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.

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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!!!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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

CAPTIONS ARE ABOVE PHOTOS…

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.

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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.

GAME 1 (1650 points) – ROYAL TIGER MEETS “FRANKENTIGER,”

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

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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

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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.

 

 

Makin‘ Up “History”: Flames of War “Krieg unter Brüdern” Campaign

It has been far too long since I wrote a substantial blog entry. This is because my site got hacked and not being a tech guy I had to rely on the charity of friends to get the site back up. While I greatly regret the hiatus, there’s nothing to be done now – you can’t go back and change history.

th…Or can you?

In 2012, Steve Bean Games participated in the wwpd.net Operation Overlord Global Online Flames of War Campaign. I wrote about how the campaign was organized, the games my local group played and finished with a comparative analysis of the historical D-Day and the online global game “simulation” and received a “Best of the Blogs” nod from Battlefront Ltd, makers of the Flames of War (FoW) 15mm WWII tabletop miniatures skirmish game.

Starting before the wwpd.net Overlord Campaign and up until about a year or so ago, SBG was part of a very active group of 7-8 players focused on FoW. But then a number of things happened: people’s schedules changed and one of the most enthusiastic players moved away. I stayed in the area but moved another 75 minutes further from our central gaming location. Games became fewer and farther between.vgpf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an almost complete hiatus of several months, Matt (my gaming buddy and a developer at SBG) and I wanted to get back into playing some FoW. In the absence of an active, larger group we decided to just play each other. The problem? We both play Germany almost exclusively. I DO have a largely unpainted collection of Soviets – enough for a few lists – but have almost no interest in playing them. Plus, I feel like I’m always the guy who says: “Oh, we need an Allied player? Okay, I’ll do it…” As a result I often don’t get to play the minis I’ve painted or the lists I’m interested in.

The solution? We decided we’d just play some “red on red” games. (Red on red is the military term for enemy on enemy fire or hostility.)

A Flames of War Mini-Campaign: Krieg unter Brüdern (War between Brothers)

As we started talking about playing a series of red on red games, we also started talking about a history-based fiction in which battles between German forces in World War II could plausibly have taken place.There was one battle at the end of the war in which German regular army forces (Heer) fought alongside American and French soldiers to defend a castle in Austria against the SS. But we wanted something a bit grander in scale than a single battle.Goering and Bormann inspect the bomb damage caused by the July Plot, 1944 (b/w photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The obvious source – especially since we knew we wanted to play the Late War period in FoW – would be to fictionalize the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, imagine it succeeded and then add a supposition that Germany’s military devolved into civil war between factions.

So we imagined that the July 20 Plot – sometimes referred to with the misnomer “Operation: Valkyrie” –  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 and the actual Operation: Walküre [Valkyrie]) 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.

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Goering has recalled to Germany the forces loyal to him – the SS and the Luftwaffe –to secure his grasp on power. Meanwhile, Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel has forcibly replaced Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel as Chief of the General Staff of the OKW and has put the support of the Heer publically behind Ludwig Beck (a retired, formerly high-ranking general who opposed Hitler in the late 30s), naming him President of Germany. This self-appointed government has ordered all Heer units to integrate any nearby SS units into their commands or to disarm said unitsif they refuse to submit to Heer authority. 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.Frankreich, Rommel bei 21. Pz.Div.

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 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 after the Battle of Caen. Operation: Cobra, the Falaise Pocket, Operation: Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge – none of these will occur; all have lost their place in (alternate) history. Similarly, in Italy, the Allies will never have to throw themselves against the Gothic Line to drive the Wehrmacht from Italian soil – it has already left.822

So, in our alternate history, 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. Overtures of surrender from the OKW have inclined the Allies towards the Heer and so Allied ground attack aircraft sortie against SS, Fallschimjager and other Luftwaffe units when clear 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.

Four-Game De-escalation Campaign

A quick search of the web will reveal many discussions of the question “Would the success of the July 20 Plot significantly changed the outcome of WWII.” The general consensus seems to be, in a nutshell, “no.” But Matt and I are almost entirely unconcerned with this question. The purpose of our fiction is to give us an excuse to play a red on red multi-game series with the internal logic of the fiction shaping some of the parameters of army list-building and other game mechanics.

The winner of a FoW game is the player who captures an objective or forces the other player’s company to fail morale and break. The games are then scored on a seven point scale. This final scoring depends on how many platoons the losing player defeated in the winning player’s force. This produces the following four possible game scores: 7-0, 6-1, 5-2 and 4-3. At the end of our four games we’ll calculate a total score 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.

There is a well-established campaign format in FoW called “escalation.” In an escalation campaign 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 of a civil war on German military strength. In 2014, the official point count for a Late War tournament force was 1780 points. We decided to do a four-game mini campaign. Our four games will have point counts of 1650, 1500, 1350 and 1200 points respectively.

“Approved” Source Books for Army-Building Lists

Like many tabletop miniature skirmish games, FoW uses source books to guide players in selecting forces to play. One of the things about FoW as a game product that most impresses us is the research that goes into trying to make FoW source books history-based. But our campaign was ranging into the realm of fiction! So in designing our campaign we would have to decide which books/lists – and the historical forces they present – would be appropriate to an “alternate history.” Exercising our powers of interpretation and extrapolation we selected:FW114

Atlantik Wall and Blood, Guts & Glory: These two books offer army lists from the German defense of Normandy. We agreed that any of the units represented in these two books that survived the first weeks of fighting after D-Day would be present in our fictitious general withdrawal following Hitler’s assassination.BbB

Bridge by Bridge: Covering German forces in Holland during Operation: Market Garden in September 1944, we thought that the Kampfgruppes – ad hoc combos of any and all available units – in this book would represent well the mixing and matching that might occur in the wake of the schism between Heer and SS/Luftwaffe.

Devil’s Charge and Nuts!: These source books cover many of the key German units of Hitler’s doomed Ardennes offensive. Though the so-called :Battle of the Bulge will never occur in our alternate history timeline, many of the lists in this book represent units and force compositions that were already being organized at the end of July 1944 and could believably come to the battlefield in our fictional civil war.

Fortress Italy: In our alternate history, German forces have withdrawn from Italy to join the factional fight over who would govern the Fatherland. Fortress Italy would provide us with game lists for the forces coming from the historical “southern front” on the Italian peninsula.

Desperate Measures     aindexnd Bridge at Remagen: These two source books cover the makeshift German units that defended the Reich on home soil in the final days of the war in Europe. Though Desperate Measures is written with a view to the eastern front, its lists also represent units that fought in the west. Both books cover a period a good six months or more later in the war, but we thought these books would serve a similar function to Bridge by Bridge – representing the kind of ad hoc forces we imagine this fictitious civil war would produce – AND a function similar to Devil’s Charge and Nuts!: representing units and force compositions that were already being developed, if not utilized, at the end of July 1944.

In my next blog I’ll present some house rules we instituted in our campaign as well as brief after-action reports (AARs) for any games we’ve completed by then. Until then, Happy New Gaming Year!

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SBG Proudly Authors the 2014 Dungeon Crawl Classics Holiday Module

GMG52014CoverLargeGoodman Games is pure RPG marketing genius. Last year they put out an RPG adventure module for their flagship Dungeon Crawl Classics fantasy RPG that thGMG52013CoverLargeey billed as their “first-ever Holiday Module:”  The Old God’s Return penned by the inimitable and inscrutable Michael Curtis.

The idea behind this product line is simple:  create the gift that keeps on giving – an adventure module that players can give to their Judges/DMs/GMs as a holiday gift that the Judge/DM/GM will then turn around and run for the player(s) who gifted it. Like I said: genius.

Goodman Games has stated its intention to establish a tradition of annual holiday module publication with each module increasing one challenge level of difficulty – last year’s was a first level module, this year’s is a second level module, next year’s will be a third level module, etc. – until the company has an entire holiday-themed adventure path. (I guess you’ll just have to skip the holiday theme for your zero-level funnel…)

I’m proud to have been tapped to continue this tradition and scribe this year’s 2nd level DCC Holiday Module, which I’ve entitled:  “Trials of the Toy Makers.”

The promo copy reads thusly:

 “Murder! Foul murder!” These are the only words that describe the scene inside the underground complex of the toy-making gnomes called the Konhengen.

Murder is not what you had hoped you would find, but you’re not surprised, either. Your introduction to these fabled, reclusive toy-makers had ominous overtones from the outset. First, there was the abrupt and unceremonious end to their nightly gift-giving visits to the village children. Then, three children snuck off into the Taboo Lands to investigate, convinced that evil had befallen the Konhengen.

And so you’ve traveled to a great island on the eve of the Winter Solstice to find the missing children. Instead you’ve found mass murder. But you’ve also found evidence of a secret agenda behind the gift-giving of the toy-making gnomes. Now you must unravel the mystery of the gnomes’ true purpose — or the world will suffer consequences on a cosmic scale!

A few “exclusive-to-this-blog” designer’s notes:

  • Don’t let the stunning Doug Kovacs cover art fool you – this is NOT a “Santa’s elves dancing a jig” adventure. It’s a grisly murder-mystery wrapped up in a great, big, cosmic logic puzzle with plenty of cannon fodder to keep the Dwarves and Warriors happy (or at least bloody!)
  • The adventure gives a starring role to a couple of juicy DCC game mechanics that often seem to get overlooked in people’s regular games.
  • A couple of Easter eggs serve as shout outs to my adoring fiancee Tracey DeMartini and to the illustrious, de facto co-president of the Minneapolis DCC Society, Jullian Bernick – keep your eyes out for those.
  • Trials of the Toy Makers follows in the footsteps of the Serpent Door puzzle in Michael Curtis’ DCC #77.5: Tower Out of Time, the Curse of the Emerald Eye face shield in Jobe Bittman’s DCC #81:  The One Who Watches from Below and the spinning wheel door puzzle in Michael Curtis’ DCC #83: The Chained Coffin. “Trials” is chock full of visual logic puzzles that players can solve using the graphic handouts provided. Don’t like logic puzzles? Fear not, there are multiple ways to complete the quest, so you don’t have to spend your whole gaming session poring over handouts if you don’t want to.

Expect Trialsplash1_sliced_16s of the Toy Makers to hit the shelves sometime around Black Friday, giving your Judge plenty of time to prep to run it at your FLGS’ holiday party! Check the Goodman Games website regularly to catch the upcoming announcement!

A big thank you to all of the people who playtested this module (in alphabetical order): Mike Bolam, Fred Dailey, James Deyonke, George Feldman, Theo Feldman, Jeff Hays, Eric Kearney, Bobby Lepold, Mario Mejia, Brandon Raasch, Mike Rabaca, Rachael Torres and Matthew Walkup.

I’m going to leave you with some photos from the playtest at the 2014 Pacificon Game Expo:

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New at stevebeangames.com: Painting & Modelling Gallery!

A new section of the SBG website will feature miniatures modeled and painted by me, staff and friends of Steve Bean Games.Mordheim Possessed devours an unfortunate flagellant

The SBGers are BIG fans of tactical miniatures games, especially WWII historical  – Axis & Allies Miniatures (AAM), AAM: War at Sea and Blitzkrieg Commander – and Skirmish-level fantasy/sci fi with Mordheim, Horrorclix, Star Wars Miniatures and the Space Hulk and Descent board games. At conventions we like to run Axles and Alloys, a beer-and-pretzels car combat game taught to us by Trevor Swallow from Op-For. It looks like we might even start playing some Infinity and using the minis from that game to play Necromunda withthose Op-For guys.

So we do a fair amount of painting. I like modelling even more than I like painting so I’ve kit-bashed quite a few pieces. I like my minis to be unique and to tell a story. You’ll see ‘em here.

CIMG2437Along with miniatures themselves comes terrain. What good is having great looking minis if you have to play them on a board that looks like crud? So these pages will show off some of the terrain the SBGers have made for the games we play.CIMG2475CIMG2476CIMG2479CIMG2481

I’ve struggled to take decent photos of my minis, so I’m also going to document an effort to improve my photography skills using the very basic camera and lighting I have. I’ll share any advice that CIMG2488guides my efforts – there are lots of good “how to photograph your minis” sites and blogs out there.

And though here at SBG we don’t design miniatures, we do design miniatures games. The very first game designed at SBG and pitched (unsuccessfully, I’m afraid) to a publisher was a miniatures-driven game called Grognard Vs. LARPers. This game is still on the design board being adapted to more of a straight up homage to Tom Wham’s Awful Green Things from Outer Space which was one of its major influences.

The Creature That Ate Berlin and Battalion Commander are SBG rule sets that expand the now OOP Axis & Allies Miniatures game by Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast. A third SBG AAM-compatible rule set is called XTO ’49 (for “Extra-terrestrial Theater of Operations, 1949“). XTO ’49 is a game about near-space  ‘mech combat in an alternate “diesel-punk” WWII.

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The war still rages at the eve of the new decade, the Axis powers having put their most advanced weapons designs into production soon enough to stave off defeat. The  Rocket Age has moved the war into near-space as both the Axis and the Allies seek hard-to-find radioactive ores to power their new technology (“Iron Sky: The Game,” anyone?). XTO ’49 was born out of a design exercise. I have always hated space combat games that only used two dimensions and I have never been able to envision a combat environment where ‘mechs with their slow speed and high silhouettes make sense,  their popularity with gamers, manga readers and anime watchers notwithstanding. Thinking about these issues  and being influenced by interest in ground combat and not air (or space) combat, XTO ’49 was born.

While not strictly a tactical miniatures game, SBGs WIP After the Oil uses Axis & Allies Board Game-compatible rules to explore strategic warfare in a post-oil, post-climate change United States where a second Civil War has broken out between north and south. Minis for this game would be A&A style, plastic, low detail and roughly 1/285 scale, but cool nonetheless.

So check back here regularly to see what’s coming off the work bench and out of the man cave in the “miniatures department” at SBG!

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