Tiring to back at home, I always wanted to pull out something about wargames from the closet and read. It is hard for me to keep concentrated on the reading of indulgence as my wife keeps calling me for something.

I am now into the system of ASLSK, WW2 tactical level wargame beginning in the '80s. I was not rich enough to pay for the hundreds of dollars on Squad Leader and its numerous modules at that time. Thus I paid those some crappy 3W wargames in S&Ts. When the "bible" of Advanced Squad Leader came, I was even more horrified with the amount of details to learn to just play a game.

I played 5 SK games already, including one using ASL map and counters. Now I enjoyed reading the ASLSK2 scenarios. There are Allied and Axis minors coming in. Many actions are featured in the island of Sicily and in the early war of Greece. I am suprised that there is not a single scenario on the eastern front as I believe guns were extensively deployed there. Italian Alpini army, American Parachute and German Fallschirmjager units are the main cast here. A scenario caught my eye especially as it features French Foreign Legion 1st Bataillon in Italy in a chasing breakthrough to the north of Rome, while they vowed "Legion is our homeland!"

Last night before I went to bed, I flipped through my old but yet unread Paper War issue #57 (back in 2005). It has many good articles in it, featuring Age of Napoleon (my top Napoleonic grand strategy game) and a discussion on the ATS series. The excitment about wargaming instantly surges in my brain again.

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Comment by Lawrence Hung on August 3, 2014 at 12:01pm

Star Fleet Battles is actually a science fiction disguised as wargame. You just don't get into it if you are not really paying attention to reading the universe it constructed.

Comment by Lawrence Hung on August 3, 2014 at 11:55am

Wargaming is a hobby that enjoys contemplation that takes more time than reality.

Comment by Lawrence Hung on July 31, 2014 at 9:46am

An SPI nostalgia tribute

I don't have many SPI games back in the days, although I was "growing" up at that golden age. Eric Walters already has a quite comprehensive account of the SPI days. However, I can share with you guys here some of my collection and experiences of SPI titles out of nostalgia, and at the same time suggestive of anyone if he or she is planning to start a collection:

Napoleon at Waterloo 1971 - since it is a classic battle location by classic design model by the SPI founder Jim Dunnigan, recently I acquired Decision Games update edition. By classic design model I mean simple but effective, bloody CRT, low counter density, maneuver-focused, etc. Somehow I always feel it superior to block game system on the same subject.

NATO: Operational Combat in Europe in the 1970's 1973 - a game that should be owned by every child of Cold War. SPI to me is a name very much associated with the period, the feel of the period. This game should convey that feel right up to you.

Frederick the Great 1975 - a highly elegant wargame design that brought you right away to the 16th century. Supply rules in this game are the best I ever have ever seen that flawlessly integrated with the base movement and combat engine. It demonstrates how drastic concentrations and mobolizations of military units are key to interior line advantage, one that Napoleon sought after Frederick (and perhaps why Napoleon was not called the Great but Frederick was...just my humble opinion).

Russian Civil War 1918-1922 (first edition) 1976 - an epic, massive, and remarkably satisfying wargame design that is hard to come by anymore. I played the DG revised edition as I don't own the first one. The game gives you a feeling that it is not outdated, not even a bit. It succeeds at depicting a bloody, mass movements, mobile, romanticized and epic war in the early 20th century. Brutal, predatory and engaging multiplayer experiences with this design, I think, one of a kind SPI games.

To the Green Fields Beyond 1978 - highly claimed by many as the definitive study on WWI way and doctrine of fighting. Its success mainly attribute to a very robust and scrutinizing playtesting process, ironing out otherwise a procedure-heavy simulation. The rulebook is one of the classic writing that every other designer should follow: absolutely clear that leaves no hole for rules-lawyer to exploit with. Frankly, had ASLRB been written in this way (dodge here), I would have no problem of entering that tactical heaven.

Empires of the Middle Ages 1980 - Gorgeous, awesome, articulate and sublime...indescribable. My words are short on this. A fairly complex game, it features extensively everything about the medieval society in Europe. Tax, crusaders, politics and religions and of course, the wars...all are integrated with an elegant "endevaour" gaming system. A champion game on the subject. Highly recommended.

Some turkey that I had with the SPI titles that should be alerted to anyone though:

Anzio Beachhead 1969 - even with the revisions made by Strategy and Tactics under 3W era and updated map graphics by Ted Koller (he is the artistic powerhouse of all Victory Games box package, maps and counters). The lack of game development on this early SPI release hurt the game too much beyond remedy.

Blue & Gray 1975 - So they say it is a "beer and pretzels" game...but one that breaks...I mean, system breaks. The game system is too simple to yield any historical results or capture any colors of the American Civil War. No realism to speak of, the game just looks like counters-pushing for their own sake. I do not think the game can serve its objective: to bring more newbie into wargaming. It just turns them away from wargaming. A disappointed one. Sold it at an auction.

In conclusion, when I look at today's market, I don't think there is a company having SPI-like-and-feel. Victory Games (I) was the rightful heir along the bloodline but it was not sustainable. Clash of Arms Games came close but I still think that not all their game designs strike that fine balance between playability and realism like SPI does. When will the next SPI-era come?

Comment by Lawrence Hung on April 25, 2014 at 3:04am

What are my automatic buys in wargaming?  The games in the following series and by the following designers should be the ones:

Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit I am not an ASL-fanboy at all. But this series really helps me get into this world. I feel not entirely convinced by the rigidly structured system for tactical level suspense of disbelief. But this is a classic system I have to admit. The variety of scenarios available is unbelievable, though at the same time I don't believe I have all the gears to play them. The SK can evolve to its own and thus I can have the chance to build up the gears again.

Advanced Tobruk System I always choose this tactical system over ASL (or ASLSK). Part of the reason perhaps was that I learned this system first with the Basic Game. The more important reason however is that I find it superior with more interactive actions between the players and more authentic research of the tactical battlefield (with walkthrough by the designers coming with the rules sometimes). The overall experiences are much more realistic especially when I gather more information about the small battles from the internet. Reading them through, I am imagining going through the same things again with the same situational awareness.

Band of Brothers The series may have its charm more due to its successful marketing strategy. The rules as written may give rise to ambiguities (read "fiddleness") but none are major. The scenarios are not as balanced as those of ASL as they don't have the same depth of playtesting going through. But the system rocks with the spotting rules, the dierolling combat based outcome, the interactions on the mapboard, to some extent, are even more than ATS.

Conflict of Heroes I have only skimmed the system with the infantry rules. But the tactical suppression fire is more severe than ASL and it was quite a surprise as the game quickly grew on me with a highly interactive turn sequence. I enjoy every tactical minute of it. I am kind of believing deeply that Conflict of Heroes had hit the "sweet spot" of balance between Advanced Squad Leader and Lock 'n Load. The orders given by you, the squad leader, would be responded by your men and guns much quicker as if your voice had been heard just next to them or via wireless radios loud and clear. In other word, you presence are felt, and you would have thought you were really been there. Both sides can edge out each other by any chance in tightly designed scenarios.

World at War Series Platoon actions in the age of modern weaponry. Platoons are activated by pulling their formation markers with sudden turn end. Each platoon unit has been assigned with many combat rating capabilities in the modern world battlefield. Tanks, AFVs, Helicopters and infantry have both Amour-piercing ("AP") and High Explosive ("HE") firepower. Simple dierolling combat system similar to Lock n' Load. The overall system is fun with unit range attack, offboard artillery attack, helicopter attack, headquarter commands, etc. I follow the series with NATO-affection as a child born and growing up in the age of Cold War.

Nations at War Series The Nations at War being ported to WWII. And WWII always sell.

Operational Combat Series It's like a cult in itself. One it is operational level and another is WWII. Two best aspects of wargaming and they are studied in great details. You really feel as if you were in a war room with Rommel, Rundstedt, Paulus, Guderian, etc. The supply problems are treated without too much a burden on the players while still shape the players' decisions.

Standard Combat Series It is really a series about what a standard WWII wargame should have. Since it is axiom-based, sometimes I feel the games are a bit flat and some criticize them being unhistorical. A methodical treatment and I follow the series beginning with Stalingrad. The series evolves into the modern war with the war in the Middle East.

Great Campaigns of the American Civil War Anything in the series is good. The maps alone worth all the price alone! It is about simulating all the campaigns of the American Civil War (ACW) at operational level. The series has a beautiful and natural flowing game system with the right balance between playability and realism. The rulebook is so informative and well written that every game mechanics is so logically explained that you hardly have to memorise them. The rulebook alone worth the whole game price. A day by day historical account and insightful analysis of the campaign with hex numbers of the key battle location and cities/ towns is included. Not even to mention the extraordinary historical game maps, useful summary of tables in the player aid cards, portrait of every major leaders participating in the campaign, lots of scenarios etc.

Campaigns of Napoleon System: Days Series I have a major comeback to wargaming again, in fact, by playing 6 Jours de Gloire (Six Days of Glory). The system is the one I am into Napoleonic warfare, a period generally I am not so much inclined to. But the series is really a labor of love with neatly written rules. At operational Napoleonic level, you are saved from the minute detail as to the rock-scissors-paper (a la column-line-square) formation tactics. Center to the system is the concept of Corps and officers (i.e. Corps Commander) of the combat units. Initiative of the leaders, command range, chain of command are crucial to keep the army intact for operations. If you want a series that the more you play, the more you like, this is the one.

Commands and Colors Ancients I should say it is a fun and exciting wargame, with a good degree of simulation, even if metaphysical only, of the ancient tactical combat system. It is right more simpler to GBoH with fewer rules to some of the same effects. At the same time, it is meatier than Memoir'44 and other Borg's designs. It is really a game of fun for people of different age. I buy all the games in the series really because it is "automatic".

Fleet Series Perceivably a complex air-sea joint operations simulation, at the core of the game is really a simple operations-driven system. The game focuses on the world stage hotspot where potential conflict might have erupted into full-scale war between Soviets and the US and his NATO allies. All the battleships, cruisers, destroyers ,submarines, aircraft carriers are all included in accordance with the historical fleet designation, not to mention the dozen types of all the modern air fighters. Different types of sea-air operations are simulated with various scenarios and scenario lengths. The fleet series games introduce many modern military doctrines and concepts like Combat Air Partorl (CAP), area sea search, aircraft readiness, the strengthened role of aircraft carriers as distinguished from naval assets and the joint operation between navy and air forces. Combined arms concept move from between different land forces (tank & infantry & artillery) to air and naval forces (bomber & fighter & battleship). A much more effective regional war effort is amplified by the modern war machine capabilities. The game concept "Operation Cycle" is especially effected well here in the Fleet series than in other Bolkoski's designs (e.g. ACW or WW2). An excellent system with interesting interactive designs. I can assure you'll find this is a challenging and provoking series. A lot of scenarios are included and the value of "historical" insight, albeit modern alternative, given by the designer is immeasurable. Yep, the series has been OOP.

I subscribe all magazines by Decision Games, given by their great variety and length on topics, different systems and designers, and the increasing stable quality of outputs:

Magazine: World at War

Magazine: Strategy & Tactics

Magazine: Modern War

From another angle, I follow anything from these designers:

Mark Herman

Joseph Miranda

Joseph M. Balkoski

Comment by Lawrence Hung on March 17, 2014 at 10:14pm

I very much like operational level campaign in North Africa where Rommel fought brilliantly. He is my idol in military. To recreate his decisions in the desert, what a marvellous time it would be. Andrzej agrees gladly to join me in an adventure with Rommel, while he would be the British 8th Army.

Afrika Korps: Decision in the Desert is a game of chit-pull activation-markers based system, harnessing some of the supply problems which are so often debated as to how to have a good simulation. The chit-pull means that when you pull one of your enemy chit of corps command, its units may get activated ruining your plan of attack. On the other hand, you may have back-to-back movements and punch. The event markers are now called "Bulletins" markers, including the randomized arrival of reinforcement groups, very fun!

The map is made up of two pieces the player should cut out across the center of a standard size of map - first time I ever do that for a magazine game. It is a joyful to look at as compensation. The map covers all the areas of major operations in the first two years, where the German DAK arrives to help the Italians out for a drive to Benghazi. The map extends into Egypt major cities Alexandria and Cairo, and stops at Suez Canal.

"Rommel" is a free activation marker, i.e. it cost no supply unit to activate like other corps commands and that means DAK (which itself has an activation marker) can get activation more often to out-maneuvering the British 13th Corps. Given this superior movement capability, the DAK can go for the southern approach - track along the Sand Sea and then going north to Bardia. Andrzej, being a British, was annoyed to see the DAK, wandering behind his back, can be free of supply problem most of the time. At the same time, the decision by the Allied is to be taken whether to defend Benghazi upfront, and when to pull back to Tobruk for consolidated and fortified defense.

Combat is divided into two types: assault and mobile, the latter requires at least one attacking mechanized unit. Losses in mobile attack have to be satisfied by mechanized unit first. Attack is mandatory so long the activated units start the phase in enemy ZOC. Both sides can commit support or combat shift by air strafe, naval bombardment, combined arms (armor and infantry attacking in the same time but US doesn't have this benefit while the Italian only on the defense), terrain, offensive supply, flak, etc. The CRT is somewhat unusual in that after dividing the total attack factor with the defense, the result is multiplied by 100 to arrive at a % column on the CRT. But the process is quick to resolve anyway, without the rounding of remaining factor.

Overall, I really like the game very much, considered especially Afrika Korps is only a magazine game. Everything is so blended, without all the rules overhead, that gives a lot of decisions back to the players.  None the limitations by magazine format but all the freedom to make decisions. Replayability value is so high that I can foresee different game every time. I haven't seen such kind of elegant wargame design for a while. When compared to Shifting Sands, I like this game even more with a lot more realism that lives out the options, risk and opportunities that are facing off the Germans and the British. Once again, my hats off to the designer Joseph Miranda. And I wish I could have played this game earlier.

Comment by Lawrence Hung on February 5, 2014 at 11:03am

From time to time, people would ask about the definition of scale of a wargame, and thus classification based on which probably to make buying decision.  I am from the old school. Tactical: unit scale at individual, squad, platoon to brigade. Operational: unit scale at regiment, division. Strategic: unit scale at corps, army to front. So Third Reich and Paths of Glory are strategic level games.  Russian Campaign, OCS and GCACW series are be operational level games.   ASL, Lock n' Load, ATS are tactical games.  Though not perfect, it's simple enough for introduction to any newcomers to the hobby without further complications. 

Comment by Lawrence Hung on January 21, 2014 at 10:07am

After three and a half years, I was not still able to put the Battle on Monmouth on the table yet.  I pulled the game out a few days earlier and tried to learn the rules again and hopefully, it won't be another three years that I can play it!  The main problem is the space.  I can't find a space at home to have a self-study on the game with two full maps and they should lay vertically due to the map configuration.  The width of the map exceeds my table actually.  I have run through the sequence of play and found that it generally makes sense.  The Wing Command, the close combat, fire combat...they seem quite straightforward enough.  The counters look very nice.  I hope I can find someone to play it with me at the club's meeting, where there is more space.  

Comment by Lawrence Hung on January 14, 2014 at 10:13pm

I have put the old Command magazine game I am Spartacus on the table for some time. This is a game, designed by Ty Bomba, I wanted to play all these years. It has a good reputation and reading the first few pages of rules, I am already amazed by the degree of research Ty put into the game. Reading the first five pages of rules today and it is a pleasure to find out there is a multitude of unit diversities, either in terms of the nationalities or ethnicity, and sources of units, like from Gladiators or pirates, with different illustrations. Much the same as you know the names from the TV series Spartacus.  The map is by Mark Simonitch, functional and yet very clean, which reminds me of a great designer and map topographer in the same creative and brilliant guy.  At the same time, I hold in hand the TV series derivative gladiators game Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery from Gale Force Nine, sunk in the nostalgia of men fighting for freedom such a long time ago.....


Comment by Lawrence Hung on January 14, 2014 at 8:00pm

When asked about what were the most surprising wargames in 2013, the first one should be Liberty Roads. I was surprised by this design by the French with fully-fledged rules, beautiful components in French style, and yet very utility, grandiose scope of the whole theatre, i.e. the whole of France, and all the authentic decisions over all possible Allied landing sites and forward-backward German deployment dilemma....It's the best surprise for 2013, totally satisfied.

Came close second is "Partizan, the war in Yugoslavia", a World at War magazine game, that I have to mention is this new design by civil-war expert Javier Romeo. I am surprised by how much is accomplished in a magazine format for partisan warfare - half regular, half hit-and-run engagements. All Yugoslavia in one map as a perfect scale to fit at operational level. A lot of careful decisions have to be made by both sides, who may run attack and defense at times. Plus, Tito has his own counter to participate in attack on the Italians, while avoiding the chase by the Germans. Really a lot fun.

Comment by Lawrence Hung on January 6, 2014 at 8:43pm

Here are my some recent suggestions for moderate complexity in each period for a fellow BGGer:

Antiquity: Lost Battles, a definite game on the period with numerous scenarios to choose from, majority of which are certainly completable in one day. One can always choose the scenarios according to the available time you have, while GBoH is less elastic in terms of time of gameplay. Been enjoying this a lot and more so while reading the accompanying book and other ancient warfare materials.

Medieval: Warriors of God - Excellent game. Highly recommended from both the perspectives of historical level of simulation and competitive gameplay. Game system is highly streamlined and flows smoothly without too many abstraction. Everything makes sense. The insignia of all factions in fighting are marvelous research achievements. You really feel you ARE in command, and from a high level of command - Commander-in-Chief.

16-18th Century: Thirty Years War: Europe in Agony, 1618-1648 - It has all the colours and flavours of the period and features you want from a game, a historical simulation, an intense battles model. Many strategic options and very very nice action and event cards which drive the game mechanics smoothly and realistically along the complex historic and political line. Systems and sub-systems are nicely and perfectly integrated. All in all, this is the best game on a subject much less covered with and you can't afford to miss. It's a game I don't want to store up at warehouse since its release 12 years ago till now. 

Napoleonic - Allemagne 1813, de Lutzen a Leipzig. A Jours de Gloire system game by the French. Point-to-point multiplayers with many scenarios over one map.  All the best features one could have in a game!  A unique feature to the system is the "Marching to the Sound of the Cannon Phase"....yes, a phase with a name that long.  Units of the enemy player which are within 2 movement points may attempt to move to the battle location and participate in the battle - a sort of reactionary movement.  It brings a lot of the colors to the game with this unique phase inside one player's own turn; as opposed to the common and traditional approach to reaction movement/ interception within the enemy player phase.  Movement is thus attached much more importance requiring careful planning in advance before execution. 

20th Century - There are too many choices out there. I would suggest Mark Simonitch's timeline series like Normandy '44, Ukraine '43, France '40 and Ardennes '44. His designs are always highly playable, with the right amount of rules and chromes, and adjustable complexity scale by basic, intermediate and advanced rules, special rules, etc. He can always make use of existing wargame conventions and use them well together.  Some key features like ZOC bond, advance after combat, overrun, elite and panzer units, air support, etc, they are all easy to learn and advanced a little for you to learn easily from your past experience.  You won't disappoint with any one of these games. They are really excellent wargames on WW2.

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