Long Overdue Update: We’ve Been BUSY at SBG!!!

WQotWC Front Cover Mock-UpI knew I was behind on updating the site and I thought I’d missed one monthly blog… But I’ve actually missed TWO – September AND October – and today’s the first day of November! Time flies when you’re busy.

And we have been busy at SBG. VERY busy. We’re releasing two DCC-compatible products in the next month.These will be SBG’s first commercial publications!

So I thought that for this blog, I’d move away from my usual “in-depth game essay approach” and do a bunch of bulleted updates:

AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! One of the aforementioned DCC11x17 shirt v3- trans-compatible products was already under development when SBG missed its target release date of May for AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! So “ADoR” lost its priority slot in the production schedule and the target publication date got pushed to August and again to February 2016 – just in time for the new California game convention season.

Shout Out!: Shoots & Liters. Shoots & Leaders is SBG Developer George Feldman’s kids’  version of our AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! car combat minis game. But we demo’ed it at Pacificon Game Expo and it’s pretty damn fun for adults too! Shoots & Liters is SO simple and SO “fast-play” that  you can literally put in your pocket and take on the road. You can buy it now at RPG Now/Drive Thru RPG.

WQotWC DCC Advert HIGH REZ correctWorld-Quest of the Winter Calendar is another DCC-compatible product that I’m VERY excited about. It’s a 0-level funnel, but it’s unlike any other funnel out there. The player characters get trapped in a “living morality tale” and the only way out is “through” – they have to bear witness to the events of the entire tale and interpret what they witness to a god. Regaling the god with the tale acts as a great, big, cosmic game of “Telephone:”  how the PCs interpret the tale fundamentally changes the nature of the campaign world – both narratively and in terms of game mechanics! World-Quest will be also be released on RPG Now/Drive Thru RPG by the end of November.

WQotWC Back Cover Mock-UpShout-Out! The Digital NEST: World-Quest is partly the product of the skillDNEST.Logo__400x400_CROPs and work of the talented young adult technologists at the Digital NEST – the cover art at the top of this blog was produced by a 21 year old NEST artist Nathan Campos! The Digital NEST is a non-profit technology education studio providing tech access and career training to rural, predominantly Latino youth in Watsonville, CA. I became their part-time Enterprise Director in mid-August and I’m incubating my SBG business with help from the NEST’s talented youth! I’m donating a portion of the sales of World-Quest to the Digital NEST and I’m asking fans of SBG to consider making a donation of their own!

NULL SINGULARITY is NS Advert LGv3an “existentialism-meets-space-horror” one-shot compatible with the DCC RPG system. I just play-tested it a second time at Big Bad Con and it runs GREAT if I do say so myself. NULL SINGULARITY is in layout and will be available on RPG Now/Drive Thru RPG by the end of November. Watch SBG’s Products page for release information.

Shout-out!: BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL. BSDC is a Nihilistic 1-shot with the flavor of Dante’s Inferno written by James IMG_0468MacGeorge. James is a colleague, but I didn’t even know he was writing it. I came across it at Gen Con and was fortunate enough to play a session run by James. BSDC inspired me to write NULL SINGULARITY and you can order BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL at www.kickassistan.net.

Shout-Out!: NULL3be73b87a8f56c1ea85d50ef8a5acbf0 SINGULARITY playtester Brandon Raasch delivers “Lair of the Lich King,” the first expansion for his OSR-themed bluffing card game, Dubious Alliance.

Shout-Out!: Historical Board Games delivers its AMERIKA Kickstarter. The guys at HBG are real sweethearts and through no fault of their own (Can you say “Longshoreman strike?”), delivering on their Axis & Allies-style alternative WWII history game AMERIKA became a multi-year odyssey. But they did it and I have my copy in my hot hot little hands as we speak.

AmerikaWhite_OpaqueA d50 Tribute to Colonel Lou Zocchi from Goodman Games: SBG contributed three pieces to a collection of 50 Uses in Dungeon Crawl Classics for the Gamescience d50. Colonel Lou Zocchi is a legend in gaming and a pretty awesome guy. Joseph Goodman is an admirer of the Colonel’s so he decided to create this product in the Colonel’s honor. Watch the Goodman Games website for news of its release.

On the drawing board:  Magnum Opus (working title). Who hasn’t wanted to be a rock star? In Magnum Opus you can become a rock god, so long as you’re prepared to suffer for your art. I’m planning a DCC-compatible one-shot instance of BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL similar to NULL SINGULARITY and toying with the idea of an Apocalypse Engine hack based on the same theme.

Also on the drawing board:  Mystery of the Mirrored World (working title). In this DCC-compatible adventure module, the PCs are drawn into the lives and intrigues of doppelgangers of themselves and people they know. But these are not monsters that can shape-change to impersonate others – they are actual identical twins of people who never knew their counterparts existed!  Where did they come from, why are they here and why do they seem hell-bent on destruction?

So there you have it:  10 updates, one for each month that has already blown by us  in 2015. 2016 is just around the corner and it looks to be the best ever for SBG. See you there!

Bonus Update: Game Night  at the Digital NEST on 10/3/15! Next one: 11/14/15

Game Night Flyer 3IMG_0680IMG_0678IMG_0683IMG_0671


Gen Con ’15: Letters from “The Fount”

Pictures – worth a lot of words:


Before there was Gen Con, there was playing SBG’s Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! with the cousin’s kids. Not wanting to transport painted, kit-bashed minis I carried a few un-modded diecast cars…















The typical end result of a game of Auto-Destruct-O-Rama!IMG_0422

First day, setting up the Goodman Games booth…







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The gathering of “the Tribe…”


The Pathfinder “room”… Watch out Paizo, we’re coming for you! IMG_0447








Family fun! This guy looks remarkably like the owner of Goodman Games – Joseph couldn’t be The Dark Master AND Clark Kent AND Superman… Could he!?!


The Goodman Games Booth Crew:


People gamin’.The awesome players in my Thursday morning run of the second DCC adventure I wrote: Trials of the Toymakers. These guys saved the world from eternal night so show ’em a little respect…







Wrath of Dragons from Catalyst Game Labs looks AWESOME! Meeple dragons razing little Meeple villages…








Friend-of-Goodman-Games-and-Steve-Bean-Games Jurgen Meyer demos his game Shinobi Clans. I bought a copy!








It may not have as big a crowd as the Pathfinder room, but dear-to-my-heart Axis & Allies is alive and well at Gen Con…


IMG_0450Writer-palooza: Michael Curtis, me, Dieter Zimmerman, Tim Callahan, Brendan LaSalle, Joseph Goodman and Jobe Bittman.



Gaming for charity – just two of the many events:







Goodman Games Seminar: “How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck.”







The fantastic work of indpendent third-party writers and publishers of supplements for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG







My personal favorite: James MacGeorge’s Black Sun Deathcrawl

IMG_0468Me playing it with the author GMing (and taking this picture):


Two of my four players for Edgar Johnson’s Against the Atomic Overlord. These guys got to the table at 9am on Sunday to risk their lives in the far-flung future to heal the war-torn city of Mezar-Kul. Steve unable to work the pano feature of his iPhone or magical corruption – you make the call.


Five days is always too short. Breaking down the exhibit hall:


The legendary Royandzak, the Tired Draggin’…

IMG_0480That’s it until next year. I’ll leave you with two more. An inspired paint job on a cliche unit:

IMG_0448You fill in the dialogue. What’s Cinderella saying to Spider Man on the last day of the con? Best entry will win something cool from Steve Bean Games!





Summer Driving Season

In other parts of the country, summer is a time to get outside and enjoy the nice weather before Old Man Winter comes blowin’ in again. In California we have nice weather all the time, so we take it for granted. That means that we gamers have no particular need to go outside at all; staying inside doesn’t waste a nice day – it’ll be nice again tomorrow… and the 11x17 shirt v3- transday after… and the day after that…

But that doesn’t mean we’re not up for frequent road trips – we just like to do them on the table top! As frequent readers know, SBG is close to publishing its beer-and-pretzels, fast-play, Dystopian Derby, miniatures car combat game AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!

I saw MAd Max: Fury Road on the day it released and ran a game at Kublacon based loosely on the movie and the cars from the film have really influenced my imagination when it comes to minis for AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! So my kit-bashing the past month or so has been very focused on homages to a couple of my faves. The first is the Gigahorse – the double-decker Caddy on the monster truck chassis:Gigahorse painting

I’ve wanted to do minis inspired by the cars in Furious Road but not straight copies. I happened to have a couple of the Hot Wheels 73 Ford Falcon XBs that I was giving out as prizes at Kubla left over – the XB is the “last of the v8 interceptors that Max drives in all the films:

Falcon XB painting

So I decided to combine two homages into one and build a double-decker XB. I call it the Tetrahawk:

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There are a lot of really f*****g rad cars in MM:FR, but as a self-avowed “tread-headed” war gamer, The PeaPeacemaker paintingcemaker is definitely in the my top three:

So of course I had to do an homage to it. I call mine The Vie-Pers-O-Cuter

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Thanks to some successful procurement missions for cars and bits, I’m working on a handful more – not inspired by MM:FR – but only one is close enough to being built to feature here. I give you… The Luna-Trick:


BTW, kids, kit-bashing minis is not without risks. Remember your basic knife safety from Webelos and ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOURSELF. Also remember my step-father’s words of wisdom “Do as I say, not as I do:”


In other news, Brian Merlonghi, aka “The Iron Painter” has recently become a supporter of AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!


Brian’s offered to do some painting for AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! and while I don’t consider myself a slouch in the brushwork department, I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to have a true professional like Brian loose on some these bad boyz. Here’s a few pix of Brian’s incredible work:  BM_IPS_Star.Wars BM_IPS_TrollBlood


Well, that about wraps this up, except to say: this summer at Steve Bean Games – whether indoors or outdoors –  we find ourselves continuously saying “What a lovely day!”


Steve Bean Games is Proud to Be a Contributor to The Monster Alphabet

Monster Alphabet CoverThe Monster Alphabet is a new system-neutral source book from Goodman Games.  This book will add new twists to the monsters in your fantasy RPG. Entries like “A is for Armor,” “M is for MInions” and “W is for Weird” will give your monsters new, unexpected characteristics that will keep your players guessing and ensure that your encounters are memorable.

Steve Bean Games is proud to have contributed “B is for Blood” to this great product!

REVIEW: Lair of the Lich King Expansion for Brandon Raasch’s Dubious Alliance

2-PROTO-Power-Word-PainLair of the Lich King is an expansion of Brandon Raasch’s Dubious Alliance tabletop fantasy card game. If you don’t want to read this whole review, here’s my bottom line. I liked – but didn’t love – the original Dubious Alliance game. But Lair of the Lich King improves on Dubious Alliance in almost every way I would want – adding new ways to win, new ways to die and a drafting mechanic that takes what was a social game too long to be a “filler” and moves it into the realm of a “light tactical” game that can still be competently played on your third beer. I think the Lair of the Lich King expansion moves Dubious Alliance from a game that some hobby game enthusiasts might like to one that has something for every hobby gamer. The expansion is Kickstarting on 5/24/15. I consider it a “must own” if you already have the basic game. If Brandon offers a discount package deal for the basic game and the expansion in this second Kickstarter I’ll recommend to a number of friends that they pick up the pair.

Below is my full review of Lair of the Lich King (Below that is a description of Dubious Alliance – read that first if you’re not already familiar with the base game.)

Running OrcsThe Lair of the Lich King Expansion

In keeping with his “card game with the flavor of Blue Box D&D:” branding, Brandon calls Lair of the Lich King (hereafter LotLK) a new “adventure path” for Dubious Alliance. In the in-game narrative, the Orcs of the Blood-Stained Axe tribe (who in the basic game were focused on raiding the hoard of Snarl the Colossal Red Dragon) are exploring an ancient catacomb and awaken the Lich King a la Tomb of Horrors. Most of the new cards and one of the new mechanics in the expansion match this theme.

Lair of the Lich King adds three new aspects to the game:

  • A new way to die, called Level Drain, and
  • A second, secret way for each player to win, called Secret Missions,
  • A new way to use strategy to win: an optional drafting mechanic.

Level Drain is an effect found on many of the undead-themed cards in the new set. If a player is subjected to Level Drain, s/he receives a gray three-position rotating card similar to the “Traded-Didn’t Trade-Must Trade” Trade-Tracker card. Each time a player experiences another Level Drain effect after receiving the gray card, it turns one position. On the third Level Drain (including when s/he first received the gray card), the player dies and EVERYONE loses. So in the basic game, Level Drain adds another type of lethality to Health Points that can demand positive intervention by the other player2-PROTO-Mass-Fears. This is all it does unless you also add…

…Secret Missions. If you play with Secret Mission, each player is dealt a face-down Secret Mission card at the beginning of the game. Secret Missions give each player a second way to win besides achieving his or her prestige goal. Secret Missions include killing another player, dying yourself, visiting a certain number of Locations (by collecting Location cards), acquiring a certain number of magic items, etc. With Secret Missions, there is suddenly two new factors to consider when deciding what cards to keep for yourself and which ones to try to trade away: does the card help you with your mission AND will it help someone else with their mission, which you may be able to deduce both from what they trade away AND what they play on their board. Your ability to achieve your Secret Mission is still highly dependent on the cards you are dealt, unless you also add…

…the new drafting mechanic. With this optional new mechanic, you are dealt a hand of cards, but you only keep one and pass the rest to the players on your left for them to choose from. You receive cards players from the players on your right and pick one in each passing round until you have three. Then you receive your fourth and final card at random from the deck. With this drafting mechanic you can try to tailor your hand to accomplishing your Secret Mission. But remember, you won’t be able to use ALL the cards in your hand because after two times NOT trading you’ll be forced to trade. So you have to stock your hand with SOME cards you want to trade away. Hopefully those cards don’t help someone else accomplish their mission. If you’re really clever, you can trade away a card, watch it get traded to a second player and trade to get it back from that player!

2-PROTO-Orc-PirateLair of the Lich King: Grabbing MY Attention with an “Un-Death Grip!”

Dubious Alliance is a good social game. One I was apt to break out with friends, crack open a beer (okay, several) and play while I gabbed and caught up on their lives. But I didn’t care if I won because there didn’t seem to be much strategy to winning. Even the trading, which is the core mechanic of Dubious Alliance, didn’t seem tactical. Most of the time it seemed like people traded because it was boring NOT to trade. With 120+ cards in the base deck, there was so much randomness that people always seemed to have plenty of cards they needed to slough off. 120+ cards also made it likely that no one would have a card needed to save someone who was going to die that turn and cause everyone to lose. No it didn’t pay to get too invested in how you played.

The Secret Missions and drafting mechanic greatly increase the fundamental drive to win without changing the core mechanics and overall feel of the game. Trading is still central. But now the trading feels like a real resource management strategy. The bluffing is still fun and funny, but with increased investment in the outcome if you’re angling for a win through a Secret Mission or playing out a strategy that you set up in your draft.

The game still needs every player to have a points tracker so all the players around the table can see at-a-glance where everyone is positioned in the game. And it needs to be in large print for member sof the over-45-eyesight crowd like me.

In addition to all this, the art in LotLK is consistently better than the hit-and-miss offerings of the Dubious Alliance basic game. Watch out Brandon, the fans are going to be clamoring for a second edition of Dubious Alliance with new art that raises the overall quality of the base game to the level of the expansion!

For a gamer like me who likes nothing better than a game where my tactical decisions feel like the deciding factor, LotLK changes Dubious Alliance from a filler game to a serious contender for weekly gamer-group night, without taking tactical card playing into the stratosphere of Dominion. LotLK is the one-beer version of Dubious Alliance with the added intoxication of victory realized through strategy.

The Lair of the Lich King Kickstarts on May 24, 2015.


How to Play Dubious Alliance

Dubious Alliance is a “cooperative backstabber” card game in the vein of Cutthroat Caverns with a trading-and-bluffing mechanic driving game play. Its in-game narrative makes players the war chiefs of a marauding Orc tribe who also happen to go on PC-style adventures and run afoul of a dragon named Snarl. like a cross between Munchkin and Apples-to-Apples with the look of “Blue Book” Dungeons & Dragons.

Each player gets a character card of one of the war chiefs of the Gore-Stained Axe tribe of Orcs. Each character has a unique special ability that gives a simple, specific advantage in the game.index

You win the game if you are the first player to reach a target number of prestige points. You earn prestige points by laying down cards that have prestige attached to them – these are things like Monsters, Treasure and Magic Items. When you lay down a Monster card it is presumed that you earn the prestige by fighting it, but there’s no actual in-game combat mechanic aside from laying down the card. Playing Monster cards for the prestige usually involves taking wounds as well. Other cards, like Traps, cause wounds, usually without giving you any prestige The hitch is, you have to reach your prestige total without any of the other players” characters dying by having their “health points” reduced to zero. If anyone’s character dies, no one wins.

TomeSo how do you “lay down cards?” Each player starts out being dealt a hand of four cards. In addition to Monsters, Traps, Treasure and Magical Items, there are Event, Location and (mundane) Item (eg armor, weapons, adventuring gear) cards. Every round for four rounds, each player has to take one card from his or her hand and put it face down on the table. If you still have this card in the Resolution Phase, this will be the card you lay down on the table and its effects, good or bad, will be applied to you.

However, before cards are turned over and resolved, there is a Trading Phase. You can offer to trade your face-down card for someone else’s face-down card. You can make a sales pitch about your card so long as the pitch doesn’t give any specific information. If a player doesn’t trade, his or her trading status changes from “Traded” to “Didn’t Trade.” After two consecutive rounds of not trading, a player’s status becomes “Must Trade” and the player CANNOT refuse the first trade offered in the next Trading Phase.

Activating Your Card in the Round

Whether the face down card you end up with is your original card or one you traded for, after trading is done everyone flips their card over and the effect of each card is resolved starting with the player to the left of the dealer and moving clockwise. Some cards are resolved by playing them on other players, allowing you to steal their items, lower their prestige, wound them, send them to new locations, etc. Sometimes a player is compelled by circumstances to play the effects of a beneficial card on another player, eg a healing potion to keep that player from dying (Remember, player death ends the game with everyone losing).

Players continue playing rounds of four-card deals until someone wins or everyone loses.KublaCOn-Tusks-Up-with-the-team


Steve Bean Games & Friends Descend on Kublacon!!!


Kublacon – the Khan of cons!  – encamps once more at the Hyatt Regency near the San Francisco Airport this Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-25. No offense to Pacificon Game Expo, ConQuest Sac, Celesticon, Big Bad Con,  etc., but as far as game conventions in central California go, Kublacon is IT. The biggest and the best – if a Californian can only make it to one con a year, you’ll find him or her at Kublacon. (I’ve even heard from my SoCal brothers and sisters that isn’t even a comparable con in the LA area, which seems odd to me, given the large population base…)

Steve Bean Games will be there in force, or more appropriately, WITH Force: Opposition Force, a Nor Cal miniatures and RPG gaming blog. SBG and OpFor have teamed up to develop and publish: Auto-Destruct-O-Rama!, a fast-play, beer-and-pretzels post-apocalyptic tabletop miniatures car combat game.IMG_2918 Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! is a miniatures game homage to dystopian, gladiatorial gameshow films like Death Race 2000 with a little bit of The Road Warrior tossed in for good measure.

The pdf of the Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! rule set will be available on sites like Drive-Thru RPG, Wargame Vault and RPG Now just in time for Kublacon and a print-on-demand softcover will be available the week after the convention.

IMG_0059SBG and OpFor have run Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! at local conventions for a few years now. Our games have always been well received, but in celebration of the publication of the rule set, we’re pulling out all the stops:  George, Trevor and Mario are running beginner games on Saturday and Sunday mornings in preparation for Steve’s big three-game series “tournament” (We use the term loosely – it’s hard to play Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! with much serious competitiveness…) using scenarios designed to showcase the new rule set that re also based on the plot of the new Mad Max: Fury Road movie due out May 15! Here’s the schedule of Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! events:SBG Kubla 2015 Events













Meanwhile, SBG friend Brandon Raasch is launching his second Kickstarter to fund the first expansion/adventure path for his raauschously fun cooperative backstabber bluffing game with first edition D&D flavor: indexDubious Alliance!

The basic game is a crap-ton of fun! Try to be the first player to accumulate a target number of prestige points by collecting cards that tell the story of your adventure: enemies you’ve defeated, weapons, treasure and magic you’ve looted and fantastic locations you’ve visited. But you have to watch your back AND the backs of your buddies – if any player dies by taking a number of damage points that exceeds his or her health total EVERYONE LOSES! Soul Drain

Brandon’s new Lair of the Lich King expansion/adventure path – inspired by everyone’s favorite old-school, S-series, TPK module, Tomb of Horrors – makes this fun social game into a game every hobby gamer can going to enjoy. The addition of new a Level Drain mechanic gives you one more way to die and frequently shares the “lich love” by draining levels from another player and making it all that much more important that you be vigilant about the threat of a buddy’s death resulting in everybody losing the game.

1566231An even better addition to Dubious Alliance in Lair of the Lich King IMHO is the combination of new Secret Missions and a light drafting mechanic. Secret Missions gives each player a second way to win (in addition to reaching your prestige target) and the drafting mechanic let’s you craft your hand of cards to try to accomplish that mission.

Brandon’s offering all kinds of Dubious Alliance events at Kublacon, including a big tournament-style game and a LARP appearance by the Monster Metal band: A Band of Orcs.KublaCOn-Tusks-Up-with-the-team The goblinoid musicians from A Band of Orcs are the characters that serve as players’ adventuring in-game alter-egos in Dubious Alliance and you can meet them in the flesh at Kublacon!

Below is a schedule of Brandon’s Kublacon events:Brandon Kubla 2015 Events









Steve Bean Games and Dubious Alliance “personnel” will be helping out at each others’ events and we all hope to see you at Kublacon!


DnD 5E: You Can Go Home Again, or at Least Visit Hommlet

Village of Hommlet Cover ArtDungeons and Dragons, aka D&D: “the first commercially available role-playing game.” I started RPGing with the Blue Box edition Basic Set sometime around 1980. For decades, when I said “I play D&D,” I got blank stares. A few people knew “Mazes and Monsters,” the movie where Tom Hanks played a gamer-gone-bonkers who murders a friend while wandering around the sewers of his home town lost in a delusion that he really is a  wizard in an underground fantasy labyrinthe.

Nowadays, when I mention D&D, most people have at least heard the name. It has brand recognition, though it’s still two or three tiers down from Xerox or Kleenex. People usually don’t know how the game is actually played. They certainly don’t know about the Pathfinder Schism, the hatred for 4th Edition (4E), Edition Wars, the Old School Renaissance or that there is a new edition that was released last year that seeks to reclaim the former majesty – and market share – of earlier versions of the game.

If you’re reading this – unless you came by hoping for a Flames of War after-action report – you probably know all that. You probably have your own opinions about the Edition Wars and which edition is the best, or for that matter, even “playable.” I certainly do. Up until 4E was released in 2007 I was still playing 2nd edition (published in 1989), albeit with a plethora of add-ons and house rules that I’d adopted over almost 20 years of playing the same rule set. I’d missed 3E entirely. I looked at 3.5 and Pathfinder and dismissed them as “too crunchy.” My gaming group picked up 4E to be up-to-date with current product offerings but I hated it from the get-go for the same basic reasons others did, primarily because it was, IMO, more a table top miniatures version of a video game than proper “role-playing.”

Sign of the Elder Elemental EyeI am actually grateful to D&D 4E for being something I couldn’t stand. If I had liked 4E I probably would have maintained brand loyalty and played the @#$%&^ out of it. Instead, I went looking for alternatives and discovered that a whole new world of amazing role-playing games had emerged while I was still playing 2E.

I discovered Narrativism – a philosophy of RPGing in which story matters above all.

I discovered Dungeon Crawl Classics, a game that is in a class by itself. DCC combines Old School feel with some great, modern mechanics. DCC embraces a “gonzo” narrative form and is dedicated, context-wise, to the entire body of Appendix N literature not just its works of High Fantasy. (Appendix N is where Gary Gygax, one of the inventors of D&D, cites his influences in literature. It includes a small number of authors, such as JRR Tolkien, who are widely known and many more greats who are either “genre-niche” authors – like Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock – or obscure even for sci fi/fantasy, such as Manley Wade Wellman.)

I discovered games like Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and The Pool/The Questing Beast by James V. West that turn the paradigm of “Game Master as god” on its head, giving world-building and story direction over to the players while providing the GM with a host of tools to use to keep up with the narrative and put his or her own mark on it.

Village of Hommlet Ruined KeepAnd, recently, I discovered 5th Edition D&D. I learned this edition of the game while writing encounter submissions for D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast’s open call for new professional writers. Everyone I had talked to who’d checked out 5E had good things to say about it. No one said they loved it, but no one had anything bad to say about it, either. After thoroughly examining the game in order to be able to write for it, I have this to say:  it feels like older editions (a good thing in my book), it feels like a role-playing game instead of an analog video game (another good thing in my book), it has lots of options to customize the feel of the game play (a VERY good thing in my book) and there’s nothing to dislike about it, because (and this is probably the biggest disappointment) none of it feels new, innovative or exceptional.

So with nothing in it that hasn’t been done before in role-playing games, will it revolutionize the game like the original did? Probably not. (Though it seems to be grabbing industry awards in the RPG world this year.) But there are other reasons to love D&D 5E besides the rules mechanics.

Here’s what I think they are:

Magic so common that it’s… magical – Some recent games, among them DCC, have gone in the direction of making magic something dangerous and unpredictable in an effort to make it more exciting and mystical. I have no beef with this approach and I think the DCC magic system, which takes this approach, is @#$%&^ brilliant. But for lovers of high fantasy this approach loses something. The Harry Potter books captured the imaginations of billions of readers by transporting them into a world where magic was everywhere (despite mediocre writing and predictable plots and themes.) That ubiquity, instead of making magic seem mundane, made the world feel immersively magical. That’s what D&D’s magic system can do.

Elder Elemental EyeHeroism – When the RPG community fell into the Edition Wars, the infighting seemed to translate into a cynicism that got inculcated into the RPG fiction itself. There weren’t any heroes anymore. The idea of player characters (PCs) as classic heroes – bulwarks against evil whose belief that good will always triump serves as a kind of protective charm that helps them live to fight another day – seemed to be regarded as naiive and narratively unappealing in new RPGs.  Anti-heroes, moral grey areas and mercenary sensibilities toward survival and the accumulation of XP, treasure and power became the order of the day. The departure of classic heroism in recent RPGs seems palpable, whether it is DCC’s Appendix N-esque  adventurer-cutpurse protagonists a la Leiber and Howard or Apocalypse World’s violent ethos of “every man for himself after the fall of Man” [sic] or Call of Cthulhu’s indifferent, alien, Lovecraftian gods or even Lamentations of the Flame Princess’  18th century “Alice in Wonderland meets Clockwork Orange” flavor.

D&D has asserted an ethos of PCs-as-forces-for-good since the 1980s, when it had to divorce itself from devils, demons and intrinsically evil character classes like the Assassin and the Anti-Paladin to protect its brand from criticism by the Moral Majority. D&D continues to embrace the PC-as-Hero in 5E and in this day and age I think we could all use some heroes we can believe in, even if they’re made up.

Rich, Detailed Fictional Settings with Real History – If you’re a long-time D&D player, there are characters and locales from published settings that have tremendous gravitas: Elminster, Greyhawk, Vecna. Iuz, Drizz’t Do’Urden, White Plume Mountain, Waterdeep. This weight and resonance is not simply the product of good imagining. Imbuing fictional characters and settings with this much weight only comes from them having been developed in tremendous detail in publishing arcs that span decades.

Elemental Evil Princes of the Apocalypse

I recently had a small, independent RPG publisher claim he could capture that same feeling of deep history in his OSR products with a technique that JJ Abrams discussed in his Mystery Box TED talk: intentional withholding of information. This publisher quoted a line from JJ Abrams’ talk: “I’ve learned in my career that there are three things you DON’T want to do and #2 is ‘don’t hurt Tom’s (Cruise) nose.” The publisher believed that Abrams was, at that very moment in the talk, demonstrating this principle from the Mystery Box. The publisher believed that there was no #1 and #3, but rather that Abrams was drawing the audience into believing that they existed via what I might call a “step-over” or “move past” omission.

This publisher went on to say that he believed that this same Mystery Box technique is what Ed Greenwood did in his Pages From the Mages series of articles to make his fictional Forgotten Realms setting so believable without actually creating all the details. By presenting “pages,” snippets of lore from the Forgotten Realms, rather than a comprehensive account, this publisher is convinced that Greenwood drew his readers into his world and allowed them to fill in the blanks to make it believable. Apparently this publisher is not the only one who believes that this was Greenwood’s approach.

While I wouldn’t say that this element of Abrams’ Mystery Box technique can’t be a valuable narrative tool, I do not believe that it is a shortcut to exceptional world-building and I doubt that this is how Greenwood made the Forgotten Realms such an amazing, immersive, rich experience. I do not know for a fact, but I would put serious money down on a bet that says Greenwood had generated hundreds of thousands of words worth of details on the Forgotten Realms from which he pulled his source material for Dragon Magazine articles. The original D&D writers and creators and their 1000s of amateur DM-fans were world-builders extraordinaire, creating cultures and monsters and ecologies and collections of myths to rival Tolkien himself. I suspect that Greenwood didn’t present bits of lore that implied other details that he never bothered to create; instead I strongly suspect that he wrote reams of lore that never saw publication and was forced by the realities of publisher page counts to limit himself to the choicest excerpts.

Princes of the Apocalypse MedusaeD&D 5E is the heir-apparent to tomes of history both real and fictional. Its world settings are popular media properties in their own right with printed game supplements, comic books, video games and scores of novels in which incredibly detailed worlds are explored. The names of these fictional worlds are etched into geek legend: Oerth, Faerun, The Demonweb Pits, Ravenloft, Mystara, Athas.

If you want to role-play a product line with almost literally as much lore about its fictional worlds as the fantasy worlds are themselves supposed to possess, then D&D 5E is your game.

And if you happen to be passing through Hommlet, be sure to stop in at the Inn of the Welcome Wench. You’ll usually find me there and I promise I’ll buy you a few rounds of the excellent local mead. I’ve got more than a few extra electrum pieces from my recent expedition to the Caves of Chaos.

Village of Hommlet Panorama

SS/Luftwaffe March to Victory in the Kreig Unter Brüdern!

Destroyed German Tanks

The Kreig Unter Brüdern is over – at least in the Losheim Gap – where the combined forces of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and the 6th Fallschirmjager Division (played by my buddy Matt) broke through a poorly defended West Wall manned by the 49th Infanterie Division.

For those of you who have not been following this series of blogs, my buddy Matt and I decided to play a four-game, de-escalation series of red-on-red games using Battlefront Ltd.’s 15mm WWII miniatures game Flames of War. The Late War lists for our games started at 1650 points, then went down 150 points per game – 1500 then 1350 – until the last game would be played at a measly 1200 points. This was meant to represent how badly attrition would affect German forces in a civil war.

We had to end our fourth game before it was completely played out. based on what we saw, we awarded the victory to Matt, leaving the series tied at 2-2 with the SS/Luftwaffe slightly ahead on points. So we chose to play a 5th game and to get a decisive result for the series and was it ever!

KuB End Map COMPSince the ficitional narrative we’d created to tell the story of the series of battles had the LSSAH and 6th FJD attacking the West Wall at the Losheim Gap by this point, I originally created a Fortified list for this last game that was complete with trenches, nests and bunkers. But after looking at the confusing set of rules for things like bunker depoyment and feeling like I had no idea what tactics to use with a company like that, I went with a Fortified Infantry list out of Atlantik Wall that didn’t have any actual fortifications. Matt brought SS Panzers, effectively faking me out since I was sure that at 1200 points he’d bring infantry.

SMB Game 5 List2015-03-02





A detailed AAR follows, but for those of you who just want the scores:

Mission: Hold the Line

Final Result: SS/Luftwaffe Victory 6-1

Running Total:

Heer: 2 Wins, 3 Losses, 14 points

SS/Luft: 3 Wins, 2 Losses, 21 points


The board set-up. Each game we rolled for terrain: 1=light, 2-5=medium, 6=heavy. We rolled a 6 and got heavy. The pic below shows what the board looked like and gives you an idea of what heavy terrain was for our series. We used mirror maps to avoid terrain advantage and any delay of game caused by players studying the terrain layout to pick a side. The 49th Infanterie Division KGed up to 8 zugs and put x2 short combat zugs, its 2cm AAA and its Armored Rockets in reserve. I placed a short platoon of PAK 40s and a zug with x3 Marders in ambush.


LSSAH’s Panzers warming up their engines for an assault on the thinly manned West Wall. The recon goes in first to lift Gone to Ground on the Heer Infantry.

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The Panzers have a difficult time fording the river. Two bog – the one on the left in the pic does not unbog for four turns, but still manages to avoid getting brewed up!

DSCN0970The 49th reveals a PAK 40 ambush. Two Panzer IVs go up in flames and I’m feeling pretty good about the early game. This will change. Drastically.

DSCN0971DSCN0973I deploy my sniper hoping to keep Matt’s supporting infantry pinned to allow my meager AT assets – consisting mostly of Panzershreck teams – to attack his tanks. If you look closely, you might see his rifle barrel poking out from under that wrecked Kubelwagen. Unfortunately, despite a re-roll, the sniper misses. Matt assaults on his turn, catches my sniper and he is summarily executed by the SS.

DSCN0974 DSCN0975 DSCN0978The SS Panzers start to work the right side of my line. The PAK 40s evaporate after doing nothing else and so it’s time to reveal my Marder ambush. They take out one Panzer then one gets destroyed and two get bailed. They fail their morale check and the crews abandon their AFVs and run to the rear. Both of my heavy-hitting AT zugs are now gone and I haven’t destroyed a platoon. I’m starting to worry – it turns out for good reason.

DSCN0981 DSCN0982 DSCN0983DSCN0987 DSCN0988 DSCN0989 DSCN0990 DSCN0991My Panzerwerfers come on from reserve in turn 3 and proceed to basically do nothing. They pin the FJs a couple of times by a 3+ motivation and a CiC in command range ensure that Matt can unpin them. He gets them into the woods just out of range of my infantry and starts to soften me up for an assault.

DSCN0986DSCN0992 DSCN0993 DSCN0994My remaining reserves come on all at once, but with my long-range AT assets gone, all I can do is try to work my man-packed AT weapons into position, hoping I can hit his tanks before his infantry screen annihilates the little ‘faust and ‘shreck teams. You can see my ‘shreck team trying to advance into position across the objective.

DSCN0994 DSCN0995 DSCN0996 DSCN0997 DSCN0998Matt fails a Stormtrooper roll and the ‘shreck gets a shot off. He nails a Panzer IV, then gets swarmed. Four FJ stands assault him but he almost survives… almost. (That FJ die just had to come up six!!!)

After that the game’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. His FJs take the objective but before they can dig in, my Grenadiers pop over the hill and decimate them. However, he makes his fourth motivation test of the game (darn Fearless troops) and he still hasn’t lost a single platoon despite his two Combat platoons of Panzers being down to a single AFV each!

From that point all he has to do is keep his AFVs out of assault range where he can whittle me down with ranged fire and then assault me off the objective.

DSCN0999 DSCN1000 DSCN1001LSSAH and the 6th FJD pour through the Losheim Gap and on to Berlin to ensure that Goering consolidates his political succession in the wake of Hitler’s assassination.

Matt and I agreed that whichever side won this Kreig Unter Brüdern, the rest of the (made up) story would prove it a pyrrhic victory. A civil war like the one we played out would have thrown the Western Front into total disarray, only making it that much easier for the Western Allies to liberate France and the low countries and advance into Germany proper. The only upside would be if the Western Allies conquered and occupied Germany instead of the Soviets as a result of the unexpected opportunity presented by the Kreig Unter Brüdern. However, since in the real war the Western Allies seem to have been okay with letting the Soviets beat their heads against the German defenses in exchange for the capture of Berlin, it seems just as plausible that history would have played out pretty much the same way.

Achtung! Kreig Unter Brüdern After-Action Reports

Tiger_II_02RECAP: My buddy Matt and I decided to play some red-on-red games of Flames of War. As we discussed what the games might look like, it evolved into a four game, “de-escalation”mini-campaign with some experimental house rules about list-building, air support and using a weighted dice-off to determine who is the attacker and who is the defender.

We created an alternate history back story for the campaign where the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler succeeded but Goering took power, there was a schism in the Wehrmacht and on the Western front the combined forces of the SS and Luftwaffe fought the Heer.

As our games rolled out, a setting for the battles took shape within this larger fiction. As German forces rushed from Normandy back to the Fatherland to determine who would have political control, they ran into each other in the Ardennes. As in the real history of WWII, a great armored battle took place. Only in this alternate history, German soldier fought German soldier.


Floreffe Abbey, 7 miles SW of Namur, Belgium on a tributary of the Muese River

SB Game 1 List 2014-12-21Obersturbannfuhrer Joachim Peiper is still absent from I SS Panzer Corps’ Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) when the division – busy keeping the British out of Caen – learns of the assassination of the Führer. Goering recalls all SS and Luftwaffe divisions to the German border, so LSSAH entrains in the rail yard in the eastern outskirts of Caen. The division is able to travel by train as far as the other side of the Belgian border. There, Heer forces have cut the rail lines and the division is forced to disembark at Namur.

Meanwhile, Heer forces have gathered at the Siegfried Line with the goal of preventing SS and Luftwaffe ground forces from re-entering Germany. Reconnoitering in force is an armored kompanie from KG Hummel out of the Paderborn Tank Training School, being personally led by a recently convalesced Obserstleutenant Hans-Peter Knaust. When the kompanie hears that LSSAH is in the area, it sends an armored column to gather security troops and block the SS division’s entry into the Fatherland.

Local Belgians sympathetic to the Heer side of the “civil war” alert KG Hummel to the presence of advance elements of the LSSAH near the Muese. These locals are dismayed when Heer forces destroy the ancient Floreffe Abbey in a massive artillery bombardment intended to deny this very defensible piece of ground to the SS. This bombardment also tips off the LSSAH to the presence of an “enemy” force so that the two opponents meet on the move.

A nigh unstoppable platoon of King Tigers – issued to LSSAH for early testing just prior to the surprise Allied landing at Normandy – easily destroys three of the worn Tiger 1Es from Paderborn and threatens to overrun Kampfgruppe Hummel’s position. A Heer recon platoon supported by Grenadiers returns in the nick of time and outflanks the SS force just before a final tank assault can be launched to shatter the Heer force. Threatened with encirclement by the addition of these forces, the LSSAH Kompanie retreats south.

Mission: Dust Up

Final result: Heer victory 4-3

Running Total:

Heer: 1 Win,   0 Losses, 4 points

SS/Luft: 0 Wins, 1 Loss, 3 points

KuB MapGAME 2 (1500 points) – “VERRÜCKT!”

Hannut, Belgium, 10 mi N of Namur on the way to the Dutch border near Eindhoven

2014-12-28 SMB Game 2 List

Their repulsion at Namur has tipped LSSAH off to the fact that Heer units are in position to defend the Siegfried Line. So in a strange perversion of history’s Allied attack, Operation: Market Garden, LSSAH decides to drive north through Holland in an effort to link up with SS and Luftwaffe forces capable of holding the bridges there and outflank the West Wall by crossing the Rhine at Arnhem.

After Normandy, the 116th Panzerdivision retreated east ahead of LSSAH. So when the order to integrate, disarm or repel SS units is issued on July 21st, they are in position to move east to a defensive position on the West Wall at Aachen. The 116th’s reconnaissance unit – Panzer Aufklarüng Abteilung 116 – is in an advance position near Liege, Belgium and its scouts first report the northern movement of LSSAH.

Major Eberhard Stephan – commander of Pnz Aufkl Abt 116 – immediately attacks, taking the LSSAH’s rearguard infantry screen – composed of elements of 6th Fallschirmjager Division – by surprise. Major Stephan offers them the opportunity to surrender but the 6th FJD, lacking experience but not courage, responds: “Verrückt!” (Translation: You’re nuts!).

Badly outnumbered and facing a mobile armored force, the Fallschirmjagers are encircled. Their problems are compounded when an RAF patrol of rocket-armed Typhoons unloads its ordinance on them. Unable to reposition its defending infantry platoons fast enough, the Fallschirmjager’s AAA and anti-tank platoons are overrun. Though an ill-advised, overly aggressive  assault by armored cars results in the needless loss of a highly valuable Heer platoon, the Fallschirmjagers are forced to retreat and the north-moving LSSAH is seemingly left without an infantry screen to defend its right flank.

Mission: Hold the Line

Final Result: Heer Victory 5-2

Running Total:

Heer: 2 Wins, 0 Losses, 9 points

SS/Luft: 0 Wins, 2 Losses, 5 points















GAME 3 (1350 points) – IT’S A TRAP!

The Losheim Gap – a valley byway into Germany, south of Aachen

2014-12-28.2SMB Game 3 ListThe Losheim Gap can be used to advance into Germany from Belgium, but any invader still faces the defenses of the Siegfried Line once they crossed the border. But since the Losheim region is of no other strategic importance (producing no military materials) the OKW has left it lightly defended. In the Gap sits the 246th Volksgrenadier Division recently reformed and shipped to the Aachen area in anticipation of the defense of the West Wall. These “green” troops are the first to learn that LSSAH’s drive north toward Holland is a clever feint when a strong armored spearhead slams into them. Never one to go around when they could go through, the LSSAH is probing to find a weak spot in the Heer occupation of the West Wall and return to Germany by the most direct route available.

The 246th VGD is tragically inexperienced and its commanders make gross errors: they choose a poor position from which to defend the Gap and as a result are forced to charge across open ground to attempt to stop LSSAH’s Panzers from rolling through the valley. Even support from two experimental, heavily armed Sturmtiger Rocket-Assault Howitzers (Proxy: Tiger 1 Es with the turrets rotated backwards) cannot stem the LSSAH armored tide. The 246th evaporates in the attack.

Mission:  Cauldron

Final Result: SS/Luftwaffe Victory 6-1

Running Total:

Heer: 2 Wins, 1 Loss, 9 points

SS/Luft: 1 Win, 2 Losses, 11 points



























GAME 4 (1200 points) – PLUG THAT GAP!  Losheim, Germany

SMB Game 4 List FoWPrint_Page_1Though soundly defeated, the 246th VGD was able to blunt the advance of the LSSAH enough to give elements of the 116th Panzer Division – mainly the green 60th Panzergrenadier Regiment” – time to move south from Aachen and attempt to counterattack into the Losheim Gap and stop the SS advance. But before the 60th could reach the SS spearhead they ran into the 6th FJD, acting again as a screen for SS armor, protecting LSSAH’s left flank. The 6th FJD having no good reason to go toe-to-toe with the 60th, began a fighting withdrawal towards the main SS force, hoping to draw the Heer forces into an overextended position and allow SS armored reserves to encircle the 60th. Two platoons of the 60th launched a mounted assault into left side of the 6th’s defensive position. FJ AT guns decimated the PG’s armored HTs as they attempted a mounted assault and the two platoons of PGs evaporated even as they destroyed the defenders. As the battle wore on and the Heer forces lost momentum, the 6th was able to move a platoon from its right to support the center and stall the Heer attack long enough for the FJ force to withdraw back to the main SS force.

Mission: Fighting Withdrawal

Final Result: SS/Luftwaffe Victory 4-3

Running Total:

Heer: 2 Wins, 2 Losses, 13 points

SS/Luft: 2 Wins, 2 Losses, 15 points

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We had to call the last game before it was finished. Matt and I talked through how we thought the next few turns would likely go and decided that the most probable outcome would be a 4-3 SS/Luftwaffe victory. This tied the campaign at two games apiece with the SS/Luftwaffe slightly ahead on points. Under the rules we’d outlined for the campaign, the points advantage should have given the campaign victory to the SS/Luftwaffe, but because we had to call the game early we decided it would be “cleaner” to play an unplanned, fifth, tie-breaker game. (And we’d get to play another game!)

So check back in to learn how things are finally settled in the Losheim Gap in the “Kreig Unter Brüdern.”

House (Divided) Rules: Flames of War “Krieg unter Brüdern” Campaign

5367354868_43bb5019d6_z My buddy Matt (also a developer here at SBG) and I got tired of one of us not getting to play our beloved Germans in Flames of War (FoW) games so we decided to play some red-on-red games.

This decision quickly grew into a plan to run a Heer-vs-SS/Luftwaffe, 4-game, de-escalation mini-campaign complete with house rules and a late-1944 German civil war back story starting with the fictitious success of the July 20th Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

We named our planned mini-campaign “Krieg unter Brüdern” or  (If Google translate got it right) “War between Brothers.”

NOTE: All the photos of 15mm minis in this blog are Matt’s beautiful work.

Re-Cap – The Fictional Alternate History Behind the Campaign

We imagined that the July 20 Plot  succeeded in killing Hitler in his “Wolf’s Lair” but that the conspirators’ plan to seize control of the government using the Replacement Army (sort of like the National Guard in the US) failed. Hitler’s named successor, Herman Goering, has taken over the government but the OKW – the western command of the German regular army (aka “Heer” in German) – still hopes to achieve a coup d’etat.

Goering has recalled to Germany the forces loyal to him – the SS and the Luftwaffe –to secure his grasp on power. This self-appointed, Heer backed government led by Ludwig Beck has ordered all Heer units to integrate any nearby SS units into their commands or to disarm said units if they refuse to submit. Beck has sent diplomatic envoys to the Western Allies offering conditional surrender to the UK and inviting the US to oversee this surrender to avoid an all-out invasion of the Fatherland by the Soviets.

In the midst of this confused situation, the aforementioned Soviets continue their rapid advance in the east. There, the entire Wehrmacht – OKH, SS and Luftwaffe – continue to fight together to prevent the collapse of the front.

Western Europe is a different matter. In the wake of a general German retreat, US and British forces liberate France without firing a shot and the Wehrmacht retreats from Italian soil entirely, leaving it in Allied hands. The Western Allies have stopped at the German border at the end of July 1944 to regroup in the wake of their unopposed, lightning advances behind the rapidly withdrawing Germans. Allied air forces continue to patrol the skies and, favoring the Heer side of the civil war that’s broken out, sortie against SS, Fallschimjager and other Luftwaffe units when targets present themselves. But for the most part the Western Allies are content to let the Germans tear each other apart and take advantage of the gift of time to make ready to launch a new offensive when the dust settles.

Matt's KTs1.1Re-Cap – The Plan for Our Four-Game De-Escalation Campaign

We decided to do a four-game mini campaign. At the end of our four games we’ll look at the win/loss results and declare a winner.  But winning and losing isn’t really the focus of this series of “friendly games.” Instead we’re focused on mastering rules, practicing tactics and running all the fun army lists we’ve never gotten to play before.

There is a well-established FoW campaign format called “escalation” where the size of players’ forces increase with each game over the course of a multi-game series. We decided to do the opposite: a de-escalation campaign. The size of our forces would shrink over the series of four games, representing an attritional effect that we think a civil war in 1944 would have had on German military strength.

House Rule #1 – Choosing Sides

Matt chose to play the SS/Luftwaffe side (partly because he has a beautifully painted Fallschirmjager force) and I happily took the side of the Heer. It may go without saying but this dictated that he stick to SS/Luftwaffe lists in the source books we selected for the campaign and I was prohibited from these lists. Those sourcebooks are:  Atlantik Wall, Bridge at Remagen, Bridge by Bridge. Devil’s Charge, Desperate Measures Fortress Italy and NUTS! My previous blog about the campaign describes in detail why each of these books was selected for inclusion in the campaign.

We also decided that when permissible lists included support platoons from the “opposite side” of our fictitious civil war – called “Allied platoons” in FoW (not to be confused with the historical “Allies” in WWII: the UK, France, Poland, Austrailia, New Zealand, India, the US, et. al.) – we had to substitute equivalent platoons from our own “side. These “substitute” platoons would lose the “Allied” keyword, be assigned the base  motivation and skill ratings of the substitute platoon in the source list from which they were being substituted, lose the “Allied” keyword and be re-costed as needed to adjust for changes in rating. (eg Say a Heer list rated “Confident Trained” had a Luftwaffe 2cm anti-aircraft artillery platoon rated “Reluctant Trained.” I am required in our campaign to go find the Heer list that is the closest to the one I am using that includes a Heer 2cm AAA platoon and substitute that platoon and use its cost. Having done this several times now, I have typically substituted CT Heer Flakvierling platoons for RT Luftwaffe platoons at an added cost of +10 points.)

Matt's Nebs2.1House Rule #2 – Heer Air Support

Unlike the US during WWII, which had both an Army Air Force and naval aviation, Germany had just one air force: the Lufwaffe. The supreme German commander of the Luftwaffe was former WWI fighter pilot Herman Goering. Goering was also the former head of the Gestapo and Hitler’s appointed successor, so in our little fiction Luftwaffe forces clearly had to join the SS in supporting Goering’s assumption of power.

In our campaign force-building, this left the Heer side without any options for Air Support. After contemplating leaving things this way, we decided this was too problematic.  The Heer player would need to worry about air defense and spend point on AAA and the SS/Luftwaffe player wouldn’t. Prohibiting the Heer from taking air support also limited its options for countering heavy armor.

So we invented a new piece of the back story to give the Heer player an air support option: Allied sorties against the SS/Luftwaffe. The Heer player could purchase US and UK Air Support options – Typhoons, Thunderbolts or Spitfires. This air support option would represent the fact that the Western Allies were favoring the Heer side of the civil war and so Allied pilots were authorized to attack SS/Luftwaffe forces if clear opportunities presented themselves. But because in our fiction the Western Allies are not engaging in concerted military action and are instead sitting back and waiting to see how the German “civil war” turns out, we decided that the Heer player could only buy Air Support at the “Sporadic” level – the least amount of air support available in the game.

Interestingly enough, because the Western Allies had achieved air superiority in WWII by mid-1944, Allied FoW lists don’t have Sporadic options. I had to extrapolate costs by comparing the proportional reduction in points from Priority-level Air Support to Limited-level and from Limited to Sporadic in Mid War lists. The results of this extrapolation? Sporadic Typhoons cost 125 points and Thunderbolts/Spitfires cost 110 points.

Matt's 2cm AAA1.1House Rule #3 – Terrain

Matt and I typically play on terrain boards arranged into what we call “mirror maps” – each side of the board has the same terrain as the other side. This eliminates – as much as possible – any terrain advantage being given to one side or the other.

This has disadvantages and advantages. The disadvantage is that we don’t get practice “reading the board” and identifying the most advantageous deployment. This is an important FoW skill for competitive tournament play. The advantage, though (besides equalizing deployment) is that game set-up is faster. Since both sides have the same terrain, there’s no delay while the first player to set up studies the board.

We also decided to make terrain density subject to random determination. Before setting up the board we would roll to see how dense the terrain would be: 1 = light terrain, 2-5 = medium terrain and 6 = dense terrain.

Heavy terrain favors infantry by reducing the greater mobility and longer ranged weapons of mechanized forces, so terrain can definitely work to one player’s advantage. Though Matt and I are friends and wouldn’t be likely to intentionally skew the terrain set up to the disadvantage of the other player, we decided to avoid even unintentional “terrain bias” with this random determination system. Since he and I have been playing together for something like three years now, we pretty much have a common sense of what the different terrain densities would look like.

Matt's PnzIVs1.1House Rule #4 – Testing an Experimental “Opposed Roll” to Determine which Side Attacks and which Defends

Finally, we took the opportunity presented by a dedicated four-game series to play test an experimental house rule we had been discussing for some time.  Every FoW game is played using a scenario from the rule book or other official source – called a “Mission” – that lays out starting conditions and victory conditions of a game. The basic rule book has a table of 12 of these missions.

In three of these, the terms “attacker” and “defender” are almost meaningless – both sides have to “attack” because seizing an objective is the way you win and both sides have to “defend” – make an effort to keep the opponent from taking an objective on your side of the board. But in the other nine missions, the attacker truly attacks – usually having to push the other player’s force off of a prepared defensive position in order to take an objective. In these missions, being the “attacker” or the “defender” can really add to one player’s advantage, especially if s/he brings a force well-suited to one role or the other. In competitive tournaments, where games are played in a short period of time and where “timing-out” in many of these scenarios means that the defender wins, it seems to us like being the defender is a distinct advantage.

The way that FoW determines who attacks and who defends in these nine missions is by comparing the two types of forces the players bring. The types of forces in order of likeliness to be required to attack are: Tank, Mechanized, Infantry and Fortified. When two matching force types play against each other players dice off to see who attacks, but otherwise a Mechanized force will defend against a Tank force, an Infantry force with defend against a Tank or Mechanized force and a Fortified force will defends against the other three types of forces.

We have always felt like this is overly “deterministic” and  not very historical. While military commanders do compose forces with a mind to whether the force will be attacking or defending, there’s rarely a guarantee in war that things will work out as planned. The fog of war has often resulted in battles where the “wrong” force composition for the job was called on to get it done nonetheless: armored forces defending, infantry attacking, etc. Game-wise, guaranteeing that certain types of forces will defend against other types is “deterministic:” players have an unrealistically high degree of certainty about what “job” their force will have to do by virtue of the type of force they bring. As a result, it seems to us, a player can significantly increase his or her chances of game success by sticking to “conservative” list choices, specifically infantry.

So we decided to experiment with taking some of the determinism out of the system and experient with using a “dice off” to determine who attacks and who defends. In our campaign, at the start of the game, each player rolls a d6 and the high roll defends. The player with the force that is further in the “defending” end of the spectrum adds to his or her roll +1, plus a cumulative +1 to his or her roll for every degree of difference between the two force types. For example, if a player with an Infantry force is facing a player with a Tank force, the Infantry player will add +3 to his or her die roll because it is two “steps” further down the “defends’ spectrum. So the Infantry player’s roll will yield a result of 4-9 whereas the Tank player’s roll will yield a result of 1-6. So while it is still much more likely that the Infantry player will defend, there is some chance that s/he will be forced to attack.

We’ll be experimenting with this house rule over four games to see if it has any effect on the way we think about force selection.

Matt's FJs1.1House Rule #5 – Excluding Missions

At the start of our campaign I said: “Matt, I want to exclude the Free-for-All Mission from our campaign” and he agreed. Free-for-All is essentially a “non-mission:” both sides have to capture an objective on the other side of the board, forcing both sides to both attack and defend. Its essentially FoW’s version of the most basic “last-man-standing” scenario that almost every table top miniatures game suggests players start with. Matt and I have played it to death. We wanted to practice other Missions we hadn’t played as often.

Then a funny thing happened: when we went to roll for a Mission we would invariably roll one of the other two Missions in the same category as Free-for-All, what is called the Fair Fight category. Because these missions are in the same category as Free-for-All, they’re not much different. We kept re-rolling and getting one Fair Fight Mission after another until finally we agreed to exclude the whole category!

Getting the Party Started

To date, we’ve played a practice game and then on 12/20/14 we played our first “official” game at 1650 points.

After the game was over, we decided that the game had represented an armored spearhead from I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler meeting a hastily assembled blocking force of “Frankentigers” from Schwere Panzerkompanie “Hummel” from the Paderborn Tank Training School led by Major Hans-Peter Knaust on the Belgium-German border .

My next blog will present after-action reports (AAR) covering this game and several others we’ve played on the way to completing our 4-game series.