My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Monday, December 23, 2013

It does not bode well for Sergeants Miniatures Game

First, let me start by saying that I did not label this post as a "review". I did not get deep enough into the game to actually review it. But I did get deep enough to get an impression, and you probably have a pretty good hint with the title.

So, Sergeants Miniatures Game (SMG) has been out there for a couple of years. I am not really sure of what the first iteration was but I first became aware of it about a year or so ago when reading about Day of Days, which featured the US Paratroopers in Normandy. Now to be honest, I was sort of tired of this particular theme, having several games and scenario books about this very thing, so I was not immediately sucked in. Secondly, the expansions were expensive, way too expensive for something that was just a set of painted miniatures (20mm, at that!). So I read reviews, downloaded teaser rules, and generally bided my time. I had too many other good WWII games to worry about adding yet another.

Then I heard that a British Paratroopers in Normandy version (Red Devils) was coming out. As I have never collected the British, in any theater of WWII, I thought that this might be justification enough to try it. So I invested in their Kickstarter project and waited.

Having received it a couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it a try and report back on what I thought. The reality is that I have little to report. I started to set the game up and stalled on certain aspects of the game. I went back several times and each time I could not come to grips with starting the game.

The first problem is that the game is tedious to setup. If you have ever complained about setting up a board game like Arkham Horror, which has a lot of different components, all of which need to be separated and shuffled, you probably won't like SMG. What makes SMG unique, and those pre-painted miniatures expensive, is that the soldiers represented by the miniatures and cards are intended to be unique. Your set of miniatures and cards in your boxed set will not match the miniatures and cards in my boxed set. If you buy expansion X, the cards and miniatures you get will not be the same as mine. I am not saying that the game is collectible – if you order another set of something the random element built into the manufacturing process will generate another unique set of stats for the cards and a random miniature will be placed in the box. You can't "collect them all" because there is no finite set; there are literally random elements to the production of the game.

What that means is that you take these cards, presenting the soldiers, scenarios, terrain pieces in place, etc. and build decks in order to play the game. Each player (not side, player) has an action deck and each game has a Story deck. Different factors determine which cards are in play and which are excluded. As there is a point building system for the sides, that means that pre-game play requires you price out your forces, build your decks based on who you selected, the terrain (primarily landmarks) used in the scenario, and so on. So there is really no way to pre-build all of this unless one player simply decides to play what he is given.

Then there is the factor that the cards represents the soldiers at different points (ranks) in their careers, along with rules about how many soldiers you can have of any given rank in your force. So a soldier may have one set of cards when a Lance Corporal, but another set when they are a Sergeant. In addition, so cards are purchased with points, adding further to the variability.

All of which is to say that the game does have a higher replay value, given this variability. But, only if you can muster then wherewithall to play the game in the first place. After having the game sit on my dining room table for two weeks, in various stages of pre-game configuration, I finally tore it down today, much to the rejoicing of my wife who wanted to eat a holiday meal at the formal dinner table again.

If I ever get through this, I will let you know. But I strongly suspect that I will never play this until I get to a convention where the game designer is giving demonstrations of it, everything is preset, and all of the rules questions you have can be instantly ironed out because the game designer is there to help you along. And if it plays well enough, it may motivate me to try it at home. Until then, however, it will sit on the shelf.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Double-Blind Wargaming

Have you ever played a double-blind wargame? That is where each player has his own map, counters (or miniatures), and can only see his own forces and the enemy forces within line of sight (LOS). They are a lot of fun and tend to be much more intense than a standard face-to-face wargame, but because they generally require an umpire (to tell each player what their forces see) and are a lot of work. As noted on BoardGameGeek, double-blind has been used with naval wargames, but for land-based warfare only nine board games are listed in the category. That is because writing rules to replace the need for an umpire is very hard. But computer games do it all of the time as the computer acts as umpire for the two sides.

I have noticed a few computer applications out there that handle the rules of miniature wargames, such as Carnage and Glory. Some people love them and others hate them. Part of the issue (from what I have read; I have never used them) is that the program take a little time and effort to use. But in exchange, you get a set of rules that can easily handle a lot of complications with ease. Remember those rules from the 1980's, like Fire Fight and Challenger II, that had loads of modifiers and special cases? Computer-based rules seem good for that.

But in the end, those rules don't require an umpire (more like a bookkeeper), so they don't really solve the problems that double-blind wargames do, which is limiting the information that a player has about the opposing forces and where they are located. A good computer program for that would be a good idea.

That is what I have been working on all this time (and why I have not been gaming). The idea is for players to order their forces on a computer (I am initially targeting an iPad or Android tablet) and then the application reveals what both player's see. The idea is that the application acts as an aid to miniatures gaming. Only the miniatures that are visible are placed on the tabletop.

From this comes a slew of additional ideas on enhancing the wargaming experience:

  • The application "knows" the rules.
  • It can hide specific dice results and give general comments on the state of troops or damage (friendly or enemy).
  • It can hide the command and control mechanics so that a player does not know their command "limit" for the turn (say if you are using a command point, or PIP, system). When the last point is used the computer tells them "you are done giving orders".
  • Line of sight can not only be blocked, but it can be obscured, allowing for units to be seen, but not identified by type or grade. (At a 1000 yards those blue blobs are probably French soldiers, but are they the Old Guard? Or your Prussian allies?)
  • Timed moves can be enforced.
  • And, of course, you can track a number of additional factors (fatigue, smoke, ammunition, etc.) that would be too tedious to deal with without a computer.
Now I did not think up all of this myself. (I am working with a published game designer, but at this point I haven't asked for or been given permission to use his name.) My original idea was something along the lines of a cross between Vassal and Memoir '44 Online. I wanted a gaming platform that would allow me to play games remotely, but the application would know and enforce the rules. That would have meant an application used by each player, over the internet. The game designer convinced me of his vision, which was to create a pass-and-play application that would enhance the miniatures wargame experience by providing the ever-elusive double-blind wargames umpire.

I think I can morph the code from his vision to my original one, but network programming takes a lot more time so I see the pass-and-play version as a good stepping stone. After all there is a lot of coding just to deal with the interface, rules, line of sight calculations (you would not believe the math I put myself through), etc.

So, when will I be done? Who the hell knows. But the good thing is that I am plugging away at it.

Not that I will be discouraged if the feedback is less than positive, but I would like to hear your comments about computer-assisted miniatures gaming, pros and cons. Do you think that they (would) get in the way? Would you ever allow the computer to roll the dice for you? Is losing control – a lot of control – something that you think would add to the experience? Have you ever played a double-blind wargame with an umpire?

Sound off!

My Success Rate with Kickstarter

I decided to get into a few Kickstarter projects, as reported previously, and so I thought I would give an update on my success with it so far.

Up Front – Funded on January 13, 2013. Estimated delivery was for June 2013. As of December 2013 it has not been delivered and no delivery date is set. Yes, this is the one that so many people said "you'll be sorry!" because the project was headed up by someone who had lawsuits in his rear-view mirror. Because of an error on my part, I got way too much of it. Lots of excuses and lots of time in which no updates were forthcoming. Looks bad. Oh, this is supposed to be a re-print and update to the classic Avalon Hill game Up Front.

Rivet Wars – Funded February 4, 2013. Estimated delivery was for September 2013. As of December 2013 it has not been delivered and delivery is slated for "ample time before Christmas". Hopefully that means 2013... I have a fair amount spent on this too, but not as much as Up Front. If I get it, I think the money will be well worth it.

Sergeants Miniatures Game: Red Devils – Funded February 24, 2013. Estimated delivery was for May 2013. It was delivered November 27, 2013. I bought the minimum on this one as I was still skeptical about the game, having read a fair amount about the previous version, Sergeants Miniatures Games: Day of Days. My skepticism mostly arose from the cost of the painted miniatures, and that you really could not play without buying the those miniatures (because they came with unique cards you need). So if you wanted to play a game with 15 miniatures on a side it was going to set you back. And did I really want to invest in another WW II skirmish game, only this time with 20mm miniatures? (Obviously the answer was "yes"...) I am hoping to provide a review of these rules soon.

Small World 2 (Take 1) – Cancelled by project managers as they felt that it was confusing as to what the project was really about.

Small World 2 (Take 2) – Funded on April 10, 2013. Estimated delivery was for October 2013. Delivered September 12, 2013. Game is much better than before, so was definitely worth the $8.

By Fire and Sword – Funded on May 20, 2013. Estimated delivery was for June 2013. Honestly, I cannot remember when this arrived, but as I only ordered the rulebook I was not held up by waiting for the sculptors to finish their task. This company was really good about providing updates and has sent a stream of PDFs, army list additions, etc. about that product and others they offer. Unfortunately, Eastern Renaissance went to the back burner sometime ago, despite having Polish and Cossack armies painted (but requiring rebasing). Someday... There have been some funny errors though, like the "Regimental Rooster Sheet".

So, all in all my big, high expectation purchases were utter flops, with regards to delivery times (or even if they will deliver). By the time I got up to June 2013 three projects were supposed to have delivered and none did. At the time I could see that  three of them were in trouble with their schedules. I decided that I had enough, at least until something delivered.

There has been some interesting conversations about how Kickstarter (and P500 projects) are "killing" retail hobby stores. That may be – although I think it is just one more nail in the coffin rather than the single most important reason – but I honestly cannot see any of the hobby shops in my area, and probably any that I have frequented in the past (that still remain), speculating on buying into Kickstarter or P500 for me. They all want to: a) wait until it goes retail and actually ships; and b) wait to see if it will sell. They have enough SKUs on the shelf as it is.

Added to that they want to sell it for full retail, when the companies are essentially offering a discount to invest in their project early. So who do you support, the manufacturers of the content, or the ones that sell it locally? So many gaming companies are using Kickstarter or P500 to gauge interest. If you wait and play it safe, like the retailers, the game may never come. Tough decision, especially as another local hobby store has just failed.

Ah well, we can't save them all.

I hope to get a review of Sergeants Miniatures Game: Red Devils out soon, along with some news regarding what I have been doing with my time. It is not really gaming, but it is gaming related.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").