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Subject: 1st MN Fights the London Fog: Bootcamping BloodTree Rebellion rss

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David Dockter
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Well, how did I get here?

Discovered this game via BGG: Insurgency and terrorism . This thing is so obscure, that when I asked Mark Herman if he was familiar with the game, he responded with a BIG, "Huh?". I acquired a copy 4 or 5 years ago. When I received it, I looked at it and thought, "Interesting, but, the rules create an impenetrable London fog. MAYBE there is ripper of game, but, damm if I am going to spend time groking it. I'll need a Bloodtree dungeon master to appear.". And, so, the game got buried in the game closet.

A few years ago, Nels T. embarked on his quest to slay Moby Dick, Vietnam 1965-1975 - his journey here: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?8@@.1dd59d98 Since then, I've wanted to play a decent counter insurgency game. Central America remains on the to be played pile - (a Victory Games title, so, it should be quit good), a number of Brian Train games, Ici, c'est la France! The Algerian War of Independence 1954 - 1962 , there is Nicaragua and recently Tonkin: The Indochina war 1950-54 (second edition). Not a lot of COIN games - and I've only tried Fire in the Lake recently - liked it - but, it didn't quench my thirst for a MEATY COIN wargame. We're actually having a related event at the club soon: COIN FRIDAY -- February 20th -- Let's Dip A Toe Into Asymmetrical Warfare

Then, a few weeks ago I stumbled across Enrico's vid AAR of Bloodtree Rebellion. Watched some of it (his fight with the rulebook and "the drunken idiot with the blue highlighter" - gutbusting). Enrico relayed a couple of interesting stories (I haven't verified if true...yet):

1. It's really a game on Vietnam: the designer, Lynn Willis (who was a SyFy/role playing author/fan) made a game on Vietnam, brought it to GDW, and GDW said, "We can't sell a game on Vietnam; put it in another context".

2. You can see some/a lot of Vietnam 1965-1975 in this game. Maybe Karp utilized some of BT's concepts.

That hooked me. I thought, well, what the hell, let's get this relic on the table at First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society. Posted on our club's I want to play: Jan 30, 2015 (non-gamehater edition) and Sir Patrick took up the challenge.

Step 1: Get a trench coat and read the rules.

The actual rules are barely 12 pages. They are old school old school (no examples of play, no illustrations, no "here's what this means", etc). Units/terrain/etc have references to this or that scattered throughout the rules. I started to understand what had set Enrico off. Secondly, this game was never "competitively played". So what? One of the reasons WBC is such a treasure for hobby is that competitively playing a game causes gamers to beat the hell out of a design: this a great thing. If the game has a designer with a VERY thick skin and one that wants to improve the published game, the game dramatically improves (see the card driven wargames). BT just didn't get put thru the paces - and it shows.

So, enough whining... the first thing I did was to make some few playaids to help us on our mission:





Next thing required was to check the Consimworld board. Would there be a discussion board there devoted to the game? YES! And, one gentleman, Mr.Myers, was cheerleading for the game. I put his house rules, clarifications, strategy notes, etc into one document:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?233@@.1dd16f49/92!enclosure...

Step 2: Kit it out

Thought about giving the game the usual 1st MN/Sawatdee over the top game pimp out, but, strangely, held off this time. I really wanted to see if after one session of pushing counters, this was a game I wanted to invest much time playing. But, hell, it just wouldn't be right to not show this game a little love, so, I stole a cup from Chipotle and made a BT Cup of Chaos to conduct the various draws of random chits required throughout the game:



And, did spend some time thinking about the game during the week. There are some very cool concepts:



1. Politics

Every reader of my session reports (or listener to Guns, Dice, Butter) knows that I rail against wargames/history sims that do not contain political dynamics that the conflicts are ensconced in; no back story. This is a SyFy game, but the designer did an interesting job of baking in a political system that the insurgency could occur within. These counters should give you a sense:


The city display...the political war takes place here - with both sides places "power bases" and then fighting over protecting them and trying to seize them


Some of the political counters...the #x indicates the number in the counter mix, while the other numbers indicates the push/pull on political support - minus favors the evil empire, plus favors the rebels


The heart of the political support mechanic

2. Protecting the infrastructure/pop centers - "the system is the solution" vs "pissing in the nest/kicking over the ant hill" to create instability in the population's belief in the overlords.
The evil empire (called the "Mykin" in BT) tries to protect cities, a resource line and settlements. The rebels attempt to wreck all that (sound familiar?).

3. Panic fire & collateral damage > loss of political support > an uprising

There is a "strategic will" system in this game. It is very interesting, since it is difficult for the rebels to pass the first hurdle (100 pts on a scale of 0 to 1000 - then the rebels may place the appropriate power base in a particular city and begin to stir the pot). ONCE (IF!) that hurdle is cleared, then the game gets damm interesting (well, that's what I gathered from Enrico's vids). Part of lighting the fuse, is causing the evil empire to over react (sound familiar?). For example,

4. Interesting dials & nobs that impact political support

You've got the politics, you've got the battlefield tactics (guerilla's setting up political land mines for the evil empire to step on) and the relationship between the two. 12 pages of rules, but lots of dials and nobs. Looks good.

So, I was started to get really jazzed about giving Bloodtree Rebellion a toss at club nite.

Step 3: Searching for the ripper

Two of my favorite gamers in our tribe are Dan Dolan and JR Tracy. Each year, they play a game of Letters from Whitechapel with JR and his band trying to find Dolan the Ripper (apparently, after many years, JR & co found Dolan at 4AM one night at WBC last August). Although this game is obscure, it didn't fail "the JR test". I emailed him and he had not only played it, but had some useful files; a step forward to solving the mystery of this game.

I did think, when I and Sir Patrick were playing BT on Friday, we felt like we were looking for the ripper. And, sadly, we did not find the bastard. I'm getting ahead of myself...

So, we started setting up the game at 5ish. No real issues, except what do you do with the 3 Mykin PB (political bases) you set aside at the beginning of the game? When does the evil empire place them - as soon as the PO (their on planet quislings) commits? The other "minor" issue is that we had NO idea regarding how to deploy other than the common sense goals: the rebels should "hide" and that evil empire should protect the infrastructure.

As apart of the setup, the rebels draw 4 of 8 possible cool toys (I do with there had been some more variability or a system for purchasing which ones you desired). Consulting the playaids/rules, I had an idea of how to use them. We were ready to begin pushing counters


The draw - draw 4 out of 8 possible cool toys for the Guerilla to wage chaos


Guerilla setup - a corresponding counter is placed for each force on the map - a nice fog of war


Initial guerilla deployment


Setup complete

Despite the wise advice from Mr.Meyers , we decided to try his house rule on initiative. Essentially, you toss different chits into a cup ("the Cup of Chaos"). Depending upon which chit is pulled, either the evil empire or the rebels have the option regarding activating one stack to conduct movement and combat first or second. The cool thing is that there is a variable turn ending built in (some black chits we'll call them - draw two, turn over). I think my deep seated hatred of the I go You go mechanic - plus Sir Patrick's interest in trying the variable initiative mechanic - got the best of us. What we found is that the tempo seemed wrong - with both sides getting one increment - so that the rebels didn't have enough flexibility to respond to evil empire thrusts.


What will the Cup of Chaos bring?


1st MN in dead of winter action: had 40 gamers...we've been turning out 30 to 50 recently: AAR here: G.A.A.R. -- 1/26/15 -- The Downtown Ax-man Rebellion Edition

Anyways, the Mykins (the evil empire) began the game. Their first probe of a hidden unit (essentially, they must probe a hidden unit before they can beat on the insurgents). The hidden unit was revealed. A farmer! So what? When a farmer is revealed, there is a chance that the Mykin will indiscriminately (war criminals!) kill the unit and cause a political support hit. Sir Patrick (the Mykin) tossed the dice: sadly, no civilian losses. Also, if a real unit is discovered and combat occurs, the guerilla may be able to "hop" (move to adjacent hex) and become hidden again (I believe that is very similar to Karp's Vietnam).


Innocent farmers: What is the farmer's daughter, smartly dressed by the way, pushing and why is the rice paddy dude watching her - with a pitchfork?

2nd Mykin move? Another probe and another innocent farmer! Which, is quite remarkable given the guerillas only begin with 3 farmers (in 20+ stacks). Again, the evil empire failed to trigger civilian losses.


Triggering civilian losses...the number is then multiplied to produce a political support hit


1st Probe

After the initial Mykin probes had encountered innocent farmers, the Mykins did manage to corner a unit, but, they got bit by the funky CRT. Check it out:


CRT: rolling high is bad

So far, the Mykin's had been unable to nip the insurrection in the bud. 4th attack? PANIC FIRE!


1st Panic

Panic fire is triggered when a Mykin unit uncovers a rebel that has combat strength higher than their own. The Mykin unit then goes "Marvin" and sprays fire everywhere. If the rebels can trigger this in a city, the political cost can be quite high. Additional, the first occurrence of Panic Fire triggers the deployment of the Glyths, who will eventually intervene on the side of the rebellion. We had a few related rules questions with panic fire:

1. Do the Mykins attack their own adjacent (to the target hex) units? We ruled that friendly fire can occur.

2. Do the Mykins attack farmers? We ruled that the Mykins had to roll again on the probe table to determine whether they had caused civilian causalities (and, again, Lucky Sir Patrick survived the roll in flying colors).


The Glyths Deploy!

The rest of the turn played out with the Mykins hitting a sanctuary. That use of the word "sanctuary" really threw us. When we think of a sanctuary in COIN, we think both of some place politically untouchable (Sadr City) and incredibly insurgent friendly terrain (the mtns of Afghanistan). This is NOT the case in BT: the guerrillas get no terrain benefit and the Mykin can easily whack (no probes required). So, the guerrillas don't ever want to occupy the killing zones called sanctuary (WTF?). Maybe we're missing something, but, we thought this was a real sour note in an otherwise fine innovative & somewhat meaty COIN model.

The other sour note was not quite seeing how to initiate the fine political game. Each side draws these cool chits (see political action counters above). But, they are not usable until the rebels push political support to 100. So, how to do that??? A few ways, but, they'll take some time, luck and Mykin stupidity. Perhaps a drift mechanic (see Empires in Arms - political support drifts each turn). You would think the evil empire would be under some time constraint for prosecuting the war. The one thing Sir Patrick pointed out is that the rebels need to get into the cities ASAP and wreck some havoc to deteriorate evil empire political support. I think Sir Patrick had a glimpse of the ripper thru the thick fog.

Having played thru a turn, we decided to bag it for the day since we had gotten a feel for the game. I think we were both somewhat disappointed, BUT, were intrigued enough to want to give this obscure 30+ year old game another toss.


A puzzled Evil Empire leader Sir Patrick


End of turn 1

So, what's the verdict?

Too soon to tell. The ripper evaded our search this particular evening. Sir Patrick agreed to take the game home, study it and decide if it warranted a further investment of time. I guess we need another playaid: "A guide to finding your way thru the fog: here's a plot line". We just couldn't grok how to light the fuse on the insurrection (pushing the political support to a level where the interesting political game would kick in).

There are some VERY interesting ideas in this game box. But, with so many damm fine games begging to be played, I'm not yet sure whether we'll get BT back on the table anytime soon. If we do, we'll issue our verdict; my gut says it will be a thumbs up, but, the proof will be in the playing.








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P Myers
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Thanks for the extensive report David, hope you play it again. I did warn you about using those house rules.

Some comments...
Bloodtree doesn't usually start with a bang, but builds with a sense a slow impending dread. The guerrilla wants to avoid the Mykin might, while still causing mischief, until the rain begins. Then, with enough political tools and combat decidedly bloody, he makes his move. In the end it's a pig wrestling match, and you want to be the pig.

The Mykin machine is constrained as it must secure the transport network. If the guerrillas aren't using this against them their not trying.

You don't need a polsup above 100, you can expose power bases by laying a column. Guard exposed bases wherever possible.

Of the last three newcomers to this game I've (playing as the guerrilla) beaten I beat one in 1 turn, another in 4 turns and yet another in 6 turns. Prior they all claimed the guerrilla player could not win. After, they claimed the Mykin could not win.
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David Dockter
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PFMM wrote:
Thanks for the extensive report David, hope you play it again. I did warn you about using those house rules.

Some comments...
Bloodtree doesn't usually start with a bang, but builds with a sense a slow impending dread. The guerrilla wants to avoid the Mykin might, while still causing mischief, until the rain begins. Then, with enough political tools and combat decidedly bloody, he makes his move. In the end it's a pig wrestling match, and you want to be the pig.

The Mykin machine is constrained as it must secure the transport network. If the guerrillas aren't using this against them their not trying.

You don't need a polsup above 100, you can expose power bases by laying a column. Guard exposed bases wherever possible.

Of the last three newcomers to this game I've (playing as the guerrilla) beaten I beat one in 1 turn, another in 4 turns and yet another in 6 turns. Prior they all claimed the guerrilla player could not win. After, they claimed the Mykin could not win.


Yes, did warn us about using the init rule, but, it sounded great.

One clarification; "You don't need a polsup above 100, you can expose power bases by laying a column".



So, guerilla can begin laying any power base turn 1 in any city? Or, do you have to begin with the first power base indicated on the city track (we thought the track indicated the minimum number of points required to expose the power base)?

We will give it another go; your advocacy for the game (and your helpful notes/comments on CSW) helped motivate us.
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P Myers
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My mistake David, this is something I frequently misremember. You do indeed need that first power base in ones own area, after that the column may be laid into enemy territory.

Now checking my notes, the best ways I found to get the political game going is a combination of impressment, panic fire, HQ destruction and exposing units on the boundaries of settlements (which requires wholesale recruitment, i.e. access to the cities). Also, the opportunity to control a city (certain random draws) on the first few turns may present itself (+500pp). The Mykin usually take it back but that still leaves +200pp, well worth the sacrifices and risk if politics is part of ones strategy.


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Gordon J
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Love those political counters and rules. Very cool.
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David Dockter
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Thanks Paul for the clarification.

Yes, pushing the political support to 100 (higher favors the guerillas):

1. Impressment: if the rebel can take out the pipeline. Sir Patrick's Mykins guarded it fairly heavily. None-the-less, rebs will need to try assaults on it.

2. Panic fire: if you can generate it in a city, it can have a big impact. The key is to get a few 6-6 reb's built and placed strategically (so that the Mykins stumble across these "political landmines")

3. HQ destruction: If the Mykins guard the HQs, going to be a challenge

4. Exposing units on the boundaries of settlements: agree, this one is one of the key ways to light the fuse on the political game - since, it generates +5 pts per rebel unit. (part of why I believe there may be a ripper of a game in this box - very smart, that as the rebs appear by settlements the population is either threatened or wooed into support)

5. Sir Patrick said the rebs should be going after eliminating PO civilian police squads (+10 each); I think he is correct

6. Grabbing control of a city? Yes - but that is going to require quite an investment.

I think you hit the nail on the head; the story in this game takes awhile to develop - and you need to have some competence/luck/patience in making that happen.
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Brian Train
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This is a brilliant and unjustly obscure game.
If Karp didn't Nick things from it, I admit that I did.
I've never been able to find much, if anything, of what Lynn Willis said about this design - he passed away last year.

Brian
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David Dockter
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Thank you Brian for the info. Sorry to hear the designer has passed on. I wonder who was associated with the development - or who might know some more about the game's background.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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It's great to see this classic get some attention (I had heard that Calandale did a video, but I don't have the stamina for that). It's been many years since I played, but I always felt it was one of the best if not the best insurgency games I'd ever played.
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Brian Train
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Herr Dr wrote:
Thank you Brian for the info. Sorry to hear the designer has passed on. I wonder who was associated with the development - or who might know some more about the game's background.


The capsule review in ARES #1 lists a "J. Harshman" along with Lynn Willis for the design.
I am not familiar with GDW's design and development process so there may not have been an awful lot of involvement by GDW staff with the design, apart from the art.
The "go back and give your Vietnam game an SF gloss" seems to have fooled very few people.

From ARES #1 (in the middle of dozens of capsule reviews of other SF games, this one by David Ritchie):

Quote:
Bloodtree Rebellion (GDW)
L Willis/J. Harshman
22" by 28" map. 480 playing pieces, city maps display. 4 organization displays, 16-page rules, 1 die, pasteboard box. $12.98.

The human-colonized planet Somber is occupied by a clone regiment whose purpose is to insure the exploitation of the planet by the Petrochem Orionid interstellar cartel. Needless to say, the indigenous populace is less than thrilled by the presence of these futuristic Hessians. Accordingly, they rebel. Deep within the Bloodtree forests they set up their sanctuary and begin a guerilla campaign against their oppressors.

This is the framework of the game. Within that framework, the rules allow for agitprop, assassinations, kidnappings, riots, demonstrations, arrests (and prison breaks), desertions from the ranks of loyal troops, espionage and most of the other elements of modern insurgency.

Interestingly enough, if you remove the sf trappings, you have a very accurate treatise on the "little wars" of our own age. Somewhat complex, but playable within a few hours. Buck Rogers goes to Vietnam. 6(DR)
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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ltmurnau wrote:
The capsule review in ARES #1 lists a "J. Harshman" along with Lynn Willis for the design.

John Harshman's name in the design credits was a good indicator of quality; see also Imperium and Blue Max
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Dave Starry
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Very entertaining report, thanks for posting. I remember playing this game when it first came out, but having trouble grasping what each side needed to do to attain victory. If anyone wants to give it a try via Cyberboard, drop me a line. I'm an absolute beginner, but would love to give it another shot.

One quick thing I noticed in your replay. You mentioned that you decided to include attacks on adjacent Mykin units ("friendly fire") during the Panic Fire sequence. However, that appears to be in contradiction to rule 10. Panic Fire:

"Multiply the attack strength of the unit by 5 and immediately engage all adjacent non-Mykin (including PO) units in sequential attacks."
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David Dockter
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Agree - friendly fire conflicts with the rules. But, we thought, "Why not? It happens in COIN."
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Enrico Viglino
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Herr Dr wrote:
Thank you Brian for the info. Sorry to hear the designer has passed on. I wonder who was associated with the development - or who might know some more about the game's background.


I tried reaching out to Marc Miller about it,
but he didn't reply. Dunno if he didn't know, or
if he just wasn't paying attention.
 
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David Dockter
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Hopefully, he wasn't the guy with the blue highlighter and your Bloodtree rulebook you weren't happy with in your vid review
 
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No. He's a GDW guy with his hand in most of their SF projects.
I think he had credits in BTR (my box is hard to reach) and I've
had contact with him in the past. Unlike Chadwick, I suspected
he might actually remember about this one. Frank focused more
on the historical side.
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Alright David, I managed to spend some time examining the shots and here's some advice on what the Guerrillas could have done.

Win on turn 1. The cut has been left unguarded, destroy it and occupy it with a unit. Carefully check the victory conditions.

Otherwise...

Both Dinnivan and Clearing were left unguarded, automatic infiltration. Attacked at 1-3 odds PO units die 5 times out of 6. The guerrillas outnumber them (stop being so squeamish, there are more martyrs from where they came from). +500pp and a virgin's paradise for recruiting.

Use the destroyer on the first turn, your at zero polsup so there's no pain in it being shot down and I see stacks! Line them up at her rip (two passes).

You have the bomb! Use it. Two suggestions: blow a covering laser and wheel in the SRBMs or find nice big juicy stack a blow it up.

Always, always target grav plats.

Without any police the Mykin is shut out of the political game. He set them up exposed. Kill.

Bloodtree is about good gaming. You don't politely clap an opponents move and wait patiently for your turn. You step on his toes and crush them, when he begins to cry you poke his eyes out.

Have fun.
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gene velasco
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Re:Whe 1st MN Fights the London Fog: Bootcamping BloodTree Rebellion
I owned this game about thirty years ago, but never played it because I could never make head nor tail of the rules--one of the most obtuse and confusing rule sets of that or any era. I gave it away (or sold it; I don't remember) to the Little Tin Soldier game store. When I saw you guys with Bloodtree Rebellion last Friday I wondered if that might be the very game that I had. Is that possible? Do you know the history of your copy?
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David Dockter
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Thanks Paul for the tips.

Gene, I found a copy via BGG...I think from Australia...Mr.Coutts...10 years ago now that I check! Can't believe it took 10 years to get on the table. cry
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David Dockter
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Played yesterday again. Game really started to "click" for us; Sir Patrick has become a Bloodtree Dungeon Master. If I get a chance, will post a short session recap of it.
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