First Take on Last Chance

Way back in late June of last year, right about the time I was taking a little break from blogging (I’ve done a lot of break-taking this past year), the folks at MultiMan Publishing opened pre-orders on “Last Chance for Victory” (or “LCV”) — Dean Essig’s fresh take on the Battle of Gettysburg using the Line of Battle rules system. Ooo. Just in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle, no less. How could I resist “special 150th anniversary pricing”? Especially considering that I liked the first Line of Battle game, “None But Heroes” (or “NBH”, on Antietam), much better than the older Regimental Sub-System (RSS) games.

So much for flashbacks… elegant dissolve to the present. A big box of Gettysburg, wargame style, plopped onto my doorstep the other day, which means Last Chance for Victory is now taking its turn on the virtual table (via VASSAL, mainly because the Not So Big Anymore Table is not so big anymore and strains under the stress of even a 2-map scenario). Why, I’m so excited by this game’s arrival at the swamp bunker that I’m moved to writing a brand-new blog post. After several months of moderately “meh” games on the table, what we have here ladies and gentlemen is something worth getting worked up about.

VASSAL screen shot of the Confederate player's initial deployment.

VASSAL screen shot of the Confederate player’s initial deployment.

First of all, this is a huge — HUGE — box of old-fashioned wargaming goodness. I’m not the sort to judge a game on the price per pound metric, but it’s gratifying to see such a level of physical effort put into an old-school hex-and-counter game. Six maps, eight sheets of counters and more pages of bookage than a single “out of the box” photo can accommodate. And while bookage alone doesn’t predict quality, a slow scan through all of the information soon reveals the impressive amount of research and organization that’s gone into LCV. There’s none of that trendy, post-Ameritrash game bling in the box. No cards, no plastic miniatures, no standup doodads nor any wooden Killer Meeples. Just lots of well-done wargame stuff.

An electronic version of the Line of Battle v2.0 rules has been online for quite some time, so I’m pretty familiar with the new rules (and with the special rules for LCV). They’re a considerable improvement over the v1.0 rules, which were themselves a major improvement over the old RSS rules. The sequence of play is streamlined, the orders system is improved, charges and defensive combat effects have been overhauled. A couple of months ago I used the v2.0 rules in smallish play of an NBH scenario and was suitably impressed. It’s obvious that a lot of design experience and plenty of hours of tinkering have gone into Line of Battle 2.0 — the rules definitely aren’t a snatch-and-grab from the Big Bin of Trendy Design Mechanisms.

Ah, yes. The special rules for LCV. There are a bunch of them, including an impressive array of special rules regarding the action on Day 1. Since I’m just now barging into this thing, I can’t speak to whether or not they’ll be a gaming straightjacket. But I’m pretty sure they’ll snap together to build a framework that imposes some historical constraints on the morning (especially) activity. With apologies to all of the semi-historical sort-of-fiction floating around popular culture, the special rules are aimed at eliminating the typical Gettysburg wargame flow of Archer’s and Davis’ brigades charging into the Union cavalry (which they didn’t) only to be mowed down by the cavalry’s rapid-firing carbines (which they mostly didn’t have). What you’re going to get instead is something closer to history: Heth’s division traipsing slowly down from around Cashtown with skirmishers out against some pesky vedettes and ‘militia’, certain that Federal infantry was still at least a day away and with an eye toward bivouacking near Gettysburg and finishing up the “contributions” Jubal Early had started to collect from the town when his division marched through about a week earlier. As a gamer, you know that the troops of Reynold’s I Corps are hot-footing toward town. But on the real-world morning of July 1, 1863, neither Harry Heth nor A.P. Hill had the slightest inkling their troops were about to run smack into the Army of the Potomac.

Most of the Day 1 special rules deal with that pivotal morning encounter, but there are other topics to address as well. Lee’s late appearance on the field, the arrival of Ewell, Reynold’s death, Howard and Hancock debating who’s in command. Just to name a few. Probably a daunting array of special rules for those who aren’t familiar with the historical details of the battle, but not that hard to put in the right place if you’ve read around a little bit.

Adventure Is In the Cards

It’s the post-convention game season — when publishers uncork a flood of new games they wish they could have finished in time for the summer’s gaming conventions — and there are several games in the landing pattern for the Not So Big Anymore Table. So, of course, here I am fiddling with a card game.

Newly deployed to the desktop here in the swamp bunker is Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. That’s right. A card game based on the themes from the popular Pathfinder RPG. No counters; no hexes. But it does have dice, and some of the cards have stompy things on them like swords and warhammers and spells that go ker-blooey. So I like to think of it as a second cousin to some sort of wargaming.

I’m generally not a fan of card games for a number of reasons. Collectible card games seem like more of an economic struggle between players’ personal pocketbooks than a gaming experience. Some of them aren’t very thematic; others seem simply too complex for my aged brain to comprehend. Hardly any of them are amenable to solitaire play. Pathfinder ACG, however, is looking like a strong favorite to break past my typical objections. Continue reading

Hulking Out

I have a theory.

About 15 years ago, shortly after SSI released the PC game “Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate”, somebody at Games Workshop behaved in a rude manner toward a computer programmer somewhere. Seeking vengeance, the programmer cursed Games Workshop. And that curse has stuck. Since Chaos Gate — 15 long years — every single computer game based on the very popular Warhammer 40k tabletop game franchise has been a disappointment.

Ready for my closeup CB
That’s all I can figure. There has to be a Curse of the Rude Englishman. I mean, the tabletop version of the game continues to thrive despite its ridiculous expense. Spin-off games like the third edition of Space Hulk and the Death Angel card game are popular and well-received. Fantasy Flight Games has several thriving lines of Warhammer 40k role playing games. The Black Library can’t print 40k themed books and fluff fast enough. Continue reading

Trouble in the Workers’ Paradise

Next War: Korea has received its fair share of cyber-ink in play reports on both CSW and BGG lately. I’ve tinkered around with the game off and on since its release. I used to be quite keen on keeping up with the military situation on the Korean peninsula, but my attention to the subject lapsed about 10 years ago. I’m probably still not back up to speed entirely — but, hey, that won’t stop me from forming an opinion about the game.

Up front, I think it’s an interesting design and a tense play. But with that said, I think the game makes certain assumptions (which is what games have to do, so I don’t mean that negatively) that limits its usefulness as a tool for predicting the course of any near-future conflict. It’s a snapshot of one specific course the conflict could take, which I suppose is about the best a fairly standard board wargame can accomplish.

Once you get past the standard game rules, NW:K becomes a very complex beast. In and of itself, complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But in this instance I think the complexity is focused in the wrong direction. The various rules layers of the game system drill ever deeper into the mechanical complexities of modern warfare — something that I’ll call for the moment “operational complexity”. It focuses on the interplay between various warfighting systems in particular. By layering on rules, the player can conduct the operational air campaign, for instance, or gain a more detailed look at the utility of the US deep battlefield doctrine.

Continue reading

Short Take on the Bulge

What the wargaming world really needs is another game on the Battle of the Bulge.

Over the last half-century of commercial wargame production, the Nazis’ winter offensive into the Ardennes has been the subject of enough games to fill an entire closet. But somebody’s always out to design a better mousetrap, thus the continuing need for Bulge games.

I’ve got my fair share of Bulge-oid games, and I’ve bought, played and sold off an even fairer share. The Bulge-centric portion of my game collection includes older titles like SPI’s Ardennes quad, newer stuff like the recent 2nd Edition of GMT’s Ardennes ’44 and modules for tactical game systems like ATS Darkest December. Because no old wargamer can ever have enough Bulge games, during my recent binge of “off brand” game purchases I decided to pick up a copy of “Battles of the Bulge: Celles”, published by Revolution Games. Continue reading

Sergeants on the Table

During a brief fit of insanity a few weeks back, I decided that beyond a doubt I needed to take yet another miniatures game for a test drive. I don’t know what it is about “figure gaming” that appeals to me, but sometimes I see a game or read about it and I realize that I’m not going to get it out of my head until I give it a whirl.

So I sucked up my retail courage and bought “Day of Days”, the starter box set for the Sergeants Miniatures Game published by Lost Battalion.

When I ordered it, I understood that it wasn’t your normal miniatures game. It’s part of a gaming sub-genre that’s a cross between a miniatures game and a board wargame. Some of the elements of the game are familiar to every miniatures gamer: 20mm figures, pre-fabricated bases and a ruler for measuring distance. In place of a large tabletop strewn with model terrain, however, the game is played on a highly stylized board and uses cards — no dice — to drive the action and resolve combat. Continue reading