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Thursday, January 07, 2016

For grognards only

I have to say, I, for one, am really enjoying what Task Force Wargames has been doing over at Castalia. Reading Alex's post on the old Avalon Hill game, Air Assault on Crete, is the first time I have ever wanted to play that game. The unusual zone control rules sound fascinating, and frankly, superior to the norm.
This game is hard. Very hard. Part of why it is hard is because it is rules heavy even for a wargame, but it is doubly so because it is so different from most war games I’ve played. This difficulty is a bit asymmetrical, as many of the special rules apply only to the German player (such as conveys, paratrooper drift and air power) but you’ll find in the options of the advanced game plenty of fiddly bits to keep the Allied player scratching their head and checking the rulebook. You also can’t bring with you any mechanical assumptions you may have based on other similar wargames because so many of those assumptions would be wrong in the case of Air Assault on Crete.

In several games, fog of war rules may be limited or optional, but I can’t imagine the Allies having a chance in this without the facedown setup. The Germans have to land, take and hold at least one of the three air bases at Maleme, Heraklion and Retimo. In the basic game, the Allies win by preventing this (an almost impossible task). In the advanced game, the Allied player wins by putting up a decent fight and successfully evacuating a sizable portion of their forces. The fog of war effect is continuous throughout the game, in that any Allied units that are not adjacent to German forces or actively being targeted by German bombardment are kept face down. This allows the Allied player to mask his strength and shuffle non-combat units to evac points, but can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, as one will constantly be checking their piles for AA units and defensive artillery anytime anything happens.
This sort of thing isn't for everyone, or even very many gamers, let alone normal readers, but it is illustrate of the depth to which we intend the Castalia posts to increasingly go. If Wargame Wednesdays aren't your cup of tea, one of the other days will be. And the newly discovered HP Lovecraft letter that Jeffro posted which mentions A. Merritt's work is intriguing for any fan of the writer.

In barely tangential news, I am having a great time reading through the Domains of War rules that I acquired as part of the Sinister Stone of Sakkara kickstarter that I backed last year. If they'd been around when I was in junior high, I probably would have played a lot more RPGs. Forget role-playing as an adventurer wandering through caves and dungeons, it's a lot more interesting to role-play military campaigns and battles.

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52 Comments:

Blogger Dexter January 07, 2016 7:53 PM  

Air Assault on Crete, Panzerblitz, Squad Leader, and Starship Troopers were the staples of my 9th grade summer.

Yeah, me and my friend were nerds...

Anonymous drnick January 07, 2016 7:55 PM  

That Domains of War supplement sounds pretty awesome, actually. I play Pathfinder Society with some friends, and we recently used a very stripped down version of those rules to fight a large scale battle in "Assault on the Wound." The wargaming rules in the Ultimate Campaign may be less sophisticated than other games I've seen, but it's good for d20 RPG's. It's worth a shot, if people are interested.

Blogger Julie Dyal January 07, 2016 7:55 PM  

To be fair; almost anything is more fun that wandering through caves and dungeons. I've never really understood why or how that became the default mode of playing RPGs.

Anonymous 9K January 07, 2016 8:30 PM  

Heh. I've been playing original Squad Leader recently. While it's more fun than I remember from playing it as a kid, I can't imagine wanting *more* involved rules. Still I'll have to check out the Castalia write ups.

Anonymous Quartermaster January 07, 2016 8:41 PM  

My circle in the 70s played Blitzkieg (with SPI mods), Panzerblitz, and the SPI games Global War and Sinai. Every Friday we'd go by the Hostess thrift store in Nashville and play all night.

I miss Avalon Hill, but understand why they went under.

Anonymous Satan January 07, 2016 8:50 PM  

This girl is smarter than you, Vox Day... IQ test says so

Maximum Mensa score for girl aged 11 from Isleworth

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-35252620

Blogger 1337kestrel January 07, 2016 9:23 PM  

When I was in Mensa they didn't give out the test scores - it was pass / fail.

Well, she may be smarter than Vox, and better looking, but I bet she can't offend people as efficiently with her writing. The CHORFs would love her.

Blogger 1337kestrel January 07, 2016 9:25 PM  

Crap, that was off topic. Well... I think wargames have the potential to make a comeback at any time in computer / augmented reality form.

In fact, augmented reality wargames are definitely going to be a thing. An awesome thing. Vox, I want in on it!

Blogger Skylark Thibedeau January 07, 2016 9:37 PM  

I remember the old AH Starship Troopers based on the book not the Movie. The Old AH Dune was good too.

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr January 07, 2016 10:09 PM  

There's got to be a way to do a generic double-blind computer program that would help with the maps. No rule enforcement, just feeding each player an edited version of ground truth.

Blogger Thomas Davidsmeier January 07, 2016 10:21 PM  

The appeal of war games to me (I haven't started, but I'm working my kids up through more and more complex games) is that the players have to work through and apply the rules themselves.

Blogger Jon M January 07, 2016 11:53 PM  

Too many anklebiters in the house to play a game like that the way it is intended, but I still read 'em. But I fully intend to spend a great big chunk of my golden years hunched over piles of cardboard chits.

OpenID cirsova January 08, 2016 12:00 AM  

High praise. Thanks!

@11 - Absolutely; my dad and I spent the last couple hours bonding over the rules of War and Peace. Two hours to read the rules and set up, five minutes for Napoleon to obliterate Mack & Ferdinand's forces at Ulm. An evening well spent!

Blogger Daniel January 08, 2016 12:16 AM  

I recall playing an epic 36-hour fantasy battle, complete with heroes who had to perform a sub-plotted dungeon crawl to breach an evil Wizard's tower, using a combination of Gygax's Battle System "miniatures" cards, some old Avalon Hill-type Napoleonic game (can't recall it) and regular D&D rules.

In a rural abandoned bank vault. A bb pistol was also judiciously implemented for long-range devastating spell casting until we ran out of C02 cartridges.

Man, being kids was fun.

Anonymous kjj January 08, 2016 12:47 AM  

Back in my youth, we used to play Axis and Allies "in the dark". It requires two sets, a barrier, a referee, an elevated position from which the referee can see both boards, and a boatload of trust.

I've never been fond of games played with quasi-hidden units, whether face down, with a dummy chip on the top of the stack or otherwise. In most games, that mechanism gets annoying fast, usually enough to make the two-board system attractive.

If you want to try it, practice on a simple game first (like A&A). The communication between each player and the referee is a peculiar skill. Programmers that deal with concurrent processing will recognize the dance, but it still feels funny until you get some experience.

I mentioned trust, and it is absolutely crucial. A whole game can be ruined if one guy figures out a move so clever that it looks illegal and the other guy (who can't follow along because he can't see it) doesn't believe the referee that it is really a valid move.

Blogger Mark Moncrieff January 08, 2016 12:55 AM  

Julie Dyal I can answer your question.

The reason that dungeons and tunnels are big in D&D is because when the game was new the Dungeon Masters were also new. What they were doing was very experimental and they found an open world were players could go anywhere and do anything too hard, so they set the adventures in confined places so that they could control the game.

Then it became a convention.

Mark Moncrieff
Upon Hope Blog - A Traditional Conservative Future

Blogger bob k. mando January 08, 2016 1:32 AM  

8. 1337kestrel January 07, 2016 9:25 PM
In fact, augmented reality wargames are definitely going to be a thing. An awesome thing. Vox, I want in on it!



i'm positive i've played an AH style, alternating move, hex map modern warfare type game on a computer back in the 90s.

can't remember what it was, though.

Anonymous DavidKathome January 08, 2016 1:36 AM  

Forget role-playing as an adventurer wandering through caves and dungeons, it's a lot more interesting to role-play military campaigns and battles.

I agree, but RPGs players and wargamers don't have that much overlap, or at least companies which have tried to market to both audiences haven't seen as much success as those who sell to one or the other. I am also enjoying Domains of War.

Blogger Jon M January 08, 2016 2:20 AM  

Too many anklebiters in the house to play a game like that the way it is intended, but I still read 'em. But I fully intend to spend a great big chunk of my golden years hunched over piles of cardboard chits.

Anonymous Fnord Prefect January 08, 2016 3:37 AM  

We used to "zoom out" to handle RPG battles with DBA and minis. Technically they were still "DM'ed" since only the DM actually knew the rules but the players could influence the battle.

I've been playing a lot Memoir '44 with my seven year old recently (we got some expansions for Christmas). It's a simple intro to the hobby and he loves it, especially when tanks are involved.

Planning on getting matched armies in 10mm for Operation Crusader or some other desert campaign to take it to the next level (still got my Skytrex microarmour from the dawn of time but they're a bit roughed up).

Blogger Jon M January 08, 2016 3:49 AM  

Fnord, I can recommend Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames as a solid set of cross-period historical rules. With at most six units and four troop types most reasonably bright 7 year olds can play, but the rules have a hidden depth that should keep your brain busy, too.

Blogger OldFan January 08, 2016 4:50 AM  

D&D is rife with dungeon crawls because it was designed to be. Gygax clearly stated that the inspiration for the game was Tolkien's Return of the King - specifically the Path of the Dead sequence.

Oddly enough, the first appearance of D&D was as a supplement to the 'Chainmail' medieval miniatures rules. [over 40 years ago!] It was part of a "regular" war game.

Blogger Thomas Davidsmeier January 08, 2016 6:58 AM  

Read the "Appendix N" series over at Castalia House. It is a look at the books Gygax listed as inspiration for DMs. It goes way beyond the Lord of the Rings.

Anonymous 9K January 08, 2016 8:10 AM  

Bob K Mando:

Panzer General perhaps?

Blogger Gaiseric January 08, 2016 8:15 AM  

The reason that dungeons and tunnels are big in D&D is because when the game was new the Dungeon Masters were also new. What they were doing was very experimental and they found an open world were players could go anywhere and do anything too hard, so they set the adventures in confined places so that they could control the game.

Then it became a convention.


I always forget to log out and log back in when I switch computers; that was my wife, but it was actually me posting.

I don't think that's true. I mean, I think it's true that in some ways it was easier to control the environment in a dungeon. I also think that coming out of the wargames environment like Gygax and the earlier RPGers did, it was the most natural evolution of what they were already doing to turn squad based wargames into individual/hero based wargames, essentially.

What I don't understand was, when D&D started to acquire mainstream popularity and a vast wave of new customers came into the hobby who were NOT wargamers, but who had read a lot of the kinds of fiction that supposedly informed the game, they kept playing dungeon-crawls instead of trying to do something that more closely resembled the source material that brought them to the game in the first place.

Gygax clearly stated that the inspiration for the game was Tolkien's Return of the King - specifically the Path of the Dead sequence.

No, he didn't. In fact, Gygax clearly stated that he wasn't really much of a Tolkien fan at all, and that the game was supposed to resemble the earlier sword & sorcery fiction that he liked better rather than the relatively new high fantasy paradigm that it later evolved into.

Anonymous LurkingPuppy January 08, 2016 9:35 AM  

@17: i'm positive i've played an AH style, alternating move, hex map modern warfare type game on a computer back in the 90s.

can't remember what it was, though.


xconq? Empire?

Blogger Dexter January 08, 2016 9:51 AM  

i'm positive i've played an AH style, alternating move, hex map modern warfare type game on a computer back in the 90s.

Operational Art of War? Great game!

Anonymous rubberducky January 08, 2016 11:09 AM  

A curious aside: I drive for Uber, and the Uber driver app recently reworked how it displays "surge zones" in the city where the activity and the rates are higher. The zones appear in a multicolored hexagon pattern, like the old Avalon Hill honeycomb maps. So now I'm heading into downtown with Advanced Squad Leader flashbacks looking at the maps!

Blogger John Wright January 08, 2016 11:45 AM  

"I've never really understood why or how that became the default mode of playing RPGs."

I suggest it is a matter of three things: first, the moderator knows and controls the limited number of spaces to which the players can go, and does not need to worry about things like whether it is raining or sunny, day or night, or whether the flying character can simply fly over the troll blockade and skip the whole adventure; second, the setting allows for as many traps as an Egyptian pyramid, as well as loot simply sitting in coffins -- in other words, it is not a 'heist' game where there are active guards guarding the treasure.

The third element is simply mood. The adventurers are confined in a claustrophobic space, until they stumble upon a vast underground pit or sunless sea, and any sort of dark and spooky nasty could be hidden there.

I would not underestimate the simple mood and atmosphere of crawling through buried caves among forgotten civilizations, no doubt destroyed by the gods for their own wickedness. In a D&D game I was in once, the party was outside in the woods, and came across a bear. Now, in real life, bears are scary critters, and in the pregunpowder days, they were monsters. But the liberal leftist in our party could not imagine the bear as threat, and wanted not to hurt him. Had we met a hairless blind albino bear in a forest of two-story tall mushrooms in a sunless cave, however, I bet no such greenpeacenik objection would have arisen: because the mood and atmosphere of worming through the Labyrinth of Crete or the the Moon Pool of Nan Madol does not allow for

Blogger Dexter January 08, 2016 12:15 PM  

But the liberal leftist in our party could not imagine the bear as threat, and wanted not to hurt him.

I'm totally killing that guy and taking his stuff.

Blogger Quadko January 08, 2016 12:46 PM  

I wonder if I'd play more wargames if I had the right group of friends; I may not play, but I love to read about them! Keep up the great work on all fronts.

I've got (re-gotten) my old D-Day, Ambush!, Flight Leader (never actually played!), and Revolt on Antares; and recently picked up One Page Bulge just to reminisce and pretend. But at least there's everything from Breach to Battle Academy, Close Combat to Combat Mission to Commandos, X-Comm and Jagged Alliance to scratch various itches digitally!

---

@6 This [11 year old] girl is smarter than you ... IQ test says so
I always laugh at this since one way to interpret IQ is age related - so an 11 year old with a 162 is as smart as an 18 year old. Think if she'd gotten a 200 and was as smart as a 22 year old coed! (Yes, yes, there's more to it than that.)

Anonymous rubberducky January 08, 2016 12:51 PM  

Zork. All of the people who got into D&D back in the late 70's early 80's around (and including) me, were also the ones hooked on early text based computer adventure games a la Zork. These were mostly set in caves or at some point involved a cave (labyrinths go a long way in this format). D&D was initially an extension of these imaginings.

Blogger SirHamster January 08, 2016 1:02 PM  

I take John Wright's unfinished comment as an illustration of the danger of philosophizing about the relative danger of bears during an encounter with one.

Anonymous Fnord Prefect January 08, 2016 1:05 PM  

@20. Jon M
Thanks, I'll check those out. I was thinking about "Blitzkrieg Commander" but they are currently OOP as they change ownership.

Blogger Quadko January 08, 2016 1:06 PM  

@10 Napoleon There's got to be a way to do a generic double-blind computer program that would help with the maps.
I think you can even use the Vassal Engine for this, though it might take some work. Maybe each player has private board, public board shows fog of war. But AFAIK it'd be as painful as doing it manually.

That might be a good place to start with the idea. I think it can even show different "token images" to different players - i.e. automatically face up to you, face down to opponents", or "visible to all". That could make it easy.

There is a Stratigo module, so if that appears to do what you want, it might even be a straightforward task: http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Stratego

That, and the Tabletop Simulator (different limitations) on Steam are the only active "generic board game" engines I'm aware of and have played with.

Otherwise, I think a custom program with some visibility rules wouldn't be too hard for a specific game, but the temptation to turn it into the full game would probably get out of hand. :)

Blogger Ingot9455 January 08, 2016 1:13 PM  

"A dungeon is an adventure flowchart." -Monte Cook

Blogger Akulkis January 08, 2016 1:36 PM  

Coincidentally, Wednesday night I started a game of Air Assault on Crete (advanced rules) using VASSAL. I forgot how unforgiving this game is of mistakes. This is the first time in my life I'm playing as the German player... and that's no piece of cake, either. Yes, taking over the island eventually is almost a given... but accomplishing the scenario goals within the number of turns available is difficult. And the Germans pay heavily (in casualty points which translate into Allied victory conditions) for unit losses.

OpenID cirsova January 08, 2016 2:58 PM  

@36
I imagine that the German Player's best strategy is to prevent the Allied victory by denying them the casualties they need to inflict. There may be no stopping the Allies from evacuating 80 points, but if the Germans keep their losses down, take the Airfields, and don't press their luck against the British and New Zealand full-strength battalions, they may stand a decent chance.

Anonymous Ty Beard January 08, 2016 4:57 PM  

Howdy. I'm a longtime wargamer (since 1978) and designer of "A Fistful of TOWs 3" (and its predecessors).

FFT3 covers modern combined arms operations and we've used it to run quasi-roleplaying scenarios. In these games, the referee plays one side (typically the defender) and the players play the other side. The referee also handles any off-board player assets like air support, artillery and reinforcements. The game is "single blind" -- the players only see their units and currently spotted enemy units. Enemy units may be incorrectly identified initially. As a roleplaying scenario, there is no traditional winner or loser. Rather, the focus is on the experience.

And it can be a very nerve-wracking experience. Games with dummy counters (for instance) still provide players with too much omniscience. With dummy counters, players at least know where units are NOT. In a single blind refereed game, though, player know virtually nothing (at first). Reconnaissance assets and reserves become *very* important. It can be very disconcerting to look out over an empty table...

We even played campaigns where the players commanded (say) a battalion or regiment in multiple fights. The units got better with more experience, or got worse when they had to absorb too many fresh replacements. I even played around with awarding units "campaign points" which, like experience points or money in RPGs, allowed the units to upgrade their equipment or request additional attachments.

This format also allowed us to play and enjoy games that would not normally be much fun in a typical competitive game, such as "last stand" type battles and attacks that got outflanked and converted into hasty defenses.

The referee increased the players' sense of immersion by roleplaying communications with higher command or off-board asset commanders.

In my opinion, the keys to making this kind of game work are:

1. A confident and imaginative referee; and

2. A fast playing rules set like FFT.

I highly recommend these kinds of games. But fair warning -- they take a lot of preparation by the referee and they are exhausting to players in a way that normal games are not.

Blogger VD January 08, 2016 5:43 PM  

I played a game of 20-player blind refereed ASL once via VASL by email and it was AWESOME. But yes, it's a LOT of work for the referee.

Blogger Were-Puppy January 08, 2016 6:11 PM  

In packing, I just found a box with a ton of chits and a bunch of tiny WWII airplane models. No idea what it goes to .

Blogger Were-Puppy January 08, 2016 6:20 PM  

@17 bob k. mando

i'm positive i've played an AH style, alternating move, hex map modern warfare type game on a computer back in the 90s.
--

There was a good one Panzer General.

I just found some old floppies with some war game called UMSII.

Blogger Were-Puppy January 08, 2016 6:49 PM  

@31 rubberducky

Zork. All of the people who got into D&D back in the late 70's early 80's around (and including) me, were also the ones hooked on early text based computer adventure games a la Zork.
--

You just reminded me of the TI-99/4A. It had a lot of those kind of text based games.

Blogger Gaiseric January 08, 2016 9:04 PM  

I sincerely hope you didn't stop to type this reply while encountering a bear and that's why it is incomplete.

Blogger bob k. mando January 09, 2016 12:40 AM  

25. LurkingPuppy January 08, 2016 9:35 AM
Empire?



iirc, Empire was originally an ASCII character game and the map was squarish with each space equivalent to the area to display one character.

so, no.

i did waste a lot of time playing that though.



23. 9K January 08, 2016 8:10 AM
Panzer General perhaps?



i d/l'd a copy and that doesn't look familiar.

i thought my game wasn't necessarily a WW2 recreation ...


26. Dexter January 08, 2016 9:51 AM
Operational Art of War?



published in 98. what i'm thinking of would, i think, have been 92 or earlier.


but you would think that a +2 computer game linked up on a serial cable / network ( the internet now ) and having the computers handle the fog of war is an idea so obvious to grognards that it has to have been done before.


seriously, how hard could it be to set up Afrika Korps this way?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrika_Korps_%28game%29



29. Dexter January 08, 2016 12:15 PM
I'm totally killing that guy and taking his stuff.



well, your name IS Dexter.

Blogger Were-Puppy January 09, 2016 9:22 AM  

@43 Gaiseric
I sincerely hope you didn't stop to type this reply while encountering a bear and that's why it is incomplete.
---

Black bears won't bug you unless you are messing with their babies

Blogger Were-Puppy January 09, 2016 9:24 AM  

@44 bob k. mando

Was it possibly one of those games such as Star General or Fantasy General?

Blogger Were-Puppy January 09, 2016 9:30 AM  

My memory fails me, there was a game of which I remember one part called Arctic Front. I believe it was Russia invading Norway. But this game could be connected to several others for a massive board game extravanza.

It required a room and a lot of floor space so that it wouldn't be disturbed as it was going to take many many hours to complete.

Blogger Dexter January 09, 2016 12:46 PM  

WP that was GDWs Central Front series. Great games, interesting system. The Persian Gulf one was kinda meh but the Balkans one was good.

Blogger Were-Puppy January 09, 2016 3:35 PM  

Oh yeah, that's right. For some reason we mostly played the Arctic Front if we weren't doing the whole shebang. I suspect it was because it required less real estate than the other modules.

Blogger Dexter January 09, 2016 4:39 PM  

Correction...

GDW did the Third World War series that was division / brigade and covered Scandinavia to the Persian Gulf.

The Central Front series was by SPI; three magazine games that covered just Germany and was on battalion scale IIRC.

Blogger Gaiseric January 15, 2016 8:09 AM  

Black bears won't bug you unless you are messing with their babies

Neither do grizzlies.

Mostly. But you come across one that you startle—either type—and I wouldn't count on that.

That's why when I hike out in Wyoming or places like that where bears can be encountered, you make sure to make enough noise that they can hear you coming before you see them.

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