So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Red Baron Flies Again - A Review of Wings of Glory

Nearly everyone knows that Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, was the German pilot with 80 kills during World War I.  This made him the most successful pilot of the war, despite the fact that he died seven months before the end.  He is well known for shooting down most of these planes in his red Fokker Dr.I tri-plane, which gave him his name.

Except he didn't.

The Red Baron's Albatros D.III
As it turns out, most of his kills were in an Albatros D.III, (also painted red) the plane in which he actually earned his reputation.  Richthofen was killed in his Fokker, though, if that makes you feel any better.

Don't worry, I didn't know this either.

What I did know was that you can recreate WWI aerial combat in a way that completely captures the imagination.  Wings of Glory is an incredible game that recaptures the romance and adventure of the era in 1:144 scale.  In this game, any number of people take to the air in their various aircraft, ready to shoot each other down, bomb targetsor strafe trenches (but mostly to shoot each other down).  The game has a lot going for it, including different maneuvers, weaponry and damage tolerance for different types of aircraft, as well as damage which impacts the ability to fly, miniatures.

Promotional Image of Wings of Glory
Each turn consists of two phases: planning and execution. During the planning phase each player select three moves from the deck of maneuver cards which are tailored to his aircraft's flight characteristics.  Everyone in the game is doing this simultaneously, so it happens very quickly.  The next phase is movement and firing together.  Each player uses his first maneuver card to physically move his aircraft.  When this is done by everyone, a range check is made, and if someone has a shot they give a random damage card to their target.  This is done for all three maneuvers, and then the next turn begins.  This continues until all the planes of one side have taken damage up to their planes damage limit, which is once again specific to each model of aircraft.  It's a straightforward affair.

I really love this game for several reasons:

Awesomeness. Did mention this game has miniatures?  I am really trying to not let this game become my rabbit hole, but it's hard.  There is a lot of cool stuff available for this game.  First of all, there are the miniatures (did I... never mind) that represent the aircraft.  For each of the aircraft models produced, there are three paint schemes available, and there are over a dozen models.  One can rack up quite a collection, and it's hard to resist doing so.  Additionally, there are game mats, which help keep maneuver cards from sliding around or spinning.  They are printed like giant computer mouse-pads, and have the French countryside portrayed on them as you would see from an altitude.  There are three different versions; one with farmland, one with a coastline, and one with towns on it.  They are designed so that any number of them can be put together as you desire; the rivers and roads line up no matter how it's done.  This really makes it an immersive game.

The French Spad XIII is in serious trouble, the Red Baron is coming with help!
This is a picture of three of the models I own on a countryside play mat (pay no
attention to the shadows!).
Fast play.  The planning portion of player's turns can happen simultaneously, and at times moves can be executed at the same time, too.  This keeps everyone involved nearly all the time.  Because of this, my son and I get in a game in about a half hour, even with each of us flying two planes.  Want to go again?  Resetting the game is a matter of reshuffling the damage decks and moving the planes back to a starting position.

Add your own complexity.  Wings of Glory can be played with very little complexity, or more as a simulation.  At it's most complex, there can be critical damage on a card (such as a fire), altitude, and limits on which maneuvers can be done in series (reflecting the aerobatic limits of the aircraft).   At its simplest, you move the planes and use just the points on the damage decks for firing.  This makes it a game for the hard core gamer, but also the under 10 years-old crowd - just add rules to taste.

Gaming communities.  There are Wings of Glory groups meeting in local clubs and online.  They share historical information, scenarios, playing aids, and the local (offline?) groups may have tournaments.  This can be a lifestyle game, like chess or Bridge.  Not only can this be fun, but that kind of community backing means the game will stay around.

This is my son's favorite game.  Okay, this is a very personal reason, but I have to go with it.  He will pick this over anything else.  I'm all for that!  One the other hand, maybe this is a good reason for everyone.  After all, he's 15 and playing this instead of some electronic twitch game.

Now, this game isn't really a game; it's really more of a game system.  First, you buy the rules, damage decks, and all of the things you need to play a game except the aircraft.  Those are sold separately.  Which aircraft you buy are entirely up to you.  They are sold individually, though there are some duel packs with one Allied plane and one German plane.  I would recommend the duel packs, since they are evenly matched aircraft.  Unless you know a little about WWI aircraft history, it would be possible to buy two planes individually and have one plane have a strong advantage.

This version of wings of war features
the Red Baron's Fokker Dr.I as a card
Their is another option.  Originally, Wings of Glory was published as Wings of War.  Their were three versions of Wings of War, and each was a complete game.  The difference between Wings of War and Wings of Glory is that the aircraft were represented by cards instead of miniature.  Multiple versions of each aircraft design are in a Wings of War box.  I have all three versions of this game, and as a result, I can put a lot of aircraft in the air - literally dozens.  That's an advantage, because I could play a game with a lot of friends.  (I know of one game with 80 players!)  Picking up one of these games is also a little more affordable, but not much.  They can be found on eBay.  However, the downside is that the Awesomeness Factor goes way down!  My son won't even consider playing this way.

Regardless of how you play this, it is and incredible amount of fun.  Once again it's a wargame, and won't appeal to everyone.  However, with its ability to be simplified, the large range in the number of players (one of my Wings of War versions is a solitaire game against observation balloons), and short play, I have to recommend this as a great family and casual game.

Wings of Glory
  • Any number of players
  • 30+ minutes (depending on the number of players)
  • ages 8+

It's Your Move!

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 2, 1863 - Battle Cry (A Review)

July 2, 1863 was the day the North nearly lost the American Civil War.  On that day, the South nearly turned the Union flank at Little Round Top, which would have compromised the whole Union position.  As many people know, thanks to famous scene in the movie Gettysburg, the feats of men like Joshua Chamberlain saved the North's position and turned the tide of the Civil War.

On July 4, 1863, Lee began his withdrawal.  One hundred fifty years later, my son and I sat down and replayed the events at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, and the surrounding area in the game Battle Cry.  The similarities and differences to history were interesting.  Both from a historical and gaming perspective, it made sense for me to take Little Round Top and attempt to turn the Union flank.  I focused on Devil's Den first, and paid for it.  The heaviest losses were suffered there for both sides.  At first, it looked like the Union (my son) was going to hold Devil's Den and use it as a base to advance, but my artillery and concentrated rifle fire were the source of the Union's heavy casualties.

At the same time, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield played only minor roles.  The Union actually crossed the Emmetsburg Road in front of the Peach Orchard, and assaulted the South's troops in the woods.  The casualties there were pretty high, too.

In the end, the Union won.

Battle Cry is a tactical wargame designed for two players to revisit Civil War battles.  It is the first of the Command & Colors system designed by Richard Borg, and is reputed to be the simplest of them.  Each side has troops which reflect the troops that actually participated in the historical battle.  On your turn, you will play a card from your hand that will determine what troops can be ordered.  Ordered troops may move or battle, and generally can do both.  The terrain of the battlefield impacts the ability to move and fire effectively, and shapes the way the game is played.  At the end of your turn you draw another card.  The goal is to eliminate six of your opponents army units or generals in combination.

Certainly, Battle Cry is light for a wargame; in general the wargame genre is characterized by several hours of very detailed interaction.  Don't get the idea that this is the Stratego or Broadside you had as a kid, or anything like the American Heritage game Battle-Cry. This game definitely gives some feel for the tactical decisions and frustrations that were faced in July of 1863.  I really enjoy Battle Cry, and it definitely fits in the family game closet.  Here's why:

Simplicity.  Many tactical games come closer to a simulation.  I like those too; they often deal with very specific issues for the battle they portray - supply, multiple types of weaponry, and many types of terrain.  Battle Cry has three types of units: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  They also toss in leaders.  There are only a few types of terrain, but enough to portray the battlefield in broad strokes and influence the course of the battle.  This simplicity means that it's easy to learn for children as well as casual gamers.  It also means that games last 45 minutes to an hour - much shorter than your average wargame.

Scenarios.  Battle Cry has a plain battlefield out of the box.  That is to say it models flat, open ground with a hexagonal pattern superimposed on it.  Terrain comes in the form of hexagonal tiles, which are set on the board to reproduce the actual battlefield.  There is a pretty good supply of terrain tiles, and the fact that they are placed means they can be moved around to simulate other battlefields.  In fact, the game comes with 15 different battle scenarios; each one is a historic battle of the Civil War.  There are two for Gettysburg: the one I described above, and a scenario for Pickett's Charge.  (We've played this one before and it was extremely close to the historical result; the South charged right up to the Union lines and was repulsed.)  There is a lot of replayability in the box.

Command and Control.  The use of cards to determine which troops will act in a turn adds a level of command complexity.  While you may know you want to take that hill, you may not have the card that allows you to move the nearby troops.  This reflects the frustration of the battlefield general who cannot get his troops to execute in a timely manner, if at all.  However, this is done so elegantly with the cards that it doesn't add to the game's complexity.

Confederate soldiers begin their march towards the Peach Orchard
Awesomeness. Often the units of a wargame are cardboard chits or wooden blocks.  Not this game.  This game comes with little army men in action poses, which are colored blue for the North and gray for the South.  I know I played with my cousin's army men for hours.  This is playing with army men with rules!  These figures are not just for show.  Taking figures off the board actually reflects a units losses.  A high Awesomeness Factor and functionality make this a great feature.

This is the new version of the game, available now.
(Promotional image)
I will admit this game is not for everyone.  Wargames will not appeal to all.  They do portray violence, though not in the same graphic detail that many video games do.  At the same time, I have had some great conversations about the nature of war and our nation's history as a result of playing these games.

The version I have is out of print, but a few years ago it was reprinted as a 150th Civil War Anniversary edition.  There are a few tweaks to the rules, but all-in-all it's the same game.  This game is a little more expensive than your normal hobby game, but given the contents and replayability, it is definitely worth it.  I highly recommend it.

It's Your Move!

Battle Cry
  • 2 players
  • 45 - 60 minutes
  • ages 10+
Recommended / Kid friendly

Monday, July 1, 2013

So, Frankly, why?

Why is this man blogging? We all know life can be pretty demanding.  We have to be at work, we volunteer time at church (or Scouts, or coaching or all of the above!).  We have to run kids around to their activities.  Somewhere in all of this we need to eat and sleep. 

And relax, right?

This blog is about how I relax.  Whether that’s my monthly, scheduled gaming group, camping for the weekend with Scouts, or just stealing a few moments out of the day for an online chess move, this is where I will talk about it.  Primarily it will be about boardgaming, and often about chess, but also about Scouting (and maybe coffee roasting at some point in time!).  Gaming is my main form of escapism; it takes a relatively short period of time and completely occupies the mind.  It is more social than many activities, though I do play the occasional solitaire game.  I plan to write about my playing experiences, and my adventures in teaching chess at the grade school level.   Occasionally I will provide a brief review of a game, and provide other musings of dubious quality.  Hopefully my enthusiasm will help people find more fun in the time they spend with their family and friends.  If not, I’ll still have fun.  

I am blogging for primarily two reasons:

I hope my enthusiasm will encourage more people to try boardgames.  Spending quality, interactive time with family and friends can be very challenging.  I will introduce games to those who have never played many games in the past, and have no idea how much fun they are missing.

I expect to showcase a wider variety of games to those who are already family or casual gamers.  There are over 60,000 games in the BoardGameGeek database, which includes everything from TicTacToe to The Civil War (a 20 hour, two player wargame covering the entire American Civil War) and beyond.  A great number of these provide new challenges which are approachable by kids of all ages, not just the hardcore hobbyist and not just games for children.  These games that have broader appeal are the ones that tend to line my gaming shelves.  (Just ignore that copy of Panzergruppe Guderian over there…)

What qualifies me to do this?  Absolutely nothing.  A few years ago, my son received Ticket to Ride as a gift, and my time loving games was reawakened.  I started to reenter the hobby, but had trouble crossing the valley between occasional gamer and hobbyist.  It is precisely because I am not a gaming guru that I might be able to help others.  While my family’s 300+ games are a pittance compared to others, it provides me with just enough knowledge to think I know what I am talking about, and can relate to those still getting started or just wanting to play casually.

Have fun reading this.  Ask questions, tell me what you want to hear, and help me make it better.  Your comments are welcome.

It's Your Move!