How to teach War Games

I have been asked from time to time, how do you do it? I run a little organization called The Wargame Bootcamp, there are only two of us and we travel to different game conventions, game stores, and game events to teach historical board games to anyone interested in sitting down for an hour or so to learn. So I do have some insights on teaching board games I would like to share.

First off, you have to be a good sport and point out what they are doing wrong and help them understand how the game works. This means going easy on them  during the game, this is NOT the same as letting them win (unless there is a Wookie evolved) What I mean is show them possibilities of moves they can make, point out mistakes, and be helpful. If their optimal move will mess up your plans, that is okay point it out and let them smash you, it’s just game and you can play again.

Teaching is not for everyone, there are some who don’t have the patience for repeating themselves twenty times reminding players about the same rule. Others just are too competitive and cannot help themselves. If you can you will have to set your drive to smash your opponents aside just for the first game, if you can.

I teach games by showing two things to start, the Sequence of Play and the Victory conditions.

First they want to know how to win, and / or just an idea of what they should be doing. Try to explain what objectives they should be focused on and point out some ways they can try to accomplish them.

Show them the Sequence of Play (SoP), I would quickly go over the SoP (they are not going to remember every detail anyway). Make sure they have an idea, but if they want to move on let them. Another important thing to remember is during the game explain the whole rule, not just want pertains to the situation. You will replete yourself… A lot but if you are diligent and keep the game moving it will payoff and they will have a better understanding of the rules. In fact every time the question what they can do in a situation comes up repeat the rule, and repeat the rule the next time it comes up, and the next… Repetition is the best way we learn, and I will say it one more time, you will repeat yourself a lot.

What I usually do is set up the game and run through common rules with the pieces set up show examples of tricky rules, movement, and combat. Show them on the board so they can see it, try to avoid the exceptions for rules at first, if you can talk about exceptions to rules during play (hopefully before come up in play if you can). Then set it back up and start the first turn.

One thing you have to accept is that you always get at least one rule wrong, and there will be times you’ll be called on it. Don’t take it personally and be magnanimous about it, I always say “sorry I got a bunch of different rules in my head and it hard to keep them all straight.” It isn’t just when teaching games, our game group gets rules wrong all the time, having fun the in important bit. I get a smile on my face when I see the flurry of email that happens after our game group get together’s, where the subject of the email always reads “We got this rule wrong.”

I can tell you from experience, teaching a game and playing are two different things and you want to give them a good experience so they will come back to play more, and tell others how good the game is.

If they enjoy the game they will want to play again and then you can stomp them all you want (see above about the Wookie however).

When I run The Wargame Boot Camp I am playing games I would not always pick to play, which gives me a better appreciation for all different types of games, and teaches me a bit of patience as well. I hope it helps me be a better rules explainer, though I doubt I will ever be as good as the other guy in The Wargame Bootcamp (Tim Porter). Always striving to get better at game teaching is goal I hope everyone will take up.

Happy gaming and stay out of my ZoC… And “Let the Wookie Win

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How I approach rules

No pithy titles for this post, because honestly what clever string of adjectives would describe such an arduous process.

Well I read a lot of rules, pretty much everyday I snatch snippets of time to read a few pages here or there of the games I want to play. For me this is not a arduous process it is  a relaxing escape in a weird kinda way, but not without it perils.

First off I have the attention span of a three year old, every day I am on www.boardgamegeek.com (from here on referred to as “The Geek”) reading posts about games I am interested in. What usually happens is I read about a game I haven’t looked at in awhile and I read something on The Geek about it and get interested. Or a new pre-order will show up in the mail. I drop my current rule book starting read another, and another, you get the idea. I am usually cycling through three to five rule books at a time. There is also the games I am actually playing at the time which usually don’t have have anything to do with the rules I am reading.

I am talking about this because I have discovered some pitfalls and foibles that frustrate rule book readers. I have also been inspired by a post on The Geek (https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1758260/how-long-do-you-study-rules-first-play). So I thought I would chat about some strategies and tips for better rule reading since they are rattling around in my head anyway.

First off don’t try to memorize all the rules as you read them, it won’t work and you will get frustrated. A really good rule of thumb is have everything in front of you, not just the rules but the map (board), charts, pieces because now a days a lot of designers don’t put all of the rules in the rule book, I know crazy right? There might be something mentioned in the rules but to really understand what is happening you need check the details in the components of the game. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in bed reading a rule book and wishing I could lay all the maps out and see what the rule book was talking about. It really comes down to the fact game designers and publishers think that shorter rule books mean more sales. The problem being that you have to put all those rules somewhere, and sometimes that means making the rules seem shorter but putting key concepts in other places. The other problem with shorter rules is sometimes they don’t cover everything and you end up with situations the designer never thought of with no rule to arbitrate it.

I would suggest a quite, free from distractions area where you can lay everything out and focus on what you are doing. This may seem obvious but I felt an obligation to point it out. If you can you can use online tools like Vassal, or Cyberboard, or ZunTzu. These are online game boxes that simulate your favorite board games, save a lot on space and set up time. There is also a kind of video game called Tabletop Simulator you can load your board games into. It has a feature where you can flip the table over if you feel like it, I have never wanted to do that…

Well I hope that helps your rule reading regiment, and stay out of my ZoC…

http://boardgamegeek.com/jswidget.php?username=zeotter&numitems=5&header=1&text=title&images=small&show=random&imagesonly=1&imagepos=right&domain=boardgame

When One Does What One Must

 

Well the weekend has come and gone, and here I sit weak and weary facing a Monday morning. Which really isn’t all that bad, I had a good weekend of gaming so Monday begins with a smile on my face.

So I am sure you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to hear the results of my last post, whether I played 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany or Red Poppies Campaigns: The Battles for Ypres. Well Red Poppies won out, we actually played two games of it. I first played the Germans who are the attackers that have to get across the trenches into the green fields beyond and take objective high ground and village hexes. I did not rather poorly, there were some early German victories taking small sections of the British lines but were quickly lost when British reinforcements came up.

We decided to try again but switched sides. This time the Germans under Tim’s command fared much better, however because we are focusing so much on getting rules right we didn’t really concentrate on the victory conditions and he had the British trench but not the objective hexes which were the highest elevation points (he got a lot of them but they were only one point each) and villages (villages were three points each), he only controlled one of the eight or nine village hexes and technically lost.

I think if he had realized the victory conditions better it would have been a much more interesting contest as we would have been fighting and maneuvering away from the trenches.

To give some background we were playing the YS Scenario 3, Unfrozen at Frezenberg:

After gassing French and Canadian troops on the northern edge of the Ypres salient (off the north edge of the game map), German units attacked the British-held center at Frezenberg Ridge on May 8. Britain’s 27th and 28th divisions fought tenaciously but yielded on the first day under heavy German pressure. Note: This scenario is simply the first Attacker scenario from Campaign Game 2 repackaged so that players can run a full map slug fest without a Campaign Game.

I recommend this scenario if you are experienced enough to know the game and want something bigger than just a few units on the map. It can be played in a four or five hours with experienced player(s) and I think and very good representation of the game systems at work without have to play the entire campaign.


Tim & I Red Poppies1

This is a little picture write up Tim did after the game.

That sums up my playing of Red Poppies Campaigns. I’ll be working on finishing up the first session of The Greatest Day:  Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches this week and will hopefully be playing the second session this coming weekend.

Till then stay out of my ZoC.

The Difficulty of Choice

So our monthly board game meet up in Pasadena California at Game Empire this Saturday (join us, join us…). A few of us have talked about what we want to play. Two games I suggested 1866: The Struggle for the Supremacy in Germany and Red Poppies Campaigns: The Battles for Ypres.

1866 The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany    Red Poppies Campaigns The Battle for Ypres

1866 is a card driven game on the Austro – Prussian war. The rules low complexity and seem to flow well, but other than reading the rules I don’t know much about the game. “What?!?” you ask how can that be, you read the rules. My answer may seem like a cop out but it is simple. You cannot really know how a game is going to work till you play it. The only problem I have with regards to getting this to the table is guilt.

Guilt over the fact I have a lot of very good games on my selves that I don’t play enough, that brings us to the other game Red Poppies I have played before. Red Poppies is a grand tactical World War I game again with low complexity rules and interesting premise. This game comes with 3 different maps of the battle. Each map depicts the battlefield at different stages, one is 1914 and shows the entire area the battle took place as it looked at the start of the battle. 1915 is the midway point and things have changed, the trench lines are being built, sections of  forest have been leveled outlying villages are gone. The last map 1917 is almost a totally different map then the 1914 one. The entire landscape has been scarred, the city of Ypres is mostly leveled. This is to keep some historical accuracy of the game. In my experience if left the players the trench lines on destruction would be a lot of different if non-existent. I am not a big tactical game fan, but this game intrigues me and I want to play more of it to explore the proper tactics and strategies to be successful.

So I am torn, a new game to try with 1866 or one I have had awhile but want to play again. I have been thinking as of late I need to play the games I have more, and stop worry about new games, get more return on my investment as it were. But I have always wanted to explorer new games, my friends always joke I am the cult of the new war game as I always seen to have at least one new war game every time they see me.

So I will post next week and let you know which game I played this weekend, and hopefully have the first After Action Report I made for The Greatest Day: Juno, Sword, and Gold Beaches which I played the first session last weekend at a friends house.

Till next time… Stay out of my ZoC

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll see you on the beach

I love the moving Saving Private Ryan. The first scenes are they troops riding in their Higgins boat were riveting.

Because of my prior post The target for today is… Bremen one of my friends has invited me over to play The Greatest Day: Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches one of the games in the Grand Tactical Series I mentioned in that previous post.

greatest-day-sword-juno-and-gold-beaches

We have agreed to play something big, but the table is 7.00′ by 4.00′ so we don’t have a ton of space. On the back of the scenario book is the different map layouts for scenario’s using less than the “whole thing” (which is 61.0″ by 77.5″ which will not fit on the table). I think any of the Advanced Scenario’s will work, we have to be able to get the division sheets and charts and tables on the table too, so we need to leave some space open.

I have been reading the rules and the game is not difficult to learn at all. First off you have to understand the scale of the game. each hex on the map is approximately 500 meters (1500 feet), each unit or counter is a company 100-150 men, each counter is organized into formations (think brigades) with a colored stripe saying which counter is which formation. The background color of the unit shows it division.

The Greatest Day Campaign Game1

You pull chits out of a cup to find what units activate. You spend points to put the chits in the draw cup, the points are called Dispatch Points. You also have Command Points which are used during your activation to give units a second action or to activate units when you draw a Direct chit, or you can exchange Command Points for Dispatch Points at 2 Command for 1 Dispatch Point. Also Command Points can be used for automatic success’s on checks you roll for on units. You roll dice to get more Dispatch and Command Points when you draw a Division Chit.

You have a division chit that activates all the units in the division, the division chit you cannot just do whatever you want with the units activated by this, think of it as a standing order. Units can move but not shoot, and are restricted in a few other ways. If a formation chit is drawn that formation within the division gets to move, shoot, and do all allowable actions. A Direct Chit activates individual units when spend one Command Point for each unit you activate. There are other chits you can draw, to activate off board naval assets, British Royal Commando’s but that is I think all.

Some of the rules are standard war game stuff, movement, leaders and command, rally, are fairly standard. The shooting (from here on referred to as combat) is actually easier than some other war games I have played.

TGD CRT

Roll a ten sided dice (supplied with the game), add the modifiers to the unit fire rating that is firing , the color bands match the color box around the fire rating on the unit, and check the left side for armor and the right for unarmored. Pretty darn simple, I like that.

The nuances of the game system is not actually in the rules themselves per say but the map terrain and how different units move (or don’t move through it), and with one unique rule that replaces your stand war game Zone of Control (ZOC), the Fire Zone.

At the scale the game is at there is not your standard ZOC other war games use to show how modern weapons with the longer ranges control parts of the battle field. Instead your units have fire zones that is a range of hexes they can react to enemy movement and fire. First lets talk about terrain, the map has natural choke points. If you look at the terrain effects chart (sorry no picture) you will see different movement types (tanks are tracked, wheeled vehicles, infantry is leg) are affected by terrain differently. This is where this games differ from others. Here is a quote from the rules:

Unlike some war games, Tracked and Wheeled vehicles find movement channeled by crests and forests. Roads are often the only way vehicles may cross from one point of the battlefield to another through certain terrain and anti-tank forces deploy accordingly. Strengths and weaknesses of unit types depend on the terrain and the proper interplay of infantry, armor, artillery, and motor transport are vital to successful play. In some war games infantry are just slow, weak versions of tank units. Not here. You must barrage well-placed defenders lest his anti-tank weapons shred your vehicles and units moving up to attack. Some war games only recognize combined-arms tactics and terrain effects by adding a +1 or a -1 to your attack. In this game you actually see and use the interplay of combined-arms and terrain.

I didn’t get a chance to finish this article before we played a first game on Sunday. So what I would like to do is wrap this up and talk about the scenario we played and the post wrap up.

Sorry about the abrupt ending…

The target for today is… Bremen

So the other day was Sunday. I try to get my board game chores (see next paragraph for what that entails) in on Sunday, depending on my current “Honey can you…” or what is affectionately called the Honey Do List.

What I was doing this last Sunday

Anyways, I like to get a small TV table out get a game that needs clipping, or sorting and put on a movie. perusing through the offerings on my various streaming services I narrowed my selection down to two movies, A Bridge to Far and Memphis Bell. I should have watched Memphis Bell (hence the title of is article) because I put on A Bridge to Far… I was punching, clipping and sorting Multi-man Publishing’s Last Chance for Victory a game on the battle of Gettysburg. Which I had bought at the San Diego Historical Games Convention from my friend Pete. Well I got into the movie and like the weak willed war gamer I am I put Last Chance for Victory away and pulled out  The Devil’s Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen and Where Eagles Dare the two games in the Grand Tactical Series from Multi-Man Publishing. I did resist the urge to pull out the other games in this series I own, No Question of Surrender and The Greatest Day: Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches I will save them for another post.

last-chance-for-victory   devils-cauldron   where-eagles-dare

greatest-day-sword-juno-and-gold-beaches   no-question-of-surrender

The game that stole my… Oh wait this game is good too…

The Devil’s Cauldron is the Northern part of Operation Market Garden and Where Eagles Dare in the Southern half. The Devil’s Caldron focuses on the two bridges in Nijmegen and Arnhem. The game is not complex and actually works very well but I will say there no real edge to this game either. What I mean by edge is the tension of the game is derived from the playing of the game, not the rules themselves. So for example Paths is one of the tenses games I’ve ever played. It uses cards to allow you do actions and that is how it makes the game so tense and exciting. Each card play is decision because you cannot do everything you want to do. One of my all-time favorite games Axis Empires Totaler Krieg is the another example of tension through mechanics. In this case it is timing is the key, each turn is two months and weather is static meaning certain turns are either Mud or Snow which are very bad for the attacker. These weather effects happen in early Spring & Fall for Mud and Winter for Snow. Summer which is clear weather goes for three turns while all others are two turns before what is called a seasonal turn. This is important, you play a new card every seasonal turn so the card that is face up dictates some important bonus’s you need for attacking and other important things like building units or diplomacy. I don’t want to go into all the rules (but if you ask me I will sit down and play with you and teach what it is all about), but timing in this game is crucial and adds tension mechanically to the game. Getting back to The Devil’s Caldron I would say this game doesn’t have the rule’s mechanics that grab you like the previous two games I mentioned but that isn’t really a bad thing this game(s) follow a simple set of rules and accurately portray small unit actions on a grand scale. I haven’t played any of the big scenario’s yet but I think that what these games are really designed for and will work better on a bigger scale.

paths-of-glory         axis-empires-totaler-krieg

If any are interested I am going to try to get one of these (I am leaning towards Devil’s Cauldron or Where Eagles Dare) to the table to play one of the big games. I am going through the rules now and getting everything ready, wish me luck.

Current games and thoughts

It has been an interesting couple of months since my last post. I have acquired a few new games, and played a few I have wanted to play that have languished on the shelf for far too long.

I also just this last week was interviewed by three grad students from a local art school in Pasadena about board games. It was interesting to hear what they had to ask, they didn’t ask the typical “How did you get into this hobby”, or “Do you love war” those questions we seem to have to endure when some enters our little domain wondering why we play these games in the first place. They did ask a lot questions on how when playing these games what my feelings were. During the interview (which they filmed) they even asked me to construct with Lego’s how board games made me feel, a little odd but I was willing to play along. I thought the interview was very productive, and if I get a copy of the footage I will post it for others (hopefully it will be edited, I did ramble on… A lot).

Okay a bit to catch up on. I have gotten a few new games to report on. Let start off with the latest I have played, Fields of Despair:France 1914 – 1918 by Kurt Keckley and esteemed war gamer who I am acquainted with.

The game is well  designed and not very difficult. The rules are well laid out and easy to follow. The game is based on a strong bluffing mechanic, all the pieces are hidden and there is a lot of guess work. Not your typical war game, I enjoyed the one play so far but would like to play a few more times before giving a full-fledged review.

Another game I got to play this last Saturday has been in my collection for some time, The Finnish Trilogy 1939-1945: Winter War 1939-1940 (Vol. 1) is the first of three games covering all of World War II in Finland

We only played a very small scenario but it was a good start and showed the basic mechanics of the game. I have to say this is one of the most difficult rule books I have read; the designer has used new terminology for a lot of already established war game rules. On top of that he has thrown what feels like a lot of extra rules to cover very detailed situations. For example, I have played several games that use Headquarters (HQ’s) as separate pieces before, but not eight different types of HQ’s that serve different functions. There are naval rules which seem a bit much since I don’t think (especially during winter) the navies on either side could do much. The Weather Rules cover not only the weather itself, but the extent of ice, the sky conditions, and the type of snow. I can appreciate the amount of detail thrown into this but it is a lot to remember. It isn’t I don’t  like the game, I enjoyed what we did play but this game (series, there are two other games in this series, The Finnish Trilogy 1939-1945: Continuation War 1941-1944 (vol. 2) & The Finnish Trilogy 1939-1945: Lapland War 1944-1945 (vol. 3)) is going to take some work to get the rules right.

Another game I got recently that I haven’t talked about here yet is Fornovo 1495 an interesting new game from Compass Games.

I admit I am like a child in a toy store when it comes to certain war games, and Italy (or really anywhere in Europe) during the Renaissance I just auto buy. This game is the first in what will become a series called Order of Arms, battles from Medieval (Bonus! Medieval & The Renaissance eras) to The Renaissance, from Hastings 1066 to Pavia 1525. Wow my interest was piqued! This got me over the somewhat disappointing fact this game only has one battle, most games you buy have anywhere between two to twenty or more scenarios or battles in them. I would like to also emphasize the production values are this game are every good, the box cover is very nice and the maps and pieces are very well done. But I have say the rule book is what blew me away, the charts and table graphics look like something out a text book (in full color no less), I have to admit I geeked out on how well he rules were graphically laid out.

You can see the chart there standing up, that is what it looks like the rule book! I know, I know how well the rules are written and work is more important but common that just looks sooooo nice. I am hoping to read through this game soon will give a full report on the substance (not the superficial graphics) of the game.

Another game I am current delving into is No Peace Without Spain! The War of the Spanish Succession 1702-1713. Like Fornovo 1495 this is a Compass Games Production (but published in 2011 where Fornovo 1495 was 2016).

This is a card driven game which I enjoy. The rules are easy to digest and well written, they have some historically specific rules that make sure certain historical realities come to pass but nothing too burdensome. I know another of my group is keen on the playing this, I would also like to get this to the table because a sequel (actually a prequel) to this is already in the works and almost finished (Nine Years: The War of the Grand Alliance 1688-1697).

So that is all the news fit to print this Thursday February 23, 2017…