Counterus Hex

Hex and Counter games reviewed and discussed by an old Grognard.

Fleet Commander Nimitz by DVG games and designed by Dan Verssen in 2014 is an operational solitaire game that encompasses the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) during WWII. The player commands the US/Allied forces dealt the task of pushing the Japanese Imperial military back and ultimately conquering them once and for all. No easy task to be sure in real life or on a game board.

Now I am going to be upfront and honest here, I want to like this game but have had a difficult time with accepting some of its flaws. Especially the seemingly bizarre movements of the enemy Artificial Intelligence (AI). The game is simple and straightforward in its approach to a rather large and complex situation, however this simplicity coupled with wild randomness becomes frustrating at times. I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to justify in my mind some of the strange actions the AI often chooses, mostly to no avail.

However, it is rumored that DVG is looking at revising the rules to fix known problems and are in the process of compiling a list of issues to facilitate this. I do hope they are successful, for I believe Fleet Commander Nimitz could be an outstanding title with a few nudges and tweaks.

Right, let’s take a look at the game.

Components: The game comes in a large beautiful box, with a fully mounted point to point map board, a full color rule book and so many counters I gave up even trying to add them all up. The map is not only functional but rather pleasing to look at as well. I like the fact that sequence of play is printed directly on the map as are the steps for battle resolution. Having them handy and visible at all times made learning the game much easier. Not that Nimitz is a hard title to digest; it just seems that way at first due to its size. There are also the campaign set up cards and the battle board which is used to resolve combat. These are printed on some nice heavy card stock rather than paper. The counters in my copy were cut so deeply and well, that upon opening the box I found that many of them had simply fallen out of the sprues in transit. It was sort of frightening to see small piles of counters floating around inside, but as they all needed to be sorted anyway (I’ll get to that later) it wasn’t all that bad. Some of my units had been cut a little off set so the nationality flags were rather thin on one side but that had no impact on play. Overall top notch quality components as we have come to expect from DVG.

The rules: The rule book is well formatted and easy to digest, though I did find myself rereading the combat sequence the first few times I played. There are only 20 pages of rules all together and as the pages are filled with art and examples I found it a very light read. Some of the specific instructions can be a little confusing at first glance such as when you can attack airfields during combat which took me awhile to grasp, and the movement and splitting up of fleets that occurs every turn. Which can be a rather fiddly affair. But overall the concepts are grasped rather quickly with a skim or two and once set up a lot of the rules that seem foreign whilst reading become quite clear once you start playing. I am not going to lay out all the rules here as that would simply waste your time, However I have provided a link to a downloadable version below so you can peruse them at your leisure.

Clipped and sorted by year.

Game play: Before you start playing you will want to sort all of the ship, aircraft, and infantry counters for both the Japanese and Allies by year, i.e. 1942-1945. This is because each year represents a campaign, and each campaign has its own counters associated with it. These campaign counters also possess different strengths for combat depending on which year they are used. For example if you compare the battleship Dakota/Indiana 1942, to the 1945 unit you will see that the 45 version is more powerful. This represents advancements in technology as well as the fighting abilities of the particular crews and ships during the war. Using the wrong counters for a campaign can obviously skew the results dramatically. Thus the need to sort, and as there were so many loose counters to begin with this sorting process took a bit of time to accomplish.

The game can be played as an individual campaign year, with each turn being two months, or you can link the years together and fight the entire war from 42-45. This “Linked” campaign is quite simply broken and pretty much just an exercise in adding up your victory scores for each individual campaign as you play through. Ships that were sunk reappear magically with the new year as there is no formula or calculation to remove and replace them. So if you lose the Aircraft carrier Lexington in 1942, never fear you will have a bigger and better one in 43. Islands and objectives previously won are ignored and the map set up for the following year can, and most often does, look completely different. I suppose I could come up with an excel sheet that calculated Islands controlled and ships lost compared to year and remove the ships from play going forward, but you know what? At $100 US retail for this game I really feel that I shouldn’t have to, and I believe the “Linked” campaign should have been fleshed out in full before hitting the market. Instead it is but a small side note at the end of the rules.

Right, so you chose one of the campaign cards and set up the map according to its instructions.

Next you are issued resupply and reinforcement points which the player can spend in a variety of ways, i.e. buying more ships, move ships (costs one RP), send your submarines against the Japanese merchant fleet, scouting (worth every point spent), etc. Lots of options. These resource points are the life’s blood of your fleet and should be spent wisely.

Then it is a matter of moving your forces to various islands to achieve objectives, paying the RP points for every counter moved. Once the player has moved the AI then gets its chance. This is done by rolling a D10 for each stack of Japanese ships, infantry and aircraft on the board, repeatedly, until every counter in every stack or location has had a command issued to it. You cross reference the die roll with the move orders table on the map to see how many of the stack move and to where. For example; on a roll of 4 then, 3 random ships, 1 Infantry and possibly 2 Land based aircraft (LBA) would move south one point closer to Australia. If the order cannot be performed then a “Hold” order is played instead basically this means 6 ships, 2 infantry, and 3 LBA don’t move and the Japanese get a resupply counter. (To buy reinforcements with)

These random AI moves have irked me more than once. I have won two campaigns simply because the AI decided to pull all its forces away from an island and sail back to Japan. Or it rolls to move a fleet of ships in the complete opposite direction of an objective, one that was hotly contested. These are not wins in my book and to be honest, I felt cheated even though victorious. On both occasions as the AI I would have reinforced the positions in full and crushed the weakened allied forces for the win.

After a unit or stack moves place a move counter on it so you don’t mistakenly try to move it again the same turn. After all moves are complete any locations that have both Allied and Japanese forces in them will conduct combat.

The process for combat is pretty slick, in that it takes place on a battle board and all counters involved are moved there. The Japanese have specific rules as to where they have to set their forces but the allied player has a pretty free hand as to disposition. Aircraft sortie, dogfights, bombing runs, AA fire, and naval bombardments etc. all take place on this map. Combat follows an exact sequence of events that never varies; you just go through the steps on the list. Basically in the end you are chucking a die and hoping to get less than or equal to your to hit number, which is printed on the counter. These battles can be a lot of fun especially when both sides have loads of airplanes flying about wreaking havoc. The early war Japanese planes are extremely deadly though, and some have even gone so far as to suggest that they are over powered. Sadly after my first few campaigns I figured out a way to “game” the combat system to minimize the possibility of Japanese fighters ganging up on my bombers by sacrificing a few weaker aircraft in various zones.

Once all combats are resolved  the Japanese resupply, and the Allies move all ships back to Pearl Harbor, then a new turn can begin. It is all very smooth and linear which can be very comfortable. There is a bit more going on here but you get the gist.

Conclusions: I have had fun playing Fleet Commander Nimitz, it’s simple approach to a complex situation allowed me to handle large fleets of ships without being crushed by a compendium of minute tactical rules. The components and production of the game itself are top notch. The well thought out sequences of play both strategically and tactically are enjoyable to go through.

Yet, the problems that will keep me from playing this again remain; the random unexplainable moves of the AI, the nonexistent or extremely weak “Linked” campaign, and the ability to game the tactical combat system. I feel strongly that those issues need to be addressed before this title can be called “complete” especially considering this retails for $100. I can only hope that DVG does make good on its promise to revise and refit this title which has so much potential, until then it will remain but a pretty box on my shelf.

Cheers

AL

DVG

Nimitz Rules

You don’t get to steal from me!

The Internet with its amazing capability to reach people globally has been something of a blessing for us war gamers. For through this medium one can connect with other players in an area, join a conversation on a forum or Facebook group you can even buy and sell games with ease. Games that in the bad old days of the 1970s one would have to either special order from a FLGS or purchase through mail order, can now be found with a few key strokes and a click of a mouse. (For you youngsters out there mail order consisted of filling out a paper form, writing a check, and mailing it to the company, then waiting four to six weeks for your package to arrive.) Every publisher and retailer now has their own online store and then of course there is a huge market in used, and out of print , titles offered by individuals and private sale.


This ability to connect and search world wide has allowed me to find a few personal “Grail” games and expand my gaming library quite a bit over the past year or so. Yet, there is a downside, as in all things, to this wonderful and seemingly painless way of buying, selling, and promoting the hobby in general. For, though I have found that the majority of gamers are honest and forthright, there does exist a minority that is the complete opposite.

It is of these people I wish to speak.

I am sure we have all heard the horror stories of fraudulent Kickstarter projects in which the backers lost their money. Then there are the miniature painters who offer services, receive the minis and money to paint them, and then never deliver. The private seller who advertises a game on Facebook or Ebay, as complete but when you get it, it’s anything but, and lastly the seller who simply does not ship what you paid for. In my many transactions over the years I have personally received damaged and incomplete games. Had to chase, no less than three, sellers down with constant emails to try and get them to ship what I paid for (one was a publishing company with really bad customer service) and one time I even reported a person for fraudulent behavior. Only once have I ever received my money back or compensation for damaged goods.

I have remained silent as to the bad transactions which I have been subject to until now, because as stated earlier these are a minority. Most of my buying and selling goes off without a hitch between good and honest people.  I have been loath publicly speak about this dark aspect of our community so as to avoid shedding a negative light upon the hobby as a whole. But that ended yesterday when I was contacted by a friend, who was obviously being hustled.
   
The story is familiar, he had bought a few games second hand from an online buy and sell group and paid upfront through PayPal, which is the standard. The seller was someone who is pretty well known in the war gaming community, at least in face book circles, and my friend could with confidence expect no issues. However, as days turned to weeks, and weeks to months with no package in sight it became evident something was amiss. So my friend contacted the seller, who said he had shipped and would check the status. Then the seller said “oh no I didn’t ship sorry, what’s your address?” a week later he told a different tale and a few days later another until all the excuses piled up into such nonsense that not an ounce of truth could be sifted out of it.  Eventually my friend was forced to ask for his money back, which I believe he got, and walked away shaking his head in disgust.

Now ask yourself; “Would you as a newbie to the hobby be inclined to stick around after being treated thusly?” After researching a title you thought would get you into war gaming you find a seller and then they blatantly lie to your face, take your money, and treat you as if you are a bother? ” I don’t think so, and unless the victim is given some kind of moral support from other members of the community they will more than likely walk away forever with negative thoughts in their head. For what has been proclaimed a “dying past time”, or at least aging, this type of dishonest behavior has a much more significant impact than what it would seem otherwise.

Insincere and morally bankrupt people are everywhere, yet in our shrinking world we need to be vigilant in policing them from our ranks, for they can and do hurt us all.

I do not like being lied to, hustled, or stolen from. I’m quite sure I am not alone in this and the savage instincts of my people boil up quickly when confronted by such behavior. But what good is such rage when everyone is behind the invisible keyboard walls of the Internet? We cannot satiate our anger and disdain with violence if we are unable to get our hands on the offending party.
There are no clear cut solutions or methods for dealing with the parasites amongst us. Extermination is out of the question obviously. Yet I for one am going to do what I can, to help isolate, and castigate the thieves, schemers, and liars lurking on the fringes of our hobby. They are a blight, an ugly brown smear, tainting one of the few things I find truly wonderful in this world. 

So, what do you do? Well number one is “Speak up” don’t be like me and quietly seethe and try to get it resolved through back channels. Tell your friends so they can avoid suffering the same or worse at the hands of the transgressors. If you run a forum or group, consider banning people for acts of theft and or fraud, thereby excluding them from the community that they wish to prey on. Let all know that such people are not welcome or tolerated and they will slither off to other parts of the net to spread their evil disease. 

The old saying goes, “Shit happens”, and it does, everyday real life issues will oft times take precedent over everything else. 

But if the “Shit” is you personally then it’s simply time for you to go and we should all do our utmost to help flush you down the toilet.


Cheers

AL

Battles on the Ice is the third installment of the Shields & Swords II game system designed by Tom Russell and produced by Hollandspiele.  Much like it’s predecessors in the series, Grunwald Swords and House of Normandy, Battles on the Ice throws players into the world of medieval combat using a slick and easy to learn set of rules. 

There are two scenarios/battles in the game and, as the title suggests, they are both fought on ice. First there is the battle of Lake Peipus 1242 which was made famous and known to the world by the inaccurate and quite fictional film Alexander Nevsky. Second, we have the lesser known battle of Karuse which was fought on the frozen sea near the village in 1270.

This isn’t GBOH or Men of Iron by any stretch of the imagination, and is most definitely an entry level game. However, one should not be put off by that distinction, for above all things these games are an absolute joy to play. Easy set up, quick playing times coupled with a bit of nasty hack and slash action, Battles on the Ice fills the bill when time is an issue but you still need to roll some dice.

Tom’s little add on rules for each battle (never more than 3-4) to supplement the basic system help to recreate the historical situation, but still leave the player quite a few options to manipulate that history. There is a subtle nuance within these add on regulations that tend to create a bit of tension during game play. This is one of the main reasons I find myself setting up and running through sessions of these games so often.

Right, now on to the game, what’s in the box, and how does it play?

The laser cut counters are nice and thick, and the images on the counters clear. No need for clipping on these. The map consists of two,10.25″ wide x 16.5″ long thick paper stock sheets with defined hex overlays, which will have to be placed under plastic to keep it flat during play. (I believe that Hollandspiele has transitioned to one piece maps with larger hexes for all of their titles since I purchased my copy.)

I find that the colors and art on the map itself are a joy to look at. The various shades of blue and white that represent a minimalist icy landscape (these are battles on ice after all) are masterfully blended and they catch the eye. Not to the point of distraction mind you but I do feel as if the artist, Ania B. Ziółkowska, has captured the essence of the situation.

“Cold and forbidding, I can almost see the breath of the soldiers plume before them whilst stomping their feet on the frozen ice and snow to keep the blood flowing. Waiting in terror for the clash of arms to bring either sweet victory or the deep sleep of death. Yeah my mind wanders like that.”


The game also comes with a single eight sided die, for combat resolution, the series rule book of course, and a second booklet of notes on the history of the battles with scenario specific rules. 
All of this fits inside a nice sturdy box printed with a retro design that I like quite a bit. 



Rules: The rules are extremely simple and I have provided a link at the bottom of the article where you can download the latest edition of said rules. Here I will just touch upon the sequence of play briefly.

 The battles are played in a series of alternating turns until the victory conditions are met. Each turn is broken up into three phases:

1. Command Phase, this is where a player issues two commands to one or two wings of their army. Wings are easily identified by the color of the counters. Each player has three to four double sided command chits to choose from, depending on the scenario. These commands will dictate what the units will do in the next phase. Learning the various combinations on the command chits and becoming creative with them in play is very rewarding.


2. Action Phase, Commands issued are executed in the following order.


·        Fire, ranged attack (archers loose their arrows)
·        Horse, (heavy and light horse move and attack)
·        Withdraw.
·        Shield Wall. (infantry only)
·        Move.
·        Second Move.(if Bonus command used)
·        Combat
·        Second/Pitched combat. (if Bonus command is used)

So as an example; if a player issues a Horse command and, a Combat command to a wing all heavy and light cavalry would move and attack, then once those attacks are resolved all units in the wing including the previously ordered cavalry can attack again.

3. Initiative Phase. If a player holds the initiative marker they may “Declare Initiative” at the end of his/her turn. In so doing that player will pass the marker to their opponent and then take another complete turn starting with the command phase. Initiative allows the player to follow up a breakthrough assault or to perform a second push, however, now the other player can call initiative next round as they are in control of the marker.

Once all phases are complete the play passes to your opponent and the cycle begins anew.


Game play for both battles is dynamic, intuitive, and very bloody, just the way I like my medievil combat. Scenario specific rules force players to think beyond the standard charge, smash, and grind tactics of the era.


For example; in the Battle of Lake Peipus 1242, the Novgorod player has a wing of elite body guards known as the Druzhina These are vital to help maintain “Wing integrity” (think Morale) for the masses of levy infantry units at his command. They also offer a +1 CC (Combat Class) modifier to all units within five hexes of them, which is a really good bonus. Obviously if these elite guards are destroyed then the rest of the line can crumble and fall rather quickly. However, that isn’t as easy as it sounds for the Novgorod player will be protecting those forces at all costs and playing for time, because he wants to wait as long as possible before bringing in his special Horse Archer wing which is the second special rule for the battle. Each turn that Novgorod player holds off and waits to declare initiative, thus activating these Horse units, gives him victory points towards his total. But just like in Grunwald Swords, the problem is how long to wait. Go too early and the points accrued are pretty useless, too late and his losses of infantry may be too great to recover from. Oh and yeah, if the Livonians manage to get any unit adjacent to one of the Novgorod Horse archers prior to the initiative declaration, then all the points accrued are immediately lost!



In the Karuse battle, the Livonian/Teutonic player has the ability to activate all of his cavalry units from all three of his wings as a single group, so long as he retains initiative. This is a pretty scary thing for the Lithuanian infantry. However, that large cavalry charge has to break through a line of defensive barricades (sleds) which the Lithuanians have set up. Not easy to do because cavalry can become “unhorsed” when they move adjacent to any of the barricade counters. A special roll is made and if the result is 6 or more the horse unit is replaced with an unhorsed veteran unit counter and these units are worth double victory points if killed. Of course the Lithuanians are going to go all out spearing any cavalry soldiers who fell to the ground at the first opportunity. As these barricades can only be destroyed by a Horse Charge attack there really is no way to avoid them and thus the Livonians will have to risk enough attacks to break a hole in the line of defense.

I personally enjoy the challenges inherent in both of these battles. The limited order chits one has to choose from each turn forces a player to be creative. You never seem to be able to do all you want on each turn and as the ebb and flow of combat changes the tactical landscape you find yourself improvising. The Livonians have to work hard to break through the masses of infantry arrayed before them. Their famous, or should I say infamous, heavy horse are their greatest asset and should be used to advantage. However, beware over extending, for losing even a few of these units can be devastating. And don’t forget the Infantry at your disposal, use them to close and tear at the enemy whilst charging to and fro with your knights.

The Novgorod/Lithuanian player needs to focus on holding the line, to avoid flank attacks, play for time, and focus on destroying enemy cavalry. Use the wing integrity rule to your advantage and grind down the Livonian Horse. Attack in groups to obtain the much coveted die roll modifier to offset class vs. class deficiencies when resolving combat. Remember, Barricades are your friend!



Conclusion: (I hear the sighs and mutterings of; “finally you egomaniacal git!”)

Battles on the Ice is a wonderful addition to the Shields & Swords II family. It’s easy to understand rules, coupled with fluid and intuitive game play make it a great title for introducing  new or young players to hex and counter war gaming. There are enough challenges provided by the battle specific rules to keep novices and old Grognards focused and on their toes through each session. And last but not least, it is just plain old, blood and guts war gaming fun.

Cheers


AL

Links;

This is a continuation of my list of people to avoid at gaming conventions. Part one can be found Here. Please note, for there has been a bit of confusion, that this list DOES NOT! represent the majority of people who attend board game conventions. The characters I point out here are a definite minority, and I dare say that one could spend four days at a Con and not run into a single one of them. However, they do exist and so I present to the old gamer and new what to look for and how to deal with those people who will negatively impact your Convention experience. 


7. The Art Critic: Miniature wargamers take great pride in painting their models for use in the games they run at conventions. Like all forms of art, and let me tell you this is an art form, there are varying degrees of talent and styles. The sheer amount of work and dedication it takes to build, paint, and mount the hundreds of minis on the table is really astounding, This doesn’t take into account the oft times elaborate and creative terrain features as well. The critic, though signed up to play the actual game, focuses his attention on the level of detail of the miniatures and terrain before him instead. Staring intently through his Pince-Nez glasses, he will gladly point out to the owner of the miniatures any areas he feels could use a bit of improvement. As he is an grand master in this field he can with great confidence explain that the use of washes to highlight shades is far superior to dry brushing, or that when trying to paint eyes one should attempt to catch the light reflection in the pupil for effect, etc.

The problem with these players is that Miniature war games tend to be larger affairs with a few people to a side, usually with each person responsible for a wing or two. If you have an art critic on your side of the table who is more interested in showing off his knowledge of painting technique than focusing on the task at hand, well then your team is playing at a deficit. The critic is there only to try and inflate their own perceptions of self worth at the expense of the person who worked so hard to put the game on. Their passive aggressive attitude is insulting and demeaning to the extreme and I personally find these players to be loathsome. For if they were really interested in helping to improve the talent or technique of the original artist then they would discuss such things with them in a more private setting not with an entire group of players as an audience. 

There is nothing you can do about such people, they simply exist, so if you are a player on a critic’s side of the table simply try not to support his wing etc. so he can he knocked out of the game quicker. Or as I have been known to do on occasion simply sacrifice your own wing in pointless attacks and then run away as quickly as possible.
8. Rivet Counters: Much like Historians, rivet counters look at the minutia of a game with great care in the hopes of finding any historical inaccuracies. They are most often found at miniature games where there are plenty of models to look over for what they perceive as errors. Such players will pick apart the most meaningless detail of a model or even a counter to show how intellectually gifted they are. Generally this behavior doesn’t have any negative effect on the game itself except that the rivet counter will, at all costs, bring these little bits of trivia to your attention, so as to educate all of the ignorant trolls within ear shot. These players can be dealt with by using a bit of wit and sarcasm. 

For example; (this actually happened to me) A rivet counter touched me on my arm as I was moving my troops, 12th century heavy horse, and pointing to the models in front of his wing said; “these crossbowmen are all wrong, the French of the time had bigger, heavier crossbows for which to pierce the armor of heavy cavalry.” 

Smiling, I looked him in the eye and replied; “Exactly! And the utter lack of proper representation of the MK IV Panzer for this battle is rather appalling. And where are the Stukas? Would that these things were thought out better before we volunteered to play.”  
My Rivet Counter did not appreciate these observations; however he also didn’t speak to me for the rest of the match so it was a win, win, in my book.

OMG! are you mentally challenged? I Just told you what to do!

9. The Bully: These unfortunate people are the guys at the table telling everyone else what to do, how to do it, and angrily expressing frustration when such direction is not followed.  They have no interest in allowing anyone else to play as individual human beings. Rather the Bully views everyone around him as mere cardboard cut outs, to be placed upon the stage of his unappreciated genius, to do as he bids them and nothing more. These players can make an enjoyable and fun experience go right down the toilet in the blink of an eye. Angry and uncompromising they take every wrong, according to them, move or play as a personal insult, for they had just firmly told you what to do, so obviously your actions are designed to challenge their authority. 

Those who bow to the Bully’s whims will be rewarded with the wonderful feeling that they have somehow been treated as poorly as those who do not. There is no winning with a bully at the table for even if everyone adheres to his wishes and a victory on the board is achieved the satisfaction of a job well done will be overshadowed by the knowledge that you as a player really didn’t contribute other than to push pieces about like an automaton, and the Bully will, with a self satisfied glow, exclaim how you are fortunate to benefit from his benevolent leadership.

The best way to deal with these players is to simply play the game as you see fit and crack jokes about absolutely everything. Make bad decisions on purpose, even to the point of losing, and watch your tormentor turn fifteen shades of red. A few rounds of this and the Bully will sulk in the corner or rage quit whilst you happily go on enjoying yourself. Whatever you do, don’t let them take control of a session for as I said before it never ends well.

Negative Expert to my left, I give the V for victory sign as I finish beating him soundly.

10. The Negative Expert: Experts are a hit or miss type of player that can be either a blessing or a curse. For Experts are people who have through, time, and dedication, mastered the game. They have played in tournaments, helped rewrite the rules and devised or mimicked winning strategies. For the most part, Experts simply enjoy the game and wish to share this passion with others. Those are the good ones, the people who impart knowledge to help others in a positive way. 

The Negative Experts are the ones to be wary of. These players show up at introductory and beginner sessions simply to beat up on players who are just learning. They try to intimidate others by saying such things as; “The reason I win is because I think three to four turns ahead at all times, unless you can do that you will never be good at this game etc. etc.”  

Negative Experts are not good sports; they are looking to win at the expense of the beginner, all the while bragging about intricate tactics and strategies that were used in his last tournament. These people are difficult to spot early enough for you as a player to take evasive or defensive action. For, they come with open hands and smiles. It is not until you are two to three turns into a game that their true nature is revealed. 

When spotted though the best you can do is to try and beat them at their own game. Stop listening to their advice and apply what you do know to winning at all costs. This can be accomplished, because the Negative Expert is overconfident, and usually unimaginative in his play.  Even if you cannot win in the end try not to focus too much on them and instead try to appreciate the game itself and any positive aspects of it that you liked.
Warning: this shirt “Triggers” Drama Monkeys.

11. Drama Monkeys: These players are a personal pet peeve of mine and though I have added them to this list most people today will find no issue with them. Drama Monkeys are politically correct to the extreme and will cringe in horror and complain if some part of a game contains anything they consider offensive. For example; the Euro game Puerto Rico which is about trading goods in the Caribbean during the 1600’s, the representation of slaves can be just too much for a drama monkey to bear. I’m good with that, except when they sign up to play such a game and then try to lecture everyone at the table on the evils of slavery. 

They also are the self appointed conversation police, ready and willing to flutter with consternation if anyone says anything off color or not up to their standards. Now, when I am at a convention I do try very hard not to swear, (really difficult for me) or offend other players with my rather coarse nature. Yet Drama Monkeys make my efforts all that more difficult, for their hypersensitivity to everything stifles my good natured side as well as my bad. Instead of making a joke or laughing at something I think is amusing, I find myself shutting down and simply focusing on not saying the wrong thing so as to avoid “triggering” them. I despise being hindered in such a way. These pests have become so bothersome that once I identify a Drama Monkey at a game in which I am playing, I don’t even finish the session and simply excuse myself. 

I do not go to game conventions to be miserable nor to listen to another person’s politics.  

Bastard Extremus. Steer clear and call the authorities.

12. This Guy: I will not divulge his name but he has been at every convention I have ever attended. This guy has at one time or another played the Historian, the Waffle Mite, Socialite, Master Tactician, and the Bully, and once even a strange combination of all them together. He is something of a pretentious douche with a temper who should be avoided at all costs. Do not approach him unannounced or look him directly in the eyes as it will be taken as a sign of aggression, and if his irises turn from blue to gray and his whiskey breath goes soft, back away slowly palms forward. Do not make any sudden moves whatever you do. Better yet if you see this man contact the local authorities or the FBI for he is bound to have outstanding warrants. 

Cheers
AL

To help new game convention attendees and veterans alike, I have compiled a list of twelve persons to be avoided at all costs so as to make the convention experience more enjoyable.

Note: This list will be broken up into two articles as the first six definitions exceeded my desired word count.  And though I am focusing on war games, both miniature as well as hex & counter the concept can be applied to any gaming genre.

I enjoy board game conventions for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being that I get to spend time with my rather small and exclusive group of friends. We drink, laugh, play new games and, meet new people. We wander about and drool over all the shiny boxes of awesomeness that companies great and small lay out and sometimes demo. Vendors hawk their wares and large sums of money, to the chagrin of wives at home, are spent. Yes I do take great pleasure in these events quite a bit, but I also have found that though the vast majority of people are polite and agreeable there are several types of convention goers and attendees who tend to be quite the opposite. These people are not there to have fun in the traditional sense but rather are preoccupied with feeding their ego in some way.
“As my research proves, Alexander the Great DID invade England”
1. The Historian: This guy is more interested in explaining in minute detail every aspect of the battle so that you the captive listener will be floored by his vast understanding and knowledge, rather than focusing on the game itself. He tends to ignore the fact that you are there to have fun, and becomes extremely frustrated when a person reminds him of that point. To somehow exploit a weakness in his overconfident, intellectually superior, disposition of troops and achieve victory is seen as mere luck in his eyes and he expresses such to the point of annoyance. Or he goes into a monologue as to how the game is broken somehow as it doesn’t take into account the most intricate details of the situation.  i.e. “on such and such a day the General took his morning constitutional late in the afternoon. Thus the “constipation factor” had a real and profound impact on the battle itself.”

This guy is a tool and you are better off sitting in the backyard burning ants with a magnifying glass rather than spending a single minute at a table with him.


2. Waffle Mites: Waffle Mites are players who formulate a strategy on turn one, take an extreme amount of time to implement the most basic and obvious of movement actions, and then, on turn two, seeing their opponent’s set up they begin to waffle. They doubt their plans, so with minutes ticking away and a lifetime to spare, they formulate a new plan, then again, slowly adapt rinse and repeat. This can happen many times in a single session. Your average Waffle Mite isn’t really paying attention to the whole situation but rather he is trying to incorporate some adage he read in a military phrasebook into the game at hand. The problem is he doesn’t understand the famous quote to begin with, and he sees you as a practice dummy and nothing more. Your time is not anywhere near as valuable as his.

Waffle Mites are usually beaten rather quickly as there tends to be no continuity to their play. They are harmless and easily forgotten.
3. Oozing Disease Trolls (ODTs): Every convention has had to incorporate rules that address aspects of personal hygiene. Players and Game Masters are reminded that washing one’s body is not a recommended action but a required one. Nobody likes to stand or sit next to some guy who leaves a wafting cloud of reek in his wake, especially for 2-4 hours at a stretch. There are always one or two of these lurking sloths at every convention I have attended over the past few years. ODTs have the unique ability to ruin a game session simply by being in proximity to the table upon which it is being played. They don’t even have to be participating; their superhuman stench clears an area about them opening a magical path through the crowds whilst people turn away in disgust. Polite society forces most everyone to simply grit and bear the assault on the senses.

Yet I have a wee tactic that gives me a small measure of satisfaction in these situations. I have begun to carry small personal bars of Ivory soap in my pocket which I place before the ODT when they become distracted by the sound of a crinkling potato chip bag or a soda pop can being opened. If asked I always say; “no I didn’t put that there, I thought it fell out of your jowls, ahem, pocket.” short of that the only solution is to dowse them in oil and set them alight.
4. The Socialite: This person is not really interested in playing or teaching any games, but rather in meeting up with old friends and talking. This is his big moment to shine, to bask in the glory of those adoring companions who kind of, sort of, remember his name. When he actually sits down to play with others he is compelled to ask; “Does anyone here know so and so? No? What about Mr. Whatshisface? No again? That is sad for they are just capital folks why just last evening…….” 

In general these people can be handled by simply refusing to engage them in conversation. After a short stint of silent rebuttal the Socialite will lose themselves in their Facebook or twitter feeds perhaps posting a selfie or two telling everyone how many new friends they have made. The down side to this type of player is that they take a spot at the table which would have better been filled by an interested party. If luck is with you, the Socialite will see someone they think they know and with a wave of spindly arms go racing after the poor unsuspecting soul thereby bringing relief to you and your group. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really annoyed by the antics of a socialite I will pick one name from the list he dropped and reply; “Do you say McMasters? Oh yes, I know him well, we did time together at Leavenworth. Tell him Al says hello, that it was nothing personal, and that I hope his scars healed well.”
Master Tactician is giving me pointers, I am trying to decide on whether or not I should stab him.
5. A Master Tactician: Master Tacticians are never playing the game you are involved in. They approach with a look of studious interest and watch quietly for a moment or two before looking you in the eye and saying something like; “You know if you moved that infantry regiment over to the ridge on the left you would gain a terrain advantage.” or ” I played this game last night and what really works is having all your cavalry charge straight at the artillery.” These little nuggets of greatness are never asked for but are always freely given. For you see the Master Tactician, much like the Historian, is a person of higher intellect than yourself and it is quite obvious that you have no idea how to properly handle the forces at your disposal. Regardless of the fact that you have been pushing about counters and chits since before the genius at your elbow was a gleam in his daddy’s eye. Fortunately there are a couple of simple phrases to help send the modern day Napoleon on his merry way.
               1. “Piss Off you pretentious little git!” ok just kidding. (In truth, this does work)
               2. “Really? Well I had no idea; maybe I will try that next time” Sarcasm
               3. “Perhaps later on tonight you can show me how that works” Don’t show up and go to the bar instead.
            
              4. Shout out ;”Oh my God! I’ve lost already! I must retire to my quarters and hang myself in shame!” whilst pulling your hair for dramatic effect.
6. Rules Lawyers: Yeah these guys are the ultimate buzz kill pure and simple. Lawyers always show up at a scheduled game fashionably late and then proceed to ask; “What edition of rules are we playing with?” You see, there is no need for them to be at a table listening to the game master who has taken the time to set up the session, go over the rules no matter the edition, as Lawyers have every rule that was ever conceived for the game burned into their memory. Including variants. It is their sacred and relished duty to bring any variation, mistake, or oddity in game play to everyone’s attention in the hopes of correcting the ignorant commoners before them. They will hold up a game for countless minutes whilst looking for some obscure rule which will benefit only themselves in that particular moment of play usually accompanied by an exclamation of “ah ha” after having found it on BGG or the GMT website.  This creature is odious and vile, self centered and malignant. 

One should avoid these players at all costs, for they will ruin a good time in very short order. Look for the warning signs. Small beady eyes, cloven hooves, and horns. Their phone will be open to a website with the game rules available and they will seem very interested in every move made by each player.  The only way to relieve yourself and your group of these denizens of Hell is to either; A) Have the Game Master take control of the session and stop the “Evil One” before it can speak or B) Form a cabal and stab it until it no longer breathes.

These people, all possess a common thread unbeknownst to themselves and that is a complete and utter disregard of those about them.  I personally have suffered the indignity of having to interact with each and every one of the personalities listed above, at one time or another and I tell you not once was the outcome pretty.  I can only hope that somehow my suffering can bring warning to others and they may avoid the odious minority that plagues conventions.

Cheers
AL

Solitaire U-boat Game from Consim Press

Let me be upfront and state that his is not a review of The Hunters from Consim Press, designed by Gregory M. Smith 2013. For, there are no less than fifteen such already easily at hand (10 written, 5 video) on Boardgamegeek. Another review of this game, from this gruff voice in the wilderness, will not add anything new to what is presently available.

Rather this is more of an After Action Report (AAR) which I feel is sufficient to demonstrate how the Hunters draws a player in and immerses them into the exciting and dangerous world of U-boat combat through the use of narrative. That’s right Narrative, like in a story, for ultimately that’s what this game is, a series of interlacing stories about your boat and its patrols. Now that is not to say that the player has no decisions to make, for he/she does, and those decisions will affect the outcome. However many of the technical aspects of Submarine raiding such as, approach, angle off the bow, and evasion tactics, are abstracted. Thus the “Down and Dirty” of  ship handling is non existent.

Initially, the lack of technical control and the procedural nature of game play turned me off from this title. My long love affair with Silent Hunter II, a video SubSim, in which a commander could virtually manipulate almost every aspect of his ship including setting actual torpedo depth and using thermal layers for evading contact, made me balk at the lack of “hands on” management in The Hunters. I actually shelved this game for two years after only a couple of patrols for just that reason.

Yet I thought I should give it another try and to be honest and I’m happy I did.

The game is easy to set up and play, and has a relatively small footprint with but a U-boat Display mat, which has everything you need to conduct patrols, including load-out, as well as the patrol boxes, and a U-Boat Combat mat where you resolve combat against enemy shipping. Counters on the mats represent torpedoes, damage to your ship etc.

For a complete breakdown of the procedure of play you can go to Single Handed Warfare on YouTube. Derek Case does a great job of showing each and every step in a very patient way.

Now on to the AAR. This is how I see things play out in my mind’s eye while chucking dice and cross referencing results. Don’t worry though I left out the bad language.

September 1st 1940 04:00 Brest, France.

U-46 Type VIIB commanded by Kapitanleutnant Sohler sails out into the Bay of Biscay and begins the long journey to his assigned patrol area, the Western Approaches in the Atlantic. Nothing to report for enemy activity.

September 7th. 16:00 hrs In relatively calm seas U-46 is cruising the surface 100 miles south of patrol area. Look outs spot an aircraft coming in low from the western horizon trying to hide in the sun. Alarm is made and the ship crash dives to avoid being bombed. 1st watch officer Kiel notes the aircraft looked like a British Sunderland but cant be positive. The dive works and the aircraft which was obviously at its farthest fuel range returns to base.

September 12th Western Approaches 12:30 hrs. Smoke spotted north on the horizon. Full speed till a stack is spotted. It looks like a large freighter. No escorts are seen. Kapitan orders flank speed on an angled parallel  course to catch the target. Shadowing just over the horizon.

14:20 hrs. Ahead of freighter and change course to attack. Still no escorts and the lone merchant ship has not radioed out the distress signal SSS. Prepared front tubes for attack.

15:00 hrs darkness falls and the merchant has not changed course or radioed for assistance. Ship is identified as a large Freighter (Rodney Star) at 11,800 tons.  Approached on the surface at close range to maximize accuracy and slowed almost to full stop. Fired three G7a steam torpedoes from tubes 1-3. #1 hits but does not detonate, Dud! #2 hits amidships beneath the cargo holds and detonates. #3 hits the aft end with a loud boom but the ship continues on though a fire has broken out in the stern..

15:03 hrs Radioman shouts to the Captain that the Merchantman has sent the distress signal SSS.  Orders given for gun crew to man the deck gun. The Freighter is seen to be listing heavy to starboard and has lost headway.

15:13 hrs. Gun crew fires off two full salvos and the target begins to sink. Gun is secured and order given to change course to west, southwest at flank speed.

Eight days pass with no enemy sighted or contacts made, crew begins to feel restless and there is only enough fuel for another two more days of patrol before they must start heading back to Brest.

September 20th 15:00 hrs. Western Approaches. Hydrophones pick up the slow screw sounds of what could be a convoy bearing 270. Surfacing U-boat turns to make the heading and investigate further.  Flank speed.

16:00 hrs. The sun begins to set and the Kapitan orders full stop and silence so the Hydrophones can listen. Definite convoy contact slow screws  are closer and there are now the telltale high pitched screw sounds of escort vessels as well. Bearing 285 and holding. Course set for 330 to intercept .

17:20 hrs. Large Convoy spotted bearing 300.  Kapitan orders course correction and all ahead slow. He does not want to try and slip through the escort screen of which he sees one Flower far to the rear. There are definitely at least two more from the hydrophone contacts. He sets up at medium range on the surface and waits for the proper angle off the bow. Knowing this is his last real chance to take some shipping out he has ordered tubes 1-4 flooded as well as the aft. He plans to fire at the four closest ships, two small freighters and two tankers all in line with the forward tubes and use the aft shot as a follow up on one of the tankers.

17:40 hrs. Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss! The boat lurches as each Eel leaves its tube. “Right full rudder all ahead full” is whispered from the con and the U-boat begins to spin about get get its aft torpedo aligned. First watch officer Kiel watches intently over the choppy sea praying for a good hit. The minutes pass like hours and every one waits with baited breath. “Loss Aft” comes down the line and whoosh! another Eel is on its way with a lurch.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Hydrophone operator Amann turns and says. “Number one has hit but not detonated.” Time clicks off another fifteen seconds.

“Number two is a miss” The Officers grind their teeth in frustration and worriedly count the next fifteen seconds while the boat dives deeper into the black sea.

“Number three hits but no detonation.” Damn to Hell all engineers and their faulty fish!” growls the Kapitan under his breath.

“Number four has detonated, I hear her hull breaking” and a muffled cheer goes up as the news is passed through the ranks in whispers. The hit was on the Tanker identified as the Mordrecht of 7,500 tons.

“High speed screws  bearing 150, 180, and 250 respectively sir,”

Kapitan orders the boat to level off at depth, all ahead slow, rig for depth charges. The whirring of the escort props can be heard approaching over head, whining high pitched fear. Then the splash of the charges are picked up by the hydrophones, “Depth Charge in the water!” The crew listens and waits, with baited breath each prays that the escorts have not been able to fix their position.

18:00 hrs. Depth charges explode all around the U-boat rocking her violently but no direct hits. A thunderous maelstrom of noise of hellish proportions fills the boat when two charges burst close. Then silence.

Operator Amann puts his headset on and whispers the bearing of the the escorts. The Kapitan orders “five degrees left rudder, all ahead full.” He wants to make a burst of speed while the escorts cant hear him as the U-boat is now abaft of the pursuers. “Damage report all departments!”

“Battery bank A is leaking gas and all periscopes inoperable sir.”

The pings of the Escorts can be heard heading away, frantically trying to find the U-boat. They lost contact during the attack. Repair crews hurry to the Battery compartment to repair the damage and contain the leak and the Kapitan orders another five degrees left rudder. The escorts are unable to reacquire contact and after two hours race off to rejoin their convoy.

22:00 hrs. Boat surfaces blind, no Periscopes are working but no hydrophone contacts either. The ship needs to vent the chlorine gas from the battery leak which has been repaired and charge the batteries by running on the surface. Orders are issued for all ahead standard to conserve fuel. And a course set for South Southeast. They are going home.

September 24th 02;00 hrs. U-46 slips into Brest harbor quietly after an uneventful steam from the patrol area. The Kapitan and crew are pleased with their achievements. They sank two ships for 19,300 tons, evaded a possible aircraft attack, and got away with minor damage during a depth charge assault.

Any game that can make me conjure up imagery such as this, really has something going for it. Perhaps it is my affinity for the type of warfare the Hunter’s represents or maybe it is the general and abstract presentation of all the little details that forces me to fill it in using visualization. It matters not, because at the end of the day after running through a patrol or two, I feel a sense of accomplishment with success and despair with defeat.

Cheers
AL

my beat to hell copy



Gettysburg 88 is the third and final production from Avalon Hill on the ad hoc battle, July 1st-3rd 1863, when the Armies of Virginia and the Potomac clashed for three days of terrible fighting. The players take control of the armies and attempt to earn victory points by; eliminating enemy units, damaging enemy units (flipped counters at half strength), and controlling the objective hexes printed on the board. The game can be played as a campaign, encompassing all three days of battle, or in scenarios which equal but one of the days. Each side has a unit order of appearance card on which the particular units of a player’s force are placed before starting the contest. These cards dictate on what turn units come into the battle, and where on the map.

The rules are extremely simple, and are printed on a single 8.5 ” x 11″ sheet i.e. two pages, with a few additional rules and examples of play in a small battle manual, which also includes the scenario set up information.


Each of the scenarios have different victory conditions, for example; in scenario #1 July 1st, the objective for the Confederate player is to have twice as many victory points as the Union player at the end of eight turns. The Union player wins by not allowing that to happen. Each turn of the game plays out the same way with the Confederates going first i.e. moving all their units and resolving all if any combat, followed by the Union side doing the same. Once both sides have gone the turn marker is moved and you start the rotation over.



Movement and the use of terrain, is a very important aspect in this game but unlike some more advanced titles not overly complicated. Hexes containing woods, hills, roads, and or combinations thereof simply cost so many points to move through. Terrain also provides defensive bonuses to units when attacked from outside, i.e. units in woods get a plus one to defense if the attacker is not in a connecting wood hex. The over abundance of roads on the map allow units to move rather quickly which gives manuever and position key roles.


Combat is resolved by using what is often called the “Smithsonian method” which replaces the traditional combat results table that Avalon Hill made famous in games like, Stalingrad, Waterloo, and yes, Afrika Korps. With this method both players add up the strength of their units in combat, applying any defensive modifiers for terrain then each toss a single ten sided die. The die roll is then added to the strength and modifiers of the player.
  Defender wins if there is a tie or his total number exceeds the attacker. Attacker wins if his number exceeds defender, and if either side wins by three to five points the losing party not only has to retreat but also must take damage (flip a unit or destroy it). It is very simple and direct and rather easy to explain.




Many players have in the past dismissed this simple game as not realistic enough, and historically inaccurate. For example; there is no “fog of war”, which was a major factor on battlefields, flanking maneuvers and stragglers are not even mentioned in the rules though they are all important aspects of the time. Some of the hexes due to art are unclear as to what terrain modifiers are applied in combat and or movement. (the errata for these hexes are in the battle manual). Another of my favorite complaints was someone whining that the objective hexes on the map did not accurately reflect Lee’s grand strategy of trying to bring the Union to a decisive fight. In that the points of contention were not “really” (according to him) what the battle was all about. 

Sadly it is just such know it all’s that tend to run new gamers off with their negative and snotty points of contention. They are right in that Gettysburg offers no complicated formulas for stragglers or rates of fire, and the map doesn’t reflect absolutely 100% the “thinking” of the generals. However if you are looking at a basic game rated as “Beginner” and cracking on about its inaccuracies and lack of simulation, you are more than likely someone who I wouldnt want to play with anyway.  


Seamus Terror of the North likes this game a lot.



Gettysburg is easy to learn, set up, and play by just about anyone. The backdrop and theme of the Civil War adds flavor and setting while teaching newcomers the very basics of strategy war gaming. Which was, and is, the primary purpose of the title. If you have never played a strategy war game before or have found yourself wondering if they are for you this little old gem is the perfect introduction to the genre. I actually dusted off my copy and played a scenario before writing this up,(less than 45 minutes including set up time) and you know what?
I had loads of fun. 

Cheers
AL

Khe Sanh ’68 is a very low complexity solitaire game of the Mini Game Series from Decision Games designed by Joseph Miranda in 2015. It utilizes a rather slick system called Cold War Blitz for a basic rule set, that is also used for another title in the series Suez ’56: Anglo-French Intervention in Egypt.

Depicting the siege of the fire base Khe Sanh and its outlaying strong points before and during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War, the game puts the player in command of the US and ARVN forces trying to hold off the Communist enemy OPFOR (Opposition Forces).

I picked Khe Sanh up as an impulse buy while ordering a few other things on line.The price was remarkably cheap, $12.00 US and I figured “what the hell, if its terrible I’m not out of pocket for a great deal money. ” Well I’m happy to say, that it was well worth the cost. Khe Sahn is very easy to learn, and set up. Minimal rules, a point to point map, and card driven play all blend together well to make each session not only quick but enjoyable. Low counter density, 40 for the entire game, lets the player reset the board with ease after each session, and trust me, win or lose, you will find yourself doing just that. Thematically, it scratches the itch for a light Vietnam war based game without overwhelming you with too much detail and its small size and footprint allow it to be packed up for travel. Which, is a bonus for me because when on vacation lugging around boxes in the hopes of getting a session in is tedious. It is not a brain burner by any stretch of the imagination, however the cards used to drive play, for both the Communists and US forces, offer some interesting choices. Some of the combinations of these played cards can cause some pretty tense situations.

Allied action cards,small but well done.

Components:
The overall quality of the components is actually pretty good considering the price. I was expecting the 18 campaign cards to be thin paper punch outs like in some magazine games but these are really well done. I like them, which is good I guess, as they drive play. They also help serve the theme in that each card has a different historical photo of the siege printed on them.The counters are small and functional. They are not works of art, to be sure, and standard war game fare at best. NATO symbols to represent types of units and silhouettes for the aircraft pieces. There are two numbers printed on all ground forces which represent strength and movement respectively. Air units only have their strength value as they have unrestricted movement. The counters are very clear though, which is a good thing for these old eyes.

Communist counters used for play. Hidden side in foreground.

As far as the 11″x17″ map goes well… it’s OK. Paths and points are prominent and obvious. You wont be forgetting about an obscure point of interest on this one. It has the turn track, Allied air, reinforcement, OPFOR eliminated, and reinforcement, boxes on the edges for ease of play. As it is printed on heavy paper stock you will need to either flatten it out in some way prior to setting it up or place it under some plastic. The chits, being rather small and light, have a difficult time remaining stacked on folds and creases of the bare paper map. It also comes with a four page rule booklet and a single campaign/scenario sheet.

Rules:
The four page rule booklet for the Cold War Blitz system is so direct and simple that I only had to read it once to start playing, and with it being so short, if the need to reference anything did arise, finding the rule in question was rather quick. There was one rule concerning managing the turn track that made little to no sense, and I had to look it up on BGG for clarification, after that it was pretty much smooth sailing. There are not many ambiguities in the booklet though combat is rather abstracted. So those looking for more in depth fire fights along the lines of ASL or it’s like will be sorely disappointed.

Allied Air units, standard fare but functional.

The scenario rules sheet has the combat results table and terrain effects chart printed on its reverse side, both of which are easily memorized after the first couple of games. It spells out the special rules for the title, which are minimal, and the set up instructions. Terrain really doesn’t affect movement in any way but rather, adjusts combat retreat results. For example; Communist forces defending or attacking in jungle or hilltop boxes ignore retreat and disruption effects and instead “break off” and are removed from the board. They are then placed in the OPFOR Break Off box. These units are not dead and will reappear elsewhere on the map next turn. This I suppose is to simulate the NVA and VC ability to simply melt away during combat.

Khe Sanh is played in a series of phases over the course of nine “turns”. The term “Turns” does not really work here in the traditional sense, it is more like a fluctuating time track that is affected by situations. Essentially, every time a card for either the Allied or OPFOR forces is played the turn track is adjusted by the number in the upper right hand corner of the card. Some cards add, some subtract and others have no effect at all. The rules initially had the turn track being reduced by one after a full cycle of phases by both sides in addition to the cards played during the cycle. However the designer Joseph Miranda made clear on Consim Forums that that was not the case, and that only played card deficits and additions to the turn track are to be applied. Once the turn track reaches zero the game is over and victory points are added up, i.e. enemy units killed, key locations controlled by the player etc., and then cross referenced with the victory point schedule to see how you did. Twenty five or more points is a strategic victory, whereas fourteen or fewer is a tactical defeat. You can also lose immediately if the Communists take the Khe Sanh Fire base.

Start of game set up.

To set up just follow the directions in the scenario rules, all OPFOR forces are placed randomly in their initial starting points face down, i.e. hidden, so the Allied player has no idea what is there. Then begin the game.

1. Friendly Card Phase: this is where a player chooses one of the cards from his hand and puts it into play. Each card has different abilities which can be applied that turn. For example one of the cards is; Operation Niagara! which grants the player a plus one combat factor to all their air strikes the current turn. (pretty good card by the way). The card also says what is to be done with it after being played, reused or removed from play permanently etc.

2. Friendly Reinforcement Phase: if the card the player chose called for Allied reinforcements then they would come in at this point.

3. Friendly Ground Movement Phase: Move any, all, or none of your ground units. During movement, if your units come into contact with enemy forces then the enemy is revealed i.e. flipped over to show its strength side.

4. Friendly Air Movement Phase: Put any available air units on the map to either attack enemy forces or airlift infantry. Same as for ground movement once an air unit enters a box with enemy forces those forces are flipped over to their revealed side.

5. OPFOR Anti Aircraft Phase: If any of the Communist forces are AAA units when an Allied air unit enters the box they occupy, they get to fire at the aircraft by rolling a number of D/6 equal to the AAA unit’s strength factor and applying any hits (fives or sixes). note; the B-52 bomber is immune to AAA attacks.

6. Friendly Air Combat Phase: All Allied air units in the same location with OPFOR units must now attack the enemy units from weakest to strongest. Each aircraft in the engagement rolls a number of D/6 equal to the Aircraft’s strength factor and applies hits as per the CRT (fives and sixes). Example: two US air strike units with a strength factor of 3 each attack a 2-2 NVA infantry unit and a 1-2 Guerrilla unit in the French Fort box. The Aircraft would roll six dice and apply the first hit to the Guerrillas and any subsequent ones to the NVA.

After all attacks have been completed return all available air units to the “Allied Air used” box.

7. Friendly Ground Combat Phase: All Allied units in the same box with enemy OPFOR units must attack, Combat resolution is the same as in the Air phase only now hits are applied from strongest to weakest. To perform ground combat you line up all OPFOR units from left to right in order of highest strength factor to lowest and then line up Allied units in any order desired. Now roll for “Tactical Superiority” or as it is commonly called Initiative. Then, rolling dice equal to strength factors of the first unit in line, with the initiative side rolling first, apply hits and retreats to the first unit in the line being attacked. If the side without initiative has forces remaining then they fire back using the same procedure. This goes back and forth until one side has been completely eliminated or has retreated from the box.

8. OPFOR Card Phase: Draw a single card from the OPFOR deck and apply its effects. Cards are self explanatory and quite clear. They will offer reinforcements, movement of enemy forces, and other nasty surprises for the Allied player to deal with.

9. OPFOR Reinforcement Phase:if the card the player drew called for OPFOR reinforcements then they would come in at this point. OPFOR reinforcements are randomly allocated to different locations on the map. Example; the card says “Replace three eliminated Communist units” you take three face down units from the dead Commie box, then roll a D/6 for each and place them on the map according to the Random Location Placement table on the scenario sheet.

10. OPFOR Movement Phase: If the card called for OPFOR units to move, well then, move them.

11. OPFOR Combat Phase: Any OPFOR units in a box with Allied units must attack.

12. Admin Phase: All revealed OPFOR forces are flipped over to their hidden side. Roll to see if the Air units in the Allied Air used box are available next round. (Roll for each unit individually and compare it to the die range for that type of aircraft printed in the box. If the roll falls within that range then the aircraft is available for the next round, move it to the available box.)

Dead Commies.

Game play:
Despite the seemingly long list of phases Khe Sanh ’68 sets up and plays out rather quickly. Having only 9 “turns” to obtain enough VPs to achieve victory you find yourself rushing to take as many of the victory point boxes as possible right at the start and, instinctively a player will move his/her ground forces to the boxes adjacent to the fire base right out of the gate. But, with each card played the timer is ticking so the key is to maximize each and every move. Combat losses count against victory conditions, thus attacking in unfavorable situations is foolish and as the enemy units are hidden until you actually engage this can be hard to accomplish. Fortunately, Allied air support helps a lot in softening up, exposing, and eliminating threats. As a matter of fact Air power, if it can remain available, is the most powerful asset the US player possesses, so try and avoid enemy AAA units and protect those aircraft at all cost. Those times when you can’t get the Aircraft turned around due to bad rolls during the Admin phase can be pretty tough.

The Communists have their own little bag of tricks and it is a rare thing indeed when they play a card and you don’t suffer for it. Out of the nine OPFOR cards, five call for replacement units to be brought into play. This, along with the ability to break off combat in certain terrain, pretty much guarantees an endless supply of Reds moving around the board. They are generally easy to kill being only one step units but at times it seems like there is no end to their numbers. And, as time is of the essence, just holding the base and killing waves of screaming Communist infantry wont cut it. Also, if any Communist replacements or units that “broke off” in earlier turns, land in a box containing US units, combat is initiated, which can go badly if they outnumber you. I had one game when three units of 3-2 NVA infantry and, a single 3-2 AAA unit got placed right on top one of my units in Box 471 a communist entrenchment located right next to the Khe Sanh fire base. Needless to say my poor Marines were wiped out. On the next turn, last of the game, these same forces held off every effort to dislodge them from the position, after which they advanced into the fire base itself, overwhelming it’s defenders and defeating me in a most shameful manner.

Overall, this low complexity little offering is rather fun to play and I enjoy it quite a bit. It’s not as pretty as some other games on the market these days, but for the price I daresay they couldn’t have really done much better, and as replay ability is high due to the random nature of the cards I can almost guarantee that this one will be in my travel bag the next time I head out on a trip.

Cheers
AL

So a few years back if you were looking for hex and counter games on the Internet one could not help but trip over a Worthington Publishing title. Be it a review, a question on FB or just a picture, there they were up front and center.The game that was getting most of the love was Hold the Line designed by Matt Burchfield, Grant Wylie, and Mike Wylie in 2008. It is an easy, introductory title depicting some of the major battles of the American War of Independence. Well, I missed the boat back then, though I was extremely curious, and have only recently obtained a copy of the game. After playing six or seven sessions of Hold the Line I feel the game has some real merit especially as a tool for getting newer and or younger players into the hobby.

Components: All the components are high quality and top notch. Counters are really well done and large with some nice art depicting their respective units. As a matter of fact outside of the artwork the only other thing on the counter is a single number. I especially like the British Elite counters which have Grenadiers wearing bearskin hats on them. Though rather uncomfortable looking I always thought those troops did strike the finest pose. The chits have weight, which I find appealing, and are rather easy on the eyes. The full color rulebook is well laid out with plenty of examples of play to get a person to the table in no time at all and, the scenario diagrams, i.e. layouts are so direct and easy you don’t even have to know how to play to set a game up. There are 13 scenarios in the rule book so plenty of replay value there. The green, blank, map board is a fully mounted one piece affair with six folds. I put mine under glass to keep it flat. It is sturdy and functional with the few, and I mean very few, tracks and charts needed to play printed on the edges. Terrain is added by the use of tiles which are placed on the board as per the scenario instructions. Think, Command & Colors or Battle Cry type games only no cards.

Rules: The rules of the basic game are simply that, basic. Players on their turn, roll a single blue, six sided die and add that number to the action points they are allotted for the scenario. So if the British player has two action points per scenario turn and rolls a three he would have five to use that turn to move, fire, perform close combat, or rally troops. Most actions cost a single point, but some such as Close Combat cost two. For anyone who has played Conflict of Heroes this action point allocation and use should be very familiar. Once all actions have been performed the player checks for victory conditions, which usually means having eliminated a certain number of enemy units, and if he/she has met the requirement they win. If not play moves to the opposing player who repeats the steps in order. Combat is much like the games mentioned above. A player declares combat either ranged or close (melee) pays the cost in action points, rolls three, six sided dice and references the combat chart to determine the results. The closer to the enemy a unit is the better chance to hit.

For example; Infantry units can fire at enemies two hexes away but only hit on any sixes rolled. One hex away they hit on a five or six, and if they declare close combat a four, five, or six. 

Once hits are determined then they are applied by the target taking a “Step Loss” in morale points (the number printed on the counter) for each hit. Thus an American Militia unit with a morale of 2 would be reduced to 1 if hit. If hit again it would be eliminated and counted towards his enemy’s victory point total.

Certain terrain such as hills or Forest afford a level of protection to the units in them. Using the example above an Infantry unit one hex away wants to fire at an enemy in a forest hex. Normally they would hit on a roll of five or six, but the terrain reduces the chances so they can only hit on a six.

Game Play: My first Scenario played was Harlem Heights with just the basic rules. The turns went very fast as action points were rather sparse for both sides. I found that getting the first volley off is usually a good idea. British advanced in line but were cut down rather quickly. The die rolls for attacking seemed a bit heavy at times and I felt that units once reduced in morale should also reduce the die rolled for attacks. In other words a two step unit should only have two dice to roll instead of the full three. The Americans had a definite advantage in that they simply had to either hold their positions and mow the exposed Brits down or run out and grab a few objective hexes close to their line. I’d say the first game took all of twenty minutes so I set it up again using the optional rules.
I thought they would make play a bit more interesting and they did to a point. I added everything I could, such as Artillery being able to fire an extra hex if on a hill, and having the attacker roll a morale check prior to initiating Close Combat. This basically simulates the troops deciding that caution is the better part of valour and refusing to lock bayonets. If they fail their morale check they still use up the action points but can only conduct fire combat (lesser odds). I like this rule as Militia were not known for their willingness to engage the enemy in hand to hand combat unless cornered. This go around the British were able to pull off a victory though it was close.

In later sessions (Battle of White Plains) I started to feel like something was missing. Yes the game is rather fun, easy, and quick to play, with enough historical flavor to keep my interest, but there was just something nagging at me about the mechanics. As I advanced a British light infantry unit next to some Rebel Militia I found that the lack of facing or flanking rules was the burr in my saddle. 18th century warfare was all about lines and formations and if attacked from the flank or rear it was very difficult to recover from. This was a deal breaker for me and I was going to relegate the game to the introducing newbies to the hobby pile. That is until a friend suggest I try using the Front/Flank facing rules from another Title in the Worthington line called Frederick’s War. So I down loaded those from BGG (FWRules) and am happy to say the game really shines. There are bonuses for attacking from the rear as well as for keeping line formations in order. This small addition changed my perception of Hold the Line greatly because it added a bit of depth by presenting players with more tactical decisions that reflect the nature of warfare during that most troublesome era.

Impressions: Hold the Line is not a simulation but a game, and if one keeps that in mind the experience can be rather rewarding. It’s quick set up time as well as fluid and easy play makes it a perfect tool for introducing new players to the hex and counter hobby. The variable action points per turn presents to the novice a mechanic they will find in many other games in the genre. By not knowing exactly how many points a side will have above the base number for the scenario the game allows for it to be played solitaire with no difficulty at all. Once you add the flanking/facing rules the game really begins to come to life and the subtleties and nuance of position on the battlefield take hold. The large number of scenarios, quality of the production, and ease of set up and play make Hold the Line a fine game and one worth playing over and over again. This one will most assuredly hit my table again.

Cheers
AL

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