Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

KHAAAAAAN!

Tsukuda Hobby made their first real venture into wargaming in 1981 when the company acquired the license for Mobile Suit Gundam. At the time, the animated space opera was a huge hit in Japan. And no wonder! It’s about huge freakin’ robots fighting each other in space. How could you go wrong with a premise like that?!

pic from BGG. credit to Matt Boehland.

The success of the first two Gundam-based wargames, Jabro (which dealt with ground combat) and Fortress (which focused on space battles) spurred the company to venture further into their existing licenses and make games that dealt with other topics. Star Wars: Death Star and Star Trek: The Invasion of the Klingon Empire were published in 1982. I’m not sure if any of these games were good or not but they were successful enough to spur Tsukuda to keep releasing similar gaming products throughout the 1980s.

In fact, the company branched out its wargaming into three separate series. The first was an SF series that produced games based heavily on popular sci-fi licenses at the time. The second was a First Step series, which were usually tactical level wargames for kids or entry-level gamers that emphasized quick play and simple rules sets. The last one was the “NF series”, which were historical-based wargames that leaned heavily towards World War II in the Pacific and Europe.

Tsukuda Hobby – 1983 catalog

When Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out in the theaters during the summer of 1982, it was a huge hit with moviegoers in the States, achieving the highest box office weekend of the year. The movie wouldn’t be released until late February of the next year in Japan (translation and distribution rights takes forever over here – not to mention ensuring that the movie’s release doesn’t eclipse any domestic releases). But Tsukuda must have sensed by then that the movie would be a hit over here too. So they purchased the rights to the movie and produced a game.

The game Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was published in 1983 and…uh…yeah. Thirty six years later, an unpunched copy is sitting on my desk and a couple of weeks of translation work have yielded an English rules set that sort of makes sense. A warning here that some of my complaints about the game may be due more to mistranslation but I think I got most of it spot on.

So what are the issues here?

The first is the bipolar focus of the game. The game has two “modes” of play: exploration or battlefield.

The Rulebook – energy management and movement sections

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Much of the rulebook is given over to the exploration mode. I’m not sure where this really happened in the movie but hey – it’s a Star Trek game and was the central focus of the TV series. So it sort of make sense but then again not really.

Both players move their ships around on a “Warp Map” and you manage your ship’s energy each turn. At the beginning of each turn, the ships under your command are allocated a base amount of energy derived from Warp Drive and Impulse Drive.

Then both players plot out their movement and then reveal their plotted courses. Just like using sensors and weaponry, movement consumes energy.

This plotting/movement phase continues until either both players have either run out of available energy or declare that they are finished their movement for the turn. At this point, ships in the same hex as a star system can then conduct conduct diplomacy (if you’re Federation) or intimidation (if you’re Klingon).

Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, the star system might ally with you, attack others ships or star systems, or even repair your damaged ships. You also might run into space storms or have an encounter from a random table listed at the back of the book.

At the end of the game, victory is determined mainly by how many star systems both sides have managed to either conquer or ally with.

Three mounted mapboards included in the game. 

The Balance of Terror

Battle scenarios deal with famous battles from the movies and TV shows. The first couple of scenarios are based on the famous unwinnable “Kobayashi Maru” exercise that Kirk had to cheat at in order to win during his academy days. One of the scenarios lets you play out the battle between Kirk and Khan at the end of the film.

The battle sequence of play is very similar to the exploration game with some key differences. Instead of using separate warp maps, the ships are placed on the same mapboard. Since we’re dealing with close-up knife fights between huge ships at slow speed, the ships only get energy from their Impulse Drives.

It’s interesting to note that the subsystems generate a small amount of available energy each turn and this can be tapped into during an emergency – at a price.

Movement and combat occur simultaneously and damage to ship locations takes effect at the end of each movement/combat phase so both ships can take each other out in a blaze of glory (“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”). Battles run pretty smoothly once you get the hang of it though the charts for hit locations and damage are scattered throughout several pages of charts (that are mercifully separated from the rulebook).

The Trouble with Tables

It’s worth stopping and noting at this point that there are five scenarios in the book and four of these are Battle scenarios. For some reason, the rulebook states that there are eight scenarios but that is a glaring error and not the only one I found. Anyway, here’s a big thing: if your game only has one scenario that deals with exploration, don’t dedicate over half the rules set to it. Find a single focus for your game and develop it.

There are also some weird choices made here. There are three ship types in the game – Heavy Cruisers, Cruisers, and Klingon Battle Cruisers. Each of these has detailed tables of components and energy usage that need to be consulted and written down in a log at the start of each game. The charts are all over the place so this takes a really long time (took me nearly two hours on my first play to fill out the Enterprise log).

With only three ships here, it would have been nice just to have a few pre-made logs to photocopy in order to facilitate play time. I understand that the intent may have been to provide room for expansions or for players to incorporate other ships from the Star Trek universe into the game. But the cost doesn’t seem to be worth the payoff of customization.

The rulebook itself also has some glaring errors, especially in the examples. The illustrated charts and consumption numbers don’t always match what’s in the actual tables. I also found a couple of mathematical errors involving simple sums, which only added to the confusion.

Who Mourns for Tsukuda?

All that being said, my first game of Star Trek went fairly smooth. After translating the rules for myself into English, I finally sat down and played out the Kobayashi Maru scenario. I’ll write about the specifics in a future post but I can say handily that the game did, in fact, feel like Star Trek.

Once you get the hang of managing your energy and understanding what to do with each chart, the game becomes a lot of fun and it felt pretty cool when my wounded Enterprise managed to take on a Klingon Battle Cruiser and manage a hit with a pair of proton torpedoes.

I can’t help sensing that this game was intended as part of a series of Star Trek games that Tsukuda was hoping to further develop in its lineup. As I mentioned above, this was the second game that dealt with the license. A few lines in the rulebook encourage players to build up scenarios for each other. There are tons of counters in the game, some of which aren’t really explained at all in the rulebook – were these meant to be part of a future expansion?

There is a wonderful potential to use the empty ship logs to play with and develop your own ships from the movie and TV universe, even though it’s not specifically stated. I found all this unexplained chrome to be a bit mysterious – as if something had gone on behind the scenes that basically doomed these aspirations from the start. As it is, Tsukuda never produced another Star Trek game ever again. Soon, it turned back to mostly Japanese-based TV shows and animation for its licenses.

It’s interesting that a company like Tsukuda never really got much attention by gamers in the west. Obviously, the language differences were mainly responsible for keeping Japan-based games from having their influence and designs drift back to their source of inspiration in the west. It might have also been the “hit and miss” quality of the products, which from my experience, can vary a great deal.

While I found Star Trek to be an enjoyable but messy game, I had an entirely different experience with Fortress, which was a simple but well-honed machine that did exactly what it was designed to do in terms of theme and entertainment value. On the other hand, I have also set up and stared at Leopard II, TH’s game of armored warfare in hypothetical World War III Europe, which was both unfinished and unplayable in its final form – but somehow managed to impress nonetheless merely on the scale of what was even attempted. (How do you possibly come to terms with a base game that comes with no less than THREE THOUSAND COUNTERS.)

Basically, you can never ever guess what you get from a Tsukuda Hobby game and I find that to be part of the charm and frustration of collecting them.

I’ll be talking a little more about Tsukuda Hobbies and other Japanese wargames in my future blog  posts. Stay tuned.

Star Explorer

To boldly go where no copyright infringement has gone before

Waaaay back in 1982, the wargames industry was reeling from the death of SPI. Meanwhile, roleplaying games were the new hotness as TSR was hitting its stride. Dungeons and Dragons had firmly usurped the time and dollars of the gaming public and Gary Gygax sat perched on the teetering throne called TSR.

Fantasy Games Unlimited, which had been busy publishing wargames during the 1970s, saw an opportunity in the changing market and shifted gears towards publishing roleplaying games.

One of the results was a game called “Star Trek”…I mean, “Star Explorer“, which billed itself as a “role playing boardgame” that allowed you to step into the shoes of a StarShip [sic] captain of the Federation.

I am a HUGE Star Trek nerd.

Designed by Dr. Leonard Kanterman (M.D.) and Douglas Bonforte, the game was more than a homage to classic Trek. Years after the game’s publication, Dr. Kanterman would come clean and say that he intended this to be a Star Trek game from the start. From his response to a review of the game on BGG:


Thank you for your kind review of this game, I am the designer and remember its time fondly.


I think the issue of Star Trek “homage vs parody” is quite amusing. I will let you all know the truth of the situation. I designed both Starships and Spacemen and Star Explorer as (Classic) Star Trek games, but the royalties to use the name “Star Trek” were too high for the publisher, Fantasy Games Unlimited. Of course, if we had purchased the rights to the name, the sales of the game would have been higher! So I changed enough “to protect the innocent” (?guilty) and avoided any direct Star Trek references. The Zangids and Videni are thinly-veiled versions of the Klingons and Romulans respectively.

Even though Star Explorer never achieved immortality in the gaming hall of fame, it is fondly remembered by reviewers as a product of its time and I have to agree. Star Explorer is a game that could have only been published in 1982 and it was a sign of where things were headed in the changing game industry. Also, it’s a fun little game.

Let’s take a look here:

The back of the box has a bunch of flavor text that cuts as close as possible to a Trek episode in its language and references. If you squint hard enough, you can almost see the wink behind the text.

According to the game box, you’ll take on the role of a StarShip captain, create your own ship and crew and explore several new worlds. On the way, you meet hazards, pirates, and enemy ships. On each planet, you get missions and encounters that your away team will need to deal with. The game can be played by up to four players, each with their own ship and crew. The game has high solitaire suitability as there isn’t really a serious competitive element here (you can’t fight other players – you just compare victory points at the end to determine the winner).

That hair..

The 16-page rulebook is well organized but there is a fair bit of errata here. The most notable is the omission of what to do during setup if you run out of map space. Well, it’s been thirty seven years now and everyone has had time to make their own house rules. Dr. Kanterman has given his blessing to many of them on the BGG forum. I didn’t run into too many situations in my first play that couldn’t be easily resolved with common sense or a die roll.

Here’s the countershee – GAH!! I’M BLIND!  It looks like a 1980s ski fashion catalog. Bright primary colors are used to differentiate between the different player counters. Most of these are used for crewmember types (military, engineers, navigation, medical, sentient contact, geology, and botany).

Remember this?

The game comes with three dice, two of them standard six-sided die and the other an old-school unpainted d20 with numbers from 0 to 9 etched on it twice. The suggestion is to roll this die along with a six-sided. If the six-sided comes up 1-3, consider the d20 number rolled as 1 to 10. Otherwise, consider it as 11 to 20.

No thanks!

Log Sheet

You start off the game by creating your ship and assigning your crew. You get 25 points to spend on crew and 5 bonus points to spend on a variety of other stuff (including more crew, which you will certainly need). If you want, you can just use the sample vessel provided in the rulebook if you don’t have patience for it. There is a neat Captain’s Bonus you get if you want to continue using the ship over the course of several games.

On the back of the log sheet, you list your missions and bonus equipment you find or trade during the course of your missions. I found I didn’t need the reverse side at all during my first game.

We finally get to the map and in the immortal words of Scotty in Season 2, episode 21 “By Any Other Name” – it’s green.

So during setup you plunk down four planets on the map according to random die roll results. Then you get a mission to perform on one of the planets. You set your ship at starbase in the center of the map. Each turn, you select a speed and move your ship from hex to hex. For each hex you move, you roll a d6. If you roll a “6”, you roll again on a random encounter table. This can be anything from traders to pirates to wormholes or Klingon – I mean Zangid enemy ships of varying class.

Each time you move, you expend fuel. If you try to run away from a fight, you expend both fuel and incur a VP penalty according to how long you stayed in the fight. I put my ship up against a Zangid Dreadnaught, the meanest ship in the game, and turned tail after four turns of getting pummeled (though I actually managed to put a dent in the enemy too). The result was a 5 VP loss and 10 fuel. Important note: If you run out of fuel, you lose the game.

When you finally arrive at a planet, you send down your away teams and roll on the encounter table. You might get a disruption or a disaster or an alien encounter. Different planet environments yield different encounter chances. The two planets I visited in my first game leaned heavily towards geological encounters and my geo teams were hard-pressed to complete all the missions.

You roll a d20 to determine whether you succeed at each encounter on the planet. Then you roll to see if you take any losses from your teams. You get bonuses to the roll if you assign the appropriate teams to encounters that compliment their specialization. The loss tables can be pretty brutal. I lost both my geo specialists by the time I left the second planet I visited. Half my redshirts were gone too.

You can also choose to scavenge for fuel on each planet. Again, you run the risk of losing crewmembers and not finding anything. Happily, I found a radiated planet that replenished my drained fuel stocks from 50% to 96% just before the end of the game.

You get VPs from completing encounters and destroying enemy ships. When you’ve explored all four planets or if you just get tired of playing, you head home and cash in your VPs for a mention in a dispatch, a commendation, or a medal. If you did really badly, you get assigned to command a garbage scow.

Despite the game’s age and outdated components, I had a lot of fun playing Star Explorer. Maybe it was the hex map or the military theme, but I did feel like I was playing a wargame here, akin to Patton’s Best or B-17. If you like the series and want something that’s feels nostalgic (both in terms of classic Trek and gaming itself), this is a surprisingly decent game for its time. It also harkens back to the simpler days where design necessarily took precedence over components.

Stripped of little plastic pieces and glossy cards with photos and detailed backstories, Star Explorer is fun minimalist gaming that can be set up quickly and played to completion in about an hour. One complaint – the constant die-rolling can get tedious and I wonder if another mechanism would have sufficed to do the same thing – especially considering the fact that a d6 is required to determine the roll outcome of the d20. I can’t imagine that would have been much fun in 1982.

For me, a good game is something where I learned something and had fun. I definitely had fun playing this game. I actually can’t stop thinking about my first game and all the adventures my little ship had on its way to just two planets.

As for learning, I think I learned a little about the dilemmas of game design here. There is a balance to be struck between simplicity of having a single mechanism to determine outcomes (in this case, die rolls on random tables) and tediousness. In my own game, NATO Air Commander, a resolution deck of cards is used to determine most of the outcomes in the game and although I still think that’s a nice easy mechanism, I knew some players wouldn’t be crazy about the idea of flipping over dozens of cards throughout the game.

MBT: FRG – First Moves Pt. 1 – Scenario 11


Situation

This scenario from James Day’s MBT 2nd edition expansion FRG features a battle between some aging but still respectable equipment of the Soviet Red Army and the West German Bundeswehr.  Two platoons of Leopard 1A4s fight for control of river crossing points against two platoons of T-62MVs from the Soviet 248th Guards Motor Rifle Regiment.

This is the first scenario in the FRG scenario booklet and it’s meant to introduce players to the game. Although intended as a learning scenario for use with the Basic Rules, I am instead using the Advanced Rules. I guess I’m just crazy like that. I’m ignoring turrets (I just find the extra work annoying and not especially worth the simulation value) but using Weapons Malfunctions (because they’re fun and easy to implement) along with Command Span and Command Range. Both sides have a command span of 10 hexes. I’m also using Morale rules.

The unit quality of both types is Seasoned and Excellent. The scenario ends after 15 turns. VP hexes (the bridges and the fords on map 17) and destroyed units count for VPs.

Turn 1

The West Germans set up. I decide to take the south end of map 11 in an effort to deny the high ground to the Russians.

The command phase is basically just a series of move commands for both sides to get them on the board and moving.

The Soviets move first, sending first platoon straight down the middle and second platoon towards the city, hoping to draw the West Germans into a close range gun battle.

The West Germans send first platoon up the road to the east, keeping the tanks tightly grouped together. Second platoon splits off with the first two tanks moving straight up the middle while the other pair heads west to cover the left flank.

Turn 1 End


Turn 2

Spotting Phase

Our 1st platoon of T-62s are spotted in 1P9. A pair of West German Leopards from 2nd platoon are spotted in 11Q2.

Command Phase

a. Determine Available Commands

West Germans have nine units so they get five commands. The Soviets have eight units and also get five commands.

b. Place Commands

Two of the T-62s get a Fire command while the other pair get a Short Halt command. The other tanks move up towards the center of the map along with the command vehicle. (4/5 commands given)

The Leopards get Short Halt commands. I don’t know if they’ll penetrate the front armor of the T-62s at this range (14) but maybe they can get off a couple of quick shots before getting out of the way. The other tanks from 2 platoon maneuver behind the hills. and come around the flanks. Looks like things will heat up there soon enough. (5/5 commands given)

Initiative Phase

The Russians get initiative and declare themselves First Player.

Combat Phase

First Player Direct Fire Step:
1st shot T-62 (14) at Leopard 1A4 (23): Miss
2nd shot T-62 (13) at Leopard 1A4 (23); Hit – Turret Front – Damage Result – Bailout: No
3rd shot T-62 (12) short halt at Leopard 1A4 (24): Hit – Hull Front – KO
4th shot T-62 (11) short halt at Leopard 1A4 (24): (N/A –  Target is already KO) I rolled anyway just to check for Weapons Malfunction and got a 99 (!).

Second Player Direct Fire Step:
Leopard 1A4 (23) fires at T-62 (13): Miss

Movement Phase

Second Player Movement Step:

The wounded Leopard staggers off to O11 and out of LOS of the encroaching Soviet tank platoon. The other two Leopards in 2nd platoon abandon their plans to come west into the small town on 17. Instead, they pull up north and set up on the hillside, hoping to ambush the Soviets coming straight for Kilo-17.

1st Platoon moves in echelon right formation towards the bridge on 17Y5. Maybe they can catch the Russians with their pants down on Map 1. The company command tank (66) moves north a few hexes to keep everyone in command.

First Player Movement Step:

The short halt tanks in first platoon (11)(12) move five hexes south along the road to 17Q3. 2nd Platoon moves nearly to the end of its 10-hex command span in 17F6. Along the way, it claims control over a victory hex – the bridge at 17F3. Our 66 moves south behind the cover of the thick forests on map 17.


End T2 Map

Turn 3

Spotting Phase

West German 1st Platoon has spotted the two lead tanks of Soviet 1st Platoon in 17Q3.

Command Phase

Available Commands: 

W.German  5
Soviets  5

Place Commands:

West Germans place a Fire command on (14) shared with (13). A Fire Short Halt is placed on (11) and shared with (12).

I’m worried about having 66 and my damaged 24 so close to the center of the map. The Russians could come straight through and I’d have very little to hold them back with. Move commands are placed on both.

The final command is an Overwatch shared by (22) and (21).

The Soviets are going to try and push this turn. We place a Fire Short Halt on (11) and (12) and a Move on (13) and (14). (66) also gets a move. Our 2nd Platoon in Kilo-17 is going to try and drive for the West German flank. (21) and (22) share a Move while (23) goes into Overwatch in case the two nearby Leopards try anything funny.

Initiative Phase

W. Germany: 20
Soviets: 49
Soviets win and declare themselves First Player.

Combat Phase 

First Player Direct Fire Step:

T-62(11) short halt fires at Leopard 1A4 (14): Hit – Front/Side – Hull Front – Brew Up
T-62(12) short halt fires at Leopard 1A4 (13): Hit – Front/Side – Hull Side – KO

Second Player Direct Fire Step:


Leopard 1A4(11) short halt fires at T-62(11): Miss
Leopard 1A4(12) short halt fires at T-62(11): Hit – Front/Side – Turret Side – Turret Damaged – No Bail Out
Movement Phase
Second Player Movement Step:
The two remaining Leopards in 1st Platoon pull back south along the road. The command tank (66) pulls back a bit while the wounded (24) does the same. 
First Player Movement Step:
(66) moves up to 17P5 to keep everyone in command while 1st Platoon moves straight through the center of the map, captures the bridge at 17Q5.
T-62MV(22) moves south and captures the bridge at 17F9. It comes under Overwatch fire from Leopard 1A4 (22). Miss!
T62(23) moves south and joins his comrade in 11G10.
End T3 Map

Turn 4

Spotting Phase

The lead T-62MV (14) is spotted while the two tanks of 2nd platoon in 11G10 are also spotted. Leopard 1A4 (22) is spotted while our command tank (66) is also spotted. Oh boy!

Command Phase

Determine Available Commands:

West Germans: 3
Soviets: 5

Allocate Commands:

West Germans put (11) and (12) on shared Overwatch. (66) gets a Short Halt as does (22).

Soviets place Move counters on (66) and (23) as well as a shared Move command on (11) with (12) and (13). (21) and (22) get Fire commands  and so does our 1st platoon lead tank (14).

Initiative Phase

West Germans: 71
Soviets: 59

West Germans take First Player.

Combat Phase

First Player Direct Fire Step:

Leopard 1A4(22) short halt fires at T-62MV(21): Hit – Track – No Bail*
Leopard 1A4(66) short halt fires at T-62MV(14): Miss

Second Player Direct Fire Step:

T-62MV(21) fires at Leopard 1A4(22): Hit – Hull Front – Brewup*
T-62MV(14) fires at Leopard 1A4(66): Hit – Hull Front – Knockout

*I realized later these guys actually did not have LOS to each other. Oh well.

At this point, the West Germans have reached their Cohesion Point of 5 unit losses. It has also lost a command unit.

We check Morale for:
Leopard 1A4(21): 91 OK
Leopard 1A4(24): 32 BREAK
Leopard 1A4(11): 53 HESITATE
Leopard 1A4(12): 76 OK

Movement Phase

Second Player Movement Step
T-62MV(12) moves to 17Q9
Leopard 1A4(12) in 11BB3 fires on Overwatch: Miss
Leopard 1A4(11) in 11BB3 fires on Overwatch: Miss
T-62(11) moves to 17N9
T-62(13) moves to 17P9
T-62(66) moves to 17P8

First Player Movement Step

Leopard 1A4(21) reverses into the woods hex in 11K2. The other vehicles just sort of sit there stunned and wait for the end. Here we go!

Adjust/Remove Counters Step

Leopard 1A4(24) changes from Break On to Break Off

End Turn 4 Map



Turn 5

Spotting Phase

Pretty much everyone here is spotted except the Soviet’s command tank.

Command Phase

Determine Number of Commands

Soviets: 5
W. Germans 2 (maximum 1 Move/Short Halt)

Allocate Commands

West Germans take a Short Halt on Leopard 1A4(21) while the other counter is an Overwatch placed on Leopard 1A4(12).

The Soviets lavishly spend their commands. (11)(12)(13) all get their own Fire commands while (14) gets a Move command. 2nd Platoon shares a Fire command.

Initiative Phase

W. Germans: 06
Soviets: 76
The Soviets take First Player.

Combat Phase

T-62MV(21) short halt fires at Leopard 1A4(21): Miss
T-62MV(22) short halt fires at Leopard 1A4(21): Hit – Front – Turret Front(Rise) – KO
T-62MV(12) fires at Leopard 1A4(12): Hit – Front/Side – Turret Front(Fall) – KO

With only a single Leopard 1A4 here without a command counter, I’m throwing in the towel here and claiming a (Very) Decisive Victory for the Soviets. Presumably they capture the rest of the bridges and fords since there are still 10 turns to go.

Soviet VPs:

7 x Leopard 1A4 (Seasoned): 1,001 points
Capture VPs: 135 points
Total Soviet VPs: 1136 points

Lessons Learned:

I would hope at least one or two lessons would be learned from this shellacking. The most obvious one was to keep your tank platoons working together, moving and aiming for the same objectives. The Soviets found a weak point and moved in quickly to exploit the mistakes of the West Germans, which resulted in the lopsided victory.

I had a plan for the Soviet platoons and although it wasn’t anything spectacular, it was much better than shuffling platoons and tanks back and forth as the West Germans did. The cohesion between the Soviet platoons let them support each other right up to the end – as they did with systematically destroying the W. German 2nd platoon. Of course, the West German 1st Platoon was way over to the east by the time the end came and could do very little but watch.

Finally, I would have to say the Soviets did a much better job of protecting their command vehicle, moving it behind cover. The West Germans didn’t even attempt to do this – they were too busy worrying about keeping their platoons in command range.


Pacific War – Scenario 1: Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941 – the day that would live in infamy. Mark Herman’s 1985 classic “Pacific War” (Victory Games) covered the topic in the first scenario of the game. This is a tiny solitaire battle that has the player take on the role of the Japanese in a limited engagement.

The scenario lasts two Battle Cycles with most of the setup (weather, time, etc.) following the historical situation. The only real decision for the Japanese player to make here is how many planes to allocate to hitting the battleships or the airfield.

And that’s okay, because this game can seem intimidating when you open the box and feast your eyes on the 55-page tome of rules and the nine counter sheets of playing pieces.

This first scenario eases you into the game  and keeps you focused on the first part of the book, which covers the rules needed for playing the smaller scenarios.

So when you get to the end of that first section and realize that the final 21 pages of the rules are dedicated to the campaign scenario, it’s a big load off. You could easily play and enjoy Pacific War for your entire life without having to worry about the campaign, which is great news for anyone who doesn’t have monster amounts of time to dedicate to something like that.

Let’s take a look at the setup here:

The playing time is 15 minutes, which is actually a bit longer than you’ll need once you get the hand of the rules.

We use Map B for this scenario but you don’t even need that. There’s only one real hex in play here through the entire thing. I usually just line my units up on the edge of the mapboard and roll away.

Game length is two Battle Cycles. The first battle cycle (BC) has all sorts of nice advantages for the Japanese player due to the surprise attack. In the second battle cycle, things become much harder as the Americans are alerted and ready for a fight.

Special rules:

  • Allied search cannot be conducted beyond two hexes (which means they are not going to find the Japanese carriers and launch a counterattack).
  • Each hit on an Allies airfield eliminates 2 (instead of the normal 1) Allied air steps.
  • No Allied CAP or Flak allowed during the first BC.
  • Allied naval and air units cannot move.
  • Lighting conditions for both cycles are Day.
  • The Japanese have Advantage for both BCs.
  • All hits on the Allied naval and air units during the first Battle Cycle are doubled.
  • US units are not activated.

Victory Conditions:

The player wins if the Japanese get 4 or more hits on each of the 6 of 8 US battleships and destroy 12 Air Steps. Any other result is a loss.

Setup:

The Japanese get the historical CVs. The air steps are included in brackets:
Akagi (5), Kaga (5), Shokaku (6), Zuikaku (6), Hiryu (4), and Soryu (4)

and escorts:
BB Hiei, BB Kirishima, CA Tone, and DD Kagero

All in hex 3159

The US gets its historical setup too. The subs are listed in the setup here even though they don’t come into play at all. I suppose Mark Herman put them in there for historical completeness or maybe to help the player get comfortable with the various units in the game. Either way, I don’t see the point in listing them here.

Port: Large airfield with:
1E-CV-L1 (single engine – CV capable – Level 1 Quality) aircraft (6 steps)
1E-CV-L1 (3)
1E-L0 (6)
1E-L0 (4)
2E-L0 (3) – B-18s
4E-L0 (1) – B-17s
2 x LRA (long range aircraft)

Surface naval units:
BBs California, Maryland, Oklahoma, Nevada, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, Pennsylvania,

CA New Orleans, CL Brooklyn, CL Omaha

DD Mahan, Farragut, Bagley, Porter, APD1 Paulding/APD2 Paulding

All this is in hex 2860 in Oahu.

Battle Cycle One:

Most of this is already decided here but just for fun, let’s go through it:
Lighting Phase – Day
Advantaged Determination – Japan
Advantage Movement – No movement
Advantage Air Mission Phase:

The Japanese declare an Air Mission – an Air Strike versus hex 2860 (Oahu).

Preliminary Procedure:
Place a Target Marker on 2860. Done.

Place all air mission units in their airbase hex. Sure.

Determine whether or not the mission is coordinated:

  • This doesn’t really matter because there is no chance of CAP or interception here but let’s check for fun anyways. We have to roll equal or under 3x the lowest Status Level unit in the mission. The Japanese have all L2 units so we need to roll under a 6. We roll a 4. This mission is coordinated.
Move units:
  • The Japanese player moves all the air units into the Oahu hex. The Americans can roll for detection. They get an 8 and the entire raid is undetected. It wouldn’t have mattered anyways as they couldn’t have done anything about it according to the Special Rules.
Air Combat, CAP, and Flak are all ignored according to Special Rules so we move on to the Strike Phase.
Four Japanese air units (2 x 6-step units and 2 x 5-step units) are assigned the job of hitting American battleships. Two Japanese air units (2 x 4-step units) hit the airfield.
Let’s do the battleships first.
First attack: 6 step air unit vs. Nevada: -> No hits!
Second attack: 6 step air unit vs Penn. ->  8 hits! The BB is sunk!
Third attack: 5 step air unit vs. Oklahoma ->  2 hits!
Fourth attack: 5 step air unit vs. Arizona ->  4 hits!

Now the airfield:
First attack: 4 step air unit vs airfield -> No hits!
Second attack: 4 step air unit vs airfield -> 2 hits! (4 Allied air steps are eliminated)
We eliminate 4 steps of the 1E-CV-L1 air unit.
Well, with only two of the six required battleships at 4 hits and with a measly 4 air unit steps eliminated, there is probably no chance for a Japanese win but we can see what happens with the second Battle Cycle.

Battle Cycle Two:

Lighting: Day (as per scenario rules)
Advantage: Japanese (as per scenario rules)
Advantage Movement: None
Advantage Air Mission:

Once again, Oahu is our target. Big surprise. This time, the issue again is how best to split up our planes. The Americans know we are coming now so they can intercept our air units and there’s also the little matter of Flak. Since surprise is lost now, we no longer double our hits on the Americans. Tough cookies.

We’ll try the same thing this time. Four air units vs. the battleships and two vs. the air units. We check for coordination and roll a “0”. The strike is coordinated.

As the Japanese move towards Oahu, the US player has a 2-hex detection range with his LRA. The detection rolls for the two hexes beyond Oahu are a 7 and an 8 – both a failure. However, we roll a 2 for detection in the same hex and the incoming Japanese are detected.

CAP

The US sends up a single 1E unit on CAP to intercept. The 1E-CV-L1 (3) is sent up. Now the Japanese player must designate an Escort unit. We’ll throw up a 1E-CV-L2(4) against it just to keep things interesting. The Air Combat takes place without any modifiers from the other alerted American fighters. A roll of 7 results in no losses for the Japanese.

Flak

Now the Japanese face Flak on the way in the target hex.

The total flak number is:
3 for the port
3 for the airfield
19 for the surface ships

for a total of 25. Wow!

We roll an 8 and score 3 hits on the Japanese. We’ll take these hits on a 4-step air unit. It aborts.

Air Strike

1E-CV-L2(6) vs Nevada: 2 hits!
1E-CV-L2(6) vs Maryland: 2 hits!
1E-CV-L2(5) vs Oklahoma: 2 hits! (total of 4)
1E-CV-L2(5) vs Arizona: 4 hits! (total of 7 – sunk!)

1E-CV-L2(4) vs. airfield: No hits!

End Result:

4 of 8 battleships take the requisite hits for victory. Two of them – the Arizona* and the Pennsylvania are sunk)

*historical result

Only 4 US air steps are destroyed of the 12 required.

Conclusion:

It’s actually pretty difficult for the Japanese to win here. It takes a ton of luck to reproduce what happened historically. I have managed to do it once with some superior die-rolling (plenty of “0” results on the first battle cycle).

More importantly, the scenario takes a lot of the mystery out of the game and shows you that – yes, this thing is very much a playable mini-monster.

Crowbar! An Interview with Designer Hermann Luttmann

Hermann Luttmann is a prolific game designer with credits that span many genres, complexities, and themes. His newest offering is Crowbar! published by Flying Pig Games, and its currently doing the rounds on Kickstarter. Here’s what he had to say about it:

Why did you choose this particular topic?

Well, I was kind of spurned into action when I saw a number of posts on Facebook and elsewhere in which players were talking about their current plays of In Magnificent Style (IMS).

I was honestly shocked that people were still playing and talking about the game, as it was published back in 2012. I had been toying with the idea of eventually doing another game in the series, especially since a couple of proposed designs (by other designers) for the series never got off the ground.

I was contemplating for a long time what ideal military situation would be appropriate for the system. Then I believe it was the Pointe Du Hoc scene from The Longest Day movie that made that situation click for me. The IMS system is built around simulating attacks that seem, on their face, to be impossible or suicidal endeavors.

Well the Pointe Du Hoc assault apparently clicked all the right boxes. When I continued with further research into the detailed particulars of the battle, it developed into a much deeper and even more interesting story than I originally imagined.

I decided then that this was the perfect next topic for this system – it was an iconic WWII battle that occurred as part of the D-Day landings (a popular gaming topic), undertaken by a legendary military formation and involved that formation accomplishing multiple missions in a short amount of time … all wonderful gameplay fodder for the IMS system.

Can you give me a brief rundown of how the game plays?
The player(s) will have a number of Ranger units organized into the three historical companies that attacked Pointe Du Hoc (Dog, Easy and Fox companies). You choose a company and then select one of its units to activate. By the way, each unit represents a group of about 20 soldiers.

Activation normally involves rolling one or more Movement Dice for that unit and applying the rolled result. But there are four dice to choose from, each of a different color and each carrying a different risk/reward ratio of results.

You can start “safe” with the Green die (which has few chances of casualties but also allows less movement) or go full risk and roll the Black die (lots of casualty and morale loss possibilities, but also the most possible movement) or any combination thereof. But each colored die can only be rolled once per unit – once used, you must then choose a different die to roll.

The more you move forward, the better the progress towards your goals but the more risk you then take on as the unit starts to outrun its support. If you happen to roll a “Stop” or worse, the unit will be stuck in its last position and is done for the turn. It could also suffer casualties equal to the distance it is from its rally point, so the harder you push the more possible losses the unit will take.

The dice handle most of the German combat effects, inflicting “friction” hits on the Ranger units as they move and get certain results. Some of the dice results also cause morale effects and even force the player to draw Event Chits, which can be good or bad for you. These will create independent, historically-based events to occur which will involve everything from German bombardments and counterattacks to Ranger reinforcements landing.

Add to this the occasionally required drawing of Event Cards, which act as a random timing mechanism. These cards can invoke the passing of game time (Time Increments), the preparation and timing of German Counterattacks or the progress of the relief column on its way from Omaha Beach. So the player must constantly mitigate the risk with the rewards and “push his luck” as much as he sees fit.

The object is to defeat German forces, find the hidden German artillery pieces that threaten Omaha and Utah beaches (these could be in many different places), setup roadblocks on the highway to hold up the German reinforcements and to withstand numerous organized German counterattacks.

When the third day ends – or the relief column arrives – the game ends and the player will add up his Victory Points to see how he did. 

How has the game evolved during development?
At the start, I used the original IMS game as the starting point. But I quickly realized that it would need some updating and more specifically, it had to be made more user-friendly and play more smoothly.

I knew that Crowbar would be a much bigger game, physically and scope-wise, and I also knew that I wanted to make the game more appealing to the greater gaming public. To that end, the first mechanic I dropped from the original was the d6 Dice Matrix for determining movement.

I opted instead to go with custom icon dice in order to remove the need to constantly check the chart for your movement result. Luckily, Mark Walker totally agreed with my decision, as he also is on a mission (from God!) to make our wargames more palatable to all gamers.

Once we started down that path, the counters grew to typical Flying Pig Games 1” squares, the map became much more spacious and the old CRT and modifier-heavy combat mechanism graduated to a much simpler Combat Dice system.

In addition, a certain “exploration” aspect to the game blossomed in that the player could not only discover the much-sought-after hidden guns, but he would also encounter other historically-based surprises.

Also, I decided to add a cooperative and multi-player mode to the game so that larger groups of gamers could enjoy the game together, something that I think all wargames need to do more of. So the design really did evolve in many constructive ways and all in an effort to make the design more attractive to a more diverse pool of gamers. 

What were your inspirations when designing the game?
Well, as you know Crowbar grew from a desire to do another IMS style of game. In addition, solo games are becoming more popular than ever, as are multi-player and cooperative games. So I wanted to take advantage of both those factors.

The system itself was inspired by a simple push-your-luck dice game that I played with my grandmother when she came over from Germany. It was called “Schwein” (or “Pig” … no, not “Flying Pig”) and I remember the intense drama of deciding whether to roll those dice again and risk a “snake eyes” or stop and take what I had accumulated to that point. So I wanted to emulate that kind of gut-wrenching and just plain fun decision making in a wargame setting.

So marrying those kinds of chance dice rolls with the movement forward of a military unit, while also then including the enemy’s “wall of fire” into that result, made sense. It removed the need to conduct the enemy’s turn as a separate, time-consuming combat resolution.

The concept of Rally Point markers then was used to set the unit’s start point and from which the increasing risk of an unsupported advance could be measured. This also made thematic sense in an abstracted way and it all fell into place very nicely.

As far as this design is concerned, the attack at Pointe Du Hoc really represents an almost perfect historical situation to allow this system to “do its thing”. 

What do you think players will learn from playing this game?
As with most wargames, I would hope that players gain an appreciation for what these men had to go through to accomplish what they did historically. Obviously, no game can truly simulate the horrors of war, but we can at least try to show people the elements that challenged the real life participants.

As far as Crowbar itself is concerned, the Pointe Du Hoc assault was truly a “mission impossible”. In fact, one officer remarked that “three old women with brooms could sweep us off those cliffs!”.

So aside from having a fun, tense gameplaying experience, I did also design the game to include many historical events so that players will feel like they are part of the Rangers and suffering through the same action and making similar types of tactical and strategic decisions.

What was it like to try and accomplish an impossible mission? I’m hoping that players will have at least gain some kind of concept of what a brave and amazing accomplishment this was by the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

So I did make a point of including as many of the actual events, conditions and units that actually did take part in the three-day battle to players would learn what actually happened on top of those cliffs. But I also added a few elements that did not actually happen, but that could have happened.

For me, that rounds out the “simulation” portion of the game design very nicely.

How do you think your designs have changed throughout your career as a game designer?
As I may have hinted at already in the previous questions, I am really trying to draw more people into the wargame end of the gaming hobby and to do that, I’m trying to develop and utilize mechanics, procedures and rules that will not be as off-putting as many traditional wargames mechanics.

I have always tried to design non-traditional wargames about unique topics – that’s why I got into designing in the first place – but many of my early endeavors still relied on more of the classic “wargamey” gameplay styles.

As I’ve progressed in design style, spoken to more people and been exposed to more games of all kinds, I realized that the main barriers for the general gaming public is the process-heavy mechanics of most wargames along with their rather drab and confusing physical presentation.

So with those revelations, I have really tried to get wargaming to be more acceptable and attractive while at the same time, telling my wargaming friends that it’s really OK to play Ameritrash and Eurogames because there are some absolutely brilliant designs out there!

And that’s another part of my evolving design philosophy – to learn from other designers of all stripes. There are so many elegant and clever mechanics in other styles of games that can be adapted to wargames and I am educating myself to bring those design mechanics into my own creations. If it works for those games then I’m confident that I can make it work for wargame designs as well.

What’s next?
Well if Crowbar is popular and gamers enjoy that kind of approach, we’ll be on the hunt for another historical battle or campaign that this system can work for.

I’m inclined to look at something of a larger scope so that the game has a different feel to it and is not just a rehash of Crowbar and IMS. One thought was the Verdun campaign of 1916 where the player would play the German forces as they race against the clock to defeat or “bleed white” the French forces around that fortress complex before they are reinforced and supplies run low.

I’m also discussing with Mark the possibility of me doing a military science-fiction version of this game. The player would play a force of Galactic Marines as they travel from planet to planet assaulting alien strongholds before the aliens can obliterate the planets. Now that would be fun to design for sure!

So there are a number of possibilities for this system and I look forward to designing them and hopefully making then successful for Flying Pig Games.

Storm and Steel: A Scenario for MBT

This scenario recreates the first scene of a book I wrote called Storm and Steel. It’s about a West German tank company commander’s experience of World War III between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in 1985.

I created this scenario first and then wrote the book based upon the outcome. Since the book has gotten quite a bit of attention lately, I’ve decided to write up the scenario I created and provide it here for free to anyone who’s interesting in trying it.

Here’s some context for the scenario:
On the eve of the Third World War, NATO forces throughout West Germany are rushed to their designated deployment as close as possible to the Iron Curtain.

As part of the 244th Mountain Tank Battalion in Bavaria, Hauptmann Kurt Mohr and the men of 2nd Company are assigned with the rest of 1st Mountain Division to defend the border near Czechoslovakia. They set up in prepared positions to the north of a town called Grafling that lies along Route 11, a highway that leads south towards Deggendorf where a crucial bridge spans the Danube River. If the Warsaw Pact gets enough units across the river, II Corps will be forced to pull back west throughout Bavaria.
Mohr’s job is to delay the oncoming Czechoslovakians by destroying as many enemy tanks as possible before he and his men withdraw south through Deggendorf and then blow the remaining bridge. To get the job done, Mohr has three platoons of three tanks each and a platoon of panzergrenadiers led by the irascible Oberleutnant Muller. The battalion commander, Oberst Donner, has generously provided some scouts and a pair of Jaguar tanks – but he has made it clear that he expects results.
But all is not well in Mohr’s company. He’s at loggerheads with Oberleutnant Schmitt – the hotheaded leader of  Alpha platoon. As a newcomer to the brigade, he has yet to prove his worth to the men under him. On the other hand, the men in the company have been coddled by the previous commander and lack discipline. Mohr is a fresh graduate of the Armor School at Munster, unsure of his own ability to handle all the pressure of a real combat situation.
The scenario I’ve designed here has some special rules to take into account the situation that Mohr faces at the start of the book. It also uses some of the older equipment from MBT to represent the Czechoslovakian forces. Of course it’s not an exact match but some of the units are a close approximation.
Scenario Title: The Defense of Grafling, 5 May 1985
Situation:
The Czechoslovakian 19th Motor Rifle Division leads the Warsaw Pact advance into West Germany. Its task is to advance west over the border into Bavaria and seize a crossing point over the Danube River. Follow-on Soviet and Czechoslovakian forces will provide a second echelon with the objective of advancing west along Route 92 and seizing Landshut by the end of the first day of the war. As the 8th Guards Army hits the US VII Corps, the Czechoslovakian 1st Army will have the vital task of pushing back West German II Corps far enough to allow for a flanking attack on the Americans.
Map: Utilize Maps 7 & 1 & 2

Special Conditions:

When determining the Initiative, The FRG force applies a +20 DRM.
Ammo Limits are in effect.
For Turns 1-3, FRG vehicles apply a -20 modifier when searching for hull down positions
The FRG may employ up to 6 Hidden Unit markers.
The command span for the FRG is 9 hexes. The command span for the Czechoslovakians is 5 hexes.
The FRG force may apply Quickdraw.
The FRG may use one leader to represent Mohr (use Vogel or Wolff) if Leaders are used.
Requires MBT and FRG
Put one of each command in an opaque cup (Short Halt, Move, Fire, Overwatch, N/C). Draw a random command marker when assigning a shared command to a designated tank platoon. This represents Mohr’s personal problems with Schmitt carrying over into a combat situation.
Ignore the two bridges in V7 and DD4 on Map 2.

Setup

Conditions: Normal visibility. No adverse terrain.
FRG  – Force sets up first anywhere on maps 7 and map 1 at least 3 hexes from the Czechoslovakian edge. Two combat units may be placed Hull Down.
Czechoslovakian – Enters the mapboard on Turn 1 anywhere along the Czechoslovakian edge. Units may be delayed for entry on subsequent turn at the player’s discretion but all units must have entered play by Turn 5.

Victory Conditions

Length: 15 turns
Unit VPs – To the FRG Force for each operational Czechoslovakian unit that fails to exit from the FRG Edge.
Unit VPs – To the Czechoslovakian Force for up to the first 14 units that exit from the FRG Edge.
300 VPs Required Victory Margin

Forces

Elements of 1st Mountain Division, Seasoned, 1930, 20, CP-7
2nd Panzer Company (Mixed): Seasoned, Good
1 Leopard 1A4: CHQ (Mohr)
Attached Assets: 
2 x Jaguar 1
2 x TPz Fuchs (These are recon units as per 5.9.2 and 6.1.3.3, etc.)
Alpha Platoon: 3 x Leopard 1A4 (Schmitt)* 
Bravo Platoon: 3 x Leopard 1A4 (Unger)
Charlie Platoon: 3 x Leopard 1A4 (Kessel)
Delta Platoon: 
3 x Marder 1A2 (Muller)
3 x HMI full squad w/ Milan and PzF44
*See Special Conditions
Elements of 19th Motorized Rifle Regiment, Regulars
Rifle Company (Mixed): Seasoned, Adequate 1556, 26, CP-9
1 BRDM-2: CHQ
Attached Assets: 
1 x BRM-1 (recon w/ FO)
3 x MT-55A AVLB
Platoons:
1st Platoon: T-55M x 3
2nd Platoon: T-55M x 3
3rd Platoon: T-55M x 3
4th Platoon: BMP-1P x 3
3 x MR w. RPG-22
5th Platoon: BMP-1P x 3
3 x MR w/ RPG-22
You can download a copy of the scenario in PDF format here. Have fun!
If you’re interested in reading “Storm and Steel”, you can get your copy here.

Turn One: Mike Force

Last time, I talked about my impressions of “Mike Force”, a game about Special Forces operations in Vietnam from Joseph Miranda. To get a deeper impression of the game, I’m writing a first-turn report to show off how the game is played. I’m planning to do this with other games in upcoming articles, looking at first turns to show how a game flows.

Setup:
Communists:
I’m playing the Early War scenario here. That means the NVA set up two static units inside Vietnam Communist bases and one static unit everywhere else.
Rolling for initial Infiltration Points, we get a “5”, which brings the communist infiltration level down to a manageable “10” on the IP scale. The level is still at “Medium”, but only just barely. With some good play and a bit of luck, maybe we can knock it down to “Low”.
Free World:
The marker is placed on the “8” space of the Recruit Points track. We roll a “1” and the marker is moved down to “7”.
The Free World sets up with four SF camps, which I put in:
  • Nong Song
  • A Shau
  • Phong Dien
  • Tra Bong
We put a CIDG unit with each of them.
We get 6 SF A-Teams, which I place as follows:
  • 2 in Tra Bong
  • 2 in Nong Song
  • 1 in Hue
  • 1 in A Shau
I put them here because I want to go on the offensive down south and clean up the units there for the first few turns. Meanwhile, I’ll be building up my defenses in the north closer to the DMZ.
Da Nang gets a transport helicopter.
MACV support goes into the draw pile: All fighter-bombers, Air Commandos, Special Operations air support, and the 81st Rangers.
We roll for leaders and get two leaders. Cowboy is assigned to Nha Trang while Blackjack goes to an A-Team over in Tra Bong.
Let’s Start!
1. Free World Events Phase:
We pull an event chit from the cup and get “Communist Reorganization”
“5” is added to the communist Infiltration Points on the infiltration track. We are back to a IP of “15” – Medium level infiltration.
2. Free World Recruiting Phase:
I put a leader in Nha Trang during the setup because I want him to be able to call in help from the 5th SFG during the recruiting phase. However, he has to be stationed with a unit. I recruit a 1 point recon team to Nha Trang and put it there with him. 
I want one more recon team out in the field so I recruit another for 1 point and place it in Tra Bong.
Down to five points, I decide to get some MACV support for the turn. I spend two points and draw a fighter-bomber and the air commandos.
The Air Commandos are, I believe, treated as ground units with airmobile movement factors. I put them in Da Nang.
I have 3 points left and although I probably should save them, I decide to go for it anyway. I purchase a 2 point A-team and place it in Da Nang, hoping that I can upgrade it to an SF company (and possibly even a battalion) in later turns. I decide to hang on to the remaining RP.

3. Free World Movement Phase
Between the Air Commandos in Da Nang and the air support from MACV, I think I should be able to take out whatever communist units are in Que Son and the base south of Tra Bong. Anything else would be a bit risky. I decide to play it safe.
I move in a hatchet team and an A-team into the area south of Tra Bong. Then I move in two SF A-teams to Que Son and hope for the best.
I think this is very conservative play but let’s see how it goes.
4. Free World Recon Phase:
Now, we roll to see what we find. We have to roll a d6 against each of our SF units’ recon factor (that’s the number on the far left of the counter).
Let’s do Que Son first. We get a 5 and a 3. Both rolls fail. I should have used that extra RP to get a recon team and send it in. Oh well.
Now let’s do the area south of Tra Bong. We roll a 3 vs the RT team and flip over a unit to find a truck depot. The other roll against the A-team fails. 
5. Free World Reaction Phase:
Now I have the chance to throw in airstrikes or airmobile assets into areas with revealed communist markers.
Since we’re going to lose all the MACV assets by the end of the turn (they are on temporary loan so if you don’ use ’em, you lose ’em), we’re going to absolutely hammer that truck depot. The airstrike is called in. The air commandos are called in. The show is about to start.
6. Free World Combat Phase:
We roll for the airstrike and get a “3”. Since this result is under the airstrike value, the bombs hit their target and the truck depot goes BOOM and is eliminated.
Now we tally up the body count, which is indicated in the counter’s upper right hand corner. In this case, it is a “1”. So now we can either take that point and choose to reduce the infiltration level by one or we can choose to increase our recruitment points by one. I decide that I need some guys for next turn and do the latter. My RP total is now sitting at a grand total of “2”.
II.
Now that we have finished with the Free World half of the turn, it’s time to conduct the communist half of the turn. It’s pretty much the same as the Free World’s phases, with some exceptions.
1. Communist Events Phase
Event: Communist Big Offensive (B): We add “5” to the infiltration level. It is at “20” now and has changed from “Medium” to “High”. Uh oh!
So there are three big offensive markers in the Events pile. When all three are pulled, the communists get a bunch of new mobile units and make a big push towards Da Nang. For now, we can just set the first marker aside in the Major Offensive box to remind us that it’s there.
2. Communist Reinforcement Phase:
We check the reinforcement table and pull 2 static units and 3 mobile units from the NVA cup.
We roll 2d6 and consult the table to check for their placement.
They get dispersed pretty evenly among the communist bases. One goes to North Vietnam, with the others being distributed among the bases in Laos. The only one that worries me is the mobile unit that gets assigned to 611, which threatens one of my SF camps in the A Shau. 
3. Communist Movement Phase:
We consult the communist activation table and cross reference it with the current infiltration level of “High”. Rolling a “3” results in an Advance result of one space for all mobile units.
4. Communist Recon Phase:
All concealed communist markers in the same space as FW SF camps or major bases are revealed. That means the mobile unit in the A Shau gets flipped over. 
We get a AAA unit with a combat strength of 2. It’s a good thing I already used my airstrike up earlier in the term. However, I probably should have saved my air commandos to go after these guys. With a combat value of 4, they would have been a real match for them. Things are dicey now.
6. Communist Reaction Phase:
I have nothing left to react with so let’s go to the combat phase!
7. Combat Phase:

Tactical Superiority: We roll against the CIDG unit’s recon factor of “3” and get a “4”. The communists have tactical superiority.
First Round of Battle: We line up our units to determine who takes hits first. The A-team is first, followed by the CIDG team and then the SF camp.
Communist player rolls first and gets a “4” Nothing.
Now it’s time for the FW units to fire. We want to roll equal to or less than our combat values (the middle number on the counter).
We get a 6 for the A-team, a 5 for the CIDG team, and a 1 for the SF camp. The SF camp manages to get a hit on the AAA battalion and eliminates it. Since the body count point value for this unit is zero, we have achieved nothing. The mobile unit is returned to the mobile unit draw pile.
Return Phase: All MACV support goes back to the cup regardless of whether or not it’s been used.
We advance the turn marker and proceed to turn 2. Not a bad first turn for the FW player but nothing special either. Eliminating a truck depot is nice enough but we need to start taking the infiltration level down or else we’re going to get swamped with communist units. Turn 2 would probably consist of purchasing some recon teams and MACV support in hopes of hitting communist bases in the south while shoring up the north.

Mike Force: A First Look

Mike Force is a solitaire game of Special Forces operations during the Vietnam War. If that sentence doesn’t get your heart racing then please put down the horse tranquilizers.

Joseph Miranda (designer of so many games, why even bother listing them here) is behind this effort. It was published in the current (MAY/JUNE 2018) issue of Modern War.

So what you get here is a game that focuses exclusively on the shadowy SOG portion of the conflict to the stubborn exclusion of any other element. It’s like the opposite of Nick Karp’s zoomed-out look at the conflict in his seminal 1984 game, “Vietnam 1965 – 1975”.

With the plethora of decent Vietnam War games already out there (Fire in the Lake, Vietnam Solitaire, Vietnam 1965 – 1975, etc.), you couldn’t be blamed for asking the question: Did this game need to be made?

And the answer I would give is “Yeah. Sure.”

Because this game is the war’s underbelly that you rarely get glimpses of anywhere else. And also because it shows you how small units could influence the course of the war.  Lots of other Vietnam games depict the large-scale use of US military power against small VC units in the field. In those games, you really are trying to hit a gnat with a sledgehammer as American infantry battalions conduct large-scale operations in an attempt to track down an elusive enemy that disappears into the jungle each and every time you try and pick a fight with them.

This game takes a very different approach to the war. Here, you command the agile strike forces of small but highly trained teams of men who track and kill the infiltrating NVA and VC as they come into South Vietnam.

Scenario 1: Early War setup of Mike Force

You’ll push around counters that represent six-man A-teams and you’ll curse and shout when they get overrun by a battalion of NVA. You’ll send in hatchet teams to conduct recon missions and cheer when you call in an airstrike and see a VC supply depot get wiped out. Or you’ll conduct PSYWAR operations and watch in frustration as the operation gets blown. You’ll recruit and lead Hmong villagers to take out targets as they come down the Ho Chi Minh trail.

All these tiny pressure points push the war in certain directions, affecting enemy morale and operations as they infiltrate South Vietnam and push towards free world strongholds such as Hue and Da Nang.

Mike Force really captures the feel of these small unit actions and how and why they fit in to the overall conflict. It also gives you an idea of how special operations were forced to operate within the framework of military planning at the time.

Gameplay

Each game is seven turns long and takes place on a map depicting the area of and around South Vietnam (this includes parts of Laos and North Vietnam). The various spaces on the map show different types of terrain and base areas. These spaces connect to each other to form infiltration routes that the communists use in order to eventually capture key cities in South Vietnam.

There are four scenarios included in the game, each of which takes place during a different stage of the war.

The game starts with random draws of communist unit that are placed face down by the players in the different communist bases. There are two types of communist units – mobile and static. Static units are quite often “soft” targets such as supply depots and motor pools or advisors. But you might run into some infantry there too. On the other hand, the mobile units are usually infantry and some of them are pretty well-equipped and can put up a hell of a fight.

My A-Team led by Cpt. Simon finds a Soviet adviser at Que Son.

Your units are varied. You get everything from SF camps to CIDG units to gunships and transport helicopters. You also get White Star teams that are airborne-capable, PSYWAR units, MACV SOG support units that include air support, etc. Basically, you get an entire toolkit of units to choose from and you can fight your war however you see fit. Be warned, however, that you need to spend Resource Points (RPs) to purchase these units. And pretty much the only way to get RPs is to rack up the body count and impress the guys back in Washington.

Anyway, you set up your units and each game turn follows the same pattern. You draw a random event from the cup and implement it. After that, you can recruit forces by spending RPs. Then you move your guys around the map and conduct recon missions. If you manage to succeed at a recon mission (by rolling against the concerned unit’s recon value rating), then you flip over the enemy unit to reveal what it is. Then you can react to it by sending in airstrikes or transporting units into the combat zone by helicopter.

After that, the combat phase begins and you line up all the revealed enemy units to face off against your own units in the same space. You roll for tactical initiative (against one unit’s recon value) to decide who rolls first in the attack phase. Results are implemented immediately so having tactical advantage lets you get the first shot in without having to worry about return fire.

After the winner is declared, you conduct the body count. Each enemy unit has a BCP (Body Count Point) on it. When you kill an enemy unit, you can choose to either increase your number of RPs by the same number of Body Count Points – or you can decrease the enemy infiltration points by the same number of BCPs. Conversely, losing friendly units means either decreasing RP or increasing IP.

The last half of each turn is given over to the communists. The phases are pretty much the same. You choose an Event from the cup. Then you roll a die and consult tables to determine both how many new units the communists can recruit (this largely depends on the communist infiltration level) and also what the general strategy of the communists will be for that turn (also depends on infiltration level). They might stop and lick their wounds, advance, or withdraw.

Enemy units will ultimately try and go for Da Nang. If they manage to capture it, the free world player automatically loses the game. But even if they don’t get it, they can also inflict some pretty bad VP losses by capturing other free world bases such as Hue or Khe San.

After communist movement is conducted, the free world player again can conduct reaction airstrikes and other missions against revealed communist units in the same space as friendly units.

Some thoughts:

Mike Force is a pretty easy game to learn. I was clear of the rulebook after my second playthrough. An average game will take anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, which hits my “sweet spot” for gaming these days. The rules are fairly simple and well-written and organized. I had no problem finding information I needed. The rulebook is 16 pages long. There are 30 sections, each of them with a few subpoints underneath. I found the rules quite intuitive after a very short time.

Joe Youst drew the map and it is beautiful. More importantly, it facilitates gameplay. There is plenty of space for the game’s units without having to resort to stacking them. The graphics and font captures the era and theme of the game quite well. The large size of the font makes it easy to read and quickly find information. Tables are included on the map, not in the rulebook or the magazine (thankfully).

The counters are nothing special but they’re functional and easy to read. The free world counters show recon value, combat value, and movement values underneath a NATO symbol. The communist counters show a single combat value along with its BCP. Infantry units get a NATO symbol. Other units get a nice silhouette.

For me, a good game is one that teaches me something new and presents me with lots of interesting choices.

Did I learn something? Yes. I learned about another aspect of warfare that’s often glossed over or ignored in wargames. Before I played Mike Force, I had no idea how unconventional forces played a role in Vietnam and how they were used. I came away from the game with a better appreciation for a.) how the definition of progress (body count) colored everything that happened in the war and how it was conducted and b.) the huge amounts of firepower that could be called down by just a few men in the right spot and how this ultimately influenced morale and the enemy’s ability to move men and material down various routes.

More importantly, I have a better understanding of why these units exist. They conduct very high-risk operations that require extensive training. The most important role these guys played in the war was to pinpoint enemy positions and serve as the eyes and ears of what was out there. To survive and do their jobs well, they need a hell of a lot of support. Without it, they are mostly sitting ducks. For this reason, you have to have a good sense of when to push an operation and when to hold back.

A Near Run Thing: The Battle for Hue is decided by air power as an NVA infantry regiment and a division attack

Were there interesting choices? Yes, in two ways:

First, there was the unit variety. As I mentioned above, there is a very wide variety of forces that you can purchase and they all do some things better than others. Some of them are fragile and finicky.

You can spend 5 RP on a PSYWAR operation that can either get blown in the very next turn or ends up turning things around for you. You can try to recruit Laotians into the White Star program and end up with a potent force to work with – or you can end up with nothing. You can ask for MACV support and not be given the kind that you really needed. Yes, luck is a central part of it. But so is the ability to play the hand that you are dealt. I can see how some players might not enjoy that though.

Another interesting choice is the agony of whether to increase RP or decrease IP when conducting Body Counts. In my first game, I chose to decrease the Infiltration level and managed to keep it to a “Medium” level. However, I didn’t have any points to recruit new guys so I ended up getting hammered by the enemy and losing what little forces I had. After that, my choices for hitting the NVA were extremely limited as I watched them pour into Hue. It was only through some last minute air and gunship intervention that I managed to save it from being overrun.

“Insurgent” Now Available

I’m proud to announce that “Insurgent“, the latest entry in the World War III: 1985 series has just been released.

As with all my other books, it’s available on Amazon in e-book format.

The book is about two Vietnam veterans who are sent to assist an insurgency in East Germany during the opening days of World War III.

 

Along with the insurgent leader, Major Werner Brandt, the team faces numerous challenges as they attempt to hit a the Soviet garrison near Leipzig. It’s a book about war, friendship, and hard choices.

Here’s the synopsis for your reading pleasure:

May, 1985: The Warsaw Pact invades West Germany. World War III has begun. Two Vietnam veterans are sent on a secret mission to East Germany to help train and advise an insurgency aimed at the very heart of the Soviet military forces stationed in the country. 

The chaos of war provides the perfect conditions for a rogue East German major and his soldiers to strike at the Russians as they pour men and material towards the front lines. Though they are on the same side, the three men become embroiled in a conflict not only with the enemy but also among themselves. 

During the Vietnam War, Joe Ricci and Ned Littlejohn trained and lead Hmong fighters against the North Vietnamese Army. When the Third World War breaks out fifteen years later, they are assigned to work with Major Werner Brandt and his shadowy cell of insurgents. Their objective is to break the Soviet occupation force. 

Consumed with hatred for the Russians, Brandt’s lust for revenge threatens to unravel the entire operation. Ricci, on the other hand, struggles to keep the nearby civilians safe from harm in the middle of a war zone. The two men are set on a collision course as they fight for their countries – and their souls.