Gamers’ Corner: New ATO Cards for SEEDS OF DISASTER

October 5, 2017–Stephen Rawling of Against the Odds has been pursuing a serious program of upgrading ATO games with extra components, at times quite fancy ones. The latest of his company’s titles to benefit from this is the ATO 2015 Annual, Four Roads to Paris. Within that set, which includes four different designers’ visio0ns of what would be a good game about the 1940 campaign in France, is my simulation called Seeds of Disaster. In that game a set of cards injects a differential element into the history of the 1930s while the players design and develop the armed forces they will take to war. Steve’s new improvement is a poker-quality deck of these cards, many of them with background illustrations, all nicely executed. Check it out!

Gamers’ Corner : Four Roads to Paris

August 25, 2017–Tomorrow I’ll be back to say something about strategy for the Afghanistan war, but today is for celebration with our colleague Stephen Rawling, whose ATOMagazine has just succeeded–after a series of unfortunate setbacks–in getting back on the street with the release of its game set Four Roads to Paris.  Steve’s concept for this set of games is to ask four different designers to craft a simulation of the same historical event, in this case Germany’s 1940 invasion of France and the Low Countries. There were no holds barred for the designers. In one of these games, a two-player simulation, the players are the British and French allies, the Germans are represented by an automaton. In another game the play is solitaire, the player represents the Germans, and the French are the automaton. In my contribution to the set, titled Seeds of Disaster, players create a new history of the 1930s, building the military establishments they will use once war comes. Altogether a worthy collection. Congratulations Steve!

Gamers’ Corner: THIRD REICH Note

August 4, 2017–Just a quick note for everyone who’s interested : Thanks for those of you who have sent in suggestions for elements a new edition might include. Dave Heath and I have discussed a few possibilities, but, more important, Dave is going to create a space on the Lock ‘n Load website where gamers can put suggestions for elements right in the hopper. I’ll be posting the address as soon as I have it.

This is going to be fun !!!

Gamer’s Corner : Last Call for Game Demo

July 28, 2017– We’re coming up on the date now and I just want to be sure you know. If you are interested in the Against the Odds company’s new multigame package Four Roads to Paris, this is your chance to see the first public showing of the set. Obviously it’s easy if you live around Washington but all are welcome! I’ll be showing the games, demonstrating my entry in the set, called Seeds of Disaster, and fielding your questions on all manner of things about boardgames at the shop Labyrinth Games and Puzzles, 645 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, 20003. Their phone is (202) 544 – 1059. The event takes place Saturday, July 29, from noon until 3 PM or whenever audience interest flags.

Gamers’ Corner: New THIRD REICH !!!

July 26, 2017–I’m on other matters right now but I want to take a moment to inform all gamers of exciting new prospects that lie ahead. I’m speaking of my game Third Reich. Out of print for years now, in its Avalanche Press edition, Third Reich is going to be back with us again!  Better than ever! David Heath and Lock ‘n Load Games have acquired Third Reich in two formats. One will be the classic board game, returned somewhat to its roots but with updated components and features. The other is going to be Third Reich : The Card Game, an entirely fresh version of the game that preserves its essential design features while enabling rapid-fire, even lightning play.

I’ll have more to say about both games later. Stay tuned as we move toward publication!

Gamer’s Corner: Volunteer(s) for Demo

June 17, 2017–Want a Prados ATO game (that I have copies of) for free? Come help me demonstrate Steve Rawlings’s next release, which is basically complete except for the printed rules (and they may even be available by the time of this event!). This will be a demo and appearance at a game shop on Capitol Hill. The games are the four entries in the collection Four Roads to Paris. At a minimum you’ll get an early peek at the new designs and, as I said, a free game of mine.

The maps, counters and other components for Four Roads to Paris are at the printer right now. They’ll be ready in time for this event, which takes place on Saturday, July 29. We’ll be able to use near-final version of the typescript rules, which Steve will supply and I’ll forward to you. Hopefully we can show fans one or more of these games actually in play.

The demo will take place at Labyrinth Games and Puzzles, which is at 645 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE (Washington, DC 20003). That’s just about half a block from the Eastern Market Metro stop. You can get other info from the shop, at (202) 544 – 1059. The show will start at 12 noon and last until 3 P.M. I’ll demonstrate the games in the collection and, depending on how many volunteers we get, play one of them with you. I’ll also be responding to questions from fans on gaming.

If you’re interested let’s start by you leaving a note for me at my website with your email address. I will respond and we’ll take it from there.

Gamer’s Corner: Pacific-Go

January 14, 2017–I learned from a friend this week that an interview with my colleague Lenny Glynn has appeared in the GMT Games magazine known as C3i. In his interview he comments on our design Pacific-Go. This game has yet to be covered on the drop-down “Games” menu on my website because it has yet to be published. But since Lenny has brought the game into the light, I’m sure interested fans would like to hear something about it.

This is one of several designs from the Prados-Glynn team. For the old Victory Games, later absorbed into Avalon Hill, we did the power politics game CIA. For SPI we teamed up to produce Spies. In each case Lenny ruminated and proposed, and I then turned the idea into a real game. For Pacific-Go, it was a time when Lenny was enamored with the classic game Go, which he played incessantly (only a few times with me). The rumination was, why couldn’t there be a game that retuned Go to an historical subject. That reasonable idea triggered the thought that the classic game, being of Oriental origin, ought to be coupled to a theme from that history. The game originated in China, but there are no subjects in Chinese history that resonate to an American audience–and we needed the latter to make a commercial success. Go arrived in Japan before 1,000 C.E., however, and the Pacific War from 1941 to 1945 immediately leapt out as a potential theme. That is the game I designed.

Three essential elements characterize the Go game. One is its square spaces where the play occurs on the intersections of the lines rather than within the enclosed area. A second is the “liberties,” the idea that game pieces (“stones”) can exist so long as open interstices exist around them (the core concept being that they can thus draw supply). The opponent captures stones when they become surrounded and have no liberties. The third element is the measurement of victory by the number of stones captured. I felt those elements could easily be incorporated in a board game.

I’m not going to give away all the fine mechanics of Pacific-Go. But a few things are suitable. This is designed as a strategic game of the Pacific Theater. Players have both a level of resources set by the scenario plus an increase based on control of objectives. The full number of stones that can be in play is the Force Pool, which players procure given their resources. Stones compose chains which must have liberties to survive. Captured stones leave the game. We have replaced the sequential turns of the classic game with simultaneous movement. There is a scenario that actually creates an historical situation for 1941. The vanilla nature of stones in the original has been modified. The game ends after a number of quarterly turns equivalent to the length of the war or the accomplishment of certain goals, whichever comes first. Victory is measured in the value of stones captured and objectives controlled.

This is a fast-playing, dynamic game, that can be played twice, or even three times, in an afternoon. That’s very cool for a strategic game. I hope someday you’ll be able to play it.


Gamers’ Corner: PANZERKRIEG Historical Notes

For all those gamers who may be interested, I have assembled a set of the Historical Notes that go with the boardgame Panzerkrieg. It’s available as a download from the “Download” section of the website. Because I had to put some time into finding a copy of the game, scanning the material, and assembling the material as a product, I have put a $1.00 price on the download. Hope you enjoy it!

Gamers’ Corner: Waterloo 200th

June 17, 2015–At the moment I’m actually on the other side of the world, writing about the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific War, but I didn’t want to let this moment go by without some remark. The 200th anniversary is a notable passage for anything–or person–and Napoleon is staging a remarkable comeback. Perhaps it’s not surprising that everyone’s favorite Napoleon, a French lawyer and re-enactor named Frank Samson, is choosing the big Waterloo re-enactment this week to retire in a blaze of glory.

Two centuries is both an eon and an instant. Scary to think about, but in that length of time the world has gone from the calculated and tightly-contained conflicts of the 18th Century to a point where we engage in global wars, now irrational ones, and where we are near to destroying the very environment that sustains us. The A-Bomb, the warplane, the mechanized army were instruments unthinkable in Napoleon’s day, but that man was instrumental in making those things possible in two ways: by introducing a version of state power that focused it more efficiently towards state goals, and by deepening the inculcation of a new vision of the “nation engaged” that reframed the individual as part of a mass movement. All those developments in a mere two centuries? Stunning.

Some things that exist today, such as the irredentism of Russia over the Crimea and Ukraine, are constants. In this sense the change is also that of an instant, and Frank Samson might as well be Napoleon.

But there is also an eon that has passed. The world is so different, as the A-Bomb reference suggests. Anyway, here I want to speak to my gamer friends. Not that we’ve been playing for two centuries (though games did exist in Napoleon’s time), but that an age’s work of development has occurred in gaming since Napoleon’s day. Then Bridge and Whist were common, and of course Chess, our closest progenitor for the modern boardgame. But Waterloo, specifically, became the subject for one of our first games. In fact Charles Roberts, who had made a hypothetical the subject of his first game, selected Waterloo in Europe, and Gettysburg in America as his first historical subjects.

The first insight was, you could take an event from history and make it into a boardgame. The first design innovations came on the heels of that insight–Avalon Hill’s published versions, in some editions, included an early sense for  formation (hence “front” versus “flank”) and ranged fire (with artillery units). That happened in the early 1960s.

What’s interesting to look at is the evolution of boardgames, viewed specifically through the lens of the Waterloo battle. The middle 1970s were a fulcrum point when the innovations flooded the hobby one after another. In 1974 Tom Dalgleish, Ron Gibson and Lance Gutteridge brought us the simply-titled Napoleon (Columbia Games), one of their clever assays in the use of wooden blocks to simultaneously insert a fog of war element (limited intelligence) and to afford the ability to portray attrition. Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) came out in 1975 with 1815: The Waterloo Campaign, in which Frank Chadwick brought us the concept of “blown” cavalry (horses exhausted after making a charge) and, if I recall correctly, line-of-sight checks for ranged fire.

You can’t discuss the subject without touching on the contributions of Simulations Publications, of course. They began with Jim Dunnigan’s Napoleon at Waterloo (NAW) in 1971 which reproduced the battle action more realistically than Charlie Roberts’s design, and zeroed in on Mont St. Jean where Avalon Hill had really done a campaign game. NAW became the foundation for a whole series of Napoleonic-era productions. Dunnigan used to say that everyone has at least one boardgame in them, and this shows it. Possibly the best-known of these Napoleonic games from SPI was Borodino (in 1972), on the famous Russian battle at the heart of War and Peace. The designer of that game, John Young, was actually SPI’s accountant. Point taken. Anyway, the Waterloo campaign lent itself to recreation, and when SPI introduced its quad-game format, one of them did all the Waterloo campaign battles on the NAW system. The drama of the situation also offered possibilities at the micro- level, so when SPI followed GDW into the world of “monster” games, it published Waterloo as Wellington’s Victory, Frank Davis’s 1976 game, which moved the action to the regiment/battalion level, at which the actions at Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte acquire new meaning.

Kevin Zucker worked at SPI during much of this period and designed Napoleon’s Last Battle (1975), which has spawned an entire line of products from the company Operational Studies Group, which he formed when leaving SPI. I mention this separately because never pursued the innovations Zucker had made, and he took them with him to OSG. His NLB introduced a variety of design advances including portrayal of a chain of command by inserting leadership rules, backed counters to reflect partial losses, the idea of “march orders,” and more. This Napoleonic system has been extended and deepened through a long series of subsequent games, some on Waterloo, others on different Napoleonic campaigns.

At the strategic level David Isby did a game whose name escapes me now (I shall check) for Rand Games Associates in the mid-70s. I published Campaigns of Napoleon with West End Games in 1980. That was altogether a new approach, though it featured Waterloo as just one of many scenarios. (Incidentally, contrary to what appears on the web at BGG, Dan Palter was the publisher and claimed  no more than “contributing design” credit; and Eric Goldberg had nothing whatever to do with the design of Campaigns, only its development. The most recent entry in the strategic sweepstakes is also my game, which appeared as the 2011 annual for ATO, Beyond Waterloo  That features advances in many areas from battle portrayal in a strategic game to an ability to fight out the 1815 campaign somewhere other than at Waterloo.

In any case, as gamers reflect on the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, we have real reason to appreciate the event, which has had a real impact on the quality of the boardgames we play.