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: 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.

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!

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.

 

Gamers’ Corner: Favorite Designer Stories Contest

November 12, 2014– Here’s a bit of a tease, just in time for Christmas. I’m planning an occasional series of profiles of favorite game designers for my “Simulation Corner” column in Against the Odds magazine. To supplement my own recollections of the various characters in our hobby I ask for your help, but do it in the form of a contest.

The prize will be a copy of one of my ATO-published games, delivered via postal service. Which exact game will be decided by consultation between the winner and myself, subject to which titles I retain copies of. If your interest is the new Arminius, that will have to be subject to when the game actually emerges from production.

To enter, simply go to the “Contact” section of this website and post a message giving your story. Only one story per message, please. The deadline for entry will be 11:59 PM, Monday, December 15, 2014. Be sure to include sufficient detail and color. Made-up stories are not acceptable.

You may enter as often as you like.

Entry in the contest will constitute your permission to publish parts or all of the stories you submit. Stories may be used in “Simulation Corner,” on this website, or in other writing that I do. There may be  posts during the contest that update status and that feature designer stories you send.

I shall be the sole judge of the winning entry or entries. I expect to choose the winning entry around the first week of December. The winner will be notified directly by email and also by means of a summary posting on this website.

Your story may relate to any game designer of a published boardgame title, active or past. Stories may relate a personal encounter, a gaming experience, a play or playtest experience, a simulation matter, or any other item of interest. The primary concern is that your story be dramatic, or colorful, or interesting or important.

Enter early and often. Gook Luck!

Gamers’ Corner : Set Europe Ablaze Bibliography

November 6, 2014–Just a head’s up! We have now posted a product which lists the various histories consulted in the course of designing the game Set Europe Ablaze and compiling the historical articles that appear with it. Not everyone will be interested in the bibliography, but for anyone who wants to look into Resistance to the German occupation of Western Europe in World War II, the history of the Special Operations Executive, and the French and American (OSS) special services that matched it, this listing furnishes a useful compilation of the sources. This product can be found in the “Downloadable” section of the website. It is a premium content item.

Gamers’ Corner: Four Roads to Paris

September 13, 2014–My colleague Stephen Rawling of Against the Odds (and several other boardgaming ventures), came up with quite a nifty idea with his “Four Roads” series. A package of games, smaller than a full-dimension wargame but still substantial. In days of yore there was a formula called the “quadrigame,” or just the “quad.” In those sets the games were linked because they were all on different battles of a war, and all had the same, very simple rules. Steve’s dared to forge a fresh trail, wherein the games are linked by means of all being on the same subject, but no longer simplistic and each the vision of a different designer on that theme. The first assay in this direction was called Four Roads to Moscow and framed the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Steve’s new selection is going to be four designer’s ruminations on the German defeat of France in 1940.

In history, of course, France virtually collapsed when the Nazis invaded that May. That makes a game on the subject a dicey matter. If you go “simulation” then the French have to collapse and there is little competition in the game. If you go for play balance you need some device to accord the opponents a reasonable chance without sacrificing the simulation quality. All in all it’s a challenging proposition.

Designer James F. Dunnigan long ago postulated one answer–a scenario-based approach. In Dunnigan’s France 1940 (published by Avalon Hill in 1972), players each selected a force mix that had a weighted value, in effect handicapping various alternate possibilities against the historical. Many  subsequent gamers have adopted similar approaches.

For this game I wanted to ensure the French (read Allied) side has a chance but without biasing the game. I also wanted to make it enough of a simulation that action on the board retains some of the flavor of the history. And I wanted to accomplish those things without artificialities. The scenario-based approach is fine, but what it does is tie the players to a moment in time, with backstories (the force mixes) that were completely made up. It is not at all clear that in the real Europe of the 1930s a nation’s procurement of the particular force mix represented by one of those scenarios would have been uncontested. The politics and diplomacy of the arms race could have gone so many different ways.

So, for my “Road to Paris” I decided to bring the players to the table in 1934. The Maginot Line is funded and construction largely complete. The massive buildups of armor and air forces are in the future, the big expansion of the German Army has yet to happen. What this game seeks to do is to bring the players to a combat contest (the blitzkrieg of 1940) based on an evolution of the game–active play that can take many directions.

To make this happen I have created a “scripted game.” Here we create a new narrative of the 1930s that will be different every time you play. Gamers who like Beyond Waterloo will be familiar with the idea of Diplomatic Status. This game takes the crisis level of Diplomatic Status and makes it the baseline for such game events as mobilizing forces or moving troops on the board. At the same time, the players are not the only actors in Europe and there are events outside their direct interactions which affect them (for example the Spanish Civil War). So the system introduces a “Chronology” device which influences war budgets and diplomatic status. Event Cards impact the players for every year-turn, and those play out very differently in successive games. There are two other kinds of “events”–command and intelligence–and both award the players capabilities they will exercise once it comes to combat.

This game contributes a mechanism for accommodating the impact of spies and espionage in an unusually detailed and straightforward manner.

The combat system accommodates air forces and mobile forces, has armies whose strengths reflect what the players were able to obtain with the military budgets the game allowed them through active play. Thus they arrive at war with military establishments conditioned by game events. I think that a more satisfactory arrangement than simply working off a scenario base.

There are some new wrinkles in the combat system but, for now, I’ll leave those for the future. Look forward to this piece of Four Roads to Paris.

 

Gamers’ Corner: Set Europe Ablaze

September 2, 2014–Just a quick note! Some of you will know that Against the Odds magazine has selected my Western European  (WW2) Resistance game Set Europe Ablaze as their “annual” issue game for this year. The game is a two-player simulation of the partisan war against German occupation from 1941 to 1944. Anyway, while ATO completes its playtesting and starts to put the game itself into production, I’ve taken time to craft the historical articles that will accompany the publication. (Thus I’ve been only fleetingly on this website of late.) That work is now done.

ATO doesn’t have space for everything I did. Accordingly I lopped off the Bibliography I had prepared for the game and articles. In the next few days I am going to post that biblio as a product on this website. FYI.

Wargamers’ Corner: Cobra II

August 27, 2014–I’ve been asked several times now, in connection with  my book Normandy Crucible, about making available to gamers the modifications I made in the wargame Cobra for purposes of creating the “wargame laboratory” I used as part of the research for that book. Most recently that question was posed directly on this website by gamers William Barnett-Lewis and Sergeant Skip Franklin. As we pass the 70th anniversary date I wanted to post something about why I don’t feel comfortable doing that. But I’ll also describe my process–and alert gamers will be able to craft their own “house” versions of the modifications.

Fundamentally it’s a question of publication rights. When I worked on that book and I wanted to put together a lab apparatus, that was for my own research and the only question was a suitable vehicle. The Simulations Publications (SPI) game Cobra had the right qualifications: a suitable geographic scope, a good level of unit representation; and, at one map, a game that was not impossible to keep up and get out of the way so that it could be used in spurts on a long-term basis.

But as for publishing amendments to the game, I would not want to do that without reference to the rights holders, and that’s a more ambiguous situation. Brad Hessel is the designer of record, but the game had editions from SPI and TSR Hobbies both. Most of the SPI/TSR games’ rights today belong to Decision Games but some do not, having been covered by direct contract between the publishers and designers (for example, my games Monty’s D-Day, Warsaw Rising, and Kanev reverted after publication). The situation with Brad I don’t know about. I asked around a bit, but no one I know seems to have his current address so I was unable to clarify the rights situation.

Now, if a publisher comes to me and wants a new Normandy breakout & pursuit game, I’ll gladly incorporate the features I am about to discuss. But short of that you’ll have to bear with me.

OK. There were certain problems with the Hessel Cobra design. One was that the Falaise Pocket battle rarely occurred with the game since the German line simply disintegrated, the German armies were destroyed and the Allied pieces rushed for the map edge. There were several reasons for this:

(a) One was the time scale. The game had three-day turns. The historical period for the Falaise Pocket typically ran out before the game reached the “pocket” stage. Switching to two-day turns allowed the history more time to develop.

(b) Most important was the issue of the Combat Results Table (CRT). This was an odds ratio CRT–very common for that time–and required mathematical calculation of a strength ratio between attacker and defender. Not only is that very cumbersome, since the society has moved so far away from these kinds of routine math problems, but all the trouble didn’t seem to be worth it–the strength disparities between the two sides were such that the vast majority of combats were resolved on the top few columns of the CRT.

This also meant that the German player had very few possibilities for counterattack, because his forces were just too thin to generate decent odds.

A related issue was with terrain effects. The requirements of the Terrain Effects Chart (TEC) were typically to shift columns, inserting an element of asymmetry with the odds ratio calculation. I thought that gave the idea. Change the CRT to a differential calculation. Now the attacker simply compares his strength with the opponent and immediately derives the CRT column. The “0” differential occurs at 1-2. Columns increase to advantage (+1), then by 5s to +25, then to +50, +75, +85, and 99+. Below zero the splits are at disadvantage (-1), -5, and -10 or less. The CRT generates step losses for both sides. In keeping with the larger differentials at high levels of advantage I used more higher-level loss results (e.g. 1/3, __/4) on high columns.

The one mathematical calculation I required was for troops attacking across rivers, who are halved or reduced to one-third strength depending on whether the river is minor or major. In general I converted most game effects to column shifts in keeping with this procedure. (For example, instead of doubling a stack (division), in this game unit integrity conveys a column-shift advantage.)

(c) Players might want to experiment with ZOC rules, giving Allied units and German mobile forces (because all are motorized) ZOCs but none to German infantry. That opened the game up when I used it.

(d) At the time of the original game the existence of intelligence (ULTRA) was just becoming known, much less understood in any detail. A major element was to insert intelligence rules. I added both sigint and combat intelligence (interrogation of prisoners). The former depended on an ULTRA table on which the players rolled each turn. That allowed the player to neutralize the divisional integrity of a certain number of opposing stacks and pre-emptively exhaust the column shift advantage of a number of Headquarters. (I also added Allied HQs for Bradley and Monty in addition to Patton). With combat intelligence, for every three losses the previous turn the player could neutralize the integrity of an opposing division.

Also–

Some German capabilities (Tiger Battalions, Nebelwerfer Brigades) were never modeled in the game. I added counters for these and endowed them with column-shift capabilities.

On the Allied side the rules governing the “Cobra” air strike were both too restrictive and too loose–too restrictive because they did not permit the Allies to create an actual break in the lines by means of a saturation attack, and too loose in that the player could stage a “Cobra”-level air mission every turn if he wanted to. (The Allies actually managed two “Cobra” equivalents plus two attacks that were of the same type but smaller.) I inserted a radically different rule on air strike effects that widened the sector struck and had target units incur losses, temporarily disappear, and reappear afterwards next to a friendly headquarters. This afforded the opportunity to open an actual hole.

At the time this game appeared in the 1970s, our knowledge of the Allied order of arrival, funneling fresh combat divisions into Normandy, was well developed, but our knowledge of the German side was much less perfect. So I created a new German order of appearance with units (and even replacements) arriving according to the historical record.

Apart from anything else I think these changes resulted in greatly improved historicity in this game. You can try it at home.