Wednesday, January 13, 2016

OCS, The Learning Curve Pt 1

For no other reason than I own Reluctant Enemies, which is supposed to be a good starting point as it has an extensive walk through. I've decided to start the learning process with this product. The game covers the Commonwealth invasion of the Vichy held Levant (Syria and Lebanon) in response to some French and German shenanigans in Iraq in 1941. The counter density is low, at least for an OCS game, with obvious objectives and relatively light special units, such as air. 

The game comes with a four page overview of the system, which first runs through the sequence of play, then goes into some detail on specific systems, then finishes with some play tips. It is useful primarily as a primer for the extended example of play that covers the first turn of the game, the other component targeted at new players. When first published, the EoP lacked specific info on some unit placement, at least without doing some detective work, but an updated version is available on the MMP website that shows initial placement (although not the commandos or CW trucks, which you will locate when it becomes necessary). Perhaps more important is the document that adds in an index of the rules referenced, although this is mostly included inline in the example, and also the full second turn. OCS requires an example of this scope because there are so many moving parts.

And none of those parts feels like it moves more than supply. Mein Gott, but this game makes you count a lot, and most of it has to do with supply. You need to get supply to pretty much everyone you can, with occasional exceptions, and getting it there is a little crazy. You start with an offmap supply source or an on map supply dump, which consists of supply counters, then trace five truck movement points, which means ten road hexes, to the unit in question, or if there is an HQ in range of the dump it can throw the supply more movement points, which may or may not be truck movement points, to the unit that needs it. You can also use truck units (which are not the only units that use truck movement points) to extend throws and direct draws. This happens when you check trace supply, when you move units that have tracked or truck movement factors, during combat, when you refit air units...

It's a lot of counting. The map does include "mileposts" along the main arterials some locations that typically house supply dumps, such as Haifa or Damascus. But it's still a lot of counting. Did I mention that trucks have 45 MP? I'm starting to think fondly of vehicle MPs in ASL. 

Making matters worse is that supply is measured in points. Wait! That doesn't sound like a problem! Of course you have points, because most of the things you need to trace supply for also require you to spend supply, so that makes sense. Supply is really an on map currency. A currency that has dollars, but also quarters. Because the base unit of supply isn't the point, it's the token, which is a quarter of a supply point.

That always works out well, using fractions that use a different but related metric. So instead of 0.25SP to activate a unit, you use 1T.

I'm sure this came from the original game and a desire to keep at least some backward compatibility. The rules are in version 4.1a as I type, and my guess is that there were no tokens originally, but as the game started to branch out to areas other than Southern Russia they needed a smaller unit to include battalion level units and possibly a finer detail for refitting aircraft. Who knows? Who cares? 

If anything will keep me from enjoying this system, it will be this aspect. Oh, I get why it's there. OCS is all about demonstrating operational tempo at this scale. Most wargames let you move everyone with no thought as to where your tanks fuel up other than to assume the gas cans can get to the tanks. Not here, where you need to build up supply in order to move and attack, and you need the supply network in place and of sufficient mass to do that. And, as we all learned in kindergarten, professionals know logistics. 

It's not like this is a surprise for me. I have actually played OCS, once, some years ago with my good friend Myk, who I think had different letters in his name at the time. We played a scenario from Tunisia, long considered the entry level OCS game until RE. I did read the rules, but I was the Axis defending Tunis from the advancing Allied forces, and most of my supply was there to keep my air force functioning and for defense. I didn't need to do much shuttling around of bullets and beans other than via air and sea, so I never really got a good sense of how involved supply was. That said, let's just say I knew the job was dangerous when I included OCS in my list this year.

Consider it me giving it the old college try. 

How much do I love love love supply economics that use fractions? I gave my copy of Fire in the Sky to a friend because the Oil point system was so incredibly annoying, and it didn't even up have supply points on the map. You tracked them via a numeric track, keeping fractions by rotating the counter to a different orientation. I suppose you could use counters, but after swapping supply counters in RE for an hour, and that was just the first third of the EoP for the first turn, I'm not sure I am cut out for this kind of bean counting. 

Don't get me wrong. The operational tempo system used in Unconditional Surrender is similar, although a point is a point there. Same goes for the Holdfast system. Triumph and Tragedy uses action cards to generate operational tempo at a very high level, and it's effective. I think it's a valuable thing to simulate in a consim. I'm just not sure I will have the patience for it. 

This doesn't mean I'm abandoning the system. I have most of the games, all but Hube and Sicily, and really want to like it. I'm unlikely ever to play an eight map Case Blue campaign game, but there are a lot of scenarios out there and a lot of people whose opinions I respect that like it. So I shall plod along and see if I can't figure it out, although it's clear that a game of this complexity is going to require more than just me pushing cardboard around by myself. Plus, MMP has announced two redux titles for Tunisia and Sicily that are supposed to be, again, smaller and thus introductory games to the system. It's just that having what is essentially an extra game system that is so tightly integrated and central to the series will require someone to tell me I'm doing it wrong.

Perhaps the trick is to just put a lot of small denomination markers down for supply and avoid too much change making, which is where I got a little discouraged. I could see getting distracted at a bad time and forgetting where I was in the process. This is normal for wargames, but this series seems to be fraught with peril in this regard. Identifying those gumption traps will make the process easier (a relative term) and keep my head in the game better. However, knowing as I do from seeing games in progress that there can be a very high counter density in critical sections of the map in larger games, I am concerned that this may be a supply dump too far. 

So personal morale check passed, but barely. I do intend to get through both turns and then decide if I want to continue with OCS for now, or shift to GOSS. At least OCS has tried to make the system approachable with these kinds of products, whereas GOSS gives you an introductory scenario, let's you hunt and peck through the rules, then sends you off on your merry way.

Like ASL, though, it's always better with two.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Triumph and Tragedy - Best Sandbox Evah

2015 was a pretty good year for wargames, with some excellent titles published. Even with two excellent John Butterfield titles, D-Day at Peleliu and Enemy Action: Ardennes seeing publication, the big winner for me has to be Triumph and Tragedy. 

Anyone familiar with "block" wargames will recognize the name Craig Besinque. East Front was a brilliant design that has stood the test of time, and while some might argue that Columbia Games, which has built a business out of publishing block games exclusively, has not been particularly successful in recent years with their games, that hasn't stopped the concept from being successful and moving in new directions.

Some of the charms of block games are,
  • Fog of War,
  • Elegance of design,
  • Relatively small number of units, and
  • Stickers!
Ok, maybe not the last one for everyone. Me, I'm comfortable with my inner seven year old.

T&T is a game based on WW2 European Theater of Operations (ETO) at a very high level scale, as is Craig's EuroFront, an extension of the original EastFront system to the entire theater. Europe Engulfed, another block game, tried to cover the same topic, as has the very recent Victory in Europe. Personally, I believe the ETO to be a very difficult topic to simulate well, largely because of the complex, and some might say, unlikely, set of conditions that led to the conflict. Diplomacy alone following the Fall of France in 1940 is difficult to cover, but trying to also cover a massive war of interdiction on Western shipping, two different air campaigns, and the difficulty of supplying units in the less developed parts of the theater such as North Africa makes for a daunting design challenge. Every one of these situations usually results in a complex subsystem that increases playing time, rules complexity, and a map that takes up the entire table. 

This doesn't even touch the problem of how to make a game that doesn't need serious scripting to work. The obvious way to address more choices is to allow the same layers to game the pre-war period. Games like Totaller Krieg do a good job of  giving the different players alternate paths, although even with TK each faction is going to have a limited number of real choices in a strategic sense because of the sequencing of the event cards. You can choose a path, but it's two or three and once you are on that path your strategy has been set. 

I'll note here that I really like the idea of a counter-factual basis for the ETO, as it allows designers to remove any strictures they might put in place to force historical events. The issue is that often you can end up with a pretty unbalanced game, and putting hours into the pre-war period only to end up with unfun for the next 25 hours is not only unappealing, but a complete non-starter when time is such a factor for most gamers. That doesn't stop people from playing Days of Decision or The Gathering Storm and continuing on into World in Flames or A World At War, but it is an incredibly unlikely scenario in my own life.

And then, there was T&T.

Straight off, no matter what me is going to confuse this game with a historical simulation, any more than Axis & Allies is. The chances of pulling off Barbarossa is, frankly, so unlikely as to be pretty much impossible. Just having Poland end up as a country under Western protection is in serious doubt. If that makes this game a non-starter for you, stop reading now. You'll miss out on a great game, but different strokes for different folks. However, if you like a handful of elegant and effective mechanisms that create a historically themed game with a lot of possible paths to victory, one that plays in an afternoon, that is relatively easy to teach (corner cases will always be part of this hobby), and that rewards long term planning and hoping for the best while expecting the worst, you will find a gem that we rarely see in the hobby.

I dislike reviews that cover mechanisms and rules then give a three sentence conclusion, so I'll stick to the systems and why I like them. I will present these as they appear in the sequence of play. I assume you have a passing familiarity with wargame mechanisms in general and block games specifically.

Economics and Production

One thing that is virtually guaranteed to make me avoid an ETO game is a complex economic system. Different point values for different units may work for some people, and I'm not afraid of math at all, but I find these complex systems to be Drags on what I'm really interested in. A&A is a particularly convoluted system in this regard, out of balance with the rest of the system. In T&T, economics is simple - every thing costs a production point, from the ability to effect diplomacy to tech advances to investments in infrastructure to operational tempo to even the usual suspects: treads, boots, and anchors. Want to add a pip to a block? It's a buck. Want place a new one point unit on the map? A buck. Card draws for anything else? A buck a card. Production takes a few minutes most turns, but the game preserves an excellent sense that you do not have enough hours in the day to do them all. 

And where do these points come from? Here is where the design veers into mold-breaking territory, as you determine Production based on the Population you control, the Industry you've created, and, once hostilities start, the Resources you have access to. Which ever one of these has the lowest value is your Production value. And it's probably under 10 at the start, and doesn't go much above mid-teens the entire game. Quick, elegant, but yet allows each player to determine their own strategy while still retaining a unique flavor for each faction through the starting values. For example, the West has great Population and Resource numbers, but needs to heavily invest in Industry immediately. And, because Industry does not require conquest or diplomacy to increase, the pacifism of the West is adequately presented elegantly and cleanly. 

But having resources in, say, Iraq, do you no good if you can't get them to your factories, so once you're at war you need to keep supply lines open. The Blockade mechanism does an excellent job of giving the Germans good reason to build subs and the West good reasons to build fleets. The ramifications are not immediately apparent, but the way the game simulates this aspect by simply requiring supply routes after the summer campaign season that must be restored by year end if you want to keep access, along with the Med Blockade element is about as elegant as you could hope for, if perhaps the most opaque system in the game. Simple rules, far reaching implications.

This is a good time to mention that the game uses two decks of cards, one to represent both diplomatic effort as well as the infrastructure to move and fight (Action cards) and one to represent technology, spycraft, and investment in infrastructure (Production cards). It is the latter that allows Industry to be built, while Action cards will allow factions to gain the benefits of trade, alliances, and conquests, that provide Population and Resources. 


The Action cards either give you a choice of two minor countries you can apply diplomacy to, or more latitude based on faction, adjacency, or countering previous opponent efforts. The mix of countries does a great job of showing why some countries joined in readily while others were much more likely to sit on the sidelines. Persia is an excellent example, with few cards calling out that country but more that allow the West and the Soviets more opportunities because they are in the general area. Effect without administration. The downside? You are drawing cards, and often the cards aren't interested in helping you in the ways you want. The Soviets took Persia in a recent game, while I as the West was unable to draw a Persia card to save my life. What I was drawing, and spent to try to get the U.S. In on my side early, were Intimidation events that allowed me to place influence on adjacent countries. I never even considered Persia, but of course it's right next to Iraq, which is a Western controlled area in the game, so I may have been better served keeping the Russians out. In fact, they went after India and won the game as a result. Yep, the Axis was at peace the entire game while the West and the Soviets were at war. The Soviets won by a point over the West, btw. 

Throw in the necessity of maintaining supply lines and trade routes once you are at war, and the costs of military actions when violating neutrality or declaring war on your Rivals, and choosing where to put your diplomatic efforts becomes a very satisfying sub game. 


Perhaps no other conflict saw so much change in technology over the course of a war other than WW2. The Great War came close in terms of radical change, but the improvements in aircraft, tanks, tactics, amphibious and airborne operations, and even force organization (not to mention the Bomb, which you can create in this game and even win just by having it) was incredible. An army in 1936 was a very different thing than in 1945. Every power focused on different things, from heavy bomber, mechanization of leg forces and anti sub tactics in the West, to rocket artillery and heavy tanks in the USSR, to fighters and subs in Germany. 

The game models these ideas in two different ways. The first is the ability to create various technologies using Production cards. Get two matching cards and play them (even secretly) and you gain an advantage, often the ability to fire first in combat. Get all four Atomic Weapon techs and have an air unit in range of a Rival capital and you outright win. Production cards, assuming they don't have covert actions, have two tech choices on them, along with some semi-wild cards that make it easier to get some of the rarer techs. Atomic weapons in particular are difficult to get without dedicating part of your oh so precious hand limit to saving up the later progressions and wilds you will need, not to mention the offset for keeping them secret, which counts against that hand size. 

The other way tech focus is modeled is through the block mix. Germany has a lot of subs, for example, while the West has a lot of fleets. Russian tanks have a maximum of 3CV, while Germans can build up to 4. That's not to say you can't build aircraft carriers as the Germans, just that the block mix will limit this in appropriately historical ways. 

Combat Operations

Unlike most wargames, you don't get to activate whoever you want whenever you want. To even move a unit from one space to another you need to use an Action card for its Operations. There are three seasons in every turn, four if you're the Russians although that fourth is limited to the Motherland. By 1939, you need to be carefully considering whether you have the cards to do both diplomacy and operations, and produce accordingly. 

Additionally, each operations card is for a specific season, and allows a different number of units to activate, not to mention when in relation to the other factions. A Z 10 card is fantastic if you want to go last and move a lot of units, but it has to be played in that season or else it will severely limit what you can do. Not only does this force difficult decisions, but also makes Action cards useful throughout the game after diplomacy has more or less fallen by the wayside late and the reverse in the early game. 

The result is a need to plan your turn based on your cards in hand while keeping in mind that after you have played cards for diplomacy, techs, industry and possibly espionage, you have to discard down to your hand limit. By game end, I was struggling to have any cards in hand at all by the end of the turn. With only 2-10 units moving every season, there are hard choices to be made.

Combat is largely similar to most block games, although sequencing is by unit type and different units are more or less effective against others. For example, Fleets are very effective against other fleets, less so against subs and air, and not very effective against land units. Land combat is a single round, naval combat can go for several rounds, subs can escape and continue to block supply routes, ground units are required to maintain other types in contested land areas, and combat is mandatory under certain conditions. If you are familiar with block games, you will grasp the system quickly.

I especially like how naval transport is handled, you just move land units on their own but they are particularly vulnerable, and have limited use when they invade.

And, of course, you will be absolutely sure your opponent is going to go after that area with all of the 1CV units you are bluffing with.

The other thing I really like is that it is difficult to get units from one end of the board to the other. You build everything but fortresses in your home country, so the West has to make a concerted effort to get units to North Africa. Once they are there, you can build them up normally, but no new units. Keeping cadres intact far afield is a critical element of play for the West.


Elegant subsystems, check.

Plays in 6 hours, check.

Wide range of game situations, check (although France will always be with the West, Italy will always be with Germany, and the U.S. Can only become allied with the West).

Tough decisions, check. 

Covers all of the basics for an ETO game without deep chrome, check.

Complex gameplay without complex or confusing rules, check.

So what are the downsides? 
  • Randomness. From the Peace Dividends to the card draws, it is possible to get completely screwed on this game through no fault of your own. I think it's unlikely, and to be fair pretty much every wargame has this possibility. Also, the chaos seems to come largely in the systems where you would expect it. Still, this is not a game for control freaks.
  • Requires three players. It will play with two, although I haven't tried this variant yet. That said, there aren't many good three player games of this ilk that play in this amount of time, so this might be a plus.
  • Not great if you want to replay WW2 from a historical perspective.
  • Very high level of abstraction will turn off simulation enthusiasts.
Downsides aside, and many of those are matters of taste, I will close by noting that I have played this game four times since I purchased it in early September of 2015. That's about a play per month, extremely unusual for an easily bored wargamer like me. At BottosCon in November, I saw about seven games being played over the weekend, and I had to miss the Sunday session. We will play two games at our upcoming wargame group nanocon in late February. Every person I've played the game with, with a single notable (but predictable) exception loves this game. It is deep without requiring constant rules lookups, although there are some subtleties you will need to get used to, such as when you gain control and where. 

Most of all, it's good fun. My last game was exceedingly close, and I very nearly came back for the win after losing most of India to the Soviets by invading every Axis trading partner and minor I could after coming very close two turns in a row. Every time I've considered the game time well spent, and being able to play with two friends is just icing on the cake.

This and Enemy Action are a dead heat for wargame of 2015 for me, and they serve very different purposes. Thank you, Craig, for a brilliant and innovative design. 

Monday, January 04, 2016

Sixth Fleet Campaign Strategy and GT1 Strategic Cycle

We start with a high level pic of the map. I have placed free setup units as follows:

Nimitz TF in the Eastern Med as there is little U.S. Presence in that part of the map. Boston SN is set up in the Sicily/Tunisia choke point.

Minsk TF sets up SE of Rhodes to support Red Navy breakout from the Black Sea. Nezhn SN sets up near the Gulf of Taranto to interdict the Italian surface fleet there. Sums sets up near Istanbul in the Black Sea to interdict the Turks if they sortie to protect the Bosporus.

The picture is a bit fuzzy, but I wanted to get the whole thing into one shot. Future pics will focus on smaller areas.

First, Soviet strategy. The Western Med holds little of interest from a VP standpoint other than Tangiers, so most operations there will focus on disruption and distraction, although Bizerte seems like a good place to threaten. The Western Libyan forces will focus in this area along with the handful of subs and the patrol craft in Annaba, which is a Soviet base in a neutral country.

The U.S. will mostly focus on detection and starting to get transports to their destinations, as they can't begin hostilities. That isn't true for the allies, so this part of the map will depend on the Spanish and Moroccans to defend Tangiers and deal with the Soviet subs in the area.

The central Med contains Malta, the only real objective for the Soviets. The Benghazi TF and possibly the Libyans will focus on this objective. In their way, however, is a sizable US and Italian force that may end up taking four points in Libya if the Sovs aren't careful.

Then we come to the initial hotspot of the game, the eastern Med and the Bosporus. Nine points for the Sovs in Crete, Istanbul, and Beirut, but the U.S. has a few VP to get here as well. Biggest issue for the Soviets early is controlling the Bosporus to liberate their Black Sea Fleet, but the mixed Syrian and Soviet forces in Syria are a huge threat to Beirut from the start. Early rolls will determine how much effort is put on these initial high priority targets.

The U.S. Doesn't have much here, but on the other hand what they do have is a carrier group, and that is always an issue for the Soviets. The Greeks and Turks are going to need to defend the Bosphorus more or less on their own, there will be no other forces moving to that area the first day.

And away we go...

GT1 - AM Turn, Strategic Cycle

First up is the Political Events Phase. This is how the game timer gets advanced, but it's slow. There are twelve of these phases in the game, but you need to roll a six on a d6 to advance the counter, and it has to advance three times. Medium and Short games add a DRM to this roll to speed things along, but we aren't going to fiddle with that. In our case, the roll is No Effect, so nothing crazy.

Next are the three Random Events. The weather is fine across the board, but the U.S. suffers a command-control issue with the units in Rota, and will need to rely on the Spanish to do any strategic air tasks. The Soviet subs are crap in this part of the map, so not a high bar. Finally, both sides are unable to use their satellites to gain any advantage.

This being the first turn, no reinforcements, which won't show up until GT4, the start of the second day. A large guided missile cruiser TFin the Black Sea will have an amphib group to escort, as well as adding in more recon capability in that area. The situation in the western Med starts to heat up with a nuclear sub appearing in the Atlantic. For the US, their own SN shows up in the Atlantic as well, with an Orion P3 to start finding and destroying the Sov subs there. The various allies won't see units for a few days. In other words, not a lot changing except for more threat in the Black Sea.

On to Strategic Air allocation. The solitaire variant has a die roll to see who can place air units, with at least four units eligible. This can result in more success for one side than the other, but air warfare depends heavily on luck so I don't mind. Plus, solitaire! Pretty straight forward, an even roll places NATO, odd places Soviet except a 9, which ends all placement for the turn. Prioritization is critical!

Here are the placements followed by rationale:

Odd, LB MIR RCN from Darnah to E Med, Recon. This unit is looking for the Nimitz, a huge target.

Odd, I38 ASW from Odessa to Tyr Sea, Recon. This barely made it with all of the airbases in the way, but just managed with 30 hexes. This will look for the Boston.

Odd, T16 RCN from Saki to the Aegean Sea, Minelaying. The errata says you can't mine an "island" hex, whatever that is. I am assuming that an island takes up only one hex and there is no mainland coastline in the hex. This will lay mines in Athens.

I should assign the aerial minesweepers at this point, they will go with the Nimitz.

Odd again. This is statistically improbable... T16 RCN from Saki to E Med for Tac Coord. Unfortunately, there aren't many interceptors with enough range to cover these units, hopefully the next roll will end the phase...

Even! Finally! GR RF4 from Suda to Recon in E Med. Looking for the Minsk TF.

Even. IT ATL RCN to C Med from Taranto, Recon. Looking for that sub off the coast...

Even. U.S. P3 in Sigonella to C Med on Minelaying. Will obstruct Benghazi.

Odd. T16 RCN from Saki to Adriatic, Minelaying, Taranto.

Even. IT G91 ATK to Adriatic, Interception.

Nine, allocation complete.

Wow, five placements to four. Here is how this ended up...

Definitely recon heavy, as you'd expect. Not sure if the mines will help, but fun to try. BTw, mines are an advanced rule in later fleet games, but basic in Sixth.

Only one unit is set to intercept, most INT units being saved for CAP or escorts. There is no air to air as only the one interceptor, so we proceed to Bounce. IT AA value is 3, SO AA is 1, so 3-1 odds on the Bounce column. 0/2r result is enough to eliminate the T16 RCN. A cautionary tale for long range mining missions! G91 returns to base on the Strategic Air Display.

Next we drop some mines:
  • US P3 lays mines in Benghazi.
  • T16 in Aegean lays in Athens.
  • T16 in Adriatic was shot down, no mines layer in Taranto.
Next up is detection. 
  • IT ATL in C Med detects Nezhn SN in 1330. Note no roll is made in this game, but in future titles you must roll to locate a sub.
  • GR RF4 in E Med detects Minsk TF. I know we haven't actually formed TFs yet, but it won't matter once I do shortly.
  • SO I38 detects the Boston in the Tyr,
  • LB MIR detects Nimitz TF in E Med.
One T16 remains on Tac Coord in E Med.

Now for para/commando availability...

We add +2 for both the UK and Italy to the US rolls, which net two para and one commando. The Soviets get one para. This is great news for NATO, it will make things much harder for the Soviets to take Istanbul early.

The U.S. invades first. No AA units near VP spaces, and likewise no subs for the commando, but they do have two Paras. The GR A7 unit in Suda drops one in Iraklion, and the other in Instanbul. I found no rule requiring a U.S. unit do the drop! The Minsk and its fighter is out of INT range for the Iraklion drop hex.

Next is the Soviets, who have just the one para. They use the M23 in Saki to drop their Para in Istanbul as well. The fight is on for Istanbul, although there is no combat per se, it's simply a matter of gaining enough of a ratio of your units to your opponents'.

Since he has an AA unit next to Beirut, he places a 1 Marine in that space from the Vilkv. Might as well, highest value target in the area.

Finally, we form TFs. I generally just create these as one force per hex with four or more combat ships. There are just two spaces eligible aside from the free setup units, the Italians in Taranto and the Sovs in Tartus. 

And this ended the first Strategic cycle. Things should move along more quickly, as there were a lot of rules here I hadn't seen before. 

One last note... I will almost certainly screw up rules left and right. This is not meant as a tutorial, just a play through, so I am going to just live with any mistakes and keep moving forward. 

Here is the eastern Med at the end of the Strategic Cycle...

Sixth Fleet WW3 Prelims

I've been a fan of the Fleet series from Victory Games since the late 80s. I stumbled across the game at a bookstore in Bend, OR, and they had the entire series. Over the course of a few years of going to Bend for summer vacations, I ended up owning them all. The series has morphed considerably over the run, and Sixth was the first, so it's the roughest in a few ways:
  • Only one form of detection,
  • Six sided die rather than ten,
  • Constricted map,
  • Limited access for Soviet naval forces
On the other hand, you have a rich campaign game where the various Med nations will align differently from game to game. 

For this ongoing play through, I chose the World War Three long scenario with low preparedness. Those last two affect a DRM for the Armistice roll and how units get onto the map, respectively. These options give me a lot of aligned nations, time to let the game develop, but not a huge number of units on the map at the start.

I am using all non-optional rules. Logistics seems very involved, and there are enough rules without adding in a lot of teensy chrome stuff.

I expect that the first couple of turns will take several posts, each focusing on a particular activation or SoP phase. 

I have already rolled for alignment, with the following results for the U.S. Allies:
  • Morocco,
  • Spain,
  • Italy,
  • Tunisia,
  • Greece,
  • Turkey,
  • UK
The Soviets have a smaller array:
  • Libya
  • Syria
That leaves France, Egypt, Israel, Yugoslavia, and Algeria as the neutrals. I don't expect that there will be much chance any of these countries will show up with the possible exception of Yugoslavia to give the Soviets easier access to attacking Italy by air.

I am also using small dice to track VP hex values, since they change from scenario to scenario and their value to each side. Red dice will show Sov VP, green US, and the pips with show the value divided by ten for that side. I am using small red markers to denote weather or command issues for specific stacks.

To better simulate the Strategic Air war, I am using the solitaire rule from 2nd Fleet that uses a d10. 

Finally, I am using the original rules supplemented by the 2nd Fleet errata sheet that came with the game. This has a handful of tweaks but preserves the original flavor.

Next up, a discussion of early strategy for both sides, along with the AM Strategic Cycle.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Gaming Goals, 2016 Edition

I used to have annual gaming goals on a regular basis some years ago. I stopped after a while because they were too ambitious, and I usually changed my mind about my goal as the year went on.

This year, I've decided to restart the tradition, dividing the goals into a couple of different categories. Given I've slowed my Euro buying considerably (everything feels like mechanism stew after a while, and we rarely play games more than a couple of times in my group), most will be wargaming related, although not all.

First up, my solitaire goals:

  • Play the entirety of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Wrath of the Righteous to completion. This should not be difficult, as I am a huge fan of the system and enjoy the game immensely, even if it's difficult to get my group playing. I got through most of Rise of the Runelords but one really bad session with me screwing up mechanism after mechanism (usually forgetting to close locations when facing the Villain) that resulted in one really bad luck event that killed the entire party. I just didn't have the gumption to put in new characters partway into the fifth adventure set. I struggled with the base set scenarios for Wrath after scanning the cards into CardWarden on my iPad, but have found the adventure path scenarios to be much more playable (and they have nerfed the base scenarios about the time I just gave up on them). I'm one scenario away from completing the second set, and it won't be hard to finish up. A great game to play during my recovery from surgery in a couple of months.
  • Document the solo play of four long wargames. I did some of this in the past, but there are a few games out there I'd like to track in regular reports. At present, I've got Sixth Fleet set up on the side table, arrayed for the long World War Three scenario (the advanced scenarios are "different" in how likely the wide array of minors will be involved). I've started at a Low preparedness level to keep the range of units on the map manageable, and while I'm planning to play the Long scenario, I may shift to the Medium scenario (which only modifies the Armistice die rolls every third turn) if things are dragging. Expect to see regular session reports on this for the first couple of months, and my plan is to have this game finished up by the end of February. 
Next up, my ASL goals:
  • Become comfortable with the full Infantry rules and much of the standard terrain. Actually, I'd call this a modest goal. Having a regular partner and getting involved with the local Bezerk Commissars group, I expect this won't be an issue at all. We may get into Guns and even a few vehicles, as this stuff isn't that far off from the SK material, but there is a huge leap in the infantry rules. 
  • Play ASL in a tournament setting more than 200 miles from Portland. Chris and I have discussed making some sort of road trip to play at a tournament or two (or three). This may end up being at BottosCon next November, we will just have to see. There are tons of opportunities for cons, especially in the summer.  This will need to either include the wives or pass the spousal aggro test. 
Third, my "opposed" war-game goals:
  • Learn OCS and GOSS. This will probably involve some solitaire activity getting the system learned, and in fact I've started with OCS already as Reluctant Enemies is on the table. This was originally supposed to be a great intro to the system, but the replay of the first turn neglected to note the placement of units on the map, and thus was very difficult to follow along with. There has been an extension of the example that includes the second turn as well as the starting position, so this should be much easier. At worst, I will learn one (I have already played OCS before years ago, Tunisia, so this is very doable).
  • Play a large scale game via VASSAL. Probably an OCS or GOSS game, although this may end up being one of the monster SCS titles like Day of Days. Many options here. I've had terrible luck with more than one opponent, and other than Chris it can be difficult to get someone playing live, so this will probably be async once we have the system in question down. Note I'm not saying we'll finish, but I intend to give it a good shot.
Fourth, everything else:
  • Play Pandemic Legacy, Season One. This may end up being a solitaire exercise, if only because my gaming group struggles to get a consistent set of players from week to week. I've spoken to someone who played solitaire and enjoyed it, although obviously it would be more fun with others. 
  • Play PACG in an organized play setting. This is the least likely thing, in large part because I haven't found a store running this in my area. I really want to try out the class decks in the format they were designed for, but playing solitaire in this format strikes me as requiring more management than I want to do because of the way the class decks work. With a new base box coming out soon, this seems like the time. Biggest problem will be missing one or more sessions because of surgery, although this I can play in my sleep. Usually.
  • Run an RPG campaign. I am a really good DM. I do voices, I engage the players, I generally do a very good job of prep as well as play. When I suggested doing this with the group, there were several people interested. I figure I'll be able to have a monthly group at best, and that can be difficult. I'm planning to run a Pathfinder adventure path campaign, although I don't expect to get through the whole thing in a calendar year. This is a very high priority for me. 
  • Play an Imperial Assault campaign. My friend Jesse is going to start a campaign in the near future (once the NFL is done with it's season) and has invited me. Now that I'm not gigging, this is much more likely, but it will almost certainly cut into RPG time. If nothing else, I will run a full day mini-campaign with Twin or Return. 
Hey, look at that, Tom Vasal! I have ten things in my list!

Why do I think this is a more realistic list? Partly because some of the activities are solitaire and some are not. Being retired, I have a lot of time to devote to the solitaire and async activities, although most of the multiplayer activities are going to take up weekend time and there are a limited number of those. Also, some of these goals interlock and are really just extensions of what I'm already doing (ASL comes to mind). 

The biggest threat, of course, is surgery and my recovery. From previous experience, I can tell you that trying to absorb anything involved while on opiates, which will be about a month, is difficult. The other trick, which you would never expect, is that I will need to observe "sternal limitations" which mostly means strict lifting limits of 10 lbs the first month, 15 the second. I am not so much suggesting that I won't be able to play "heavy" games (yuk yuk) but that I won't be able to lean on a table as I'll effectively be lifting 40 lbs or so. From experience, I know this is a difficult habit to break, and I do like standing while playing war-games. This combined with being artificially stupid will limit the activities from mid March through mid May. That said, I expect to finish my PACG campaign during that time, and I fully expect to be running an RPG after the first month of surgery. 

Kind of nice to be making goals again. One of the reasons I decided to retire from gigging was to spend more time gaming with friends and this list crystalizes my goals. 

I intend to post regular status reports on the goals, so stay tuned. 

Next up, at least gaming wise, I intend to start documenting my Fleet game. I also have some things to say about the NFL...

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Sometimes They Come Back

Start of a new year, and it seems like a good time to start this up again. It's been a little less than three years since my last entry, right about my 50th birthday, but really not much has changed.


Since my last post, I have...

  • Bought and moved to two houses, one after the other,
  • Lost my mother to old age and my older brother to complications from heart surgery,
  • Lost the first dog my wife and I raised from a puppy,
  • Gigged more or less continually in my band, The Insensitives, then retired from pro music for a bit, 
  • Sang with my old church choir on a tour of Ireland, and getting a postcard from Bono thanking us for singing the U2 song "MLK" as part of the tour (which featured yours truly as the soloist),
  • Learned to play ASL. OK, learning. Because, ASL, and,
  • Sold our vacation house at Sunriver, the source of so many awesome gaming retreats,
  • Had open heart surgery to replace a bad aortic valve, found out I was about one chili cheese fry away from a massive heart attack so ended up with a triple bypass as well, had the surgeon tell my wife I needed to massively change my lifestyle if I wanted to live more than a few years, and so I did. 50lbs lighter, exercising regularly, and eating food that is keeping my heart from more blockages.
But wait! There's more!
  • And having another open heart surgery in two months because yet another valve went bad, and had the bad form to do so after the last surgery. So one more artificial valve, yay! On the plus side, they did an angiogram a couple of months ago when diagnosing the 
It's been a busy few years. I had to completely throw out my wardrobe and buy new clothes. Twice. Because weight loss wasn't the goal, eating well and exercising was, but the weight loss was a side effect. I had to get a new driver's license because I no longer look like the photo I had of me at 50. People don't always recognize me, even people I've known for decades. To be honest, I don't know that I'll ever get tired of that. 

I also have a somewhat different attitude about life. As you can imagine. Having someone tell you you could die any second because of multiple 95% blockages in your heart's arteries and that you need surgery in less than 48 hours tends to get your attention. If you're paying attention, you learn that everything is simultaneously vastly important and completely irrelevant, all at the same time. No wonder most people live in self-denial and pretend everything is fine and will continue as it always has. 

And so it is, at the start of a New Year (said start being largely the result of the Roman adoption of the Julian calendar to coincide with the election of Consuls, then formalized by Pope Gregory and not being tied to any relevant astronomical phenomena, like you'd think), and it seems like a good time to start recording my thoughts again.

I have a lot to discuss, like taking up Advanced Squad Leader last year. Like how to change your diet and be happy about it. Like what it's like to recover from major surgery where the perpetrators would be brought up on torture charges had it not been something I wanted. Like figuring out what the important bits are.

Like most things, everything is part of a continuum, constantly changing, growing, dying. This blog is a part of that, and I'll cover a lot of the past couple of years as well as what's currently going on as we go. No idea how long I will keep this up, there is a very small but significant chance I will stop involuntarily as a result of surgery. Given that my brother died because of something that no one in the hospital had ever seen before, oxygen not going to his brain for a few minutes during surgery, I'm very aware that we are all living on borrowed time and it can end at any point. We like to think we have a lot of control over our lives, but really not so much. We can barely control our bodies and we think of those as "ours" (hint: they aren't). 

First up will be my gaming goals for 2016. Yes, I have some. Because prioritization is a good thing, and if you want to do something now is a pretty good time to do it. Stay tuned...