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HAPPY THANKSGIVING, 2011!
Another year is rapidly approaching its end and it is again time to take note of the onset of the Holiday Season. Unfortunately, another somewhat melancholy Thanksgiving post seems all too appropriate as we gather with friends and family to celebrate this year's holiday. Much has happened since last Thanksgiving, but regrettably, very little seems to have improved from last year to this. Nonetheless, in keeping with the original spirit of this special day, I remain hopeful that 2012 will see a happier and more prosperous holiday than this one for us all.
Of course, nowadays, in spite of its religious antecedants, the final Thursday of November is, for the vast majority of Americans, almost exclusively a secular holiday that is mainly associated with family gatherings, turkey dinners, and football. It is also — famously or infamously depending on one's point of view — the day that preceeds the peculiarly American commercial free-for-all known as "Black Friday". Nonetheless, as we make our separate arrangements to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends, let us all take a moment to remember those whose lives and circumstances have been made more precarious by our nation’s ongoing economic problems. And let us also set aside a little time to remember those who wear our country's uniform, and who presently serve in faraway and often perilous places on our behalf. This year, like the two preceding it, has been a challenging time for a great many Americans, but let us hope and pray that the year to come will be a better one for all of our fellow citizens, both friends and strangers, alike.
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BPA Posts This Year’s WBC Tournament “After Action Reports”It’s that time of year again. Don Greenwood and his tireless (and largely unpaid) minions have at last made available the long-awaited — at least by me — event recaps from the 2011 WBC Convention Tournaments.
Speaking for myself, even in those years when I put aside my deep dislike for air travel and make the trek back to Lancaster, I still look forward to checking on the results of the various tournaments: reviewing the different reports always brings back a flood of pleasant memories both of friendships renewed and of the whole recently-past convention experience. Moreover, these reports, besides being interesting in their own right, are an excellent way for players to do a little research on the specific gaming events that they are considering entering at some future date; and, I should add, they are also a great way for players to check on the tournament fortunes of their friends within the hobby.
As a final note, I strongly encourage those visitors to this blog who are specifically interested in past or future WBC Conventions, or who have a more general interest in high-level tournament play, to visit http://www.boardgamers.org/. I'm pretty sure that you won't be disappointed.
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A question a few days ago from one of this blog's visitors regarding the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table got me to reminiscing about the early days of "play-by-mail" gaming. It was, for those of us who were in the hobby at the time, an interesting, if occasionally frustrating period. And while I don't claim that the personal recollections that I am about to recount regarding this long-past era are totally correct in all of their particulars, they are, nonetheless, accurate enough to satisfy the relaxed requirements of this somewhat whimsical look back at the rise and fall of "postal" gaming.
A long, long time ago, before Al Gore invented the Internet (or discovered that there was money to be made lecturing the rest of us about the weather), wargamers who wanted to expand the available pool of opponents beyond their immediate circle of family and friends (and honestly, how many times can you beat your younger brother at D-DAY before he loses interest, anyway?) had only two viable options. On the one hand, they could travel to the small number of sparsely-attended tournament conventions (this was before the advent of "Origins") which — during the "Jurassic" era of wargaming — were usually organized either by the earnest, but affable loons from the Spartan International Competition Society (SICS), or by the somewhat more reality-grounded members of the Avalon Hill International Kriegspiel Society (AHIKS); alternatively, they could try their hand at playing wargames by mail. Attending tournaments was a problem for a lot of us back then because there just weren't all that many of them to start with. Moreover, those that did get past the planning stage — or so it appeared to those of us living on the West Coast — always seemed to end up being hosted at least half a continent away (usually in Baltimore). Under those circumstances, it is probably not surprising that quite a few avid gamers (me included) turned to play-by-mail (PBM) as a less satisfying but cheaper (you could buy an awful lot of stamps for what it cost to trek to a wargame convention) substitute for tournament "chasing". However, inexpensive or not, it turned out that playing wargames by mail, besides being slow (the U.S. Postal Service isn't called "snail mail" for nothing), presented players with a completely new set of problems. Which is to say, once a gamer decided to take up postal competition, successfully tracking down a reliable opponent (a bigger challenge than one might think, in the early days) and actually getting a game started was a bit daunting; particularly because, in the beginning, no one except for those actually involved in the first pioneering efforts to promote PBM play (the aforementioned SICS and AHIKS, augmented by a few independent gamers) seemed especially interested in helping players with this side of the hobby.
THE 'POSTAL' COMBAT RESOLUTION PROBLEM
The "Honor" System
The "Matrix" System
THE NYSE Stock Sales SystemThe third method of PBM combat resolution would probably never have come into use if its predecessors had not been so unsatisfactory. As already noted, the "Honor" approach to die-rolling was, for obvious reasons, out of the question for everyone except, perhaps, for Tom Oleson or Nelson Mandela, and, just as clearly, the "Matrix" system was both too error-prone and too awkward for the majority of non-AHIKS players. So, given that neither of these approaches really worked all that well, the question on most postal wargamers' minds was: what actually would? Which is to say, what kind of relatively simple-to-use (and inexpensive: most of us, after all, were students in those days) mechanism was there, already widely available, that could reliably generate hundreds, if not thousands, of tamper-proof random numbers day after day. The answer to this question, happily both for Avalon Hill and for a growing fraternity of PBM players, turned out to have literally been lying on most people's doorstep from the very beginning; and that was: the New York Stock Exchange stock reports that could be found in the financial sections of virtually every daily newspaper in the country. This idea, in its own way, was a major breakthrough. The key to this system lay with the information on stock transactions transmitted by the NYSE to the wire services at the end of each trading day. These reports, which covered virtually every individual security traded on the NYSE, listed the high and low prices for every stock traded on the exchange; they also reported the sales volume, in hundreds of thousands of shares, for those same stocks. Assuming players stuck to those stocks reported with large numbers of daily transactions, this "sales in hundreds" tabulation was a perfect mechanism for generating random numbers.
The Birth of the D10 "Postal" CRT
The Return of the "Original" D6 CRT
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Sometimes what initially seems like a "hare-brained" idea, upon reflection, doesn't seem "hare-brained" at all. Such is the case with the idea of a STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament. Many of us who were first approached about the idea were skeptical, but, after kicking the idea around for awhile, a lot of us former "skeptics" have decided to climb on board. Thus, after over thirty or so years and against the odds, it really does look like there actually may be a new STALINGRAD tournament shaping up.
For starters, to maximize the gaming opportunities of the participating players, the competition — instead of using a "winner take all" Single Elimination format — will be organized along the lines of a "Swiss" style multi-round tournament so that players who suffer an early defeat will still have a chance to fight their way back and to gain a shot at making it into the "final four". In addition, because of the well-known pro-Russian bias associated with the standard version of STALINGRAD, several special tournament rules have been added to even the playing field for the Axis players. As might be expected, Soviet replacements in the tournament matches will be computed using the already popular, "reduced" 4-5-6 replacement schedule. However, the standard game's Turn Record Track will be extended by two full months; that is: all of the games in this tournament will end at the conclusion of the July '43 game turn (26 game turns), instead of at the conclusion of its regular end date of May '43 (24 game turns). In addition to an increase in the number of game turns, the Axis player — to further improve play-balance — will (on a one-time basis) be allowed, prior to the commencement of each new match, to stipulate whether both players will be required to use the traditional D6 Avalon Hill Combat Results Table, or whether the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table (a "downloadable" file of this CRT will be made available for those players who do not already possess their own copy) will instead be used to resolve ALL combats for the duration of the game in question.
As things now stand, the actual PBeM game platform to be used in individual tournament matches will be left to the players to decide among themselves (please note that there are several gaming sites that currently support STALINGRAD play, including VASSAL, Cyberboard, and Zun Tzu); in those situations where there are compatibility or download problems, however, rather than being locked-out of competition, players will be able to resort to a spreadsheet format such as the one already posted on this blog.
Consimworld STALINGRAD Forum in order to peruse the tournament discussion which is currently still in progress, a link has been provided at the bottom of this page. Please note that new visitors can drop in on any of the Consimworld Forums at any time, without having to formally join the forum community; however, if a "guest" decides to participate directly in the ongoing discussions in one or more of these game-related groups, then he or she must sign up and pay a nominal membership fee to the hosting site, Consimworld.
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Up until a few days ago, I had planned on writing a completely new piece to commemorate the return of Veterans Day; however, upon reviewing the short essay on this little-understood holiday that I first published last year, I have decided that I really don't have anything new to add to the sentiments already expressed herein.
November 11th: A Day of Remembrance and Thanksgiving
A Brief History of this Special Day of Remembrance
After the guns became silent in 1918, many European countries came to commemorate November 11th as a day of remembrance and thanksgiving. In the British Commonwealth, the red Poppy became the symbol for the end of the First World War’s bloodshed and the advent of peace, and remains so to this day.
Across the Atlantic, American President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the national observance of the first Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. Seven years later, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution calling for the President to again declare a formal observance of November 11th as a day of remembrance for all those Americans who had fallen during the Great War. Finally, on 13 May, 1938, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to make Armistice Day a legal holiday.
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NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES is a set of four games, each of which simulates a different battle in Napoleon's short-lived 1815 campaign against the British and Prussian armies in Belgium. Each of the games that make up the NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES Quadrigame can be played individually, or they can be combined to allow players to simulate the entire three-day campaign. The four major engagements depicted in this collection are the battles of LIGNY, QUATRE BRAS, WAVRE, and LA BELLE ALLIANCE (WATERLOO). All of the games in this set, including the CAMPAIGN GAME, were designed by Kevin Zucker. NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES was first published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in 1976. This game was later reissued (with some modifications), first under the TSR label, and then by Decision Games.
Confronted by an alliance that, when fully assembled, would outnumber his own forces by more than four-to-one, Napoleon decided to strike first. Gathering what available troops could be spared from other fronts, some 123,000 men in all, Napoleon force marched his newly-raised Armée du Nord towards the enemy encampments near the French border and, on the 15th of June, stole across the Sambre River into Belgium. Once his army had advanced within striking-distance of his enemies, Bonaparte’s plan of campaign, based on his theory of the “central position,” was simple: he would drive the Armée du Nord between the dispersed bivouacs of Wellington and Blücher, and then defeat each enemy army in turn before they could combine their forces against him.
Players win in NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES by inflicting a certain level of casualties on the opposing force or forces. This casualty requirement will vary from scenario to scenario, and from army to army. Moreover, it can take one of two forms: Demoralization, which, in the case of the French, results in their immediate defeat, but in the case of both the Anglo-Allies and the Prussians merely eliminates their ability to advance after combat; and Disintegration (requiring a higher number of casualties than that of Demoralization) which immediately signals the defeat of the P.A.A. force or forces involved in the action.
THE INDIVIDUAL GAMES
is a simulation of the first major battle of Napoleon's 1815 campaign. The Prussian commander, Field Marshal Prince Blücher von Wahlstadt — instead of retiring in the face of the unexpected French advance — chose to offer battle near the town of Ligny. The Prussian positions were generally strong with the main part of the Prussian army deployed around the village of Ligny and on the high ground to the northwest of the town. As a further barrier to enemy movements, a series of shallow streams wove through and around the town; collectively these were known as Ligny Brook. In addition to favorable terrain, Blücher's command, which totaled about 84,000 men and 224 guns, actually outnumbered the opposing French forces, which numbered only 75,000 men and 212 guns. Nonetheless, the French — under the personal direction of Napoleon and undeterred by their foe's numerical advantage — commenced an assault against the Prussian line at about two o'clock in the afternoon. For much of the day, the Prussians held their attackers at bay; however, because of the exposed positions of many of the Prussian units, the French artillery was able to exact a terrible toll on Blücher's troops. By evening, the Prussians had committed the last of their reserves and the entire army was nearing the limit of its endurance; at this point, and with the light rapidly fading, Napoleon ordered the elite infantry of the Imperial Guard forward supported by a division of heavy cavalry. The Prussian line bent and then buckled in the face of this last ferocious assault. Fortunately for Blücher, who had been injured when his horse fell on him late in the action, darkness allowed the beaten Prussians to withdraw unmolested and in relatively good order: the victorious French were too exhausted to organize a pursuit until the next morning. Prussian losses were heavy with probably somewhere between 12-20,000 killed, wounded, and captured, while another 8-10,000 abandoned the fight completely and deserted for home. French casualties were considerably lower, with most estimates placing Napoleon's losses at around 6,500-7,000 men killed and wounded. Ligny, there can no doubt, was a significant French tactical success; unfortunately, it had not been the decisive victory that Napoleon had needed. The Prussian army had been badly mauled; but its escape under cover of darkness guaranteed that it would survive to fight another day, and that day would come much sooner than Napoleon expected.
depicts the action at Quatre Bras between the advanced guard of Wellington's Anglo-Allied army (ultimately reinforced to about 36,000 men) and the left wing of the Armée du Nord (approximately 25,000 men) under Marshal Ney. Napoleon had instructed Ney to take possession of the vital crossroads at Quatre Bras to prevent Wellington from coming to the aid of his Prussian ally at Ligny. Unfortunately for the French, Marshal Ney, unsure as to the local strength of the Coalition forces to his front and awaiting reinforcements, postponed action for several critical hours. Finally, with no sign of the additional troops he had been promised (they were marching and counter-marching back and forth between Ligny and Quatre bras and would end up taking part in neither battle), Ney opened his assault at about 3:00 pm with a series of tentative and piecemeal attacks against what was, in the beginning, an out-numbered British (and Dutch-Belgian) detachment. The initial French advantage in rifle strength did not last, however, and although Ney's attacks were gradually able to push the enemy line back during the afternoon, the arrival on the scene both of the Duke of Wellington and of substantial Anglo-Allied reinforcements finally allowed the British, as evening approached, to counterattack the French all along the front. This assault, coming as a surprise to the tiring French troops, quickly succeeded both in wresting the initiative away from Ney, and in throwing the French back from all of the hard-won positions that they had gained earlier in the day. Ney's troops had had enough for the day, and fighting finally sputtered to an end at nightfall.
is a simulation of the battle between the right wing of the Armée du Nord, under Marshal Grouchy, and the Prussian rear guard, under General Baron von Thielmann. The troops under Thielmann, which numbered somewhere between 17,000 and 27,000 men (estimates vary widely), were tasked by Theilmann's commander, Marshal Blücher, with tying up the 33,000 men under Grouchy while the rest of the Prussian army marched to the aid of the Anglo-Allies at Waterloo. In this, the Prussian commander was successful. Grouchy, in one of the most controversial (if not incomprehensible) decisions of the entire campaign, chose — instead of immediately marching to the sound of the guns at Waterloo — to attack the Prussians to his immediate front. The casualties of the two armies were comparatively light; both the French and Prussians each losing only about 2,500 men killed and wounded. The battle of Wavre ended with a modest French victory, but Grouchy's chance to change history had slipped away. Instead, while his troops fought a largely pointless action against Thielmann's delaying forces at Wavre, the fate of the entire campaign was being decided on another battlefield only a few miles away.
depicts what is, perhaps, the most famous military engagement in European history, the Battle of Waterloo. The site at which the battle was fought, interestingly enough, had actually been pre-selected by Wellington during a tour of the Belgian countryside in the weeks leading up to the battle. The presence of several walled chateaux and the gently undulating lay of the ground had convinced the British commander that this patch of terrain offered excellent defensive advantages to the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies if they should ever be obliged to mount a defense of the Brussels Road. The site had only one worrisome defect: the forests that would likely be at the backs of a defender's lines would make the orderly retreat of an army from the battlefield, if it were defeated, next to impossible.
On the morning of 18 June 1815, the two opposing hosts, after having spent a rain-soaked night within earshot of each other, formed for battle. Wellington's polyglot army — which was composed of British regulars, Belgians, Dutch, and Nassauers — deployed along a low-lying set of ridges and in two walled chateaux (known locally as Hougomont and La Haye-Sainte) on the north side of the battlefield, while the French army took up positions along the high ground to the south. A shallow valley, cloaked with sodden rye grass, separated the two forces. In total numbers, the two belligerents were not that unevenly matched. Wellington commanded a force of some 24,000 British and 43,500 allied troops (approximately 67,700 men, in total) along with 156 guns; Napoleon's army was slightly larger, numbering roughly 72,000 Frenchmen with 246 guns. Although estimates of times vary, the two armies had probably largely completed their dispositions sometime around 9:00 am. Then, having taken their respective places on each side of the battlefield, an unexpected quiet settled over the massed ranks of both armies. Everyone stood stoically by and waited.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONThe NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System, as I have noted a number of times before, is probably one of the most successful conflict simulation design platforms ever created. Besides being used in numerous SPI (and other publishers’) Napoleonic games, it has also been the foundation for the SPI BLUE & GRAY Civil War Quadrigames; in addition, it has showed up in at least one WWII title, BATTLE FOR GERMANY, and it has even appeared in a modern naval game, SPI’s 6th FLEET. These games, whatever their differences, all share many of the same characteristics: they are easy and comparatively quick to play, full of action, and they usually model interesting and historically significant conflict situations.
Game Components (for all four Games):
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of Waterloo, Day of Battle, and The Campaigns of Napoleon and The Face of Battle; books that I recommend as highly-readable sources for those visitors who are interested in further historical background.
For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme:
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As is my custom, I try to commemorate important dates in American history as they come around every year. I first posted this piece on the birthday of the United States Marine Corps last year and, except for acknowledging the change in the circumstances of my nephew's deployment, I see very little else that I would like to change.
MARINE CORPS ORDERS
Happy 236th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps; may it have many returns to come.
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