A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Game Collection: Wargames! (Or: "Let's Talk about Hex, Bay-bee!")

Hex and Chit Wargames.  Never has something so complicated, so nichey, so old school been so entrancing to me.  These games are way more complicated (usually) than other boardgames or miniatures games but.. there is something ENTRANCING about them.

Given the barely existing player base, difficulty in finding these games to purchase, and my own limited money if I want to like pay bills and enjoy other things without spending all my time working I only have so many of these games.

But.. I shall show you mine and have some thoughts about them.

Note also I am leaving out the BEST hex n chit game as it will be its own post next year sometime (DAMN YOU KICKSTARTER!!!), mini games (again will get their own post), and kind of sort of wargames like Battle Lore, and the Machine Sheet genre.

If this gives you a fizzy feeling akin to James May when he drives certain cars you want to continue reading this post and looking at things I shouldn't have spent money on.  If you are confused and wonder why anyone would bother with games that aren't full of pretty miniatures and such?  It really is hard to explain so you might want to leave now.  Or join me for a game IRL sometime and learn why they can be such fun.

 We may as well start with the KING of Wargames.  The game that has sold more than any other (200K copies which makes it small potatoes for sales of products even in the gaming world.  But it shows you how HUGE it was for that wee market!), SQUAD LEADER.  A WW2 wargame where each counter chit was either a talented leader or a squad of 4-12 soldiers or a single vehicle.  It is a fantastic game, its high complexity for normal gamers but.. well.. We will get to that.

 The rulesbook, my copy I made of the rules to help have 2 copies on hand, one of the scenario sheets, the nice letter I got from the guy on Boardgamegeek who sold it to me for a fair price, and some of the paperwork Avalon Hill put in their games.  (Squad Leader is from the late 70s.  Its about as old as Star Wars!)  Unlike many modern games Squad Leader understood not everyone was a rules genius so they taught you the game in steps.  Read X number of pages/sections and now you can play this scenario.  Battletech also did something similar.  1983 Basic Dungeons and Dragons did this.  Its an AMAZING way to teach a game to someone without expecting them to be a genius or for someone to teach them the rules, a MAJOR mistake later wargames would fail at.

 Both sides of the reference sheet.  All you needed to play European Theater WW2 combat.  
 And the 4 "geomorphic" mounted mapsheets the game came with.  You could use part of a map, all of it, or combine them with any other map in multiple ways.  Rotate em!  End to end!  Top to bottom!  Bottom to top!  Any map connects to any other map like this.  Its awesome.

 All of the included counters, most in some 1.25 counter trays I bought online.  Its my inner anal retentive who demands this.  Organized stuff makes my brain happy.  Feng Shui for dorks really.

 MMP (Multi Man Publishing, current publishers of Squad Leader related stuff) remade the game that came before Squad Leader, Panzer Blitz/Panzer Leader.   See the original design was by Jim Dunnigan, who also wrote a book on Wargames I have but didn't bother to photograph (its a blue cover with text on it.  Why bother?) but it was from the early 70s.  This is more or less using the name and basic concept for a totally new game.  That took forever to get out of its preorder phase.  Still keeps the classy cover style the original games and Squad Leader used.

 An inexpensive introductory set to a slightly larger scale game Avalanche Press makes called Panzer Grenadier.  I haven't had the chance to play it and they kind of ticked me off during a holiday sale so I really don't buy anything from them now.

 Another MMP game, Fire in the Sky simulates the ENTIRE PACIFIC WW2 WAR.  Its a massive scope game and is a translation of a Japanese wargame.  They have a couple of these.  I would like more.  I would also like to have the chance to play them.  Most wargames kind of take longer than I have to play them.

MMP sometimes does sales and clearances and I got this game from them.  A Civil War game that takes place in an area that last I knew had a big Federation Commander player base.  

 This is like the third or fourth version of this battle Avalon Hill did, this being one of the last.  And being an amazing game. Its also really simple and easy to play making it a good introductory game.

 My other Avalanche Press game.  This one is a Roman Empire era game and this is the variant cover that is of the style so many of this company's RPG products used and were mocked for. T&A covers.  But it kind of amuses me to see a "hoochie mama" on a wargame, a genre mostly known for serious historical seriousness played by serious people.

 Two free wargames.  One that was just postage and handling from MMP (Target Arnhem), and the other is a little wargame the size of a postcard to advertise a magazine/wargame magazine.  See there were (and kind of still are!) history magazines that also came bundled with a complete wargame which would usually also be the theme of that issue.  This is a promotional goodie from one of them.  (Against the Odds in this case.)

But eventually Squad Leader got more and more complex in each expansion set with the playtesters (sadly) demanding more and more complexity and detail.  This eventually lead to Advanced Squad Leader, a game infamous for how ridiculously complicated and detailed it is.  Avalon Hill mostly let Squad Leader die outside of the original game (only to sometimes put the 3 expansions in reprints) and it was eventually a given someone else would teach new people how to play ASL as the rules were god awful at teaching you anything.  They also came in a binder for 40 bucks, with another 40 for the main game pieces component.  (Now its like DOUBLE that price, though the game pieces component comes with a lot more stuff now, as MMP has stupidly not kept Squad Leader in print.)

 So MMP'solution was this, the ASL Starter Kit series!  4 stand alone sets in increasing price and complexity to teach the basics of ASL without overwhelming people.  They sell incredibly well for MMP and constantly go out of print for a while.  

 The 4 rulesbooks.  1 was Infantry only.  2 added in ordnance weapons.  3 added in vehicles.  Expansion Pack is basically all 3 together but didn't come with a box or dice.  The salmon colored blocks are changes or additions to the rules for people moving from 1 starter set to the next so they don't need to reread everything.

 An example page.  Sadly the Starter Kits are TERRIBLE for teaching ASL as they quickly throw acronyms at you from like the third page.  SK 1 was 12 pages with covers.  If written in something that didn't sound more like program code it would have been 2-3 times as many pages.  And would have worked so much better IMHO.

 While SK 1 had about a page of acronyms, by Expansion Set 1 it was around THREE making it very hard to learn the game indeed!  You can see even the acronyms use acronyms!

 Other people on the Internet have done MMP's work for them.  The one on the left is the table of contents for a PDF explanation of the game rules in the SKs, the one on the right more of a general ASL overview.  Yes a 28 page rulesbook needs 130+ pages to explain in plain English.

 A historical notes booklet that came with SK 3, some of the chart sheets..

 And MORE CHARTS.  So many charts.  And remember.. this is just the STARTER KIT LEVEL.  Full on ASL has like a 200+ page rules binder.  Is it any wonder why the king of wargames has both helped shrink the hobby and given it a reputation for being for crazy people?

 The front and back box to SK 3.  I threw 2's box away not realizing I now have so much stuff it would actually be a more comfortable fit putting it all in 3 boxes.  (It probably won't be bad once I put the counters in trays.)

 The nice color (but not full color counters like many games use.  They didn't have that kind of tech and money in 1985 and they try to keep things consistent.) double sided counters for the game.  Lots of counters for lots of stuff.

 And MORE COUNTERS.  The two full size sheets are the backs so you can see the difference from the front ones above.

 Expansion Pack #1 was basically packaged in a plastic bag.  Its more or less just another version of SK 3 with different maps and scenarios.  But for a lower price since no real packaging costs.

 And the SK maps, using the current cardboard format over the lovely mounted mapboards of the Avalon hill era.  The SKs use a letter system to denote maps, all lower cases currently, going backwards from Z.  Again though fully compatible with ASL maps.

 Other than them being cardboard the other change is modern CGI art and higher printing quality so the maps look a lot sharper than their 70-80s forebears.

 Much like Squad Leader, scenario cards made of cardstock are used to set up battles.  Units needed, maps required, historical backgrounds, and special rules.  I have most of the S series currently out.  Maps S1-34, 41-50.  35 through 40 I do not have.  See some of the scenarios did not come with the game...

They came in MMP's infrequently released house magazine, Operations.

 The last two issues are in plastic bags because MMP took Operations to the route of those wargame magazines I mentioned.  They now contain complete games as well as normal articles and even supplemental counters for their existing titles, something those other magazines do not do.  The problem is each issue got more and more expensive (the final one is FOURTY DOLLARS) to the point they now make a magazine called Special Ops instead which is the same concept but has kept prices cheaper.  It was 2 a year but they have recently announced it is becoming an annual as it was taking too many resources away from their normal products.  (MMP like most wargame companies is a part time job in between one that makes you know, a livable wage.  People do these games because they LOVE them, not because it pays the bills.)

 This is from the second Special Issue.  2 countersheets (including counters for the complete game, for a Panzer Blitz Hill of Death map and scenario set, and some extras for their other games), and 2 big poster maps for the game and the Panzer Blitz scenarios.  
 What the magazine looks like inside.  Mostly text and much of it written by freelancers who like the games they are writing about.

 There is some color and graphics in there when needed though.

 But going back to ASL proper, Avalon Hill realized 80 bucks and super complex rules that assumed familliarity with Squad Leader or a good teacher was kind of silly so this set was made.  Paratrooper was cheaper than the 40 dollar core set as a way to ease people into the game.  And while the main set was Russians vs Germans primarily, this set had American units, giving one a taste of the Yanks before the US Forces (well one of the US sets anyhow..) set came out.  (ASL was very slow at releasing expansions.  But given the depth of detail and the insane amount of research done I cannot fault them too much.)

 Along with the countersheets, we get a new map board, the Armory (counter sheet reference really) to be put in the big rules binder..

 And this, the TRAINING MANUAL.  25 pages of programmed instruction written in normal people speak with a bit of humor involved.  Imagine Lee Emery of Full Metal Jacket fame teaching you how to play ASL.  Except with less offensive language.  Ok, Eddy Murphy Raw is less offensive language than FMJ's Boot Camp scenes.  But you get my point!

 No this isn't Rainbow Dash Fights Nazis.  Its a big historical module (meaning its basically about a certain battle and not really a required set like Paratrooper or the other sets) covering the Pegasus Bridge battles during the D Day timeframe.

 I got it on clearance but look!  Its got a Training Manual expansion, bringing the tutorial pages count up to 32.  Plus more counters, a HUGE mapsheet of the Pegasus Bridge and surrounding environment (see the little sheet on the right?  Now look at the folded map.  That's the upper right corner of the map!  The average Infantry counter has a 5 hex range for effective firing.), and a rule binder expansion with special rules for the bridge and so on.  More Scenario cards too.  

 When MMP took over doing ASL from Avalon Hill (which was bought out by Hasbro who didn't really care about most of what AH made, especially not nichey wargames for a tiny audience) they got lots of AH's backstock.  So I got as many mounted mapboards as I could manage when they were selling them for roughly 5 bucks a pop including shipping.
 Yes the same basic geomorphic setup is kept but many battlefield types await giving one nearly unlimited combinations!  (Just showing half of each map.)

 With Squad Leader coming with Maps 1-4, I have 1-9, 11-24,...

32-35, 39, 40, and 44.  That is a LOT of maps!  I have even used them for the hex n chit game I love more than any other that I mentioned I will post about next year.  (It would have been this month but.. scheduled release date on Kickstarter for the new version was a big lie.)

(EDIT: I also have Map P which came with a 10 dollars but now 40 on Ebay mini pack.  Has 3 of the scenarios in my numbered list and a page of rules on some of the terrain used in the Normandy invasion the scenarios take place at.  Also apparently the Chapter K tutorial stuff is now included in the ASL 2nd edition rules set.)

If you love history and love games where you work your mind and have to fight battles realistically instead of just army building a winning force of stuff, you might want to look into wargaming.  Its complex most of the time but.. there is just an... Appeal to it all.

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