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Real War vs Wargames

What is the difference between wargames and what really happens in war?  While working on our new Battle of the Bulge design, I can’t help but notice the impact of unit boundary lines.

 


Well it’s another cold snowy Sunday.  Too miserable to go out.  The perfect day to work on our Battle of the Bulge design.  Lol…  Is that a common wargamer thing or am I just a nut?  Do you guys do that too?  Play games like Battle of Moscow, Bulge and Austerlitz in the winter?  Then Vietnam, Pacific, North Africa in the heat of summer?  We need to make a Normandy Pub Battle that you can play at the beach!

 

I digress.  So we are working on our new Bulge game.  For a starting map, we just printed off a real military map of the battle.  We’ve come up with an OB and made a set of Kriegsspiel blocks set to scale for Divisions. 

 

 

In the opening turns, 5th Panzer Army in the center, did well and broken open the front easily.  6th Panzer to the north got stalled and bogged down. 

 

 

As a wargamer, I figured no problem.  Next turn, I’ll just reinforce success.  I’ll peel all the armor off of 6th Panzer and shift them south.  Leave the infantry there to keep slugging away.  I don’t want to hold up progress.  It is critical to drive as deep and fast as possible in the opening of the operation. 

 

That is all true but there is a huge problem with this in the real world:  the unit boundary line.  You can’t just randomly send units willy-nilly all over the map on a whim.  All of those free SS Panzer Divisions can’t move there.  That is out of there area of deployment and chain of command.  They are in the 6th Panzer Army.  All the openings are in 5th Panzer’s area of operation. 

 

But 5th Panzer doesn’t have enough free units to exploit this opening.  I know!!  The technical military term for this is:  SNAFU,  Situation Normal, All F*#%ed Up. 

 

I suppose you could make a shift like this but it would take time.  Meetings, order changes, reassignments, etc.  By the time you go through all of that, it’s too late.  The open door has been shut. 

 

Here is another issue.  Look at the German 7th Army down here in the south:

 

 

5th Panzer in the center has broken out.  They are spread pretty thin and dangerously stretched out.  7th Army is all bottled up.  All those units sitting there with nothing to do.  Why?  Unit boundary line.  In fact, look at the unit boundary line drawn for 7th Army.  It is the long skinny one drawn at the bottom of the map:

 

By the way, that is Patton’s 2 Corps sitting off the edge of the map waiting to come in as reinforcements later.

 

How is 7th Army even supposed to do that?  They are supposed to drive long and deep.  Fine along what MSR (main supply route)?  Look at the terrain.  Up and down hills, over rivers, through woods, no we’re not going to grandma’s house.  Not a single road to advance along.  Luckily most of the Army is infantry.  They only have 1 armored division and 1 mech division for support. 

 

Also, look to the south of 7th Army.  Clear open sailing!  Instead of trying to slog along west, I really wanted to break out south into Luxembourg.  Guess what?  Can’t.  It’s beyond the objective boundary.  Sigh. 

 

Who in the world drew this boundary line anyways?  Imagine being the 7th Army commander here.  I’d be pretty miffed.  I would have protested this mission up the chain of command right from the get go.  How could 7th Army ever get anywhere with this objective?  Of course, protesting the feasibility of orders up the chain, through the German High Command at this time wasn’t very productive. 

 


 

All of this raises a number of questions:

 

1)      How important is drawing unit boundary lines in orders?  Is this seemingly arbitrary task much more critical to the mission success than we realize? 

2)      Strictly following the historical boundaries at the opening of the Battle of the Bulge seems to have a huge impact.  Did these boundary lines doom the operation right from the get go?  (in addition to all the other problems working against the Wehrmacht.)   Could simply redrawing these lines and adjusting the opening OB create much better German results?

3)      What is your experience in real world, military operations with this?  Have you seen boundary line issues cause a mission to fail?  How much planning, effort and thought is actually put into drawing them?  How could this be better?

4)      From a game design perspective, should wargames enforce proper phase line and unit boundary limits?  Would that make them more accurate and better models?  Would that ruin them as games and make them less fun?  Would they be more fun?

5)      From a military science perspective, what can we learn from wargames?  How could this be used in real world command to improve unit performance?  Are Phase Lines and Unit Boundaries bad?  How could you command and conduct operations without them?  What type of command system would it take to allow real world units to freely shift as needed along the front without time delay and confusion?

 

What are your thoughts?  Comment below:

 

         

Dracula is Now Shipping!

Kickstarters are shipping.  The regular game is now available for purchase.  Check out Dracula:  Forest of the Impaled.

Affectionately dubbed ‘Risklvania’, this game is an interesting mix:

Things in common with Risk:

  • Short rules.
  • Easy to learn and play.

Things different about Dracula:

  • Short play time: 1-2 hours.
  • No player elimination.
  • No ‘Kingmaking’ or ‘prisoner’s dilemma’.

Instead, this game focuses on teamwork and communication.

Battle of the Bulge -scale

What scale of units works best for Battle of the Bulge?


Well it’s a cold snowy day in December.  Christmas is just around the corner.  The perfect time to have a cup of hot tea and work on our new Battle of the Bulge game!


This is just a crude, graphics / color test;  not the final game.  We do have the map scale and scope worked out.  I’m wondering what size of pieces work best for this map?

Each piece represents a Division.  These blocks are half Pub Battles size:  1″ x 3/8″.  The Germans are represented with the correct starting OB here.  The Allied forces are not!  I just put a few random blocks down on the map for a reference.

Our other option is to use small Kriegsspiel sized blocks.  These are about half the size of the big ones above:  1/2″ x 1/4″.

 


Of course the Allied blocks would be sized down to match the Germans.

Which would work best for the game?  Leave us a comment!

 

New Kriegsspiel Scenarios

The Kriegsspiel system is fantastic but where can you get games?  Well, it’s not easy…

You can get the rules from Too Fat Lardies.  They have done a beautiful job.  They have a few map options but that is about it.  Mostly Kriegsspiel players are left to their own devices to come up with maps and scenarios.  That’s possible but very time consuming.

We have been hard at work lately exploring ways to produce historical Kriegsspiel Scenario sets:  Maps, pieces, setups, starting orders and OB charts to track strength and casualties.

Here are some sneak peaks at the Brandywine scenario.  This is set to true Kriegsspiel scale:  8,000:1.  The OB and pieces are historically accurate.


   

    

The Best Kriegsspiel Pieces

Which Kriegsspiel pieces are the best?  Help us decide.

We’ve been working on production of all new Kriegsspiel sets of pieces, maps and historical scenarios.  We need some help figuring out which style to make.

  • The top row is the Too Fat Lardies style,  -laser cut counters.
  • The middle row is our new block pieces styled with the diagonal look.
  • The bottom row is an alternative design for a rectangular look.

Our Question is:  Which is better, Diagonal or Rectangle?

The diagonal lines look detailed and refined.  I like the over all look better.  The down side is that diagonal line on everything can be confusing.  Especially to us modern players used to NATO symbols.  No, these aren’t all cavalry pieces.  The Cavalry pieces are the square shaped ones on the ends.  The rectangle ones are infantry and artillery.

Is the diagonal design more historical and traditional?  No, it’s not.  We’ve been researching this.  Looking at old military maps and antique Kriegsspiel sets, we saw about 50/50.  Some have all rectangles, some have diagonals.  There wasn’t really a standard.

I feel that going with the bottom stickers would be easier for players today to use.  I also like how the font size on this bottom row can be a little bigger.  Much easier for my aged eyes to make out.  🙂  Apart from my weak eyes, I like how we can fit more visible text here for unit names.  I also like the long horizontal line.  Instantly makes me visualize rows of troops.

My only complaint against the bottom row really is aesthetics.   They just look kind of plain and stark to me.  I like the look and appearance of the middle row much better.  The big tall cubes also make the cavalry stand out easily and contrast with the sea of diagonals everywhere.


What are your thoughts?  Which would you rather have?  Do you have any other ideas or suggestions?  Comment below or send us an email.

 

 

Lessons from Gettysburg

Notes from the Design Table


First of all, this is coming together way faster than I expected.  I didn’t think this would be ready till next summer.  We might be done much sooner.

 

Losses Not So Bad


This battle is giving me a much different view of casualties.  When a unit is destroyed, that doesn’t mean 100% casualties were suffered.  In real world terms, it means that 50% casualties were suffered which renders the unit 100% ineffective.  Some of those casualties are lost stragglers.  Some have minor wounds.  They will return to the ranks overnight. At first, I thought I had suffered catastrophic losses on day 2.  There is no way I can continue this battle.  Maybe this combat is too bloody.  I resolved the whole battle in 1 day!

Wait a second.  Put half of those guys back on the board and flip everybody up to fresh again.  Oh.  Ok.  That’s not so bad.  That looks about historical.  We can fight from here.

Lesson learned:  All those guys in the dead pile?  They aren’t really dead.  Half of them spring back to life for the next day.  You’re probably ok.

 

Nice to Have Options


I love the scope of our new map.  Most maps here cut off at both historical flanks.  Ours is open.  It allows you to explore all possibilities.  Turn their flank on the left or right.  You can try.  Realistically, you probably won’t do it.  I like ‘not doing’ it because I chose to, NOT because some game rule or map MADE me do that.  Big difference.

What is also cool about this, is also the possibility of a Confederate side slip to the right.  We are designing this with the possibility of a Pipe Creek defense later as an expansion.  Don’t want to defend in Gettysburg?  Fine.  Fall back to Pipe Creek.  First day is a total disaster?  You lost Cemetery and Culp’s Hills?  Fine.  Fall back to Pipe Creek.  Confederates were able to side slip to the right and skip out south to Taneytown?  Now you better skedaddle down to Pipe Creek!

 

Interior Lines of Communication


At Antietam, Lee only has 2 Corps.  They are somewhat mixed and Lee can be in range of both of them.  Confederate HQs are rated higher than the Feds.  On top of that, Lee almost always can weigh in with a second opinion when it comes to jumping ahead of a move.  🙂

At Gettysburg, a much different story.  So far we are using all HQs rated the same.  Still, it’s a huge difference.  Mead is on the inside of his fish hook.  He is in range of almost all his Corps.  He also has many Corps to respond with.

Lee only has 3 Corps.  Along the longer stretching lines of communication, which Corps is he able to influence?  Usually the wrong one.

So Pender launched an attack on Cemetery Hill.  They got lucky and forced the Federals back.  In Pub Battles, that doesn’t mean you’ve taken the Hill!  It means you have shoved them back and now have a ‘chance’ to take the hill.

The next turn is a race to see who can get back up on Cemetery Hill first!  The Confederates have 1 roll to jump ahead and get there:  The Corps Commander.  Is Lee in range?  Probably not.

How many Federal Corps can get there?  Almost all of them in one way or another.  So there is about 4-6 rolls.  Can Mead roll also?  Yes.  He is in range of just about everybody.  Easy.  Who is going to get back up there first?  Most often the Potomac.  Why?  Because of interior lines.

 


Keep in mind that these are very rough and crude play test maps.  NOT the final version.

 

Dracula, Risk, Kriegsspiel & Zombicide

Dracula, Risk, Kriegsspiel & Zombicide

  What do these all have in common?  The inspiration for our latest release!

This is a recent interview with a Tupelo Game Days.  


  1. What is your game? 

Dracula’s Final Stand:  Forest of the Impaled

It is an Asymmetrical, Cooperative board game, where up to 6 Muslim players try to invade and take down the Christian Dracula player.  It plays in 1-2 hours, is low complexity and well suited to casual gamers. 

Dracula is massively outnumbered.  To survive he can hunker in Castles, slip through secret mountain passes and of course, Impale people!


  1. What was the inspiration?

Risk, Kriegsspiel & Zombicide

I know, a strange combination.  We incorporated our favorite parts of these games.

I’ve always found the historical Dracula far more horrific than the campy vampire from Hollywood.  I don’t even think they can show most of the stuff that went on in a movie.  The real Dracula was very tragic and complex.  Was he a hero or a villain?  In many ways he was a freedom fighter for independence:  defending his Christian European country from oppressive Muslim rule, crushing taxes and invasion.  His tactics were brutal and savage but those were the times. 


  1. What are some unique features/mechanics your game features?

 


Impalement

Dracula can Impale any piece in the dead pile.  He can even Impale his own live troops!  What does it do?  When you march into an area with Impalements each group must roll a die for morale:  4-6, they stay in the ranks and take down 1 Impalement marker.  1-3, they run away!  How many of your troops will actually be there to fight Dracula?  All?  Half?  15% ?   Always a surprise.  Usually hysterical.   

 

No Player Elimination

Is there anything worse than being the first player to get knocked out of Risk?  Then you sit there, a bored loser for 4 hours while everybody else has fun.

There is no elimination in this game.  “Dracula just whacked my army!  What can I do?”  Simply form a new army:

  • Go ask another player to give you some of his troops.
  • Did the selfish bastard turn you down?   Form a new army by rounding up all of his stragglers that just ran from Dracula’s Impalements.
  • No stragglers in the area? Just ride back to Rumelia and recruit a new army.  No big deal.    

 

Team Play   

Another big problem with competitive, multiplayer games is that the only way to win is to make a ‘fake’ alliance and then betray and backstab another player.

This is a team game.  You win by working better as a team.  This is more fun, challenging and rewarding.  You can still be the ‘best’ player that saved the day and won the game but your teammates may find this arguable.       


  1. What is your favorite part of the game?

No Communication!

Players on the same team cannot ‘communicate about the game’, unless their HQs are in the same area.

It is hard to describe how incredibly fun this is.  It is very much like Krieggspiel without an umpire. 

Dracula gets a free ReRoll token as a penalty every time somebody breaks this rule.  ‘Communication’ means all types:  verbal and NON-VERBAL, to include:  smiles, frowns, sighs, staring, eye rolling, groans, banging your head against the wall, etc.  (No I’m not exaggerating.  I’ve seen it in this game.)

We can talk and plan our strategy before the game:  You go up the center.  I go up the right and take down these castles.  Fine, except then your army gets trashed by Dracula.  Now what?  Should I go rescue you and cover the center?  Should I ignore that and follow the plan:  castles on the right?  Should I stop and waste a turn to go talk to you about it and come up with a new plan?

Another great result we see from this is that the ‘smart kids’ can’t bully everybody with:  “Oh no, that’s not what you do.  THIS is the perfect move in THAT situation.”  Not being able to talk makes this absolutely epic.  The mere mortal players have more fun because they are free to try anything and experiment.  If it all blows up,  they have a great excuse:  I didn’t know!  Nobody could tell me!  The ‘smart kids’ have more fun because they are horrified at what everybody is doing ‘wrong’ and they can do nothing to stop it. This game is SNAFU on steroids. 

Guess what?  Sometimes, the ‘wrong move’ works.  Sometimes the ‘perfect move’ fails.  This is a game that serious, competitive, strategic players can play together WITH casual gamers and even non-gamers.  Everybody has fun and learns a lot of interesting things about communication and teamwork.  This game isn’t about being a strategic genius and making ‘perfect’ moves.


  1. Will it be Kickstarted? If so when?

Yes, it’s on Kickstarter right now!  It ends on Halloween.  There is one week left so you’ll need to hurry to get the cool extras like custom Dragon dice.  -in some rewards. 


  1. Where can we keep up with the game?

You can see it on Kickstarter:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1743441977/draculas-final-stand-forest-of-the-impaled


  1. Anything else you want to share?

Short Play Time

Easy to fit in time to play.  It only lasts 4 turns.  It is usually over in 1.5-2 hours. 

 

Short Rules

Quick & easy to learn and teach.  Only 8 mini pages of rules.  Even non-gamers play and like this game. 

 

Good 2 Player

Though we strongly urge more players, this game plays very well as a standard 2 player game.    

 

Great Solitaire

You’re gonna think I’m just saying this to hype the game but it’s really true.  It makes a great solitaire game as well.  This game was designed to be multiplayer.  Surprisingly, our play testers report that it is very strong as a solitaire game.  I can’t explain it.  I’m not sure I understand it.  I’m just tellin you what we hear.       

 

An Unclear Game is Good

We’ve gotten some ‘complaints’ that the map for Marengo is unclear.  It occurs to me that this is by design and that it is a good thing.  What?!

This is a great illustration of the different philosophical approach of Kriegsspiel vs modern wargames.  Yes, we want the map to be unclear.  To some extent, we want the rules to be unclear.  This is by design and we love it.  


“I can’t tell where the streams are.  Which lines are they?”

” I can’t see where the roads are.  Some of them fade out.  Some of them look like they don’t connect.”

“Roads approach this river from both sides but there is no bridge or ferry symbol.  Is there a crossing here?”

“These hatch marks for the Hills fade in and out.  They don’t connect to anything.  There are multiple little ones together.  Is this all one slope are a series of small ones?”

“What do these little dots mean?  Some kind of scrub vegetation?  What does it do?  The rules don’t say.” 

“Why do these roads look different than those ones?”


These are common questions with Pub Battles.  No, we are not going to answer all of these in mind numbing detail with a 100 page, fine print rule book.  Yes, that is what has commonly been done in our industry.  That doesn’t mean this is the correct or best thing to do.  I’ll argue that it is wrong or at least that there are other ways.

The map for our Marengo game is REAL.  It is really cool from a historical perspective to play the game on a real French map of the period.  It is also more accurate and realistic.  It is messy.  Yes, it raises all those questions above and more.

As players, you may spend some time looking carefully at the map and trying to figure out what all this is and how it should impact the game.  Guess what?  You are spending time doing things that the real commanders did.  You are learning and developing skills that real commanders had.  You are learning to think like a real commander in a real battle.  

 

What would you spend your time doing in a traditional wargame?  Analyzing hexes, counting MPs and totaling odds for CRTs?  What skills are you learning?  Mechanical gaming skills for a certain type of game.

So if the rules don’t say anything, how do you decide what the map means?  You analyze it and discuss it with your opponent.  I am spending my time thinking about history.  What would have happened? How did things work?  If a division came across terrain in the real world like this, what would they do?  I am spending my time discussing military history and tactics with a friend.  That IS our hobby.  That IS fun.  I’m spending time with a friend discussing and learning about what we both love:  Military History / Science and command.    

There is a  road on both sides of the river but no bridge, ford or ferry symbol.  What do we do?  Well, apply a little logic.  Why would they build a road that approaches both sides of the river, at the same point, only to dead-end into the river and just stop?  That doesn’t make much sense.  Most likely, there is some kind of crossing there but it wasn’t put on the map.  Why?  Because it is the real world and it’s not perfect. Do you ever think that happens in real war with real maps and real commanders?  Do you ever think something like this has come up and messed up a whole operation?  All the time.  The military even has an affectionate term for it.  It’s called:  SNAFU.   

Maybe they forgot to draw it on the map.  Maybe the ink didn’t stick there when the map was printed.  Maybe high water recently washed out the bridge, so there is no crossing there right now.  Who knows?  Make a decision and go with it.  What if you disagree with your opponent on how to interpret the map?  That ruins the game!  How do you resolve it?

Flip a coin.  Ask an innocent bystander to make a ruling for you.  Does it really matter?

Why are you playing the game?  Are you playing to learn about history, learn about the time period, learn about command, spend time having fun with people that share your same interests?  Isn’t trying to figure out what the map means doing that?  I’d argue that doesn’t ruin the game.  That IS the game. 

Are you playing a game to competitively ‘beat’ somebody and claim some kind of superior intellect or skill?  I could argue that THIS ruins the game.  100 page, fine print rule books ruin the game.  How much has our hobby been damaged by this type of thinking and approach?

What has higher sales?  The average wargame that rolls off the line or Dungeons & Dragons?  Guess what?  Do you know what the original Kriegsspiel was like?  It was a lot more like D&D.  What if wargaming was more like D&D?  Would our hobby grow and be stronger?  More accessible to new comers?  


No bridge was depicted on the map.  Several players are in disagreement on how that should be interpreted.  What would happen in D&D?  The Dungeon Master would set a percentage and roll a die.  There’s the answer.  In Kriegsspiel an Umpire would do the same thing.  If you don’t have an Umpire in a Pub Battles game, roll a die.  

Guess what?  The best REAL training by military officers are Command Post Exercises.  These are run like Kriegsspiel.  Like D&D.  It’s not about counting hexes, calculating odds on CRTs and looking up mods on charts.  It’s about reading maps, teamwork, communication through limited written orders and reports with timing delays and hidden intel.  What does that little dot on the map mean?  Who knows but you have 3 min to make a decision and get your next order out.


Is Pub Battles unclear?  Yes.  The maps are a bit unclear.  The rules are a bit unclear.  They are that way by design.  Bad rules are 100% clear.  Our goal is NOT to answer any possible question, any person could possibly ever have.  That results in bloated rule books to games  that never get played.  

Our goal for rules are to be short, concise and easy to reference.  Our goal is that they should answer most questions that most people need;  not explain everything.  

Our goal for wargames is to push them more in the direction of D&D, Kriegsspiel and Command Post Exercises;   To make them more about communication, teamwork and leadership.  I believe this will make wargaming both more fun and realistic.  I also think this can greatly expand our industry and hobby.    


One final point.  I don’t mean to slam all traditional hex & counter, CRT wargames.  I like them too.  I play them.  I grew up on them.  There are many great ones that do many great things.  Don’t get me wrong.  

I’m just trying to point out that there is another path, and that other path has many great virtues as well.  I also think that in our industry, this other path is greatly undeveloped and under-represented.  

 

 

Waterloo Color Test

Ok, I couldn’t stand it anymore!!  Seeing all those blue and grey blocks for Antietam sitting there next to the red British blocks for Brandywine, I couldn’t stop thinking of Waterloo.

So last night after work, I created a 1st draft set of Waterloo blocks.  (Yes, that’s what I do for fun!)  The French are already set.  We’ll do the same colors and style from Marengo.  I think the Prussians look good.

I’m not sure about the British.  What should the colors be?  How do these look?  Any ideas or input?  Leave us a comment.  

 

 

 


This British army looks like a hodge podge mess.  Lots of Militia grade units.  It seems like they are coupled with Elite British units.  This automatically makes me start thinking of how you would use this army in Pub Battles.  

With hidden intel, it’s going to be a crap shoot for the French.  Is that an Elite British unit you are attacking or an allied Militia?  

As the British, I think I would want my Elites up front with the Militia in support.  This is going to look tougher to the French than it really is.  Once that front line cracks, you are going to be in big trouble and forced to fall back with the British before your whole army disintegrates.  

Very interesting….

  

Like Old Friends

Ewell, McClaws, Anderson, Hood, AP Hill.  Doubleday, Mead, Hooker, Sedgwick, Slocum.  They almost feel like a bunch of old friends now.  I got this email recently:


“I haven’t played an ACW tabletop game for a few years now. As I was putting stickers on the Sharpsburg blocks, seeing those familiar old names and that amazing map, I really, really got the urge!”


I feel exactly the same way.  Over the years I’ve grown away from my Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Bulge, Waterloo and Russian Campaign roots to other more subtle and exotic pallets.  I haven’t played these campaigns and battles for years.

It is exciting to see these old favorites come back with an all new approach and perspective.  It’s kind of like seeing the all new Muscle Cars come back:  Camaro, Mustang, Challenger.

After seeing the new Antietam, I am really looking forward to the new Gettysburg as well.  The uncertain move sequence alone bring a mountain of tension to the 1st Day.  I have a feeling, it may just be the solution needed to liven up the 2nd & 3rd Day action as well.