to remember are the ones that are part of a multi-year campaign or went viral.

Since wargame publisher content is unlikely to go viral (maybe I’ll be surprised still!), we need to focus on consistency. A good rule to keep in mind is that you want content that speaks to the HEAD, HEART, and HAND.

Head content is all about engaging people intellectually. Maybe you do an article about the history of a game or share the genesis for a design mechanic on a podcast.

Heart content focuses on getting people to feel something. That might be playtester AAR content where their excitement shines through.

Finally, Hand content focuses on activating the sensation of playing the game. In many ways, photo and video content can do this for you. People want to experience the product or get a chance to consider what it might be like.

These content pieces activate different parts of consumer memory. Activating different parts of memory will give your brand some sticking power and help people remember your products.

Sanity Checkpoint

Review your content and see which fits into the head, heart, and hand. Is there a particular type of content you’ve focused on perhaps too much? What about the content type you left out entirely?

5 – Be Responsive

As a result of this, you want to be responsive. Simply talking at your customers isn’t going to work. We’re wired to identify marketing and make quick judgements about it. Consequently, publishers need to find ways to engage to consumers.

If you see a question pop up on a platform you support, the faster and better you respond the bigger impact it will have. That doesn’t just mean to questions, but also to issues.

Short of the hospitality industry, I’ve had some of my best customer service experiences in boardgaming. Publishers go the extra mile in almost every case to make things right for buyers. It stands out when they don’t.

Fist bump

You’ll want to pay close attention and be proactive when trouble is brewing. It’s impossible to ensure everyone will have a good time with the games that are released. It is possible, however, to identify and fix issues that arise. Often, that may mean an expensive fix in the case of botched components or rules. Standing behind the consumer and your products speaks volumes about your commitment to your WHY.

Sanity Checkpoint

Develop a written procedure for handling customer concerns. It should answer questions like:

  • How will I verify the scope of the issue presented?
  • In what ways can I respond to make things right?
  • Have I set aside a small budget (monetary or stock) for fixing issues that arise?
  • How can I publicly respond to reassure others so it doesn’t seem like I’m playing favorites with customers or designers?

The trouble comes when a publisher doesn’t have a clear idea of what their tolerance and limits will be. Consumers can be pushy and unreasonable. Finding a way to communicate a credible and satisfactory response to a problem before it happens that can be replicated later is essential.

4 – Value Feedback

Value the feedback that you receive. While it’s easy to dismiss stakeholder feedback by saying, “only the angry people ever speak up” that belies a deeper issue. This is particularly true if you find yourself saying that frequently! Instead, consider how you can categorize and evaluate the feedback you do receive.

Knowing where to find feedback is also important. This isn’t the movie industry where every major city and small rural community has a reviewer to build a worldwide consensus. Reviewers are most frequently uncompensated non-journalists who are unlikely to spend the time reviewing a game they don’t like.

As a result, you need to look at the social media channels you’ve developed as a key source of your information. What trends do you see? How are you responding both now and with future projects? What are your sales numbers telling you?

Generating Your Own Feedback Loop

Find a way to generate your own feedback loop by engaging with customers. This might be an informal focus group, talking to game clubs periodically that are outside your playtest network, or using any direct email marketing to deploy surveys.

SPI employed this idea well before the Internet. It shouldn’t be too hard to begin building that consumer engagement in the age of the Internet! This is especially true if you include some kind of incentive (even randomly) for participation.

Sanity Check

Analyze your current product in development. In what ways are you incorporating what you’ve learned from stakeholders into the game, its promotion, and post release support?

If you find out that you’re not, don’t make excuses…make a plan for HOW you can do so.

3 – Adopt Your Fans

This goes hand-in-hand with a few of the other strategies in this article. The old saying goes that if you don’t preach to the choir, they stop showing up. That’s absolutely true when it comes to PR.

Find those motivated fans and promote their work. Maybe recruit them to playtest and write about it. You could have them write copy for your site in exchange for discounts. Maybe make one your social media manager if you’re not comfortable with the task. There are a multitude of ways to engage and celebrate your superfans. As a result, they will celebrate you even louder.

Nothing sells better than word of mouth. At that point, it’s just simple math. How do you get your company in the mouths of as many people as possible. Empowering your fans by giving them special access or opportunities is a fantastic way to do it and costs virtually nothing depending on how creative you are.

Sanity Checkpoint

  1. Go online and find the people you think are your fans.
  2. Engage directly with them to foster that relationship.
  3. Find out what they like or don’t like about your company and use that feedback.
  4. Look for creative ways to partner in the creation of content.

A lot of times people are fans who don’t have the bandwidth or inclination to help. They might be cheerleaders who simply aren’t looking for another responsibility. We live hectic lives after all! Instead, find those people who CAN support you and make it worthwhile for both of you!

2 – Know Your Media Outlets

Unless you’re running an already successful publishing business or you have a built-in following, you will need to know your media outlets.

Social media is great, but it’s still YOU selling YOUR products. Consumers, even when a company is trustworthy, expect some third-party coverage to give them information. The information provided is based on the credibility of the media outlet rather than blind faith in the organization’s press release.

Great…but who and how?

We have a lot of different media outlets in boardgaming that should all be aggressively explored by publishers.

  • Blogs – There are many established blogging outlets like The Player’s Aid, The Big Board, and even The Dice Tower (depending on the game)
  • Print Magazines – While C3i from Roger MacGowan covers primarily GMT Games, the magazine has recently begun to branch out. Magazines like Paper Wars, Yaah!, Battles, Against the Odds, and Vae Victis offer EXCELLENT print media outlets to work through.
  • Podcasts – Taking the time to learn how to use Skype is going to be WELL worth the effort. Participating in podcasts, which thrive on providing publisher, designer, and wargaming luminary guest spots are all great ways to get noticed. There’s no harm trying to pitch Harold on Games, Rally in the Valley, Wild Weasel, Wargames to Go, or any of the other podcasts out there!

Sanity Checkpoint

The best time to write a marketing plan was a year ago, the second best time is right now. So, commit to at least 2 of these outlets. Write up a pitch for your next (or current) product and get it over to a broad sample of these outlets. See what they do with it? I think you’ll find a pretty receptive bunch of folks who are eager to share your story.

1 – Use Your Voice

More than any of the advice above, and as you take (or ignore it) please always remember to use your voice. In short, “You Do You!”

Nobody can tell your story like you can. It’s going to be hard to find someone else who cares as deeply about your publishing company as you do. That means whatever voice you choose to represent your publishing company absolutely has to be authentic.

If you portray a stale and dry market-speak all the time, people are going to stop listening. Consumers have become excellent at sniffing out disingenuous responses from companies. As a result, you will need to follow the three H’s of finding your voice:

  • Heartfelt – Your voice needs to be heartfelt. Remember to start with your WHY and let that inform everything else.
  • Honest – There is always room for improvement. Even the largest publishers with decades of wargame publishing experience under their belt demonstrate this regularly. If you HIDE the truth, your lack of honesty will be uncovered and it WILL cost customers.
  • Hustle – Show off how hard you’re working. That doesn’t just mean on games, but also on marketing your company and working to serve your fans. There isn’t a shred of advise in this article that isn’t going to take hard work and hustle to accomplish.

Sanity Checkpoint

For the last sanity checkpoint, as corny as it sounds…strike up a conversation with a person and let them know about your company. Practice makes perfect. As a seasoned public speaker, I am always finding ways to refine my messaging strategy. I find new anecdotes that land and others that fall flat.

Voice is something you need to practice. You might even be surprised by how receptive even non-wargamers are to your work as a wargame publisher! It’s not every day that someone says they do that after all.

Hollandspiele was named as the Publisher of the Year for 2018. As a result, I wanted to get a review out for one of their 2018 releases. Today, we’re looking doing a Great Heathen Army review. This is the fourth game in the Shields and Swords II series and covers 9th, 10th, and 11th century warfare in Britain.

What happened to Shields and Swords I?

Great question! I had the very same question when I first saw the series name. Tom created a few games for One Small Step under the series name Shields & Swords. Tom opted to revise the series and publish this evolution of the original rules under the Hollandspiele banner head.

It is important to note, for those hipsters who were into this series before it was cool, that Shields & Swords II is NOT compatible with its predecessor.

Since releasing Shields & Swords II, the following games have been published by Hollandspiele:

  • The Grunwald Swords
  • House of Normandy
  • Battles on the Ice

Getting Medieval

The Shields & Swords II (SnS2 hereafter) features what I would deem a light wing and command mechanic. Medieval armies are portrayed with two critical characteristics: Quality & Unit Type.

Overhead shot of Great Heathen Army
Overhead shot of the game in action

Units are then arranged by wing which varies by scenario and those wings are issued commands in the form of tokens.

Wings perform commands, which can be modified with the use of a special token and the sides take turns issuing and resolving wing commands. In fact, the series could have been called Medieval Wing Commander, but the Kilrathi were far less effective before the 28th Century.

At Your Command

There are 7 main commands in the game, each of which can be modified to achieve different outcomes. They include move, attack, shield wall, fire (ranged attack), horse, and special.

Closeup of Great Heathen Army
Shield Wall Command in action

Each scenario, and likely game, could be endlessly customized around this mechanic with special rules modifying the way the commands work. This provides maximum flexibility for Russell as he develops the game to fit the battles covered in each title.

The tactical game is centered around picking the right moment for the correct wing in order to exploit a weakness that the enemy has presented. Knowing when and how to do that requires a brief discussion of combat.

Once More Into the Breach!

Combat is equally broad strokes, but to great effect. Units compare unit types to determine die roll modifiers, then look at scenario and command adjustments to their quality. Finally, a single 10-sided die is rolled to achieve an outcome.

Crossing the ford - Great Heathen Army
Can the Mercians hold the ford or will the Viking Eovil break through and escape?

Generally, speaking rolling lower as a higher quality unit in a favorable matchup is rewarded.

Combat outcomes include retreats, step losses, unit elimination and the exchange of casualties. Again, this is pretty standard fare when it comes to wargames.

So…what sets this game apart?

A matter of timing

The tension in the game comes from the scarcity of commands. Each scenario provides you with a combination of the various commands, but never more than two of the same command and that is quite rare. Instead, you will need to balance when you move and attack. Not just when you attack, but also with which wing and against what units.

The result is an undulating wave of wings that crash together, withdraw through retreat or command, and then prepare to crash together again. In the midst of this motion, units break off from each other and savvy players will capitalize on these rare openings.

Timing is everything. Wait too long to put up that shield wall, or time a withdrawal incorrectly and your units will be punished.

A Fine But Fickle Force

Each side is usually presented with a small cadre of veteran units. These make up the nobility and leadership. As a result, they are the leaders to whom the Levy units are bound.

Without leadership, the Levies will break (cue Led Zeppelin?). This is evaluated by wing. Keeping units in proximity to thee veteran units seems much easier than it is in practice. After all, your veteran units are the lords of the battlefield in every possible way. Even light cavalry will suffer a penalty facing off against a veteran unit!

So, savvy players will use their setup to prepare for the eventual tearing apart of their wings by constant melee attacks, retreats, and eliminations.

Bonus Time!

The chit that mixes this up is the Bonus command. Paired with any command, it offers a special ability that can be a difference maker. Combined with the attack chit, it allows the wing to fight a “Pitched Battle” adding to each unit’s quality. Use the bonus with a shield wall, and the wing can draw away from an enemy line while retaining the defensive advantage of the shield wall.

The bonus chit helps the viking force race to the ford with double movement!

In short, it’s a difference maker. Timed well, it’s a game changer. This is especially true when considering the movement bonus which allows for a second round of movement. As your wing seizes the advantage by splitting the enemy’s wing into isolated groups you will cackle with glee.

Impressionist Painting

As you have, no doubt, guessed. This game is about broad strokes as a low-complexity game. Don’t be fooled. While simplistic systems are individually easy to teach and play, they fit together in such a way that you are called back to the table for one more turn, or one more scenario.

Look to a series like Men of Iron from GMT Games if you want a more robust handling of medieval tactical combat. Men of Iron inherits much of the Great Battles of History mechanics.

Shields and Swords II, on the other hand, provides a complete feeling game on a rules and time budget. Great Heathen Army makes an outstanding introductory wargame if you can get friends hooked on Netflix’s The Last Kingdom. In fact, you can start them off fighting Ethealdon which is featured in season 1 of the show.

Historical Accuracy

Great Heathen Army has the trappings necessary to suspend disbelief. While the game won’t reveal the subtle realities of medieval combat, you will get a feel for often fickle and routing army elements. Holding a medieval army together was no small task.

I loved the scenario notes that accompanied the game. They provide a level of detail that’s appropriate for understanding each scenario. As a result, the historical flavor of special rules are not lost on players who may be unfamiliar with the combatants or battle.

The King’s Justice…

Great Heathen Army is worthy of a place in your wargaming kingdom. While I’ve not played the other Shields & Swords II series games, I am more likely to do so having played this title. Players will go from box to their first scenario setup in maybe 30 minutes. There’s little need for the rulebook after the first full battle.

Scenarios take anywhere from 35 minutes to a little over an hour to complete. This is a fantastic game to teach someone about wargaming. It’s also a game to bring along to a non-wargaming game night. You may be able to rope someone into playing it. The vibrant counters, pungent Blue Panther scent, and low complexity are a recipe for success.

I highly recommend giving this game a try if you need something on the lighter end in your collection or want a game that you can pull off the shelf and play quickly.

Welcome to Recon Report Part 3! Thanks for hanging in there. These were massive articles to prepare and write.

On to the final preview of games coming out in 2019 that have caught my attention. I love going through at the start of the year and getting my hopes up, but the reality is that many of these games won’t find their way to our table. Since I published the first part of the Recon Report 2019 series, I’ve already received Corregidor from Bounding Fire Productions.

Today, we’re looking at publishers from N – Z. There are so many great publishers out there and I suspect we’re going to see LOTS of games that aren’t on this list. After all, I’ve gathered this information from publicly available sources! So, without further ado, let’s check out Part 3.

New England Simulations

Winter’s Victory, The Battle of Preussich-Eylau 7th-8th February 1807

This year New England Simulations will step away from Normandy and look at the Preussich-Eylau. This will be a battalion level monster of a game that includes FOUR maps and over 2,500 counters.

Winter's Victory map sample
Map Sample with various terrain

The game system will employ an interesting sequence of play that I’m interested in checking out. In effect, both armies will command and move into position and then, in alternating turns, slug it out. This is call the “Reciprocal Fire Phase” and I think it will generate some very interested combat results.

What’s interesting is that the Allied side will command and move first and THEN the French will. As a result, the French player has a baked-in tactical advantage of sorts since the opportunity to exploit combat results is somewhat stacked for them.

Discussion on ConSimWorld suggested that this would be in pre-publication sales by the end of 2018, but that hasn’t happened yet so keep checking their site!

Nuts! Publishing

Pacific War 2nd Edition

Pacific War 2nd Edition Cover

This is more wish fulfillment than actual hope for a 2019 release.

Nuts! Publishing has had this one on their radar since maybe 2016. This is a collaboration with Mark Herman to update the old Victory Games edition. Herman has indicated on social media that this game is not a straight reprint or even a small update.

Details are still pretty hazy on this one, but my sincere hope is that we’ll see some additional news about this one after Herman releases The Peloponnesian War with GMT Games. In the meantime…we can hope!

One Small Step Games

Bear Flag Republic: California During the Mexican American War

Bear Flag Republic Map Sample
Map Sample

I wrote about this one months ago, with the hopes it would be coming out for 2018. Instead, we’re looking (hopefully) at a 2019 release.

Bear Flag Republic is a card-enhanced game for 2 players based on California in 1846-47 at the time of the Mexican-American War. The game map shows most of California (known as Alta (upper) California). The owners are Mexico and the Californios or Californians). The object of the game is for the Californians to retain Alta California while the goal of the Bear Flaggers and United States troops and sailors is to seize the soon to be Golden State. The fighting itself was not particularly bloody and involved relatively small numbers of troops. There are two major events that influence the course of the game. One is the outbreak of the Bear Flag Revolt just before the formal Declaration of War between the United States and Mexico is known of in California. The other is the rebellion of Southern California over the initial occupation by the Americans.

From the publisher’s website

The topic, and the fact that Jack Greene of Iron Bottom Sound fame, is involved here keeps me excited.

Operational Studies Group

Napoleon Retreats: Campaign in France II

This is the next game up for the OSG Library of Napoleonic Battles series. This time, it’s sad Napoleon slipping away from Blucher and fighting a withdrawing action further in France around Laon.

This package will feature three battles:

  • Craonne, Struggle for the plateau des dames, 7 March
  • Laon, Beginning of the End, 9-10 March
  • Reims, A Quick Success en passant, 13 March

Also included will be a campaign game that combines all three battle maps to recreate the entire week’s fighting.

I’m torn on this series of games. On the one hand, I love the topics, components (mostly) and research that goes into the OOB. On the other hand, I kind of wish this game would get an overhaul per The Big Board’s recommendations. It’s a fantastic series that is starting to feel a little long in the tooth because it lacks consistent innovation as many long running series fall prey to over time.

Pacific Rim Publishing

Korsun Pocket

We are takin this list back to World War II despite today’s previews being largely WW2 light. Is this a trend for 2019 perhaps?

Korsun Pocket is my first blush with Pacific Rim Publishing. I’m always excited by a new-to-me publisher. That said, this is a revision to designer Jack Radey’s earlier Korsun Pocket game. It is a monster game as well featuring:

  • four full-sized maps,
  • 2,400 counters,
  • two situation maps for setups,
  • 15 unit displays
  • A $225 price tag

Yeah, it’s A LOT of game, but when you hear smaller publishers talking about pricepoint awareness for consumers…this is why. Similarly sized games from other publishers would put the release price only slightly north of $100. Here’s a case where it might have made more sense to release the game as a series that builds upon the last.

Instead, design Jack Radey has indicated that there’s only ONE scenario that’s a one map affair. This game is potentially something very special though and as a convention attention attraction it could live up to the price.

Red Sash Games

Army of Flanders: Le Divertissment Royal – Volume XIII in the Lace Wars Series

We continue our journey of expensive 2019 releases with Army of Flanders. If the title is a mouthful, get ready for the release price of $310 (print & play for $55). You can get this one on pre-order for $215 though. Now, fans of Red Sash Games will be comfortable with the price and will be thrilled for the next installment of the Lace Wars Series.

This is a Calandale favorite series, so there’s some weight behind the praise for both Red Sash and The Lace Wars series. Since I’m unfamiliar with the system, I’ll give you a truncated publisher’s marketing pitch:

Army of Flanders (AOF) is the thirteenth volume in Red Sash Games’ Lace Wars series. This game is the third in a set of four dealing with the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697). This war, sometimes called the War of the League of Augsburg or the Nine Years War, was the second of the three great wars of Louis XIV….

Huge armies were raised and deployed on both sides – not just ‘huge’ by the standards of ‘ye olden days’, but on occasion topping 150,000 men apiece. With such large armies sewn onto a pre-modern logistics system, much damage was done, but no ‘lightning-war’ triumph was possible…

The attention to detail and deep historical knowledge of the designer are apparent. This is a labor of love and it shows in the care with which the game is produced and marketed. Red Sash desperately wants you to appreciate the period to the same degree they do! That’s always a good sign.

Revolution Games

There are currently no games listed for pre-order, but based on an interview with Harold Buchannon in his excellent podcast Harold on Games we should be keeping an eye on what’s coming in 2019!

Victory Point Games

Thunder in the East

Thunder in the East Component Display

This is technically a 2018 game, but it only hit stores for non-Kickstarter participants in January 2019. You’ll be seeing more coverage from WargameHQ on this one since I backed it and got it shortly after Christmas.

The game is the first game in Frank Chadwick’s ETO series. It covers the Eastern Front from 1941 – 1945. The game is at the corps and army level with breakdown and minor units where necessary, but takes into consideration the air and naval war as well. There were a ton of familiar names on the playtesters list here like Jason Cawley, Ken Keller, Scot Purvis, J.L. Roberts, Robert Smith, and Tim Allen did the component art and game map.

As a result, I have a high degree of confidence in this game kicking off something fantastic for World War II gamers. In my reading of the rules so far, this is yet another monster today, but it’s manageable. The presentation and rules are clearly laid out and well written. I think there’s a lot of record-keeping here, but counters are provided to assist so though the game will certainly be meaty, I don’t think it will become unmanageable.

Worthington Games

1759 Siege of Quebec

The siege of Quebec should be an interesting game from Worthington with an imminent release. The game, designed as a solo game, but playable by two. This is the first game in a new series from Worthington called “Great Sieges.” It is more than a little reminiscent of the States of Siege series from Victory Point Games, but the gameplay doesn’t seem similar at first blush.

There’s a neat mechanic here for issuing orders that takes into account your strategic posture, the order you select, and your opponent. Players can play as either the British or the French which is always a refreshing twist for a solo game.

I like the concept of being removed from direct command. In a way, it feels like you are watching the battle from a Command Post. Results are influenced, but never directly predictable because of how the AI reacts. Players will attempt to reduce their opponent’s morale to zero or if the French can hold out until the Brits leave or take Quebec as the Brits.

I would recommend getting your preorder in soon since this game is shipping soon!

Today we’re reviewing wargame reviews. Very meta, but very important. I can only speak for myself in this context, but it’s important that some body of work exists to set a baseline for wargame reviews.

There are three major rules for wargame reviews:

  1. Be Honest
  2. Go Deeper
  3. Have a clear opinion

That seems like a small bar to cross, but often enough reviews fail to meet these criteria. So, let’s take a look at each rule separately.

Being Honest

I would hope that the most literal interpretation fo this rule is well understood and followed. After all, reviewers are banking on their integrity to sustain readership and credibility. However, that’s not really what I want to talk about here.

Instead, let’s look below the surface of what makes up honesty in wargame reviews. The questions I try to ask myself with each review include:

  • What do I know about the game’s topic from a historical perspective?
  • Did I play this game enough to provide a review?
  • Do I have any bias that I need to consciously work against while considering the topic?

As a result, I am getting myself into the right headspace to write a review of the game and not just vague impressions of it. Too often, wargame reviews are an elaborate look at the components, the designer’s prior work, followed by a rules summary and an opinion. That’s not really a review. It’s a great PREview of a game though.

Reviews are critical works in the sense that they take a discerning look at the game and the ways in which it succeeds or fails.

That means some historical knowledge is required, or a lack of such knowledge should be disclosed. It’s OKAY to admit a gap in knowledge. As a result, the reader gains a perspective into why the reviewer may have liked or disliked a specific mechanic.

Know Thyself…

Playing the game sufficiently is absolutely necessary. It can be transparently obvious to readers, particularly fans of a game, when a reviewer hasn’t given the game enough table time. This is different for every reviewer and for every game, but the reviewer has to be honest with themselves about their comfort publishing a review. For series-based games, I often don’t need to play the game more than a few times to form an opinion! After all, I know the system and can apply a deeper understanding through transferred skills and expertise.

…but I LOVE this designer!

Understanding and reflecting on personal bias is also key to credibility. Nobody wants to give a designer a pass just because of who they are or because their prior games were some of the reviewer’s favorites.

If you had asked me in 2002 who my favorite director was, I would have told you M. Night Shyamalan. After all, the man had just produced three back-to-back-to-back smash hits. I STILL love Signs and the philosophical questions it raises as blunt force as they may be in retrospect. So, when I went to see The Village, I was certain that it would also be a smash hit. It was not, and no amount of me WANTING it to be awesome would make it so.

Reviewers must carry a sense of skepticism into games they paid a lot of money to play! That can be a tall order.

Going Deeper

The second rule for reviewers is that they must go deeper. As I alluded, reviews and previews are separated by their depth of analysis. There are far more previews on the Internet than there are reviews of wargames as a result.

There is unquestionably a place for both! Mislabelling the work, however, creates confusion and can limit credibility.

So, what does going deeper look like?

Inspect what you expect. If a game is trying to tell a story about logistics and maneuver. Then the review should spend the majority of the time focused on those two concepts. It should ask questions about how the game succeeds or fails on those merits.

Finding the central question posed by the designer is absolutely key to a meaningful review.

If you cannot determine what, if anything, the designer was trying to demonstrate with the game…that should be a major red flag! In fact, it should probably constitute a quick post to see if others are struggling with the same question.

Deeper means being able to draw a direct link between the design elements you liked in the game and how it affected the gameplay. Doing a rules overview of innovative movement or chit draw mechanics isn’t enough. It’s translating WHY those mechanics work and HOW players manipulate the game using the mechanics to achieve an outcome.

Often, this means repeated plays. It took me four games of Skies Above the Reich before I understood how to position my fighters to achieve the maximum combat bonuses in each pass at the bombers. The nuance of the rules is sometimes only apparent after these repeated plays. It’s central to writing a critical review that praises or chastises with authority.

Haters Gonna Hate!

It’s okay to criticize a wargame title, and it will be better received, if it goes deep enough. Some gamers will undoubtedly be displeased with negative reviews of games they loved. That’s okay too!

Reviews are, at the end of the day, one person’s opinion about a game. Being outside the consensus with a well reasoned review that goes deeper may actually help build credibility. In fact, you might say that it is the cornerstone of credibility.

Understanding Bias

We all have implicit and explicit bias. Though we rarely buy games we anticipate we won’t like and then review it negatively, the opposite is equally problematic.

Reviewers are, largely, doing reviews as a volunteer service to the broader wargaming community! As a result, the reviews are generally going to be positive. It’s human nature to want to share what we love.

How many conversations have you had with friends or family about shows you “should be watching” on Netflix? Now, how many conversations have you had where those same people tell you about the forgettable or bad shows to avoid? Overwhelmingly, people are recommendation machines! The same is true when reviewing wargames!

The problem is, of course, that our biases create impediments to going deeper. After all, we may take for granted that we love the games from a particular designer and as a result, any missteps are minimized. Further, we might not give that “innovative” new design from a beloved designer the appropriate time to poke holes in its systems.

The result is that designers and publishers are getting echo-chamber feedback about games that they’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars to produce. That doesn’t even get into the years of design and development time. Honest critique that reflects on bias is critical to honest and deep reviews.

Bias threatens, in every way, to undercut our honesty and depth of coverage.

The problem, of course, is that we rarely recognize implicit bias. These are deeply held personal beliefs that are core to who we are. They are insidious because they often are counter to what our declared biases may be! As a result, I’ve developed a few questions I like to ask myself prior to writing a review.

Questions to help uncover bias

  1. If I were to pick up and play a game right now, what would it be?
    • If the game is like this one, or is a relative (series, designer, publisher, topic, etc.) then I need to be wary of bias.
  2. Is the game I’m reviewing one that I would consider an automatic pre-order without even seeing the rules?
    • This demonstrates a lack of healthy skepticism and should be taken into account, particularly if the game was “pricey.”
  3. How comfortable am I with the designer of this game and did I buy it because of WHO the designer was and not WHAT the game was about?
    • In polls, designer often features prominently into the decision to buy a game. As a result, designer bias should be thoughtfully analyzed during the review process.
  4. How many games from this series, by this designer, or publisher are in my top 5 wargames?
    • People will naturally show an affinity for what makes them comfortable. The closer the game is to the wargaming equivalent of “comfort food” the more aware of potential bias the reviewer must be!
  5. When the last time I held an unpopular belief about this publisher, designer, topic, or style of game?
    • If you’re frequently arguing or discussing from the popular position, it may be a sign of potential bias.

What do READERS want from reviewers?

Ultimately, it’s the consumers of reviews that set the tone of what they want to see! I can only speak from my experience reviewing and what I want to see. The challenge, of course, is that wargames are often labors of love that would require thousands of hours to truly appreciate the same way their designers do!

Instead, reviewers have short timelines and maybe 2,000 words to condense their experiences. This is both a blessing and a curse, but bringing a framework to the review process can help ensure the review is meaningful.

Share what YOU love about reviews or wish more reviews did in the comments below!

Some games are a flash in the pan. They are exciting, new and give you a rush, but lose their luster over time. Then there are the classics, those games you come back to repeatedly only to find nuance you hadn’t noticed or find comfort in a solidly built game that reminds you what wargaming is all about. A game that falls solidly into the latter category is No Retreat: The Russian Front.

Originally released by Victory Point Games this title was given the deluxe treatment by GMT Games and subsequently released in the “2nd Edition” format that cleans up rules and addresses some the vagaries from the initial version. I am only familiar with the game in both GMT releases. As a result, I am spoiled by the incredible production of one of the best low-complexity eastern front titles ever released.

A Ballet with a CRT

Make no mistake, the low rules density matches the low counter density, but as every player soon discovers into the first few turns of their game…No Retreat: The Russian Front is a demanding game that plays like a complicated ballet. Assembling a coherent defense with brittle Russian units that don’t really come into their own until later in the game against the punishing onslaught of panzers and mechanized infantry the German throw at the Russians for the first two years of the war is intimidating. For the Germans, the problem is overcoming the scarcity of units to keep the drive alive while not giving up the flanks to allow Russian units to sneak behind the lines in order to cut the lengthy supply lines back to Greater Germany.

Casual Players Excel

The other observation about this game is that casual players can quickly excel at this game. The strategy quickly emerges because the rules “get out of the way” within the first few turns. Add to this, the punishing outcomes of bad decisions and it leaves even casual players with a desire to reset the board and try again. Getting a wargamer engaged enough to demand an instant restart to a game is no easy task. Often, wargames can be mentally exhausting in the best possible way.

The other great thing about No Retreat: The Russian Front is that it allows for some of the soft-skills that make face-to-face play enticing. One of the things that I’ve just accepted as a part of wargaming is diving into rulebooks during the game in order to look up a rule or an edge case. That can get in the way of a great conversation. Again, No Retreat: The Russian Front does a superb job of making the time around the game table a lively game and conversation.

Design is a Razor’s Edge

As designer Richard Seymour (of Seymour Powell) says, “Design is removing the irrelevant.” That’s a delicate act! Any game could just be reduced to a die roll with some historical modifiers for an outcome by removing everything. It’s the act of an incredible designer to balance keeping everything the game needs, without keeping a single irrelevant thing. Carl Paradis has achieved this rare goal with No Retreat: The Russian Front. It offers a robust Russian Front experience without anything unnecessary to achieve that goal.

A few of the crowning achievements include:

  • Rail movement without railroad tracks on the board
  • Russian conscript replacement
  • Effects of the Russian Winter
  • Intangible advantages of equipment and doctrine shifting across the 4 years of the conflict
  • Supply that can be reviewed at a glance in almost every situation
  • Luftwaffe support

Things that are emergent include the use of satellite armies like the Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian forces who need to be cared for properly since they fill an odd niche. The satellite armies aren’t strong enough to operate alone, but can help push you up the odds column or can help hold a ZOC linked line. They’re even competent early on holding onto captured cities for the Germans. As a result, players get a chance to explore the various ways to employ these armies which seems to evolve over the course of the game.

The Russians Evolve…Almost Chromeless

The overarching story of the Russian front is always one of the hapless Russian army getting blindsided following the purge of its best leaders. Over the course of a 14 months, they manage bring the industrial and population might to bear against an increasingly fractured and unfocused German invader. By 1943, the tide is solidly turning and those Russian soldiers who needed Commissars to keep the men on the line are now full fledged Russian bears on the hunt. There were almost innumerable ways to explore this. Changing the CRT, swapping out units, providing a column shift, swapping out the deck by era, or providing a year-by-year change to each Russian unit’s stats.

No Retreat: The Russian Front is far more elegant in its approach. Instead, the Russian player slowly upgrades additional units in a progressive series of changes that the German player simply cannot keep up with over time. This has the added benefit of not using cards for the most part (unless the Russian player wants to accelerate this process) and it puts the German player into the state of mind of the German commanders who were suddenly outclassed over a massive series of fronts. The change in the game features both the psychological and statistical changes in a nearly seamless way. While there are special rules to contend with on turn 12, overall the core mechanics are left alone. Since there are few mechanics to begin with, this reinforces my earlier point that the rules get out of the way of the game quickly.

The perfect teaching game

I’ve gilded the lily long enough and it’s time for my final thought.

A lot of time is put into recruiting new wargamers. This is a TOUGH sell. Admittedly, there are a lot of curious boardgamers, particularly who like heavier Eurogames that find the historical focus of wargames appealing. Unfortunately, the length of rules, complicated military vernacular, and two-player count coupled with often 3+ hour play times for even lighter wargames can make recruitment a difficult task. There are now far more games that fill the “teaching” or “introductory” wargame niche.

I contend, however, that No Retreat provides players with a far more accurate representation of the hobby than many other games. While games like Twilight Struggle, COIN series releases, or even lighter releases like W1815, 1775 Rebellion – The American Revolution, or Washington’s War don’t provide a more traditional look at hex & counter wargaming. This doesn’t diminish these excellent games. In fact, it may help sustain new wargamers over the hump. Let’s look at 10 reasons why…

  1. The game is hex & counter and features nearly all of the core concepts of traditional wargames.
  2. The rulebook is light, well written, and there are plenty of videos / player aids available to assist a new wargamer.
  3. The game features a lot of on-map “symbols” that helps players learn the game and remember the rules (very Euro-like).
  4. The game has plenty of scenarios with shorter playing times.
  5. The components are solidly made, easy to read and handle.
  6. The game is well liked by first timers and by veteran wargamers.
  7. The game is the first in a series, and while the other games introduce significantly more complex systems, there’s room to grow into them.
  8. The price-point, when in print is not outrageous.
  9. There is a superb VASSAL module for players who want to try it out digitally if no willing wargamers live nearby.
  10. The game is just plain fun.

As much as anyone might write about this game…that it’s fun often gets left aside to focus on the details. Instead, let me just close out by re-affirming that No Retreat: The Russian Front is one of the most fun wargames to throw on the table ever made. It is a classic for all of the erudite design reasons you can break down from it, but in the end…if a game isn’t fun…why bother?

We recently named our Game of the Year 2018 (Congrats Pendragon!). WargameHQ also listed the rest of our Top 15 games for 2018. That said, we haven’t named our Publisher of the Year 2018 though! Today, we are proud to announce that Hollandspiele is our Wargame Publisher of the Year for 2018.

Hollandspiele Logo

You may know Hollandspiele from their 30+ games. Keep in mind that their library of published titles grew by an astounding 17 games in 2018. Now that’s something to be proud of in and of itself. It’s even more astounding when you consider Hollandspiele is two people. Tom and Mary.

A quick spoiler…

I’m going to spoil a secret. The secret to their success according to Tom, “As cheesy as it sounds, it is Mary.”

She’s a secret ingredient that makes this work. She’s the one that deals with all our customers inquiry, she’s the one that that gets the blog posts looking nice and does layout in the newsletters and on a rule book, and she really takes the time to that things and to keep me on task.

What more praise could a loving husband dole out to his intelligent, capable, and remarkable wife? After all, without Mary, we wouldn’t have enjoyed not one, but BOTH of Hollandspiele’s “Supply Lines of the American Revolution.” I might add here that I caught some flak on Twitter for not including the Southern Strategy 2018 release in my Top 15 games…

I had a chance to sit down and chat with Tom Russell about Hollandspiele and wanted to share some of his thoughtful reflections today.


“I think one of the things that sets us apart is that people know Hollandspiele as Tom and Mary. That personal face is important for a small publisher. We are putting ourselves out there whether it’s through our little podcast, or the blog, people get a sense of who we are.”

Tom Holland

I was first aware of Hollandspiele when folks went crazy for Supply Lines of the American Revolution. As a publisher, especially a small one, it’s easy to be crowded out by the bigger names in the market. After all, some of these publishers have decades of fans, deep game libraries, marquee designers, and familiar publishing methods.

Tom with Meltwater

Instead, Hollandspiele has opted to find the “weird” in wargaming. Not necessarily strange mechanics or topics. Though, they have some of those too! But, as Tom puts it, “not weird in a demeaning way. Wargamers have an appreciation for how weird history can be.” As a result, the Hollands have carved a niche in this hobby for themselves by catering to this sense of weirdness.

After all, it was no sure thing that a game like An Infamous Traffic from Cole Wehrle about the opium trade and Opium Wars would sell. Instead, it was Hollandspiele’s first real taste of success. “That was the game that actually put us into the black” reflected Holland.


For most publishers, there’s a sort of opaque dealing with designers that happens behind the scenes. It’s alluded to in podcasts and interviews. Hollandspiele has, again, taken the road less travelled here by openly publishing their agreement as they attract designers.

Speaking from experience, Russell noted, “It’s not a great experience [as a designer] when a game gets published and it has been changed in some way without your knowledge.” As a result of his experience on the designer side of the equation, the Hollands have worked to put designers first.

Tom playing 1919

What was particularly telling, to me at least, was Tom’s admission that he’ll put his own designs on hold to publish a contracted designer’s game. If that’s not walking the talk, then I’m not sure what is to be honest. The dedication to finding great games goes beyond just involving designers at every stage in the development of a game.

“When we are approached about a design, sometimes we end up asking the designer how Hollandspiele is the right fit to publish their game” according to Holland. This commitment to fit is important because as Russell adds:

We’re not the kind of people who would take a game and then alter it just to do so. We’re going to do develop the game and we’re going to try to present the game in the best possible light to make the best possible game.

If we’re signing the game is because we want to publish that game that designer created and not, you know, alter, it

What rules out a game from Hollandspiele’s consideration?

“We are looking for two things….Will the game sell to our audience?…Are we capable of producing the game at a pricepoint people will buy?” said Holland.

Given that Hollandspiele has not shied away from sensitive subjects (An Infamous Traffic & recently This Guilty Land) these are pretty basic rules. The Hollands specialize in identifying great games, making them better, and getting them turned around pretty quickly. As Tom lamented, he was contracted for a game with another publisher in 2012, but it was going to be two-years before a developer could get to it. That’s a long wait.

Instead, Hollandspiele is well aware of their business model. “If we can publish 5 games a quarter, then we’re going to be able to keep doing this. We haven’t quite hit that yet, but sometimes a game exceeds our projections and that makes up for games we don’t publish or games that missed our projection.” said Holland. This assuredness and straightforward business model mean that the Hollands can focus on getting games out the door.

With regard to taking on future sensitive topics, Russell simply said that their expectation is designers take the subject-matter seriously and handle it with respect. That’s a powerful statement given the backlash that Academy Games faced over Freedom: The Underground Railroad back in 2012 when it was released.

The Hollands have a solid grasp on the nuance of sensitive topics which has included not selling This Guilty Land in conventions or stores. In fact, none of the Hollandspiele games are available in stores. They are a direct sale model operation.

A well deserved accolade

Tom & Mary’s deep care for the hobby, wargames, and wagamers jumped off the screen at me throughout 2018. Their pathway and philosophy are firmly rooted in a deep understanding of why they do this.

As Tom put it, “In some parallel universe I’m designing quirky party games for Hollandspiele. I’m lucky enough to be doing this and I enjoy the challenge.” The need to create, be creative, and to give others the same sense of enjoyment they find in board games is a driving force at Hollandspiele. Though many publishers, particularly small publishers, would say that’s their goal too, it’s evident in everything about the Holland’s approach that reinforces their success.

Here’s to a great 2019 and the continued success of Hollandspiele!

Tell me what YOUR favorite game from Hollandspiele is in the comments below…and better yet…find a new favorite over at

Welcome back to Part II of our Recon Report 2019! Today, we’re looking at games from publishers in alphabetical order from G through M. There were a lot of great publishers that looked like they had some very interesting titles in here. Unfortunately, many smaller publishers don’t make it easy to find information about their upcoming games even when they might be listed on their website! As a result, you may not see some of your favorite small publishers listed here. That does NOT mean they don’t have great games coming in 2019!

GMT Games

I had to limit my excitement to just handful of games in 2019 for each publisher. This was especially difficult with GMT Games, but after much consideration here are my top picks in 2019!

The Dark Sands

Yes, this did come out in 2018. It came out about a week before the end of the year, so I’m calling it a 2019 game. Ted Racier follows up on his The Dark Valley eastern front game by taking us to North Africa this time. The game, if it’s anything like The Dark Valley will feature some fantastic mechanics related to maneuver warfare.

The focus on all out warfare is appealing here. No supply or logistical worries, just digging down into the tactics of Rommel vs. Monty. Also of note, the three map section configuration features a center map with a different scale than the other two. Again, a choice made in service of focusing on combat. The chit pull system is back and that includes reinforcements making for some desperate pleas to the wargaming gods to grab that reinforcement chit early on in the turn. This should be a very fun one.

Fields of Fire Volume II: With the Old Breed

I love the original Fields of Fire. I have long maintained that it is the most innovative solitaire tactical design ever conceived. Further, I believe that Fields of Fire plays like a great tactical historical account reads. Players are making choices that are both meaningful and often with incredibly limited information. The game is tense, difficult, frustrating, and glorious.

Hue City Campaign

Fields of Fire II will bring a few different things to the mix. The first is a WWII pacific theater focus because we’re looking at the Marines this time around. We also get urban combat. The 2nd Edition rules provided for that, but the first volume didn’t dive into urban combat. With combat around Hue for the Vietnam campaign this time, we’ll get to experience what the system has to offer for urban combat. This is an exciting development.

I am disappointed that this continues to slip down the list every single year, It’s been over it’s P500 number for 2 years at this point and every time a publishing schedule get released this game slips further and further down the list. I’m sincerely hopeful that we will get this game in late 2019.

Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987

Red Storm Banner

Downtown is not dead. The last time we saw an adaptation of this system was the Bloody April World War I game. I love that we’ll have seen Vietnam, Arab-Israeli Conflict, World War I, and now a hypothetical World War III game.

What’s exciting about this game, as with the rest of the series, is the operational approach to air warfare. Red Storm promises to go a little deeper with actions like airborne drops, helicopter assaults, and a greater variety of ground force concentrations. This is a welcome addition to the game system and I think we’re in for perhaps the best of the series with Red Storm!

Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision, 1240-1242

If I were to tell you that I know nothing about this historical era, I would be lying. I don’t know enough to know I know nothing about it. As a result, I’m excited for Nevsky in a way that I haven’t been excited in ages. There’s something fantastic about exploring a new historical era with a game from a great designer. With Volko at the helm here, this is a can’t miss title for 2019.

Nevky Playtest components

As someone who was certified to teach history to high school students, I can tell you that anything from the medieval era is pretty much not covered. There’s a little bit about Charlemagne and the Norman invasion of England. There’s some talk about the fall of the Roman empire. It is NOT, however, sufficient to convey the rich cultures and world of medieval Europe. It wasn’t until college that I even encountered subdivisions of “medieval” into things like Early, High or Late periods which are uniquely weird.

Nevsky, pits Danish and German landholders against the Russian elite around Novgorod. It is, notably, the first game in the Levy & Campaign Series from GMT Games which will cover other pre-industrial conflicts. The last time Volko was involved in starting a new series…it went pretty well.

Since the game is largely about campaigning, the forces are based around levies and lords who call them up. Forces are tracked off-board and critically must be provided for while campaigning. I love this approach and its something I’ve often considered missing in pre-industrial games. A lot is taken for granted about sustaining an army that is always under threat of needing to return home for harvest or other reasons. Volko’s approach here seems very thoughtful and well executed. I like the idea of a “mini-game” keeping forces in the field.

High Flying Dice Games

This is a good example of a small publisher missing out on marketing their games well. The development page lists a lot of interesting titles, but that’s all we get. There is no designer, description, or marketing copy. Just a title and a topic. As a result, I’m picking these solely based on my interest in the topic alone.

In Harm’s Way

Naval Battles in the Ducth East Indies Sunda Strait-Java Sea-Balikpapan-Java Strait 1942. This one sounds interesting based on this description!

Thunder Upon the Water

The Battle of Albermarle Sound May 5, 1864. I live in North Carolina, so this one has me greatly interested based on geography alone.

Souls of Waste

The Battle of An Bao May 5, 1968. I’m always on the lookout for quality Vietnam games and it looks like High Flying Dice has 3 or 4 in development.


I have it on good authority a full preview is coming from them shortly, so here are just a FEW of the titles this year that I was able to get glean from Tom….

Aurelian: Restorer of the World

This is the same system as Charlemagne and will put you in the shoes of the Roman Emperor Aurelian who stabilized much of the splintered Roman empire through military and political prowess. This should be a REALLY fun one because it’s not just one challenge that Aurelian faces, it’s ALL the challenges. You have a civil war, invasion by emboldened tribes, and followed a period of a bunch of assassinations that led to widespread chaos in the 3rd Century.

That Others May Live

This is another solo game from Brad Smith, who did NATO Air Commander. Here you’re working in Vietnam as medevac helicopters to find and rescue soldiers before the enemy can reach them.

The game is played on a grid of cards with mechanics that allow for hidden enemies and limited information as the “AI” searches for the soldiers as well. It’s not all that often we get a wargame about SAVING people, so I think this is one that highlights some incredibly brave and inventive folks from the Vietnam conflict.

That’s all I’ll spoil from Hollandspiele at this point…but keep an eye on their blog.

Last Stand Games

Beyond Leipzig: Conflict of Nations, The 1813 Campaign

This one is PROBABLY not coming out in 2019. Now that Stalingrad: Verdun on the Volga is out the door though, it seems like Donald Johnson is able to get back in the saddle with this game. Again, that’s also somewhat up in the air given his commitments with Compass Games as well.

However, the early playtest work that began in 2013 on this game looks fantastic, so I’ll leave my optimism here alongside this image:

Beyond Leipzig Playtest Layout

Legion Wargames

Dien Bien Phu – The Final Gamble

Kim Kanger is updating this to be more than just a reprint with included errata. This is what he’s dubbing a 2.5 edition. As a result, Kanger has reinterpreted the battle. Here are some selections of what he’s had to say recently on about it.

Counter art from Dien Bien Phu

DBP was definitely NOT hurried-along design when it was printed. I don’t recall it to be considered broken. 

But new info trickles in during the years, especially a recent published book by Kevin Boylan and Luc Olivier (who spent years and years reading archives and interviewing veterans). Changes also stems from the simple fact that I wish to try a new take on things. There was nothing wrong with my first grip on the battle. I just have an urge to take a slightly new and different grip on it, and not just do s simple straight-on reprint (because that is boring). So my advice is that you enjoy the copy that you have, download the living rules 2.4 to make it even sharper. Then, if you like the game and think it is worth the money, you can (and are most welcome to) invest in the 2nd edition, which is simply my new interpretation of the battle, based on the existing DBP-system.

I’m just amazed that many assume there must be something wrong with a game if the designer wish to do a second edition five years later. It would definitely have been easier for me if I would have done a simple reprint, and I would not have been subject to suspicions that my previous effort was a failure.

The combat system, with a few minor adjustments, stays the same. But the VM artillery is changed in how it is done. French artillery will probably be changed in scale, all the numbers are updated, the map is updated. There are some new features also.

Definitely check this one out as it’s in my top 5 games to watch for in 2019!

Waning Crescent, Shattered Cross: The Siege of Malta 1565

This is a card supported game with graphics in a similar vein to Toulon 1783 from Legion. Waning Crescent has been in development for years and went up 2 years ago for CPO with Legion.

The game covers the Siege of Malta by the Ottomans in 1565. The Christian defenders have a tricky job of holding two forts separated by water and a narrow land bridge. For those who have read Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley this is a chance to take the siege out of the book and put it on the table. The daring raids, Christians swimming between forts, and Turks quickly sinking all their resources into the battle.

This is a desperate siege and based on playtester comments, should be a nail biter.

Both sides are balancing the push of their luck against the need to get things done – but what are the priorities? what of my dwindling resources (supply and troops) to use for each activity? The Christians can sortie if given a chance, they have four differently separated areas to control and do not know a main goal of the Ottoman, where should they reinforce? what might they abandon? Is that an Ottoman feint? 

Jonathan Townsend – Playtester

A Glorious Chance – The Naval Struggle for Lake Ontario during the War of 1812

I loved the GMT Games release of Mr. Madison’s War. It gave me a whole new lens through which to view the War of 1812. The struggle and tactics around Lake Ontario in particular were fascinating. It seemed, from the game, to be an endless swirl of maneuver and counter maneuver around the lake.

A Glorious Chance Map

Well, Legion Wargames is bringing a solitaire game about this struggle for Lake Ontario to gamers in 2019. Designer Gina Willis is putting players in charge of either a British or American squadron on the lake. I love that you can play either side a la RAF.

If you want to read a great interview with Gina, check out The Player’s Aid article here.

The AI is card driven and will counter your raids, amphibious landings, and missions with their own. As a result, you must make calculated risks about how far to push you squadron because players are only afforded 4 months to achieve dominance of the lake!

Lock n Load Games

World at War ’85 – Storming the Gap

I will be the first to admit that this list is heavy on World War III. This is no mistake. It seems like every publisher is doing some kind of hypothetical conflict game this year or in 2018.

What sets this game apart?

I own everything there is for the original World at War series. I was a fun dice-chucking low-complexity tactical hex & counter affair. The game featured tons of nations, great geomorphic maps, and some pretty engaging scenarios to boot. Unfortunately, it also suffered from some HORRIBLE graphic design flaws.

Here’s a video from Big Board Gaming that previews it.

This time around, we’re treated to a re-imaging of the series from the new Lock ‘N Load team. This team has been successful with revamping the Lock ‘N Load Tactical series as well so I have high hopes even though there are different people involved. Publishers tend to provide a guiding hand across all their games.

While I’m not thrilled about rebuying this series, I think it will be WELL worth the investment if the fun comes close to what I had with the original.

Space Infantry Resurgence

Space Infantry Resurgence Cover

YES! A sci-fi game is on the list. This is a solo (and now co-op) tactical game played across a series of set missions. The game was a pretty solid hit during it’s original release and I always seemed to miss the window to buy it.

Resurgence will come with everything that’s been released to date and incorporate all the extra rules and chrome that have been added over time. As a result, this is one I’m watching VERY closely in 2019!

Multi-Man Publishing

Red Factories

If you’re an ASL fan this one has been on your radar for a LONG time. Red Factories is the culmination of epic Historical ASL (HASL) journey that began almost 30 years ago. Red Barricades has been one of the most played historical ASL games ever since.

Fans received Valor of the Guards in 2008, which tackled another area of Stalingrad that included Red Square. It also introduced a number of new terrain types.

Red Factories and Red Barricades together!
Here we see a non-color matched Red Barricades and Red October map.

Now fans are getting the deluxe treatment. Red Factories. This package includes TWO games. Red October a new look at the Krasny Oktyabr (Red October) developed by longtime ASL renaissance man Gary Fortenberry. This new game centers around the Red October industrial complex.

The other game is a reworked Red Barricades. This update includes map corrections, errata inclusion, and clarifications gleaned from 30 years of near constant play.

What makes the package so attractive is that the games can be combined in two all new MASSIVE ASL campaign games. It doesn’t get any more monster than this package for ASL fans. Now…we just need a way to link in Valor of the Guards to these two and a few campaign games that will drain the blood for even diehard ASL’ers!

To Take Washington

My “Best of” list for 2018 included no less than THREE American Civil War Games. So far, this listing only includes 3 and we’ve covered over 20 games between the two articles released so far. It’s time to add another to the list…

To Take Washington is the anticipated Line of Battle Series addition that examines actions around Fort Monocacy. Jubal Early squared off against a vastly (2:1) outnumbered Lew Wallace and managed to fight to a bit of stalemate that bought the Union sufficient time to save Washington. This was the first a few battles (Fort Stevens being the other) in a failed bid by the Confederacy to take Washington…hence the awesome name.

The package conveniently adds maps for both battles and the unit density is much less than the other two games in the series which covered Antietam (None But Heroes) and Gettysburg (Last Chance for Victory). I am a huge fan of the Line of Battle series and have been waiting for a game that will make this complex system more intuitive. If you’ve not checked out Line of Battle yet…this could be your entree to a great system.

Brazen Chariots

Another series game here from MMP who seems to make their name on series lately! Brazen Chariots is the third game in the Battalion Combat Series (BCS) from The Gamers. This formation activation chit-pull system has been used in Wacht Am Rhein (Last Blitzkrieg) and most recently Kasserine (Baptism by Fire).

Brazen Chariots Map A Sample

This time we’re back in North Africa and the battles around Tobruk. 2019 is shaping up to be a return to North Africa for a number of game companies who are taking the year to explore beyond Europe if they’re covering World War II. That’s a welcome departure!

Four scenarios and a campaign game will require all three maps in this game. Refreshingly, however, five scenarios only require one map. The game is billed, like To Take Washington, as an introduction to the series.

This one is particularly interesting to me because it features wide-open terrain. That’s something somewhat new to the series that will be refreshing because it will showcase the activation and orders system well without bogging down players in the details of terrain effects every few hexes. I like a calculated game…but sometimes I want to put the pedal to the metal and move!

Where do you stand?

Let me know in the comments below which games from these publishers YOU most want to see as a part of YOUR Recon Report 2019!