Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review of Dread Pirate

Dread Pirate, part of the Front Porch Classics series, is a light, family game with a pirate theme. 

I received it as a gift from my wife a few years ago (she knows that I like pirates). We played it once but then packed it away. Recently, we pulled it out of the closet and gave it another go.

When I opened it for the first time, I was astounded. The physical components are impressive. The game comes in a very sturdy and attractive wooden box. Inside is also a delight. The playing pieces (ships) are metal rather than cheap plastic. Most impressive are the jewels and the doubloons, which are the goals of the game’s bloodthirsty buccaneers. 

The only physical disappointment is the game board. Not that it looks bad; it actually is a very attractive representation of a period map. The board, however, is made of cloth, which folds up when put away. This results in fold marks that do not lie flat when the board is set up. I think I would have preferred a traditional mounted board. I think I may iron the map and then roll it up rather than fold it. This should alleviate the problem, but I don’t think I’ll be able to put the map in the box. Nevertheless, this is a physically impressive product.

I wish I could say the same for the gameplay. While we had a good time sailing around sacking cities, the game seemed to fall a little flat. The players move around the board between 4 ports (the map is fictional rather than a representation of this historical Caribbean). Along the way, they may have to pick random event cards. Upon reaching a port, a player may either raid or trade with the city or trade. In either case, the player seeks to acquire jewels. After acquiring at least one jewel of each of 4 colors (1 color per port), players may sail to Dread Island and collect doubloons. The first player to Dread Island also gets the title of Dread Pirate, which gives a movement bonus. A player may also attack an opponent and, if successful, steal treasure (and the title of Dread Pirate) from them. The game ends when all the jewels are collected from the ports. The player with the most treasure (jewels + doubloons) wins.

As I mentioned, gameplay was a little flat. It mostly consisted of racing around the board between ports (once you raid or trade at a port, you have to go to another or attack another player before you can go back), and rolling dice. Strategy was mostly limited to decisions on which port to visit next. Nevertheless, it is designed as a light game so I did not expect a lot of strategy. One thing that disappointed me was that sea battles were somewhat rare. The only ships on the seas are the players. Because we only had two players, opportunities were scarce. Thus, it seemed to lack an element that should be a centerpiece of a game about pirates. Thus, I was a little disappointed by the game.

Nevertheless, we did have fun. I’m thinking that some house rules could spice up the game. I’d like to include merchant ships. This would add a little more strategy: try a riskier but potentially more lucrative raid on a port or try to scoop up weaker merchants. I also noticed that there was a later edition (Dread Pirate: Buccaneer’s Revenge). I don’t want to buy a new game, but maybe I can find the rules and incorporate them.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Little "History" Lesson

I did not get a chance to fight the Battle of Maraconi this weeked, so I'll present a little history of Franconia. About a decade prior to the Battle of Maraconi, the Emperor of Silverfern died, sparking a succession crisis and a land-garb by the King of Redgrave.

From the Chronicles of Francesia:
The beloved emperor, Godfrey the Good (called the Good because he slashed taxes; unfortunately this resulted in a reduced military budget, which would have a detrimental effect on the Empire) died without a direct heir. A number of relatives, including Duke Johann of Drakendorf and Godfrey's nephew Lester, staked a claim to the Imperial throne. Lester quickly gained the upper hand, but he still faced opposition. King Frederick of Redgrave decided to take advantage of the turmoil and seize some territory at Imperial expense. As Redgravian forces moved into the Empire, Lester was able to hammer through his selection as Emperor. Hastily, he gathered an army and moved north to confront Frederick.

The first major action of the war took place at Blancport.

A combined land-sea offensive descended upon the Empire. Details have been lost, but the forces that took place were as follows:

  • Empire (Duke Fredio) - 37,000 troops; 7,000 casualties
  • Redgrave (Gen Redmond) - 31,000 troops; 7,500 casualties
It was a hard-fought, bloody battle, but Redmond was able to break the Imperial forces and seize Blancport.

Unfortunately, I did not keep detailed records on the scenarios. I did record total troops and casualties. I used the following guidelines for translating stands to troop counts:

Each stand represents:
  • 4,000 infantry 
  • 6,000 militia 
  • 2,000 cavalry 
  • 20 guns and 1,000 crew + support 
  • 500 casualties per stand lost
The battles were fought using my 2mm troops on a gridded gameboard. I no longer have the rules, but they were essentially a mash-up of the DBA command rules with the Battle Cry combat rules. I still have my 2mm set-up. Here is an example:

A Redgravian army advances on an Imperial city.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Couple of Down in Flames Pictures

I recently reviewed Dan Versenn Game's Down in Flames. I began a campaign - Poland 1939. The first mission was a cakewalk for the Germans. I randomly rolled to determine assets (normally, the players pick their assets), and ended with a single Polish P11c against a Bf 109 E and Bf 110 escorting a single Stuka.

Here is a somewhat blurry picture.

The P11c did manage to score some hits on the Stuka, but then the escorts came in and blasted the Pole from the skies. The Stuka's bombs then damaged its target, a Polish airfield.

In this picture, my cat Cooper decided to take on the Luftwaffe.

I played 2 missions of the campaign. Naturally, the Germans are winning but they are doing worse than historical. I should finish up the campaign, but the revolution in Grayrock is calling to me!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My "Portable Wargame" Set-Up

Akin to Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, I put together my own board today. It is a very simple set-up for use with my Risk figures. The board is set up for the Battle of Maraconi, which will be the first battle of a Restless Revolutionaries campaign set in my imagi-nations of Francesia.

The board, measuring 12" x 18", is made of an olive felt attached to a foam core backing. It is divided into 2" squares. Hills are cork. Woods are represented by a tree made of railroad modelers moss attached to toothpicks. Houses are just wood cubes. Troops are attached to wooden bases. All the terrain items were purchased from Michael's.

I will probably make some modifications over time. 2" squares don't hold as many troop stands as I'd like, so I may make a bigger board. I will probably remake the trees using model railroad foliage clusters, as the moss seems a bit too flimsy. Yet I'll be giving this board a tryout fairly soon. Stay tuned for a battle report!

Review of Down in Flames

Down in Flames (by Dan Versenn Games) is a series of card games that re-create aerial combat during World War II (although there are versions for other eras). I owned the original version of the game, which came out in the 90s, but I got rid of it after I bought a PlayStation and started playing aviation video games. Now that I am eschewing electronic games in favor of some old school fun, I recently purchased Down in Flames – Aces High, the first game in the new edition.

 Players “pilot” one or more planes, which are represented by aircraft cards. Movement is handled abstractly; instead of plotting on a hex map or board, the relative positions of the aircraft are represented. For example, if I make a successful maneuver and find myself tailing my enemy, my aircraft card is placed behind the enemy’s, with my nose facing its tail. There are 5 positions: neutral (facing each other), advantaged, disadvantaged (the advantaged plane faces the side of the disadvantaged one, tailing, or tailed (tailing is behind the tailed).

For each plane, players draw a hand of action cards, which they play to maneuver or to shoot at the enemy. Cards can also be used to react to an opponent’s card, negating their attempted maneuver. A player needs the right card to be able to shoot, so you may be tailing your opponent but still may not be able to line them up in your sights.

The games is quick (a 1 vs. 1 dogfight only takes a few minutes to play) and fairly simple. Yet it still manages to create the feel of a chaotic dogfight. You may make a maneuver (play a card), but then your enemy responds with a maneuver of his own, however he fails to counter your next maneuver! You have him in your sights – fire away! The give and take is quick and exciting. One possible drawback of the game is that, like all card games, you may find yourself without a card you need. Hand management is a big part of the strategy of the game. Knowing when to use your cards and how to bide your time until you get the card you want is key. In a sense, it seems realistic. Fighter pilots are trained to manage their aircraft’s energy to make effective attacks or defenses. In this game, cards represent energy. Note that, like real life, you will gain energy (cards) when diving and lose it while climbing.

The game includes bomber cards, but they serve best during the included campaign scenarios. Each scenario (such as the Battle of Britain or Midway) involves a series of missions. Players choose the specific target and the resources (e.g. aircraft, anti-aircraft artillery, etc.) committed to each mission. The mission is played out using the dogfight rules. Unlike the older edition, flak and bombing are not random but are based on chosen bombing and artillery patterns. This is designed to remove lucky draws from impacting the campaign results. I haven’t tried a campaign with this edition yet, but it also seems that the new rules will speed up the game (I remember getting bogged down drawing cards to resolve AA and bombing when I played the older version).

One other improvement is that the new version includes aircraft and campaigns from all theaters of the war. The original edition only covered the Battle of Britain. Later expansions added the late war Allied bombing campaigns and the Pacific War. If you wanted to jump around, you needed the expansions. Now, you only need one set (although they do have expansions that add more planes; but it seems that all the most popular planes are in Aces High).

After getting it, I have played 2 games with my wife Elizabeth. Both were 1 vs. 1 dogfights. In the first, her Messerschmitt flamed my Spitfire but I retaliated in the second when my Messerschmitt shot down her Russian fighter (I wish I could remember which one it was). I remember playing the original version solo, and that is my plan. I also began one of the campaigns. Overall, this is a clever game that replicates the feel of a dogfight. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I received these about a week ago, which I bought from e-bay.

Here is a close-up.

They came as a surprise because I forgot that I had purchased them. I originally planned to build up 10mm armies for my Francesia reboot. I have some Scruby miniatures from Historifigs and wanted to supplement them with some cheap figures. These inexpensive Risk figures seemed an excellent option.

I have changed my mind since then. My aging eyes can’t handle painting such small figures anymore. I turned to 15mm, and placed an order for some of Irregular’s miniatures; I am waiting for them to arrive from the UK. That left me with a dilemma on what to do with these guys.

Then, inspiration struck, thanks to Bob Cordery's Wargaming Miscelllany blog. He posted an interesting campaign idea called Restless Revolutionaries. I began thinking about running a revolution in Francesia. The scenario was obvious: Grayrock would revolt against its Bluderian masters. But what figures would I use? My Irregular order was slated to building the armies of the Empire and Redgrave. Aha! I can use these Risk figures!

I need to make a run to Michael's for some supplies to make terrain, but I hope to start the revolution soon!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Some Great Reading

My goal with this blog is to post twice a week (once on the weekend and once during the week). I have been remiss from posting, or even playing games, because I found some awesome reading for my Nook. While poking around for stuff on war games, I discovered that a number of books written by Donald Featherstone have been reprinted and are now available.

Featherstone is generally considered the father of modern miniature wargaming. In 1962, he published a book called War Games (the recently republished edition is shown below)

This work inspired a generation of wargamers and helped the hobby grow. I never had a chance to read it before now (it was out of print for many a year) but my father had a copy of another Featherstone book, War Game Campaigns. The pictures of ranks upon ranks of little soldiers doing battle, along with the vivid descriptions of their exploits, filled me with a desire to build up my own armies. Without Featherstone, I may never have started in this hobby.

Fortunately, many of these tomes of the early days of the hobby are now back in print, thanks to the efforts of John Curry's History of Wargaming Project. I downloaded a boatload of these books to my Nook last week and have been devouring them ever since. If you have any interest in wargaming, I highly recommend checking out some of these classics.

Von Scmutzer Arrives!

Previously, I posted a review of Minden Game’s Eindekker so now I shall describe a game.

There is an optional rule to roll up your own pilot rather than use one of the famous aces. I decided to go this route and rolled up Leutnant Karl von Schmutzer. I got a lucky roll so I ended up having three skills – Initiative (gives a bonus roll in the first turn of combat), Gunner (bonus to damage inflicted) and Ace (bonus to the “maneuvering” die roll). I decided to randomly roll the mission and ended up on Combat Patrol over friendly territory.

Schmutzer’s description of the mission is in italics. My commentary on gameplay is in brackets.

As I took off, I was immediately bounced by two enemy fighters. I was still climbing and the enemies were at a higher altitude. The lead pilot dove upon me, unleashing a burst of gunfire. Hot lead ripped into the nose of my Eindekker, and its engine started sputtering. I slammed my stick back and jammed on the rudder, pulling into an Immelman that put me on the tail of my adversary. I pulled the trigger, knowing that I had no margin for error as the enemy’s comrade was screeching down upon him. But my training and the capabilities of my fine aircraft paid off, and my burst set the enemy craft ablaze. The other fighter, seeing the fate of his partner, decided to flee the battle.

[The random event roll for the first turn indicated two enemies. In the first turn of combat, only the lead plane could attack. The enemy won the dice roll, primarily because of their height advantage, and the damage roll indicated an engine hit. In the second turn, Schmutzer won the maneuvering roll against the lead fighter. The damage roll, aided by Schmutzer’s Gunner skill, indicated a destroyed aircraft. The other enemy lost its maneuvering roll against Schmutzer, so it could not fire. Because of the destruction of its partner, the remaining enemy had to roll morale. It failed so it fled.]

With damage to my engine, I had to make a choice: turn back to the safety of base or press on with the mission. Even with a victory under my belt, I could not bear the thought of running home without even reaching the mission zone, so I decided to continue. I safely reached the area behind the German trenches and began the patrol. At first, all I saw were flashes of antiaircraft artillery in the distance.

[Random event rolls indicated AA, but only if over the trench line or enemy territory. Schmutzer was over friendly territory, so there was no effect.]

Finally, I spotted a British reconnaissance plane making its way back home. I went on the attack, guns blazing, and made short work of the Brit. Convinced that I now had honorably fulfilled my mission, I decided to nurse my damaged craft back home. I made it without incident and am pleased to report the destruction of two enemy aircraft.

[With all of Schmutzer’s skills, the recon plane was at a decided disadvantage. Schmutzer easily won the maneuvering roll and the damage roll indicated a destroyed aircraft. Even though I could have patrolled for a couple more turns, I decided that Schmutzer would head back to base. All in all, it was an auspicious start to Schmutzer’s career, as he racked up 2 kills and 20 VPs.]

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review of Eindekker

In order to get away from my computer, at least for a little bit, I ordered some games that I can play solo. I had an opportunity to try one of these games, Eindekker, last week.

Eindekker, by Minden Games, is a solo game of aerial combat over the trenches of France during World War I. The player takes on the role of a famous German ace patrolling in a Fokker E.III Eindecker during 1915.

The game represents a period of 7 days. Each day, your pilot flies a mission, choosing one of three options. You can choose the safer patrol over friendly territory, extend your patrol over the trench lines, or fly low over the trenches to support your army. More dangerous missions earn more victory points. Note that there are no missions over enemy territory. During 1915, the German command prohibited its pilots to fly the Eindekkers over enemy territory because they did not want their fancy new gun synchronizers to fall into enemy hands. Thus, the game design emulates this historical nuance while serving to simplify the game.

Your mission will last a maximum of 10 turns. If you have not made it back to base by turn 10, you run out of gas and must crash land. Each turn you roll a random event, which could be an encounter with enemy aircraft, anti-aircraft fire, or some other miscellaneous happenstances. If you encounter an enemy, combat will be resolved via a series of dice rolls.

If you make it back to base, you record your victory points for the day. You get points for damaging or destroying aircraft as well as for each turn spent engaged in your mission (not including time to and from the mission zone). You lose points for damage to your aircraft. The goal is to see how many VPs you can wrack up during the 7 days. Obviously, if your pilot is KIA then you lose the game!

I have run one mission so far and enjoyed the game. It is simple and quick, yet replicates the excitement of going on patrol. The main drawback is that actual combat is abstracted into a few dice rolls. Therefore, the player really has no decisions to make during a dogfight. The main decisions occur when selecting a mission and determining when to turn home. For example, in my first game I took some damage in the first turn before I even reached the mission zone. Should I risk combat with a damaged plane and press on or play it safe and head home? (I risked it, and it paid off). Nevertheless, the lack of decisions may make this game tedious in the long run. For now, however, I like it and plan to play some more.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Welcome to Francesia

Pictured here is a map of the island of Francesia, an imaginary realm for solo wargame campaigns. 

I drew the map while Hurricane Frances was howling overhead in 2004, hence the name . Actually, the original map consisted of three large islands (Francesia being one of these islands) and one small one (Cragcoast, shown on the bottom of map). There was one island to the east and one to the south of Francesia but those maps have been lost to the ravages of time.

Francesia itself is divided into various countries, "imaginatively" named after the color of their uniforms. Redgrave and the Empire of Silverfern were the main antagonists. The Empire included a reluctant province, Drakendorf (the name came from an earlier attempt at a campaign map. I ditched the map but kept the name because I liked it). There were three smaller realms – Bluderia, Sylvania (later changed to Greenglade), and Grayrock. For purposes of the campaigns, these three were united under the Bluderian crown.

At the time, I was looking for a very simple campaign mechanism to give some meaning to solo battles I was fighting with some Irregular 2mm miniatures. Eventually, I decided to adapt the rules of the Avalon Hill classic, Diplomacy. I divided Francesia into provinces; some of which were designated as resource centers. Each realm had a number of armies equal to the resource centers they controlled. Silverfern, Bulderia, and Redgrave began with three resource centers each. Drakendorf, with two centers, was technically part of the Empire, but I decided that the Duke would act autonomously. I plotted the moves for Redgrave (later, my sympathies would shift and I began plotting for the Empire), while I randomly determined the moves of the other countries. I would transfer resulting battles to the tabletop, designating each army as consisting of 6 units. Each supporting army would contribute an additional 3 units to the battle. The type of unit (infantry, cavalry, or artillery) was determined by dice rolls. I then fought out the battle in miniature, with the loser being forced to withdraw from the province. The key to the campaign was that I did not play out all the combats as this created a slew of battles. Instead, I would choose the most interesting battle of the campaign season and play it out. The other battles would be determined by the standard Diplomacy rules. The system actually worked quite well and a stirring campaign with several battles resulted.

I have decided to resurrect this campaign, using new figures and rules. I am in the planning stages at the moment but I’m looking forward to unleashing the dogs of war soon. In the meantime, I’ll be making some posts about the history of Francesia.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Sneak Peak

I have a bit of a list of topics about which I plan to post. I don't want to inundate this blog all at once, so I will be be spreading out my posts. Nevertheless, I wanted to give people a sense of what is on tap.

Here is my list:

1. An introduction to my Francesia miniatures campaign.
2. Reports and reviews of a few games:
    a. Eindekker from Minden Games
    b. Down in Flames from DVG
    c. Dread Pirate
3. Some random wargame thoughts, such as:
    a. Turning Ace of Aces into a board game
    b. Gaming websites I like

I hope this whets your appetite. Stay tuned!

It Begins

It's not pretty yet, but we have lift off. I have started my new war-gaming blog. Over time, I'll learn how to spruce it up.

Why a war-gaming blog? I have been inspired by the many cool Imagi-nations blogs at the Emperor vs Elector site and I'd like to do something similar as I embark on a new phase in my war-gaming life.

I have been a life long gamer. I remember playing Afrika Korps and other Avalon Hill games with my Dad as a kid. From there I branched out into role-playing and miniatures in addition to board games. Recently, I have been playing a lot of computer and video games. World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls in particular have absorbed a lot of my gaming time over the past few years.

Lately, I have become a bit jaded with computer and video games (sorry Elizabeth ;)). While they are enjoyable, they lack a certain something that board games and pen and paper games seem to have. So I have decided to get back into some old school gaming. I picked up some board games for both solo play and for play with my wife Elizabeth. I even ordered some miniatures and plan to start a campaign with them.

In this blog, I'll be posting updates on my projects and battle reports from games that I play, Stay tuned!