Monday, January 31, 2011

Labyrinth - A Solo Game Later

I posted an analysis of Labyrinth: The War On Terror 2001-? to this blog a couple of months ago, which I cross-posted to the 'Geek. It got picked up by GMT and CSW for their websites as well, and generated a fair amount of discussion but I think it was a pretty good introduction to the game's systems and how they interact. However, I'd had little practical experience with playing the game either two-player or solitaire.

This morning, I finished playing a three-deck solitaire game on VASSAL that I'd been working on for about a month, and while I played the game using the un-nerfed version, I feel that I got through the "what the hell do I do next" learning curve (especially wrt how to manage the AI) and feel like I have enough of a sense of the game to evaluate it as a solitaire game. Note that I still haven't really played the two-player game enough to have a good sense of how well it works, although I do feel I have enough of a sense as to how to play both sides so that I would enjoy a two-player game rather than just feel like I was slogging through the systems, either side.

The solo game has a decent enough AI, but after playing it's clear that in a board game version (as opposed to a PC AI, which can be much more complex and nuanced) that the player needs to be nerfed in some way so as to give the Jihadist AI a fighting chance and create a stimulating game. In the case of Labyrinth, the system does this in several ways - ignoring US events it plays out of hand, giving OPs *and* events for Unassociated events, and using a "Radicalization" process when there are leftover OPs for the AI. You can also ratchet up the difficulty by adding in up to four more nerfs, at least one of which is used in the extensive (and excellent) example of play that comes with the game. In my game, I played with no extra nerfs, which I think is the way to go.

The solitaire game is an excellent way to learn how the systems work, and I recommend that anyone interested in the game who has the time and space to play it solo do so before diving into a two-player game. The reason for this is that while there really aren't that many options in terms of specific actions that you can take for either side, at the same time the two sides play *very* differently, with different actions and different things to be concerned with, and many of those actions have their own nuances that you have to deal with. For example, knowing when to leave a Cadre behind when the last cell leaves a space and when not to, or getting used to what spaces on the board are legitimate for a given action. Even more importantly, you need to understand how the various actions work together to get you where you need to be to win. It's not a simple game by any stretch, even though the rules have lots of graphics and only really span around 8 pages once you get past the discussion of the components.

One drawback of starting with the solitaire game is that the player has the additional burden of needing to understand the subtleties of the flowchart that drives the Jihadist AI. For that reason, I strongly recommend you play a 3-Deck game for a few reasons. First, you will need the time to learn how to react to the Jihadist play and discover why the flowchart is set out as it is. Second, you need to learn how to *run* the AI. The flowchart is a marvel of compactness and conciseness once you understand just how much is involved once you take into the special cases for various event cards. Happily, it's pretty much all there. I used the US Operations card for the flowchart so that I could refer to the Jihadist Operations card, with very few rules lookups. This may be one of the best packaged play-aids I've ever seen in a wargame, it's extremely complete and gets the information to you in a very quick and effective way.

The good news is that by playing the three-deck game, by the time you get into the second pass you have internalized a lot of the concepts behind the AI so that while you will still refer to the flowchart, you will do so less and less and the game moves along very quickly (as it was intended to do). You will also know how to set up a complex sequence of events so as to get to where you need to be. Perhaps most importantly, you will also get to know the deck! A big part of mastering any CDG requires you to get to know the deck, and with games that divide the deck into parts that learning curve is relatively gentle. With this game, however, it's one deck of 110 cards. Fortunately, you will see all of them playing solitaire each time around, plus the deck will thin out to some extent as cards tend to be removed as the game progresses. By the third time around, you will know exactly what card you want to draw from the discards if you get the Oil Spike card.

Incidentally, I used v1.01 of the VASSAL module. There are some really nice touches to this module, including a specific module for solitaire play that has a discard pile for 3-OPs Jihadist event cards (very useful if the Jihadists draw Oil Spike). There are a few bugs, such as components not always going where you thought they would, specifically Cells going Offboard instead of to the Funding Track when using the pop-up menus. Fortunately, there are ways to get these things back if you don't notice them and Undo right away, and you learn what *not* to use. For the most part, however, it works quite well, especially if you have a two-screen setup on your desktop (one for the map, one for the draw piles). I set my second monitor up so that it had the card decks available - US hand on the top showing all cards (my screen allowed a large enough zoom so I could read text of 8 cards), Jihadist shrunk down so that it showed the two "current" cards in play, the deck management window with the draw pile (which shows the number of cards remaining, a very nice touch), discards, and Removed cards, and another window for the Jihadist 3OPs discards. There are also windows to show where the troops and cells are, as well as tracking for the various status markers such as Good/Fair, Poor/Islamist, and Soft/Hard countries. You can double-check these levels very quickly using these windows, and they are particularly welcome in this module. For this early of a module, it's very complete and well thought out.

So how did my three-deck, no extra nerfs, first time through game turn out? I used the standard scenario, which begins with the 9/11 attacks and an Islamist regime in Afghanistan. I went straight to Regime Change in Afghanistan, as I suspect many do, and stayed there through almost the entire game, as I suspect many do (as, in fact, the US *continues* to do). I had a scare during the second deck when the Sudan became Islamist (if there's one thing you want to avoid, it's Islamist countries - they make everything much harder when they are active), but got a fortuitous card draw that allowed me to get rid of it. Iraq and Somalia also came very close to going Islamist, but lucky die rolls prevented that from happening during Major Jihads. I should note here that one of the decision points for the AI is whether or not you can have a *successful* Major Jihad. Since a success requires *two* successful rolls, a 1 card cannot generate an attempt unless it's in a Besieged Regime.

Things started going right when I improved Turkey's governance to Good, although it is isolated enough that it's difficult to use it to improve your chances on the War of Ideas table. It was funny that Yemen ended up being the first Gulf State to give me a toehold in a practical region of the board. From there, first Saudi, then Jordan moved to Good Governance. Central Asia was Good for a short time, which gave me some hope for Afghanistan, but it didn't last long and it eventually became a target to return to Poor. I went back and forth with Afghanistan, but as long as it was the only Besieged Regime on the map it was a target for cells and as such you have to knock them back down before making WoI attempts. I did eventually get it to Good governance on the penultimate turn, but it required both Sistani and Mass Turnout on the same turn (achieved through a fortuitous Oil Spike card on the same turn) to switch it over in a single action phase. And then it went right back to Fair and stayed there, although travel drew the remaining cell out of the area.

Things were looking good toward the end of the third deck (and the end of the game). I was gaining some traction in Iraq and the Gulf States, there were hardly any cells in the game, Funding was low, and my Prestige had dug itself out of it's hole. I was *very* lucky that every US Election that came up resulted in the US staying Hard, which was also the prevailing state of a large majority of non-Muslim countries for most of the game. My GWOT penalty never went below 0 the entire game, giving me the chance to regain Prestige most turns while Funding was a constant issue for the Jihadists. In fact, I would say that getting Funding down to 1 in the solitaire game should be a primary focus. There will be plots you can't deal with that will drop your Prestige and raise Funding, and so the lower you can keep it, the easier a time you will have.

As it should in all fun solitaire games, the decision came in the final turn. Things were looking really good for the US - we were up to Fair in Iraq, the Gulf States, and Afghanistan, and I had seven points of resources in Good Countries. All I needed to do was to keep the love light shining in Iraq and the Gulf States and get those good WoI rolls. Having Good countries nearby is a huge statistical advantage, and another major strategy for the US in the game, and should be a secondary goal after keeping Funding down. It even counters a poor Prestige drm. I was a *little* nervous as I'd had a terrible hand in the penultimate turn, almost all ones but at least with no playable events for the Jihadists. I think there were three total turns that I didn't dump off a Jihadist card rather than take the OPs, almost all in the late game. With that much advantage on my side, I was able to get the necessary rolls by the second action phase, and hit 13 Good Resources to win the game. Which was good, because I never got close to the required numbers at the end of play with the first and second decks!

Clearly, a few things went my way in this game, especially at the end of the game. Having the Sudan suddenly rethink Islamism due to an event was H-U-G-E. Having two other Major Jihad's fail was also huge. Travel, surprisingly, derailed more threats than anything else, especially as they don't leave Cadres. That said, there are so many events that place cells that I found Funding was mostly useful for giving the Jihadist fewer card plays. I also had terrible card draws early, getting mostly Jihadist events that I had to play, while the Jihadist got the US events. There is no option to "level out" the event mix in the VASSAL module, but for those who feel they want a more even distribution this is probably a good choice if you are playing on the physical board. I'm happy to see this option and will probably use it when playing two-player. For the solitaire game, I felt it was not necessary, but YMMV.

I'll be honest - in the first deck I found managing the AI to be a huge chore when combined with trying to understand the subtleties of the game. Fortunately, I had gone through the two excellent examples of play first, so I had a fairly good grasp of the core rules going in. By the end of the first deck, though, I was wondering if this was going to be a game I'd enjoy solitaire, even using VASSAL. By the middle of the second deck everything was clicking and I spent *less* time playing the second and third decks combined than I did the first deck. I could average around six or seven hands per hour near the end, making this extremely playable in an evening, if not for a full 3 deck game.

While it's clear that there are only passing resemblances to Twilight Struggle (mostly concerning the complexity level and the forced use of playing your opponent's cards), I will say that I think this game is far superior to TS on almost every level. The game is not nearly as prone to wacky card plays (although they can, and did, happen to me in my game, to my benefit), and there is no scoring card mechanism, which I hold is the main issue with TS and my willingness to play and enjoy it. I really enjoyed Labyrinth once I got through the initial double learning-curve period, and I'm looking forward to giving it another try now that I feel I have the system down. I'm looking even more to playing it face-to-face or via a VASSAL pbem game (less interesting, mostly because it will take time and I tend to have a schedule where I'm busy in the evenings when most of my friends are free). The game is about as well-developed as I've seen, which I expect from the designer and now from the developer, Joel Toppen, who is now stuck with having to do this good a job on everything he develops from here on out!

The game still has the burden of being modeled on history that has not yet been written completely, history that has created incredible divisiveness in the US and abroad (my initial analysis even exposed some of that divisiveness in some of the initial responses). In fact, the solitaire game was developed because it was felt (correctly, I suspect) that there would be a sizable number of gamers that would refuse to play the Jihadist side, despite the fact that a very large number of the people shooting at us in both Iraq and Afghanistan were not, in fact, involved in Jihadist activities. I can understand that for many, especially the people who served in the military in those countries and others, this conflict is just too personal. That's unfortunate, because it's really a very good game and worth learning just to get another perspective on the history we are living through as I type.

For the solitaire version at least, I highly recommend this game.

Salishan Gaming, Winter 2011

I've been gaming quite a bit, but most of my session reports are now in the form of "Games Played" on the 'Geek (I'm "dcooley" there if you're interested in following those sorts of things). However, I will continue to blog about larger events, such as Chris' gaming retreat at Salishan, a resort community at Gleneden Beach on the Oregon Coast (just south of Lincoln City, for those of you interested in geography). Chris' family has a very nice little beach house there, with views out over the bay and one very nice view of the surf from the loft. He has held several retreats out there, but this was only my third, mostly due to conflicts from music events such as choir concerts.

And this one was almost certainly my favorite. I did not play a single game I wished I hadn't, every game was fun even if I was not the winner (which is the case most of the time, both me not winning and me having fun even if I don't win), and the entire event, at least from my perspective, ran like a well-oiled thing that was well-oiled.

Particularly nice was the chance to play some of the long games that have come out in the last few months that have already seen table time, and get a better sense of whether these games have legs or not. In a word, yes. In two words, they have.

To be honest, all of these games were high points, with the possible exception of Tales of the Arabian Nights (new edition), which was simply good fun, if a little long on one occasion. Here they are in no particular order:

Power Grid: Czech Republic - This was a fan-generated map that KC has printed out on a printer/plotter to be very nice. I got the last ups on picking where my initial city would start, and surprisingly it was a better area than Rita (who had first dibs) got! That's what happens when you set up in the middle of the board, I guess. We also used some fan-created power plants and the "alternate" cardset, neither of which I'd seen before. I went for Garbage early in a big way, and kept my monopoly on it through the entire game. My only failure was that I was able to expand faster than my power plants did in the late game, and made the mistake of buying an intermediate power plant when it only added something like $8 to my take at turn end. The result - I ended up third in a three-way tie for the win, with Matt R taking the prize with the most money, and a handful of dollars behind KC. Argh. Nice map, although I think we screwed up by not playing a special rule about nukes in the southern part of the country.

Dominion: Prosperity - Having bought the kit that allows you to put the entire game (all five boxes, so long as you haven't sleeved the damned thing) into one box. It now weighs close to 20 US pounds, according to KC who apparently mails a lot of stuff and has a good sense of weight. I sure feels like 20 pounds. I brought it more for novelty than anything else, although I would have reconsidered after dragging the damned thing up the 70 steps to the main part of the house. Ken R, KC, Eric, and myself tried out the Prosperity expansion with the base set, having an interesting mix of cards generated via the iPhone app I have for this purpose. It turned out pretty well, although Ken (who apparently knew what he was doing) grabbed a Smithy early and roared to a win. I had two or three good King's Court/City/Moat combos that at one point ended up drawing something like 15 extra cards by the time I was done with the turn. Hard to keep track of those things after a while! I ended up with 41 points to Ken's 55, although had my Moats done a better job of stopping the Witches that kept showing up, I would have been a lot closer. My first real play with the game, and it may be my favorite expansion.

Red November - Why we don't play this more often escapes me. Perhaps it's the poorly organized rules that force you to do a lot of reading between the lines (movement, for example, moves the Ghost Marker forward, but isn't an Action for purposes of being in a room full of water). Made more fun by taking a shot of this blue vodka-based fruity drink that Rita had brought (and produced little or no buzz after my sixth shot - apparently my tolerance is up a bit from normal) every time you drank the grog. And I, starting out in the captain's cabin, drank it a lot. Enough that I fainted (in game, of course) twice. As with most plays of this hugely entertaining if wacky title, we died when things went horribly wrong after too many hatches were stuck once people were close to the 10 minutes left mark. Except KC, who had an Aqualung from the start and used it to escape a minute before the missiles launched (and at the 9 minute mark, one minute after he *could* escape!). Note to self - drink less in this game, as having eight event cards come up in a row is generally going to kick the crew's ass. Hilariously, both KC (who played) and Chris (who did not) independently said that "there's a lot of game in that little box," and they are right. My favorite semi-coop game with a lighter mood, I suspect this one is better still with the "a shot when you use grog" rule.

Dominant Species - A few people in Rip City Gamers have said that this game has too much luck of the draw at the end of the game, mostly based on the elements that come out into the various actions. They are wrong. All four of us (Matt R, Eric, and Ken C) agreed that this was a real winner in many ways, with a lot of deep choices to be made. Eric compared it to Die Macher, which several people in my group love and yet the game never comes out. Every time I play it I see new strategies and things to be aware of. Our play time was about 4 hours, but it was a learning game for two of the players so I think brisk play can knock 30 minutes off of that time. Unfortunately, there is a bit of min/maxing near the end of the game, but otherwise it's a blast and a half to play. Really, this is the standard for heavy Euro-style gaming. Matt rocked the end of the game as the Amphibians, doing an excellent job of scoring water areas at the end of the game, and *doubling* his points in the final turn and scoring round (and he was over 100 when he started). I had an early lead after getting 12 points off of the Fertile card, but had to get too many cubes on the board on the last turn and was doing well off of Survival points in much of the late game, so was identified as the leader to some extent. In the end, Eric had a nice run at the end to finish a clean second (but still a good 20-30 points behind Matt), while I completely stalled out and Ken pipped me by a point for third a good 20-30 points behind Eric. My favorite game of the weekend, no question, only made better by a *lot* of good bourbon. Did I mention I drank like a fish over the weekend but never got drunk? And lost 4 pounds?

SM's Civ: The BG - I love the PC version of Civ, although my heart is fondest of the original iteration (with the second coming in behind it). Sadly, the later versions, at least up to the fifth one, have had both bug issues on the Mac that have never been resolved, as well as way too much micromanagement (which the first did best). The board games, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. The original Ragnar Bros game that inspired the PC version (at best) is far too long for regular play, much less trying to talk anyone in my group into, and the Eagle Games version was such a disaster that I don't think it ever got played. Through the Ages gives the best feel of the resource management side of the game, but there is no map and it's extremely abstract in most senses, especially in terms of combat. The latest attempt from Fantasy Flight, IMO, comes the closest to evoking the PC version, and has the advantage over TtA of playing four people and giving each player some individuality.

Our game, the last thing we played over the retreat, saw Eric and Chris playing for the first time, with Matt R and myself playing for the third or fourth times. Eric was Rome and Chris was China, so there was an immediate race on the Culture track between them, while my Americans were a little more vague. My initial Great Person, however, was Napoleon, so I concentrated on looking like I was going to be going for a Tech Victory while secretly planning to go for a Military Victory. I did not focus well enough on the Military, and was also a bit worried about the strategy as Matt got the Germans, but I did end up with two Academies and then drew a *second* Nappy Great Person when I edged up a few slots on the Culture track. At that point, I had far too many things to prepare to do to take out Eric's capital, including building up more units, getting the Samurai wonder that gives you extra points on your units, and getting a few more tech going to improve my units, stacking, and movement. By the time I advanced on Eric, he and Chris were well up the Culture track and things weren't looking too good. The surprise, however, was that Matt was collecting coins like crazy, and ended up winning the game with an Economic victory.

If I have a knock on the game, it is that it's too hard to see how well people are doing with their Economies. You can see the tech tree progress from across the table, same with the Culture Track, and you *definitely* know when someone is moving toward your capital. With coins, it's a lot harder to see if you aren't looking *much* more closely. I will definitely work up some sort of small scoring track that I can use to note where people are on the coin race.

A really great end to the weekend, which already had a lot of great games (many of which I haven't included here). I'm fairly sure I didn't win a single game. And didn't care. Thanks to Chris for hosting - as the guy who typically hosts at Sunriver, it's nice to let someone else take those chores on, as the final day can be very hectic (and in fact I rarely play games on the last day so that I can start closing up the house). Add in a really great group of people, and this was one of my favorite retreats ever.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steeling Myself For Steel Wolves

For long term readers of this blog, you may remember that I gave a month-by-month account of an ongoing Silent War game I played some years ago. I started right after Pearl Harbor, and got pretty close to getting through more than a year of the game (I think, it's been a while). In the end, while it was fun (and pretty fast using VASSAL) I felt like the game was more of an accounting exercise toward the end. Once the torpedos got up to snuff and I started having a huge number of subs floating around, the fun kind of oozed out of the game.

So here I am, years later, looking into the maw that is Steel Wolves, Compass' Battle of the Atlantic followup that covers the war through 1943, and I'm thinking that I am out of my mind to even consider playing this game.

For one thing, the designers decided that they were a little *too* abstract in Silent War. It was that decision to flesh out a few elements of the original design that pushed Steel Wolves out by years as they deepened the way that targets/escorts/task forces were determined as well as in how combat played out. The game is still design-for-effect (you aren't actually going after a specific convoy but rather an abstraction of a week of a patrol, as in Silent War) but now there are up to 14 (yes, 14) potential war mix cups. I can't even imagine trying to keep all of that straight using the physical game. There are four different types of combat displays. There are enough tables that it takes the map and an additional four sheets to hold them in all of their Skittles-inspired colored glory. There are political effects driving your policy.

And, of course, there are eight countersheets of subs. Eight. Six are the Germans, and just the Germans. You look at this and think that they did nothing but build subs in their shipyards. And you'd be right.

The map is bigger, at least in terms of detail, with differentiations between the east and west Atlantic, a Southern map with 2MP transit lines. And there are at least 12 different player aid cards. They go on and on and on. Three off-map sub base sheets (Vichy, Spanish, and German).

This thing is a true monster, but accessible and doable, assuming you have the patience and can leave it set up for a long enough time.

Here's the crazy part - I'm ready to start this thing right now. I've got the target ship counters and markers all punched and clipped, same for the initial 1939 subs. It's fairly manageable at this level, with "only" ten war mix cups. I may well change my iPad software project to cover the war mix for this game. I will probably end up transferring it to VASSAL at some point, but I'd like to give the module a few months to mature and get the kinks worked out - too many issues with modules that needed bug fixes that "broke" either the game in progress or didn't take older saves. Better with this beast to let it mature a bit, then transfer the game there.

Besides, who doesn't love a bit of masochism when it comes to wargaming? I'm sure that five minutes into my first screwup with putting the wrong ships back into the wrong cups I'll shoot myself in the head and then start over (actually, not quite that bad - half of the cups have preset ships and so at worst I'll be able to simply redo the five random cups, at least at the start).

Yet there is something about this game that draws me in. It's a literary narrative on a truly grand scale, the story of what must be the bravest soldiers in any war. Yeah, they snuck up on ships and sunk them. In claustrophobic tubes of metal that could move at a few miles an hour when submerged for months at a time in one of the most inhospitable parts of the entire planet, especially in the Barents Sea once the Russians got into the war. Anyone who has watched the full version of Das Boot, the three or four hour one (or six, I can't remember) and sat enthralled through the whole thing will look at this game and think that maybe, just maybe, they might be able to get through the full war.

This one is going to take two poster frames and two "saved game" slots in my game room, at least until VASSAL gets a stable module. This one is, perhaps more than anything else, going to kill my Project ETO concept before I even get started. This one is, more than anything else I've played thus far, going to become a lifestyle choice.

I am out of my freakin' mind.

Periscope up, baby.

As always, I will keep you posted.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Project ETO - Initial Thoughts

One of my gaming goals for this year it to begin what I envision as a long (a decade or longer) project to study WW2 in the ETO, which includes North Africa. My study will include reading books on the subject as well as to play wargames, both at the campaign and battle levels when possible.

Here are some preliminary thoughts on how I plan to proceed, which I expect will evolve as the project moves forward.

  • The project will proceed chronologically through the war, beginning in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War and proceeding all the way to mid-1945.
  • Since many events were happening at roughly the same time (Huskey and Kursk, for instance), I may break the subjects down to a point where I can focus on one at a time.
  • My reading may include books that are larger treatments of the war, reading a chapter or two that covers the action in question. However, where possible I will try to read books that focus on the action in as much detail as I can stomach.
  • I may purchase new wargames specifically to fill in some operations, but in general my intent is to stick with the games I already own. It's a decent sized library at this point, but of course focuses on the "biggies". I will stay away from "magazine" games in general, but in some cases these are the only games on the subject that I'm aware of (Ethiopia, Greece, for example).
  • I do not plan to preset the amount of time I'm working on a given portion of the conflict, as obviously some are much larger than others. Barbarossa, for example, can be broken down into several games and it's a question of which ones I choose to play and their scale/complexity that will dictate pace.
  • I may or may not try to make this a "community" activity, encouraging others to "play along" with me and share reading and/or game suggestions. If I do, it will be run out of BGG rather than CSW or a proprietary site. I *will* create some sort of method of recording at the very least the games and books I use in my study.
  • The idea is not to *only* game a given situation, but to work in parallel with the other games I play. In other words, I'm not making this my exclusive wargaming activity.
  • I fully expect that a lot of these games will be played solitaire. The point isn't so much to make for a rich gaming experience (although that's something I'd like to do), but to complement my reading. In cases where the game rules don't work particularly well for solitaire, I will "make do" if necessary (for example, if I decide to play a CDG on the subject).
  • While tactical games may rear their heads from time to time, the point is to understand the larger picture rather than the OoB or specific tactics.
  • I am planning to focus largely on the land war, although I may include some topics as time goes on such as the Battle of the Atlantic, the Battle of Britain, the Allied strategic bombing campaign, etc. However, these tended to be long-term campaigns that had their own arc and stories, and unless I can focus on specific elements I will probably leave them out. The Battle of Britain is the one exception, taking place during a "lull" in the war.
  • I will largely avoid alt-history for the most part. Thus, games like Britain Stands Alone (on the Sealion plan) will probably be left out, although that game does cover the Battle of Britain. For the most part, this is about what happened, not what might have happened.
  • I have no intent of linking the games into a meta-campaign, with the results of one game affecting the next. For one thing, these will be separate games and there's no way for me to do this effectively and this isn't what I'm trying to accomplish in any regard.
As I mentioned before, my initial subject will be the Spanish Civil War. For one thing, this is a subject I know very little about, and I'm fortunate to have at least four games at present on the subject:
  • The Spanish Civil War - GMT Games (just released). A medium complexity game on the entire conflict at a counter density that I think will give good insights.
  • Arriba Espana - Firefight Games. A tiny game from a small publisher. Area map and thin cardboard counters, but I hear good things about it (and it's relatively quick). Again, the entire conflict.
  • EuroFront II - Columbia Games. This grand strategic game includes the ability to play the SCW on it's own, as did it's predecessor MedFront (which I also own). I have heard this game models the conflict at too grand a scale to be effective, but it's an option.
  • Guadalajara - MMP/The Gamers. One of the SCS titles, this game has gotten some mixed reviews as well, but it's the only game I own on a specific battle within the conflict and thus has some value.
  • I'm sure I have an ASL scenario or six laying around that covers the SCW, but as mentioned earlier tactical combat will not be a focus unless it's in a system I already am familiar with and am excited about playing.
Both a las Barricades and Crusade and Revolution are due out at some point from MMP, but I don't think they'll be published in time to be useful for this project.

As for reading, I'm hopeful that I can find books that I can put on the iPad/iPhone so that I can read them when I'm grabbing food or trapped somewhere away from the house for a period of time with little to do. The two books in the Kindle store that have caught my eye are The Battle For Spain, Antony Beevor, which looks to be a pretty crunchy read and focused largely on the political side of things, and A New International History of the Spanish Civil War by Michael Alpert, which I know nothing about other than it has a title I like. I'm planning to avoid books that focus on one element of the SCW, or that take a particular side. I'm interested in the history, and while I'm aware that the winners write history at the same time I'd like good scholarship rather than reading a book by someone with an axe to grind. If you have any suggestions, I'd be very happy to hear about them. Sadly, the new GMT game has no bibliography at all, but perhaps Guadalajara has a list that includes books concerning the entire conflict.

At some point during this period, I will also try to find a book or two on the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. I have exactly one game on the subject, and although it is from a magazine (Command #4) it is well regarded and I've actually played it a bit before, although more than ten years ago. That invasion happened in 1938, so it fits in well with the "pre-war" period that I'm covering.

The next period will be about the Blitzkrieg, from Poland through the fall of France. My guess is that my pre-war study will last into June of 2011, although again I'm not making any promises. I'm not trying to do this on a schedule, and I don't have enough knowledge to be able to make one anyway that I'd have any confidence in.

While I haven't officially started a community effort, you are of course welcome to study with me. For now, I'm considering this first chunk of history to be my beta test of the project, and I expect to learn a lot about how to proceed as much as learning about the history. I will put up a GeekList at some point in the very near future where you can contribute games and books and insight if you wish, but not for at least a few days. I will put a notice on this blog when that happens.

As I've said, I expect this to last for quite some time. You may start the pool on how long this will last at your convenience!