Table for One: Revolt in the East (SPI/S&T) Review

Standard

Many a wargame exists on hypothetical NATO/Warsaw Pact conflicts after the Second World War. Fewer still exist—possibly just one—on a joint NATO and Warsaw Pact conflict against the Soviet Union in that same time period.

Using the freedom afforded by the need to stick a complete game in a magazine every two months, SPI delivered a decidedly fresh take on the Cold War in James F. Dunnigan’s Revolt in the East, postulating a potential NATO intervention in an uprising spreading throughout disaffected Warsaw Pact member nations. Simple in design and streamlined in execution, Revolt in the East manages to provide an engaging game on a decidedly undergamed topic, even if the constraints of the basic SPI game “chassis” get occasionally in the way.

Overview

Revolt in the East: Warsaw Pact Rebellion in the 1970s
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1976
Strategy & Tactics 56
Designed by James F. Dunnigan

Revolt in the East, Cover image

Revolt in the East saw life as a “folio” sized game included in one of SPI’s house magazines, Strategy & Tactics, Issue 56 (May/June 1976). Coming in at an even hundred half-inch mounted counters, matte printed on the front only, and with a simple four-panel matte printed map measuring 22″ x 16″, the folio format severely limited the design space available—and probably helped drive many game development decisions. Other than lacking sufficient informational/mnemonic markers for tracking which Warsaw Pact cities are in revolt, however, the game doesn’t seem to have suffered from the physical restraints imposed upon it.

The counters feature typical Redmond Simonsen discipline, using generic “army man” figures for ground combat units (each representing an army or corps) and top-down aircraft silhouettes (F-4 for NATO, MiG-25 for the Soviet Union). Specific unit designations are provided, with the only other numbers on the counter a combat strength and, for air and airborne units, a range. The color registration on my copy leaves a fair bit to be desired, with about an sixteenth of an inch of offset color on several of the Warsaw Pact and Neutral nation counters. (I suppose it’s too late to write to SPI for replacements…)

Revolt in the East,  Situation in Bulgaria

The accompanying article on the game in Strategy & Tactics goes into detail about the locations of the various units in play, but in practice, the game does set too great a store on which unit sets up in which hex so long as it has the proper nationality and combat strength.

Continue reading

Table for One: End of Empire (Compass Games) Review

Standard

Daring amphibious assaults, bitter city sieges, near-run coastal evacuations, major offensives cut short by poor winter planning, massive armies made up of multi-national forces fighting side-by-side, and…George Washington?

Compass GamesEnd of Empire: 1744-1782, a grand-operational level wargame covering the various British conflicts in North America, takes gamers beyond the traditional understanding of these wars. Far from a series of skirmishes and set-piece battles, the fight for North America was as much one of maneuver as manpower, of politics as powder, and William M. Marsh manages to bring it all home in an accessible, engaging, and well-mannered monster game.

Dedicated readers of this site will note that I have previously reviewed End of Empire, but with my recent ability to get larger games on my table, combined with a very solitaire-friendly game mechanic, I thought it a fine choice to revisit for the next review in the Table for One project.

Overview

End of Empire: 1744-1782
Compass Games, 2014
CPA 1024
Designed by William M. Marsh

End of Empire, Compass Games, 2014

End of Empire originally saw life as a magazine game in Command Issue 46 back in 1997. The Compass Games edition some seventeen years later builds on the original’s solid bones, coming boxed with four and a half countersheets (5/8″ counters), two standard-sized maps (running lengthwise, for 68″ x 22″ total dimensions), two black-and-white printed rules booklets, a few glossy charts, and a nondescript d6.

Of note, other than informational markers, each of the three main conflicts depicted—King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolutionary War— has a separate counter set, with the ARW getting the lion’s share of the counters. There’s a lot of game here, fifteen scenarios in all, though many just provide a shorter version of the main three conflicts by moving the starting date back a year or so or tweaking some variables.

Counter examples from End of Empire

The counters themselves pack in a lot of information, all efficiently presented in the style one has come to expect from Brien J. Miller. The counter color scheme, though, leaves much to be desired. Crucial gameplay elements hinge on differentiating between British regular (burgundy) and provincial (russet brown) units. American forces suffer the same closeness between Continental Army (“darker” blue) and State (“medium” blue) units, with a similar need during play to tell them apart.

To make matters worse, the German mercenaries have three schemes that are close to each other and the Americans as well (navy blue, medium blue, medium green). Even in good light, these counter colors are not readily discernible at a glance, and some variations in printing lead to moments of second-guessing. I understand the desire to theme the units via color; context clues, plus some printed notes, make most of the units’ affiliations decipherable, but some other mnemonic needed to be employed, just for ease of use.

Continue reading

Table for One: Sinai (SPI) Review

Table for One: Sinai (SPI) Review
Standard

For the inaugural post in the new Table for One project, a series of wargame reviews with an eye towards solitaire suitability, I’m going back to the first wargame I ever played: Sinai (1973), by SPI. Then, as now, I tinkered with this operational level one-mapper on the various Arab-Israeli wars without benefit of an opponent. Unlike the last time, however, I sort of know what I’m doing this time around.

Playing a wargame sans opponent requires an understanding of how wargames work, and some thirty-odd years ago, first confronting this mass of paper and cardboard and rules, I had no idea at all how to proceed. But I was hooked nonetheless, captivated by the possibility of moving these variously colored forces across the stark buff-and-blue map.

Even then, as certainly now, I loved the idea of chrome, and the promise of a US expeditionary Marine force or a Moroccan mechanized battalion entering the fray made me determined to learn how to play wargames. I didn’t really succeed then, but mostly because I didn’t know how to play both sides at the same time.

It’s an acquired skill, this simultaneous solitaire, requiring both an uncanny impartiality and a willful ignorance of what the “other half” of your brain is planning. With years of playing face-to-face against an opponent under my belt, it’s actually rather easy to drop into this dual-mindedness. Sometimes your opponent knows what you’re going to do and will try to oppose it directly; sometimes, he or she doesn’t see it. You can tie yourself into knots trying to guess if your opponent knows what you know—that way leads analysis paralysis, a dreaded gaming disorder. You just have to take your chances to the best of your ability. Wargames are sufficiently complex creatures that you’ll often overlook a good move or clever feint until you switch sides and see clearly what you should have done. That little bit of uncertainty makes solo wargame play possible.

Still, some games provide a better solitaire experience than others, and in Table for One, I hope to look at games from a solo perspective and highlight what aspects of them make for good, or poor, single-player experiences.

Overview

Sinai: The Arab-Israeli Wars, ’56, ’67 and ’73
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1973
Designed by James F. Dunnigan

Sinai (SPI) Flat Pack Cover Sheet

Sinai was released in two versions, as a boxed designer’s edition and in the infamous SPI flat pack with integral counter tray. My copy is the latter, complete with folded rules folio. Everything about the SPI flat pack, down to the cheap, poorly-molded d6, screams cost-savings, and the ability to simply drop in a new cover sheet under the flimsy plastic cover allowed SPI to push an enormous number of games out the door. SPI was nothing if not prolific; the contemporary management notion of “fail fast” seems tailor made for their way of business, leading to some remarkable successes at the price of a few less-than-brilliant games, all sent into the world at a breakneck pace—breakneck, at least, in comparison to today’s wargame publishing market, where most games are subjected to lengthy waits on pre-order lists prior to release.

Sinai (SPI) Flat Pack Counter Tray

Sinai comes in as neither an overwhelming success nor a resounding failure. It’s a fairly bog-standard ’70s wargame, with locking zones of control and an utterly bloodless Combat Results Table. The single standard-sized map is awash in blue and tan, with a slightly confusing road network and terrain roster that variously exists depending on which scenario is being played. The 255 half-inch counters are front-printed only on decently thick cardboard, with crisp printing in a few colors that nevertheless allow for good differentiation between the multiple factions in play. One either deeply appreciates Redmond Simonsen’s Letraset skills or finds them bland; I fall firmly in the former camp. Indeed, the clean lines and contrasting colors of this game’s components, far more than the gameplay itself, helped draw me into this hobby all those years ago.

The counters in my copy suffered just the slightest bit of off-registration printing, leading to some counters with an off-color band on the bottom or side. The die cuts were good and well-centered, however, and the counters look quite tidy after a visit from a 2mm Oregon Laminations Counter Corner Rounder.

Order of battle research seems thin on the Arab side, with only a few units given specific designations; by contrast, the vast majority of pre-1973 Israeli units are delineated and set up in their historical starting locations.
Continue reading

War by Other Means: Sidereal Confluence (WizKids)

Standard

Financier Raymond Defoe hadn’t played Sidereal Confluence: Trading and Negotiation in the Elysian Quadrant (by TauCeti Deichmann, WizKids, 2017) when he riffed on Clausewitz, saying, “Economics is war pursued by other means,” but he may as well have. This simultaneous-action trading and economic engine building game, which plays from four to nine (!) people, requires that players, taking on the roles of nicely differentiated alien species, cooperate through trading to build up their economies, but behind the polite facade, there’s malice aforethought.

Sidereal Confluence in play.

Players start with a tableau of species-specific technology cards in play, each of which contains the game’s central mechanism, a “converter” that takes a set of resources and, once per turn, ouputs a larger, different set of resources. No species can generate enough outputs to fulfill its specific input needs, let alone to research and upgrade technologies to create new, more efficient converters. So, the game is about trading, and everything in the game, aside from victory points, is both tradeable and public knowledge. Need two white cubes to finish a research project? The table knows what you need (and why, if they’re paying attention) and will price accordingly. But, they have needs, too, and deals can be made. Have a converter you’re not using this turn? Trade it for a turn to someone with the resources needed to run it for a cut of the proceeds.

My gaming buddies (Mike Vogt, Neil Stanhagen, Joe Jackson, and Joe’s son) and I got Sidereal Confluence on the table this past weekend. We’re all wargamers at heart, so we went in looking to cut the other guy out of what he needed to win—and in the process realized that we were harming ourselves instead. After the first turn, where we grudgingly made exchanges and insisted on usurious exchange rates, our economic engines were quite anaemic.

This is not a zero sum game; the converters continually pump more and more resources into the game, and more resources are constantly needed to upgrade to the better (and more lucrative, VP-wise) technologies. No, this is a game about arbitrage, about maximizing delta through efficiency and understanding the flow of supply and demand.

Once we figured out that you don’t need to “win” a trade, you just need to come out of it with slightly more than you went in, either in resources or tempo or even goodwill, everything changed, and that’s when it got nicely nasty. Trading became less about immediate personal needs and more about the table’s needs. Blue cubes (biotechnology, in the game’s parlance) about to be in demand? Figure that out a turn before everyone else does, corner the market ahead of time, and take your pick of the offers to fuel your own economy afterwards. As so often in life, it’s better to be a seller…

Sidereal Confluence is certainly not for every game group. Trading, the heart of the game, takes place simultaneously. There’s no orderly queue for offers—think the Chicago Mercantile Exchange futures pit and you have some idea. It is, frankly, a panic for players afflicted with overanalysis syndrome or min-maxers in general; while they’re trying to figure out what they need for a hyper-efficient exchange, the other players have already traded and re-traded for what they need, and to then prise it out of their hands (or claws or pincers or whatever species-equivalent appendage they have) will cost. All trades are binding, too, so no take-backs if you’re slow to the trading floor or poor at math. One either relishes this kind of free-for-all gaming experience or runs screaming from it.

Sidereal Confluence in play.

As with most card tableau games, it can get messy, and the main knock I have on the game is that the space required to set up your own play area grows along with your economic engine, such that you need a lot of space per player (or far neater gamers than I’ve yet to meet). Pair that with the need to see everyone else’s tableaux and resources, to properly trade, and you have the potential for serious usability issues. With five, in a rough oval, I found myself trading mostly with the two people on either side of me, just because of the difficulty of parsing that set of cards and cubes across the way; add more players, and more space, and I can’t see how the two sides of the table wind up interacting.

Play time clocks in at two hours, roughly, and given the simultaneous nature of gameplay, I’m inclined to believe the box when it says two hours regardless of player count, from four to nine. Most promisingly, the game teaches fast, and after that initial turn of parsimony, we were trading, leveraging, wheedling, and dealing with the best of them. Oh, it was still a conflict, but it’s always best when a dagger comes with a smile and a receipt.

(Top photo courtesy of Mike Vogt.)