Thursday, May 29, 2014

LnL Basics: Combat for Beginners

Lock 'n Load was one of the first squad-based tactical combat systems that I bought when I first started getting into wargaming a few years ago.  I excitedly got it back from the store, punched out my counters and sat down to play the first scenario and then I opened the rulebook in giddy anticipation.  WHAM.  I was totally unprepared for this kind of game after looking at the rules and I desperately needed a hand just to get the basics drilled into my skull before I played a game that even resembled something that the rulebook described.  

After setting up numerous scenarios and bumbling my way through them, slowly poring over the rulebook to check each and every move, I finally started to get the knack of it.  In an effort to spread the knowledge and make things a bit easier for new players, I've created a short video that shows how combat works.  It's pretty basic but I think it's enough to give new players a small headstart in learning the rules.  It's not a perfect tutorial in any way but it's an attempt to provide a small portion of the rules in a different media format.  I'm not sure if I'll continue with these kinds of videos after this one but here's something that someone may be able to use.  If I've screwed something up in the video, please let me know and I'll make some edits.  Happy hunting!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Video Playthrough - Heroes of the Gap: Air Assault

Continuing through with my video playthroughs, I've set up and played a game of "Heroes of the Gap".  In this scenario, "Air Assault", the Americans are caught by surprise as the Soviets send in airborne helicopter assault troops in a pre-dawn raid to capture three vital objectives in Eisenbach.  The Americans have a small garrison here and attempt to fend off the Spetsnaz troops for as long as they can while help is on the way.

I really enjoyed playing through this scenario.  It incorporates some of the best elements of Heroes of the Gap.  There are helicopters, air strikes, anti-tank missiles, and an M-1 Abrams tank.  I thought the folks at LnLP did a nice job of creating some specific module rules that accounted for modern weaponry.  They also did a nice job of creating scenarios that let it all shine.  "Air Assault" is a really good example of one of those scenarios.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

GDW Twilight: 2000 - Last Battle: A Review

By the late 1980s, GDW was elbow-deep in both the roleplaying and wargaming business, pumping out an impressive volume and variety of award-winning titles.  The wargaming end of the business around that time saw the release of games like Stand & Die: The Battle for Borodino, Team Yankee, and Test of Arms, which were all part of the company's new (at the time) "First Battle" series.  This series was an attempt at producing wargames that were accessible to new wargamers, boasting an easy-to-learn basic rules set that allowed new players to get the game home and start playing right away.  This was quite a shift in GDW's previous approach to wargames, which were often quite complex and meant only for hardcore wargamers (see Assault, for example).  One game, "Last Battle", was released in 1989 as part of the "First Battle" series and I'm going to talk about how and why I bought this obscure 25 year old game and the circumstances surrounding its recent intersection with my life.

Chicks, Cars, and the Third World War - Twilight: 2000 

First off, I need to explain a bit about my own background in relation to GDW as a teenage roleplayer in 1989 who was obsessed with one GDW roleplaying game in particular - Twilight: 2000. In the late 1980s, I was in my mid-teens and my friends and I were firmly a part of the much admired and extremely popular group of high school kids that spent their Friday or Saturday nights playing roleplaying games.  After the first adventure, we were hooked - Twilight: 2000 quickly became our "go to" game and we played the hell out of it for years.

To provide some background for the uninitiated, Twilight: 2000 was a roleplaying game about World War III and it was released by GDW in 1984 at the height of the late Cold War, right in the middle of Reagan and just before the arrival of Gorbachev when things were tense and it wasn't at all odd to wake up wondering if today was THE DAY when either side would push the button and the human race would finally have the distinct pleasure of kissing its collective ass goodbye.  So this game was really a product of its time and it shows through its basic premise.

In Twilight: 2000, Chadwick drew up a historical timeline that set the stage for a Sino-Soviet conflict in the mid-90s that, through a series of complex but somewhat believable events, sparked a sudden German reunification that quickly spiraled into World War III between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Central Europe.  As both sides wore each other down in a conventional conflict that went nowhere, the urge to use nukes became irresistible but instead of having an all-out strategic conflagration, they inched towards armageddon with a series of limited nuclear exchanges. 

By July of 2000, much of the world is devastated through conflict, radioactive fallout, disease, and famine but the war drags on and the US is about to launch one last major push into Poland to end the war and bring its troops back home to rebuild.  The Warsaw Pact catches the US forces with a well-timed counterattack, however, and pushes them back all the way into Germany.  

Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Twilight: 2000 and Design

The players take on the role of US soldiers who are part of this last failed NATO offensive and the game starts with the group of player characters caught behind enemy lines in Poland (around Kalisz) and they must break their way out of their predicament in order to...well, do whatever the hell they want.  Some groups of players tried to get back home while others conducted guerrilla warfare or turned to looting the countryside while others simply tried to survive.  The characters are given access to modern weapons, vehicles, and other assorted toys and let loose in a post-apocalyptic warzone to create their own destinies.   It was this freedom in particular that appealed to many players and the rules were broad enough to support the players in trying to create their own life paths through the rubble of World War III.

The game tried so hard to be realistic that I think of it as the antithesis of games like Dungeons & Dragons.  There were no spells or wizards or dragons to be found within a thousand miles of a Twilight: 2000 rulebook.  The contents of the player's guide also made it fairly clear that players would be spending most of their time trying to just survive in a harsh post-nuclear environment with danger around every corner.   You had to keep faithful track of ammunition and fuel expenditure, vehicle maintenance and upkeep, food consumption, and healing time for any wounds.  So much for setting out to save the fair maiden from the old castle near Helm's Deep. This was "reality" roleplaying at its finest.

The combat rules were complex but not overly so - Chadwick  Marc Miller was a Vietnam veteran and it's clear that he tried his best to model combat in a detailed and realistic manner but not so much that it bogged down the system.  Things like artillery, anti-tank missiles, armored combat, small arms, and heavy weapons are all handled well by the system and provide for a good play experience.  With the Twilight: 2000 roleplaying rulebook in hand, you were basically all set for a fun evening provided that your players didn't get into a huge battle.  The system was just wieldy enough to handle combat between small-ish forces (less than 10 guys per each side).  When you wanted to run bigger battles, however - and it happened quite a bit in the published adventures - the system would bog down under the strain of it all and the game quickly became unplayable.

I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) - The Arrival of "Last Battle"

To resolve this problem, GDW released a Twilight: 2000 supplement called "Last Battle", which provided roleplayers with a way to resolve larger-scale combat between two forces.  GDW released this as part of the "First Battle" series and I suspect that they were hoping that the wargame-y mechanics of "Last Battle" would appeal to the grognards as well as those who had never heard of Twilight: 2000 and would otherwise want nothing to do with a roleplaying game.  At the same time, I'm sure GDW was hoping that "Last Battle" would make enough of an impact on roleplayers that it would serve as a gateway game to introduce Twilight: 2000 players to GDW's wargame products line.  This notion is certainly supported by the blurb on the back of the box, which claims that "Last Battle" is both a roleplaying supplement and a standalone boardgame.

I'm not sure the gamble paid off.  I can remember dismissing "Last Battle" as too much of a wargame (something I was not interested at all in at the time) and I'm sure there were more than a few wargamers who dismissed the product as simply a roleplaying supplement and not a "real wargame". Were people just confused by this product?  I always got the impression, perhaps wrongly, that "Last Battle" was an effort by GDW to fuse together their roleplaying and wargaming lines.  Although I'm not real clear on the history here, the fact that GDW didn't really attempt anything similar to this afterwards shows that it probably didn't work. I think it says a lot that the game is largely ignored on boardgamegeek and not even listed on rpggeek.  Most people today would look at "Last Battle" and think, "What the hell is this thing?" and that's basically what people thought 25 years ago too.

Anyway, you open up "Last Battle" and you get about 15 pages of rules along with a scenario book that has about 10 scenarios in it featuring forces of various size.  The scenarios are all based on battles from various Twilight: 2000 published adventures, from classics like "Armies of the Night" and "The Ruins of Warsaw".  I couldn't help think about how all of these various scenarios with different forces would probably never make sense to someone with no background knowledge of Twilight: 2000  ("Why are the French fighting the Americans?"  Why is a street gang in New York fighting the US Army?") but would be instantly recognizable to anyone who loved the roleplaying game.

The counters aren't anything special but they contain all the essential information and they're easy to read.  I greatly appreciated the fact that the counters were numbered according to their colors, which made it easier to distinguish between counters on opposing sides (I'm colorblind and telling brown from green is very tough for me).

There are 6 paper maps included with the game and although they aren't terribly exciting in terms of color or appearance, they work well in terms of providing enough playing space for all your counters in their individual hexes, especially handy since there are no stacking limits for soldiers.

When Doves Cry - My First Impressions of "Last Battle" as a Wargame

Playing through my first game of "Last Battle", the U.S. Army faced off against the Los Diablos gang in New York City.  The Diablos had an advantage in numbers but the Army had veteran troops and better weapons so the New York street gang managed to take out one or two soldiers before getting completely wiped out.  So far, so good - but it was nothing too exciting.

The second scenario I played through was based around a particular scene in the excellent adventure module, "Going Home".  In the adventure module, the  players are trying to make their way through war-torn Germany to get back to a ship that will take them back to the States.  Unfortunately, the Americans need to get through the French "neutral zone", which has been declared off-limits to all combatants.  So in this scenario, the US soldiers fight against the French.  This scenario had vehicles in it, an M2 Bradley and 2 Fast Attack Vehicles.  The French had some support weapons as well as a tankbreaker anti-tank missile launcher.  This is where things got pretty ridiculous.

American M2 Bradley advances on the enemy position after getting hit twice by anti-tank missiles.

The M2 Bradley made it to the top of a hill and the French fired their tankbreaker and hit the vehicle.  I rolled on the damage table and got...a "radio damaged" result.  Wait a second.  An anti-tank missile managed a direct hit on the M2 Bradley (on the top of the IFV) and the radio got broken?  The French fired again in a subsequent turn and this time, the turret was completely destroyed but the vehicle was still able to drive around no problem with all crew members alive and inside.  Something was wrong here.

Another problem soon hit me too.  Since your troops have different levels of experience, they all get different modifiers to their "to hit"  and save rolls.  Keeping track of which of your guys had what experience on a crowded map became an exercise in frustration, especially when their were no counters to show experience and guys kept moving around, getting killed, replaced with other counters, etc.  So I really started to dislike this game...and then something wonderful happened.

Don't Worry Be Happy - "Last Battle" as a Roleplaying Supplement

I had a couple of beers.

I came back to the gaming table, a bit reluctantly, and threw caution to the wind.  I guessed at experience levels, I guessed at damage tables, I even guessed whose turn it was.  And I had fun!  Lots of it.  I could suddenly sense that this game, played around a crowded table by a group of teenagers in 1989 with pretzels and bad music in the background and the occasional conversational diversion about how much the latest Miami Vice episode sucked, might work alright provided no one worried too much about following the rules to a tee or fretted over achieving realistic outcomes.  After I stopped approaching "Last Battle" as a serious wargame and looked at it as a roleplaying supplement or a beer and pretzels kind of game, it actually became somewhat enjoyable.

As part of the "First Battle" series, "Last Battle" doesn't measure up to the other products in the lineup.  As a way of resolving large battles in a roleplaying universe using some quick and easy rules, however, it's a pretty decent effort.  As a Twilight: 2000 fan, GDW deserves some praise for offering a product that solved a problem in the game but it's easy to see why it probably didn't get much love from wargamers despite trying to cast itself as such.  I don't know how often I'll be putting this game on the table, but I suspect that when I start to get nostalgic for that time and place, "Last Battle" might scratch the itch for a fun evening of mindless gaming - beer in hand, of course.

(Update:  In the original post, I incorrectly stated that Frank Chadwick was a Vietnam veteran.  In fact, it was Marc Miller who served in Vietnam.  My sincere apologies to both men.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dawn's Early Light - Video Playthrough - Day Four Report

It's the final day of the battle as Pact and NATO forces slug it out to see who wins control of the Eisenbach Gap.  The shattered remnants of the 1st Panzer Division and the West German Territorials try desperately to hang on and keep Stahlhammer Air Force Base as an armored tsunami threatens to engulf them.

Meanwhile, American forces attempt to cut the line of communication between Eisenbach and the Soviet rear, pushing every man and piece of equipment across the bridges in the southwest.  The Soviets seem to have victory within their tenuous grasp but any mistake can spell disaster at this point.  Tune in for the shocking conclusion to the scenario 1 playthrough of Corps Command:  Dawn's Early Light!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dawn's Early Light - Video Playthrough - Day Three Report

Corps Command:  Dawn's Early Light continues on!  The Soviets have made some impressive gains in the last couple of game days.  With the road almost open to Stahlhammer AFB and the West Germans rapidly falling to the onslaught of the 1st Guards Tank Division, it seems that the Soviets have their first victory point in sight.

Eisenbach is also currently held by the Soviets but American reinforcements may help turn the tide and keep the Warsaw Pact from winning this one outright.

At the end of day 2, we pull new asset chits for both sides.  NATO gets to pull 5 asset chits while the Pact only pulls three.  On the other hand, the Pact player will get 1 regiment from the 33rd MRD rolling on the board every impulse of Day 3.  Can NATO stand up to the pressure and push back against the Russians?  The game ends after day 4 so the decisions each player makes will be critical in the coming day.  Check out the video report below for how day 3 progressed.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dawn's Early Light - Video Playthrough - Day Two Report

For those of you following my current video playthrough of Dawn's Early Light, here's the report from Day 2.  

The first day of the war started with the Soviets pushing towards Eisenbach and Eben and things got very tense as NATO braced itself for the onslaught of the Warsaw Pact tanks and infantry as they poured into the Eisenbach Gap.

The West Germans are protecting the narrow strip of terrain to the north, hoping to hang on to Stahlhammer Air Force Base.  Here's the report below as the clash continued on day two!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dawn's Early Light - Video Playthrough - Day One Report

Continuing on with my video report of my recent playthrough of Corps Command:  Dawn's Early Light, here's the report from Day 1.  During the game, I stopped playing at the end of each impulse and gave a brief overview of what happened.  I'll be posting the rest of the videos throughout the next several days so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dawn's Early Light - Video Playthrough: Setup & Intro

Sometimes it's hard to document everything you want through a still camera, especially in games where there's a heck of a lot happening at once.  At best you can end up with a pretty basic description of what happened on your table while missing out on some interesting details and at worst, the result is a confusing mess of a report that no one can understand.  I've tried to document games of Dawn's Early Light before but was never really satisfied with the end result.

Since I've gotten a video camera recently, however, I've found that I'm able to convey the actions in some games in a much different way.  I still enjoy writing - don't get me wrong!  But I'm enjoying the idea of using different media to make my reports.

 As a result, I'm releasing a mini-series of video updates dealing with my current game of Corps Command:  Dawn's Early Light.  After each impulse in the game, I stop the action and talk a bit about what's happened.  It may be a bit more detailed than some people would like but fans of Dawn's Early Light (or people who are interested in watching and listening to a more detailed playthrough of games) might enjoy it.

Without further ado, here's the introduction video for my most recent game of Dawn's Early Light, playing the scenario of the same name.  This is the setup and introduction. I'll be updating with an impulse-by-impulse report of the action over the days ahead.  Enjoy!