Winter Offensive 2012 After Action Report

For many wargamers on the East Coast, the real holiday is not Christmas, when you never get the games you want anyway, but the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, when Winter Offensive is held in bucolic Bowie, Maryland.

This venerable Advanced Squad Leader tournament, held annually by Multi-Man Publishing, has transformed from a purely ASL tournament to an eclectic gathering of gamers of all stripes. Twenty years ago, a table occupied by a non-ASL game would have been unthinkable, but now, owing in part to MMP’s growing stable of game lines, roughly twenty percent of the creaking, uneven tables in the increasingly crowded conference rooms host other wargames and even a few Euros.

Winter Offensive 2012

In conjunction with the usual band of misfits (Doug Bush, Chris Chapman, and John Slotwinski), I once again managed to play a grand total of zero games of Advanced Squad Leader. My tally for the long weekend includes a loss as the Russians in The Tide at Sunrise (played using the useless optional Naval Rules), a win as the Russians in Storm Over Stalingrad, a loss as the Egyptians in Yom Kippur, and a second place finish in a three player Le Havre using a civic building strategy that lost to the inevitable coal/coke/steel shipping strategy. A four player Space Empires finished inconclusively, though I must say that my Royal Realm of Red Ravagers was well poised to conquer known space…

As ever, MMP put on a good show, with a record attendance somewhere north of 120 participants. Any more and they’ll have to open up a third conference room, which would help alleviate some of the space issues. These non-ASL games take up some serious table space.

Movement Points: Standard Combat System

How one moves a unit in a wargame is, to my thinking, integral to how that game plays and, perhaps more importantly, how to understand the game. Game designers give us clues about the best use of units and potential strategies via the movement rules.

Movement allows you to bring your units to (or away from) combat in a manner of your own choosing. You can maneuver to assault the weakest point of your opponent’s line, make spoiling attacks to prevent his or her strongest units from operating at peak efficiency, or waste your forces in ill-advised sallies against well-fortified positions. Conversely, movement allows you to withdraw to better terrain, cut off enemy supply, and occupy vital territory, furthering your aims without attacking.

Combat is only part of a wargame. One of the hobby’s most venerable publications is called Fire & Movement, after all. Without movement, you’re simply rolling dice to see who wins. At that rate, just play Yahtzee.

One of the most succinct expressions of “how to move” can be found in the Standard Combat System (.pdf) (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers).

The SCS movement rules are a distillation of years of “best wargaming practice”—someone who has only played Avalon Hill or SPI games from the 1960’s or 1970’s wouldn’t have much trouble picking up an SCS game.

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Idiot Rules: The Mighty Endeavor

The tactical situation is dire and the course of action clear—pull back your forces to defensible terrain, shortening your supply lines and providing mutual support for your thinly-stretched units. But you can’t, because there’s an idiot rule in your way.

Wargames use idiot rules to prevent players from taking actions that are otherwise tactically sound and allowed in the rules, justifying the restrictions for historical reasons or to provide some form of play balance. After all, unless forced by the rules, very few sane gamers would throw division after division into Stalingrad or try to hold all of France in the face of a massive Allied invasion. Idiot rules attempt to enforce dictates from above the gamer’s pay grade.

Idiot rules can be subtle, offering rewards for following a particular course of action; games that use Victory Points as a means of determining the outcome of a game, for instance, can allocate a certain number of VP for control of locations that would otherwise be abandoned posthaste. Idiot rules can also be explicit, making certain sections of the map simply off-limits until a certain game turn or until certain criteria have been met.

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D-Day by e-Mail

I’m preparing to begin play of The Mighty Endeavor (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers, 2005), an operational level treatment of the Allied invasion of France in 1944 featuring mostly Divisional units. I’ll be playing against my opponent via e-mail, sending turn logs back and forth using VASSAL, a free Java program designed to facilitate online play of paper-based wargames.

The Mighty Endeavor is a series game, one of the more recent in the long-standing Standard Combat Series (SCS) designed by Dean Essig. According to the Designer’s Notes from the v1.7 rules (.pdf), SCS

was designed to be a basic—read FUN—game which can be played at times when the others seem like too much of a good thing. These games are made for the ‘break out the beer and pretzels, and here we go’ type of evening.

And indeed, I find myself gravitating towards SCS games less because of subject matter and more because I already know how to play the game.

Series games play an important role in contemporary wargaming, because they allow the time-pressed gamer to simulate different conflicts using the same basic rules structure. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to the series rules in SCS, which cover all the basics of wargaming in seven pages, you just familiarize yourself with the specific game rules and dive in. Learn once, play often.

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