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.

Gamers’ Corner: Return to Kanev

May 15, 2015–Just a quick note to give you a head’s up. New product on “Downloadable!” It’s about my game Kanev: Parachutes Across the Dnepr. A few days ago I was looking at that game again–I’d gotten a box and thought I would transfer my proof copy of the game from the ziplock bag, where it had lain for years, to the box. While doing that I thought I’d drop by the game’s page on ConSimWorld. There I was surprised to find folks currently playing Kanev and discussing rules questions. I quickly decided to help. So I have written a reflection on the origin and evolution of that game and added to it a set of Q & A-style rules errata.

If you’re interested in downloading this piece, go to that section of the website and follow the instructions there.

Who Needs Those Pesky CRTs Anyway?

February 5, 2015–I commend to your attention my new game just out from Turning Point Simulations and titled The Victory of Arminius. At the time I didn’t have much of a chance for extended comments or designer’s notes on that project, so let me take this opportunity to say something about what I think is the most intriguing feature of the game–its use of dice and elimination of any Combat Results Table.

In The Victory of Arminius battle action is resolved by a simple adding up of dice plus addition of the raw strength of units. This is quite deliberate. In many board strategy games, including some of my own, the use of tables and charts becomes quite overwhelming. In particular the long-honored “Combat Results Table” (CRT) is central to game play. So much so that as designers attempted to model more and more complex combat processes, the CRTs in and of themselves became too intricate.

For some time I’d also been concerned with the hobby’s demographic. Age does not just affect the size of type gamers can read (and, hence, size of counters or game pieces preferred), but also attention spans and the ability to calculate. The standard CRT requires players to derive a ratio (usually of attacker vs defender combat strength), therefore to perform mathematical calculations. Some game titles even have fractionated odds ratios (such as 3 : 2, or put differently, 1.5 : 1). With high amounts of combat strength and tired old brains those calculations start to get onerous, especially when you might have a dozen or more battles to resolve every turn.

I began to do something about this long ago. In the early 1980s, beginning with Warsaw Rising and Monty’s D-Day, I introduced a “differential” CRT. Using that mechanic required only subtracting the strength of the stronger side from that of the weaker, deriving a difference (hence differential). That was good but it still required comparisons between the sides. I strove to devise an arrangement under which each side in the game generated an outcome from its own possibilities, with a comparison of the two only coming in at the end to establish a victor in the battle. This created mechanics which became familiar in games of mine beginning with Campaigns of Robert E. Lee.

But I had also gone another route altogether. In 1983, in a game I have never published that dealt with the battle of Dien Bien Phu, I reasoned that battle outcomes are the result of two things–the essential strength of the participating forces (within such constraints as may result from their deployment mode, supply status, command, and so forth) plus the conditions which prevail in a given combat situation. In that game system I used dice to reflect combat conditions. The dice used by each player in each combat resolution would take into account the specific elements which applied to that side at that moment.

When Steve Rawling asked me to take on the Teutoburgerwald project it not only pleased me to be able to craft a Roman Empire-era game, I realized that the battle situation was perfect for the application of the “Action Dice” mechanics for combat resolution. The Victory of Arminius not only does away with the CRT it dispenses with that portion of the Terrain Effects Chart that is usually occupied by specifying combat impact. I am pleased to bring this to you. Enjoy!

Gamer’s Corner: “John Hill” Game Designer Story Contest

January 14, 2015–John Hill’s sudden demise should give pause to all of us gamers. There is so much of the story of gaming that is out there but is just an oral tradition because no one’s written it down. Some of you will be aware–but many will not–that I’d already had the idea of starting to do something about this. I’m going to start putting a series of occasional profiles of favorite game designers in my column in the magazine Against the Odds– the first of these is in progress now and will be in their next issue to go to press, #44.

So that these columns wouldn’t just reflect my own memories of various gaming figures, before Christmas I hosted a contest whereby folks sent in their favorite memories of personal encounters with game designers. The winner received a copy of one of my ATO-published games of her/his choice (for the record, that person was Brian Train, who chose to receive a copy of Beyond Waterloo). The stories will go in future columns.

Now for Round 2: Though we gathered some good stories I know you all have lots more. In John Hill’s memory–and in his honor–I hereby open a second round of the “Game Designer Story Contest.” Here are the rules–

This time there will be three winners. Each winner will receive, as before, a copy of one of my ATO-published games of her/his choice, subject only to what I have available. If your choice is the forthcoming Victory of Arminius, that must wait on the actual publication of the game. But there are many other possible choices.

To enter the contest, go to the “Comments” section of this website and tell your story. Be sure to leave your name and email address, since otherwise there will be no way to inform you if you’re a winner or to get you your prize.

The Story must pertain to a published game designer (mention one or a few titles, along with the name of the publisher). Stories may relate a personal encounter, tell an inside story of a game, of playtesting, of casual gaming, a seminar, or the activities of the person.

Your “Favorite Game Designer” can be anyone–do not neglect John Hill. I promise that the second column in this series will profile John (it cannot be the first one since that is already being written).

Stories will be used in these ATO “Simulation Corner” columns and in other writings. Some will appear here, on my website, in features under the “Gaming” blog category, to give readers an idea of some of the great stuff that’s accumulating. We’ll all end up knowing more about our hobby.

Your entry of a story will constitute your permission to publish it (to meet copyright law requirements). You warrant the story is not proprietary information and that it is not libelous. You will be identified in telling your story of the game designer, so you’ll have bragging rights on that whether or not you end up as a contest winner.

Please, only one entry per message.

But there is no limit to the number of entries you may submit. All entries must be in by 11:59 PM of February 15, 2015.

I will be the sole judge of the contest. Winners will be determined and announced before the end of February 2015. I’ll inform the winners directly and they and I will determine what prize they carry away. The winners will also be announced in this space.

Enter early and often!

Gamer’s Corner: Goodbye to John Hill

January 13, 2015–During the late 1970s and early 80s, when we were all pushing the envelope for simulation authenticity, designer John Hill had a theory he called “design for effect.” That didn’t sit very well with me after I saw a Korean War game of his, with Chinese communist forces portrayed at the “army” and “group army” level, and then those armies being able to infiltrate across United Nations lines–because, after all, any Korea game had to have an infiltration capability on the communist side.

At one of the game shows I ran into John and we had it out. Amicably enough, John made it clear he was sticking to his guns. Then we went off to get a burger and a soda. Hill’s most famous game–justifiably so–Squad Leader had its “Berserk” units (because in “most” tactical situations somebody goes crazy). And so on.

I loved Squad Leader. And therein lay the charm–John Hill was a firm believer in playability. Whether it was Johnny Reb Civil War miniatures (John’s Civil War rebel cap became a fixture for quite a while), October War games, or his first sally that I knew about, a Vietnam game called Battle for Hue, you got a John Hill game and you knew you’d have fun.

I think it was the initial Origins where I first met John. He was riding a wave from his Hue game and I also had a Vietnam design out there, my SPI wargame Year of the Rat. We joked about the two Johns at Johns Hopkins University. Quite a few other times we spent time over a table, broke bread, or walked together down the aisle at a game show, oohing and aah-ing the new titles and speculating why this or that feature had been done a certain way. Other times I’d be cruising the general gaming area–I love watching the miniatures players go at it–and John would be there wailing away.

Gaming has lost a good man, and I, a good friend.

Gamer’s Corner: Congratulations Contest Winner!

December 20, 2014–Thank you to all those who entered stories in the Favorite Game Designer Stories contests. There were some very amusing ones, ranging from the cat who loved pizza–and jumped four-paw-flat into the middle of a pie to the invention and improvement of the “pantzooka.”

Designers featured in the stories–and some of the storytellers too–will become the subjects of “Simulation Corner” columns in Against the Odds magazine. These will appear irregularly and mix with the varied other subjects that column covers. We have probably got a list now good for several years of these occasional columns.

The context winner is Brian Train, involved in the pantzooka invention, who tells of the time he and designer Joe Miranda attended the Burning Man gathering together. Both Brian and Joe are designers worthy of inclusion in this series, so you can look forward to seeing them in the pages of ATO.

Designer Story 2: Why No Pacific Third Reich?

December 6, 2014: With Pearl Harbor Day coming up tomorrow I thought I’d offer another designer story to whet your appetite for the Favorite Game Designers Story Contest. This one is about why I never directly took the Third Reich game system to the Pacific War. Instead I did a game called Pearl Harbor.

Remember contest details are in another post here. The days are counting down. All entries must be received by midnight of December 15, 2014. There’ve been some good ones. Keep them coming!

So anyway, Third Reich had been a tremendous success. The idea of extending the game to the Pacific was a natural. More than that, I had cut my teeth on Pacific wargames. As a kid learning to do this stuff I had designed probably five or so versions of a strategic campaign game. In its most ambitious form this game was a hybrid that had a strategic map and then broke out various subroutines for different actions. There was a surface naval game modeled on Jutland, an air war module, rules for scientific and industrial development, and ground war provisions that broke out the level of the engagement (battalion, regiment, division or above) with both specific maps (for Pacific islands and certain large areas, such as Malaya or Burma) and generic ones. All of it had weekly turns. A group of friends played that game almost every day through one summer, and in those several months we did not get the game past early 1944. The problem was too much.

Third Reich was too different. That is, the continental warfare in Europe, with mass armies, in which naval and air forces played a subsidiary role, offered a version of war that in my view was distinct from that in the Pacific, where the air and naval forces put on the big show, and land armies played in sotto voce. Moreover, with the game Third Reich already out you couldn’t easily adapt rules for naval and air warfare which had deliberately been kept very simple.

So I did Pearl Harbor, which Avalon Hill was not interested in and which I took to Game Designers’ Workshop. I know lots of gamers disliked that one in comparison to the other, but I still think that design to have been less artificial than the Pacific TR that Avalon Hill finally tried. They had to go to Victory in the Pacific to get something successful. And I was sad the Pacific title had not clicked.