Monday, February 09, 2009

New Horizons

Such a noble and exciting sounding title, and yet this entry is only about me trying out a couple of "new" wargaming companies' offerings. In this case, Khyber Pass and Victory Point Games.

Starting with the Khyber Pass games. KPG is primarily known as a desktop publishing outfit (DTP) where you get a kit to put together the game. I have to be honest - I really find this sort of thing annoying more than anything else, and I'd rather pay the extra money to get components that are at the very least in a form where I don't need to do much more than I would with a professionally printed and published game. 

Fortunately, KPG has begun to put out games that *are* in such a form, if only in the fact that they've put together the parts themselves, at least for most titles. The exception is B-29 Superfortress, a solitaire game based on the old AH chestnut B-17: Queen of the Skies. So it was that I ordered that title, along with a two-game package on Communism in the West that has a game on the Cuban Revolution along with a smaller version that tackles Che's attempt to export revolution to Boliva some nine years later. I got the latter package more because of my interest in things Cuban, and I understand that the Che game requires perfect play from the revolutionaries and even then it more or less comes down to a die roll or six to see how things end up. Worthwhile as a historical study and solo game, or to introduce non-wargamers to area movement games. Cuba seems to be more interesting, but still not something I'm dying to play so much. Perhaps not the best choice of games, but then again KPG focuses on less-gamed conflicts and none of the others really grabbed my attention. I plan to play B-29 in the very near future and will give my thoughts on it, although again, this is more of a simulation than a game, and so it will make for a more interesting writeup than a game, per se.

Components in both games were passable quality for wargames, although the tables that are necessary for B-29 came in booklet form (which means constant rifling through it) and quite a bit of unentered errata, which I find surprising considering that KPG's website's support page doesn't seem to exist. I'm hoping to find a set of tables that are on heavy stock instead of in book form, and have been corrected. I'm unlikely to do this myself. However, there may be hope in the VASSAL form of the game, which I could see playing regularly, especially if I hooked up with one of the many groups that is running group simulations online. CitW has slightly weaker components, although also considerably less material requirements, with two small maps, two rules folios (one is just a heavy stock sheet), and relatively few counters. CitW required it's counters to be trimmed on the sides as well as the corners, but B-29 had professionally printed and cut counters. 

The other company I'm trying out is Victory Point Games, the brainchild of Alan Emerich, who has developed many games and was the primary force behind Totaler Krieg. Rather than just having a DTP company, he also uses the company to teach wargame design to students, who assemble the DTP components. There are four different lines I'm interested in, so I got four different games:
  • Battlesson Series - Israeli Independence: This is a solitaire game that has, count 'em, ten markers. I may have overcounted. The game also comes with cards, which are the primary driving force in the game, the counters only show how the Israelis are doing on the various fronts with Syria, Jordan, Egypt, etc. I also got the expansion. This series is intended to be introductory (most of VPG's offerings are), but include extra materials to give greater insight into design choices and help out new gamers. 
  • Ancient Battles Deluxe: This is the base set, which has two expansions for more elephants and cavalry. A revisioning of an older title, this new edition gets rid of the CRT in favor of a new system I haven't really looked into much yet. It's the biggest of the lot, with four sheets of counters (double-sided, no less!), two maps, and everything in an 8"x11" ziplock instead of the smaller half-sizes that everything else comes in. A quick punching of the markers used to record hits has shown that many of them are incompletely cut on the back side, making extraction a challenge and two have been destroyed in the process (not a big deal), and about 15 unpunchable and requiring cutting or some other method, which is not terrible but will be a trick as they are round. These counters require considerably more work to trim than the KPG offerings, as they are basically stickers with the counter art stuck onto thick card and diecut, and the sticker media is a bit harder to diecut, apparently. My only complaint so far. 
  • Paul Koenig's D-Day - The British Beaches: One of a series of three packages that treats each beach in D-Day separately. There is a set of series rules that are four pages long, another page of optional rules, two pages with extensive examples of play, and another sheet that covers the individual beaches. My package came with Gold and Sword, there is another for the Canadian beach Juno, and another for the Utah and Omaha. I got the one I did thinking that my good friend Mike, an ex-pat Scot, might be more likely to give this a try with the Brits stuck in. No ZOCs in this game, as it's a very low level (company/battalion) and there's no way to produce a defensive line other than to leverage the terrain. Very promising, and this will be the first of all of these games that I try out, possibly today. Counters are similar to in Ancient Battles Deluxe, and the square counters did require some cutting to get out cleanly, as well as extensive trimming, although the round markers came out easily. I'll probably have to spray these in the future as the paper looks like it won't stand up to oily skin at all. Like the Napoleonic 20 series, this one only uses 40 units for the entire game, 20 per side. 
  • Napoleonic 20 - Waterloo 20: I blogged on this game after playing in Eugene a couple of weeks ago, and the reason I was willing to try VPG games. 
Interestingly, I also have Drive on Metz, which came with the 20th issue of C3i a few months ago, and was intended to get people interested in VPG. Since DoM was a reprint of a Jim Dunnigan game that he included in a book on wargaming in the 80's, it wasn't something I've pulled out despite the professional production. 

While I'm glad I don't have to build my own counters, at the same time I do wish that their die-cutting process was a little more effective. VPG states in their documentation that components are sold as-is, which means that you want to be pretty careful with these compared with other games. However, the prices are rock bottom (around $15 per game if you buy from their website, and the shipping of all of these games was very fast - two to three days for each, compared with Avalanche who took nearly two weeks to ship a single unmounted map that was missing from an earlier order), and at least two of the games will definitely fit a niche for introducing more people to wargaming, or at least give us excellent shorter and smaller games for lunchtime or travel play. 

I plan to get B-29, D-Day, and Israeli Independence on the table this week, and will report on each as I get through them. After that, time to move on to Heraclea and continue with Project SPQR.

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