Into the Wild Blue Yonder: Campaign Rules, Part 2

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This time I’ll address how strike missions have changed in WBY, which is where the most notable differences from the previous rules are.  Most of the changes have one or two main purposes.

Over the years, many players have noted that the Bomber most definitely does not “always get through,” and even less frequently gets home.  This is particularly true for early war Medium Bombers with their feeble Turret Support ratings.  So a number of changes have been made to make bombers at least a little more survivable.

Delian League Diaries #3

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The First Peloponnesian War

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Pericles is now starting its public testing with my favorite gamers, the 1st Minnesota. This means that Pericles is now officially launched and from early responses doing very well. I am now getting a breather where I sit back and see how things are going, modify stuff that needs improving and so on. However, the design is finished and I cannot stop playing, which is my key metric for any of my designs.

Introducing Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62

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Colonial Twilight is Volume 7 in the COIN series of games from GMT. It will be the first game in the series designed for two players. That alone has attracted much attention from fans of the series; in fact, it’s probably responsible for more attention than the subject matter of the game itself, the struggle of the nationalist Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) against the French colonial authorities.

On the last day of the Consimworld Expo in Tempe AZ in May 2014, Mark Simonitch sat down with me and asked if I would be interested in designing a COIN system game on the Algerian War. As I was the guy who had designed the first game to be published on that war (Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-62, first published in 2000), and considering the influence of that game on Volko when he designed Andean Abyss, and my co-design of A Distant Plain with Volko, I of course said yes! By fall I had roughed in the design and was doing my own playtests; by the end of the year I was working with Jordan Kehrer, an experienced and very able developer. Jordan helped me to see vital concepts from another vantage point, and was always willing to throw ideas back and forth; I’ve been very pleased to work with him.

By spring 2015 we had the game in approximately its present state, and at the Consimworld Expo in June we showed our work to Gene…. And lo, Gene saw that it was good, and put it up for P500 the following month. The game took about 43 days to reach its trigger point, and as of this writing pre-orders stand at 939.

We’re still in playtesting and the artists are starting to work their magic, but it’s possible this game will be in players’ hands by the end of 2016 or early 2017. While everyone is waiting, I thought it would be helpful to talk about the design a bit.

WWII in Two (and a half) Hours and then 58 Minutes: Hitler’s Reich AAR’s with a New Player (Part 2)

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Be sure to check out Part One of this series for more information about Hitler’s Reich and the AAR of Game One.


Game Two: March 18, 2016 (58 Minutes to play)

Hitler’s Reich can be over very quickly.  Most games average two hours or a little more…but a few take longer or, in the case of tonight’s contest with my friend Max, less than an hour.

Max elected to take the Allies tonight (his second time playing the game).  As the Axis, I decided to go full blast to the West – and to ignore Russia, which the Axis can do in 1941 (as the Nazi-Soviet Pact is still in effect).  Not going East means the Fascists can focus on just one front (or the FFF – Fascist Front Focus)…but if they fail (FFFF…for Fascists Front Focus Fail) then they can be very, very vulnerable, as the Soviets are right on their border, with no room for the Axis to sacrifice before the Red Army could be poised to assault their rich with Production Centers heartland.

As the Axis I opened with trying for Franco, and bringing Spain into the Axis Camp with an Event Card Conflict Action to make the British Gibraltar Production Center vulnerable (and no, I won’t make another FFFFF out of this, I promise: although Franco’s first name also begins with the letter F).   I Failed.  (yeah, again with the Fs, this is like Sesame Street, brought to you by the letter, well, you know).  Then Failed again.   Failed again.  Fourth time, however, was the charm …but in the meantime Max had gotten a Convoy through (to increase his hand size from the starting 6 to now 7 cards) and had put a Fleet in the North Sea to protect that Allied Production Center, which abstractly represents the vital convoy routes which keep Britain a going concern, and he had picked up a few other Event Cards to bolster Allied prospects.

Once I got Franco and could place an Axis control disk on Spain, I went for the Waffen SS (or Panzer Tactics as it is also known) which gives an extra die in land combat.  You can’t attack out of Spain the same turn you get it, which gave Max as the Allies a chance to beef up his defenses as he could see my next play …charge in with the panzers from Spain into Gibraltar (a Victory Center, one of six needed to win a knock out automatic game win in the West).

To counter this threat, Max went for “Vichy Defects”, a Political Event Card which puts a lot of control markers on the map, two of which are in the sea zones next to Gibraltar.  This helps in the defense of Gibraltar.  It was a good plan in theory, but the Waffen SS, led by Rommel, supported by Stukas and with a killer Conflict Card won the day for the Axis…but only by the slimmest of dice roll margins.

This conquest of Gibraltar, however, took ALL of 1941 to accomplish….or almost all.  As the deck was nearly empty, which would signal the end of 1941, I decided to go for Russia after all – but not to conquer it, just to bleed Max’s Card Hand and gain a bit of breathing space for the inevitable Red Army offensive..

The Axis gets to call “Operation Barbarossa” anytime during 1941.  If they do, that breaks the Nazi-Soviet Pact and brings Russia into the war on the Allied side.  “Operation Barbarossa” does, however, give the Axis a special turn in which they are guaranteed FOUR attacks – one against each of the four Soviet territories that border the Axis eastern front.  Normally you get one attack and, if successful, a second (and maybe extras with a Blitzkrieg, if you pay for them).  “Operation Barbarossa” is four guaranteed attacks, and even if you lose three you still get the fourth.

By this late point in 1941 I had a pitiful hand of Conflict Cards, but this was a chance to burn four cheap cards and hopefully draw out four good ones from the Allied hand.  It worked like a charm; yes, I lost all four battles, but it cost him some very good cards to do it.  The year ended with him dropping a Fleet off Malta, in the Sicilian Sea, to protect it and threaten an invasion of Sicily.

That ended 1941.  The Allied hand size goes up one each year to reflect the burgeoning economic assistance being provided by the USA, so he gained what he had lost from me taking Gibraltar, and we each drew some good Event cards in the year-end interphase – one of the Events I drew was  Landing Craft, which allows an amphibious invasion.

As 1942 dawned, I decided to stick with the plan to go West.  The Wolfpacks struck, knocking down the Allied hand.  A fierce sea-saw conflict in the North Sea (in which the Bismarck was sunk twice…the card actually represents not just that big ship and her sister behemoth, Tirpitz, but the German main battle fleet).  The third time, however, saw a successful Axis attach and the North Sea was mine.

I then went for the Paratroops Event and got them.  This allows an attack across an intervening space such as the North Sea.  I used them to attack Scotland with the dreaded Fallschirmjaegers (German for airborne troops).  That attack, however, failed.  Undeterred, I went direct for London with the Landing Craft Event supported by Rommel, Stukas and the Waffen SS.  This concentration of powerful attack enhancing cards did the trick – even with Max getting the extra die for defending the capital.  (It helped that I played the Outfoxed Event which made him play a random Conflict Card from his hand rather than the card of his choice). The loss of London cost him two cards from his hand…..cutting him down to three cards to my nine.  The next turn I took Scotland as well, leaving him no land route back into London.

Max was now on the ropes, despite getting a Convoy through which increased his Card Hand Size by one.  I now shifted the Axis focus to the Middle East, and got Iraq to revolt.  That cost him another card and Production Center.  I then attacked out of Syria (which ironically had joined the Axis through play of the Vichy Defects Event Max gained – as that card is a two-edged sword, but one that normally favors the Allies, as it protects Gibraltar, helps with Malta, and gives the Allies a foothold in North Africa).

The panzers rolled out of Syria into Palestine under Rommel and from there blitzed into Suez.  In Hitler’s Reich, you can launch a Blitzkrieg Attack from a successful land assault, reusing that attack’s conflict enhancing Events, at a cost of minus one card to the attackers Hand.  If successful, up to three Blitzkrieg attacks can be made from a single assault… which simulates the hard driving mechanized offensives which  so characterized WWII in Europe.

That was another Production Center taken from the Western Allies.  Unfortunately, here I got a little careless, and instead of blitzing again into Egypt, I stopped (as previously mentioned, blitzes cost cards from your hand and knock your hand size down).

Max played for and got Sherman tanks (the equivalent of the Waffen SS – an extra die in combat) and damn, retook Suez out of Egypt!  I should have knocked out that offensive base which enabled the Suez attack.

He also sent Fleet Carriers (an excellent Naval Conflict Event) into the North Sea and knocked out my fleet there (but failed to regain control of the sea zone and its crucial Production Center).

It looked like the tide had turned – but I was not yet ready to give up the Axis Western gambit.

Back into Suez I roared with Rommel, the Waffen SS Panzers and Stukas – and then after that victory blitzed through to seize Egypt.  Then I put a fleet in the Irish Sea, another Production Center abstractly representing the convoy routes back to the USA.  He matched it with a fleet of his own, and then we went head to head, four dice to four dice, one card to one card for the Irish Sea.  I won, and then won again to take it – and gained a Sudden Death Victory by taking all six Western Allied Production Centers (Irish Sea, North Sea, London, Gibraltar, Suez, and Iraq).

….all in 58 minutes.

Max played well.  Going after and getting “Vichy Defects” to help defend Gibraltar was a good play, as was his attempts (some of which succeeded) to bring Convoys through, get Sherman tanks, bring Turkey into the war and recruit a good Russian defensive general.  My play was hardly flawless, but it was solid, focused, and backed by good card draws and a little bit of luck (we went back and forth on the dice).

The FFFF doesn’t always work (actually, it doesn’t usually work) but when it does…


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Into the Wild Blue Yonder: Campaign Rules, Part 1

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The Zero! and Corsairs & Hellcats rules with errata incorporated also formed the basis for the Campaign Rules in WBY.  Unlike the Dogfight Rules, though, there have been a lot of changes.  In this article, I’ll describe some of general application.

Sequence of Play

The Campaign Sequence of Play adds two steps, but like the Dogfight Rules “additions,” these aren’t really anything you haven’t seen before.  The first step is now a Search Step, which incorporates the procedure for Night Fighters searching “at the beginning of their turns.”  Obviously, you skip this step unless it’s a Fighter’s turn in a night mission.  Bringing up the rear is a Final Step, which is unique in that it occurs only once per Game-Turn, after all Player-Turns are complete.  Here, too, nothing “new” happens; it provides sequencing for all those pesky mechanisms like formation aircraft disengagement and bombing, Area Flak, and Fuel Disengagement that occur “at the end of the turn.”

Sections

Rules for 3-plane Sections have been added to more accurately show how most air forces fought at the beginning of the war.  It’s a tricky balancing act to ensure that having 50% more aircraft in a flight is actually NOT an advantage in most circumstances.  The gist of the rule is that the Leader-Wingman mechanism remains unchanged, but a Section’s Wingman draws one ADDITIONAL card when attacking a Formation and one LESS when attacked by an enemy Fighter.  Rather than removing an aircraft card when an aircraft is shot down, the Section marker is removed instead to transform the Section into a regular Element.  So in essence, the Section will perform a little better against Medium and Heavy Bombers, but will take heavier losses from enemy Fighters.

For simplicity and ease of play, the Section rules apply only where one side flies in 3-plane sections while the other flies in pairs.  This is the case in the Battle of Britain and Barbarossa campaigns in WBY.  Malta is proving difficult; if anyone knows when the British and Italians switched to 2-plane tactical units there, please e-mail this information and your sources to me directly.

Special Ratings

Three new Special Ratings applicable only in campaigns have been added.

Dive Brakes – While simple, just rating the Ju88 for Dive Bombing rather than Saturation Bombing gave it an advantage against a wide range of targets which it didn’t deserve.  Changing to a Dive Brakes Special Rating allows us to restrict the Dive Bombing ability to only realistic circumstances.

Oblique Guns – This rating may be used by Night Fighters equipped with Schrãge Musik or similar installations to attack bombers with a smaller mini-hand but without a Burst limit and against a reduced Turret Defense.  Turret Fighters are also given this rating.

Slow – A handful of Fighters and Light Bombers use a value less than the default of 6 for their Speed when calculating mission duration.  When the number of campaigns with a special rule for this grew, it became easier to include it as a new Special Rating instead.

Loaded Aircraft

As a visual cue so you don’t have to remember which Action cards you can’t play while loaded, those cards will now have a symbol on them to remind you.

Also, now that each side has a larger deck, much of the reason to deny loaded Leaders their hands of cards until they need them is gone.  Leaders loaded with ordnance will draw initial hands at the beginning of the game like everyone else, but with a catch:  you place their hands face down under the aircraft cards without looking at them!  As a disincentive to turn fighter-bombers into fighters (“Hey, I’ve got the Ace Pilot/Fuel Tank killer combo!”), you can neither look at the cards nor discard until you’re attacked or drop or jettison your weapons.

Skilled Aircrews

All skills now benefit Wingmen as well as Leaders, and five skills have been added or enhanced:

Combat Vision – Now, if either the Leader or a Wingman in an Element or Section has this skill, you get the hand redraw benefit.  The thinking here is that if a Wingman spots the enemy early, he very quickly draws his Leader’s attention and the Leader would be able to act accordingly.  Also, this skill increases the Night Combat rating by +1 during a night mission.

Leadership – This new skill gives all aircraft present of the same type as the pilot’s a favorable row shift when disengaging.  It also allows an additional Element to be scheduled for entry on the same Turn in the large 8th Air Force missions.  These benefits represent the abilities of pilots who showed themselves capable of leading large formations in superior fashion (e.g., Blakeslee or Lützow)

Nerves of Steel – May now apply to Fighter-Bomber and Light Bomber pilots as well as Medium and Heavy Bomber crews.

Radar Operator – Similar to Combat Vision but only useful at night, this new skill increases the Night Combat rating by +1.

Veteran – Long used in “Big Missions” and by Mike Lam in his contests at conventions, this new skill allows the pilot to treat any single card played as either a Barrel Roll or a Tight Turn once during each mission – sort of a poor man’s version of the Ace Pilot skill.

In a campaign, all Fighter types will have a generic Veteran pilot available, even if no named pilots are listed for that type.  Bombers also frequently will have generic skilled crews available rather than just specific named bomber crews.

Next time I’ll address the changes to the Campaign rules from those previously published, which are rather more extensive.


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Delian League Diaries #2

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mark-herman1As I write this, the Yankees just lost to Toronto and I just lost the first full playtest of Pericles to my wife. We played the Pentecontaetia scenario, which is the beginning of 1st Peloponnesian War and the Campaign game, and covers the period from 460 BC to 400 BC. The way you win the game is your City State (Athens or Sparta) wins the war and of those two players the one with the most Honor (Timē) wins.

Carole and I played the two player version. Before you ask, the game can be played with one, two, three, or four players, ultimately with ‘Bots for each faction. While Pericles uses a variant of my Churchill conference mechanic this design is not a clone of its predecessor. I will also say that the rules should clock in at around 8 pages of rules without diagrams.

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WWII in Two (and a half) Hours and then 58 Minutes: Hitler’s Reich AAR’s with a New Player (Part 1)

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Introduction: If this is the first InsideGMT piece you’re reading regarding the Hitler’s Reich game, you’re urged to reference other material within this site for additional background regarding this exciting and fun forthcoming GMT offering.

What you have here (in two successive InsideGMT articles) are Designer Mark McLaughlin’s After Action Reports for two games of Hitler’s Reich with a new player during March 2016… one game resulting in an Allied victory and another in an Axis victory.

Game One: March 5, 2016 (2.5 hours to play)

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Hitler’s Reich Playtest Map

Intrigued by the gorgeous new Charlie Kibler map-in-progress and sample card art for Hitler’s Reich which he saw on the GMT Blog and Consimworld; my friend Max decided the time had come to try this game.  A veteran board wargamer, Max swiftly picked up on the system after I provided him a quick 10-minute overview, and then, without ever needing to look at the rules or a player aid card again, we got into a hard fought exciting game of Hitler’s Reich and finished that game in just under two and a half hours.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder (Part Two): Dogfight Rules and Action Decks

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As alluded to in the last article, there are no changes to the basic dogfighting rules from those that have grown familiar in the last 20+ years, just additions.  The Zero! rules with errata incorporated formed the basis.  A few concepts introduced in C3i magazine and Squadron Pack #1 have been included, as have the rules for jets, but the mechanics remain exactly the same.

The only significant change is the introduction of four new types of Action card:

The Wisdom of the Crew Chief

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Early last Fall, Thunder Alley designer Jeff Horger contacted me and indicated that there was a third-party-designed expansion set for Thunder Alley that he and Carla would like to publish through their new game company. Tony and I considered that for a bit, decided that a) we like Jeff and Carla a lot and would like to support them in their new venture, and b) having them print the expansion through their company would probably get the expansion to players sooner than if we did it ourselves, based on the size and quality of games that would be ahead of it in our P500 print queue. So, lest anyone wonder why we’re not printing this expansion ourselves, that’s basically the story – they asked, and we said “no problem.” For those of you who want more options in your Thunder Alley experience, I encourage you to support Jeff, Carla, and Nothing Now Games in their Kickstarter project. We have plenty more details below, in this article from Jeff. Enjoy! – Gene

When a game like Thunder Alley gets made, it invariably has endured numerous edits, revisions and cuts all of which hopefully create a much stronger game. A topic that is at once rich and layered like stock car racing provides voluminous background work and history from which to build. In addition everyone has their own insight, preferences, prejudices, and ideas on the topic. After all it’s not like an historic battle or 18th century politics where only a few have any real knowledge or interest in the topic. Anyone can turn on their television on most Sundays and find the good ole boys going at it. Some love it with a rabid fervor; others hate it with equal passion, and most run the range from mildly interested to totally ambivalent. Personally, I fall into place below obsessive fan but more interested in it than a casual observer. I have watched racing since the 70’s and a love of cars is the one interest I shared with my late father, Verghn Horger. But that love was not just stock cars, it encompassed Formula 1, Indy Cars back when the sport mattered, drag racing and most of all, hot rods & show cars. Dad loved car shows and classic cars and so do I. So while I don’t bleed for a particular driver or put stock car racing on a pedestal, I do respect and understand the sport and see more than “cars turning left” followed by a crash.