Neal Durando
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There could be a New York Book Review-style review of all WW2 tacticals that is definitive, an article in itself, and grist for the next wave of design. This isn’t it; my review of Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles (BOBSE)is too quickly dashed off. And Patrick Carroll should write it, anyway. If you want my opinions about WW2 tacticals, just go read what Patrick Carroll has to say about Lock N Load (L&L). Long story short, I've been playing them since Panzerblitz (PB) and original Squad Leader (SL) and mostly, I admit, solo. Patrick also wrote very well about the advent of Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles (BOBSE) about his attraction and trepidation over yet another WW2 tactical system. So ditto that, too. I need another game like this like I need a hole in the head and I'm well fed up with hearing how 506 PIR won the Normandy Invasion. I would rather have a basket of dead crabs on the table than that storied band of brothers anymore. At least we're not into titular lionization of the Wehrmacht as heroes, as in Conflict of Heroes (CoH).

One great thing about SL was that you could game out battalion-sized actions without too much sweat. It therefore gave you a two-up, two-down view of the action, with the player taking on the decisions of all echelons but spending most of his time at the platoon level. Advanced Squad Leader's (ASL) initial offerings in Beyond Valor retained this scope and it was some years before how much more overhead the system caused and scenario design was inevitably drawn toward the company and platoon level. Scenarios became showcases for particular rules. Which was cool and even rewarding most of the time, but also made me feel like I was lost in some programmed approach that would last for fifty years. Stop! Now you can play Scenario 190. (You are now 63 years old.) This was kind of soul-crushing and probably makes Patrick Carroll sad.

Increasingly, tacticals make up for their shortcomings via tighter scenario design and special scenario rules. L&L, particularly, adds kewl stuff to their situations and limits engagement ranges so cruelly that there is usually only one plausible scheme of maneuver. (L&L is just rock n' roll that way. I and many others seem to like the goofy music it sometimes plays. Always funny to see a veteran ASL player try to pussyfoot his vehicles past situations where the scenario designer pretty much obliges feats of elan and lucky dice. I have not played through all the BOBSE scenarios here, nor will I. A platoon on platoon encounter in hedgerows? Involving 101AB against second-line Germans? Give me my dead crabs! I'm already asleep! My advice is to jump into the middle of everything. BOBSE is a short rules set. If you have experience of only one other tactical you should be able to rock through Scenario 4 (Battle of Bloody Gulch) without any trouble. The short of it is that BOBSE, like its grand uncle SL and cousin L&L, gets you into fire and movement very quickly. It is more elegant than L&L. Your brain will be more occupied with the tactical problem at hand than with driving the game system.

If there's one thing about old Avalon Hill titles, it really showed that there was a very organized professional press behind the operation. Which is to say that, unfortunately, BOBSE seems like a playtest kit to me. It looks earnest but not kick ass. There was more goodness to be had in the graphic design. L&L, for my money, is just as earnest but is always kick ass and sometimes too kewl for its own good. I won't buy CoH because I hate the counters. I didn't buy the first edition of L&L Band of Heroes because of the infamous hex halos. (Yes, Mark Walker, really.) I rarely play ATS because the markers are yellow and look like ass. So, yeah, I'm picky and probably superficial. I have yet to see a game pick up on the most awesome bit of graphic design from ASL: associating marker colors with phases. Why? The elegance of BOBSE's core should be reflected in its design and layout. It isn't. Want to be revolutionary? Include wooden bits as markers.

Yeah, there's a wristage factor associated with Proficiency Checks and Morale Checks. Which means to do stuff you often have to pass a check. (Does anyone complain of wristage when it is cards which take the place of dice?) Make a dice tower if you don't have one. And it isn't that big of a deal and would be even more fun if there were some event generator associated with the attempt. (Say that even though both PC and MCs are 1d10 say you throw two dice. Then say on doubles an event occurs. Associate events with chits and draw them from a cup?)

The central suppression mechanic is very well considered. In the aggregate, your attacks get gummed up by unexpected contre-temps. Just like in Combat Commander (CC), save without the infernal, unwanted cards. In both games, troops don't necessarily do what you want, but this is somehow less frustrating than when this happens in CC. Bottom line is that cards distract and make me feel stupid whereas dice only make me feel unlucky and let me get on with my day.

Leadership influence is by Command Points and by Operations Range. The former has a bit of the annoying artificiality of Conflict of Heroes. You can, for example, get into sequences designed to make your opponent expend them to give you a relatively freer hand to act, but they feel like less of an airy-fairy roleplaying mechanic. The OR is cool and seems like fertile ground to explore, design wise. I'd love to try, for example, to graft on a TCS-like tactical mission/orders mechanism and implement it through OR.

All in all, I think so long as you are rolling dice, there should be an automatic success (1) and failure (10) rule here, to provide the statistical outliers that ASL and CC are famous for as well as the possibility of something else happening. It's unsatisfying how binary the PC/MCs are, given that fire combat yields a nuanced range of results.

All hail Barry Doyle’s Valor and Victory (VV), now, for showing the gaming community how open boardgames really are in the era of desktop publishing. I have various gripes with the actual play of his rule set, but Doyle’s intentions and openness are so damn admirable. After all, the tactical wargame genre, and the WW2 subgenre, is so deep by now--say fifty years of accumulated play if we include miniatures rules sets. The boardgame community seems absurdly committed to the idea that there must be one system and only one. Think for a moment how many games have 40-50 meter scaled hexes. Think for a moment how many cool rules and bits of chrome litter the game design landscape. Grenades in ATS, tactical movement in ASL, events in L&L.

Now think hard about it. There is no reason, really, why experienced gamers need a system at all. Almost any scenario could be talked through using something like Matrix Game rules. I recently read a BGG thread wherein a poster sarcastically suggested that all we dispense with rules in favor of pieces and terrain and that discussion should decide the action. Funny, I thought, this is exactly what I do with my students (who are professional army and navy officers). Works fine in that environment and I suspect that results among gamers would generally be close to those obtained under various rules sets.

In the case of BOBSE and any of the sets since ATS, the variants suggest themselves. Favorite bits of chrome come back. Hell, a designer friend of mine once said to me that ASL is really just a car built entirely of chrome. Overstated perhaps, but I take his point. As in ASL or CC, I would like there to be more riding on the dice: How about a 1 always being a minimal success (adding one level of suppression) and 10 always being a failure(as written in the rules)?

BOBSE is simple and solid enough to permit interesting house rules. I would love some way to implement tactical orders such as in the Tactical Combat Series ( TCS). The Operations Range dynamic seems like it would lend itself to this well.

Conclusion: How I'll play BOBSE

I don't like the counters. So I've made new ones. (Someone suggested somewhere a counter flip for unusued/used status would dispense with all the “used” markers. Okay. Done.) I like the warm style of the hand-drawn maps, however I hate geomorphic maps. If you’re going to do geomorphic map, future WW2 tactical designers, I think you are obliged to come up with a random scenario generator (see SL and CC’s excellent system). So I'll use HASL, ATS, or any similarly scaled maps. Scenarios? It is no big deal to translate any of the great wad of squad-level scenarios. This do-it-yourself aspect will actually improve face-to-face play in the same way appreciation of another's work is part of the miniatures community. There doesn't seem to be any reason really why a group couldn't get together and make scenarios up on the fly. I'll certainly slap down Critical Hit's map of Stonne, Illustrator up some French counters, and go to town, directly from the ATS scenario cards. I did the same thing with L&L HOB and it was fun seeing how the two systems produced very different results over the same terrain. (After such an experiment it is easy to see how machine guns in L&L are woefully broken).

Every gloss in BOBSE seems worthwhile. Conflation of to hit and to kill numbers? Sure. It gets you to the end faster and you don’t lose all that much fidelity. This how the professional military sees things. Still and all, in the future, I hope BOBSE's standard rules set gets a little more kinky. The core is simple and elegant and so I think BOBSE would support a good deal of chrome without becoming an incoherent mess. There's no good reason why machine gun fire lanes could not be included as in ASL, or VV for that matter. Or even spray/residual fire. It seems a given that the LOS rules will become more complex. The core of the game is solid and seems well thought out after a few plays. And I can see myself playing it for a long time. Wish development and production had taken a bit longer. This is my abiding gripe with wargame publishers. See To the Last Man and Napoleon's Triumph for a gold standards of development. If I were calling the shots, the core system would be the basis for historical scenario/counter packs following the Critical Hit product line model.

I believe BOBSE was created with a company commander’s field manual from 1944 in Jim Krohn’s left hand. The grim concisions of fire and movement found therein are evident in the game. I believe BOBSE was well play tested. It’s an elegant system. It could have been better developed, however. I wish the variant suggested on Consim World to limit the wristage associated with advancing fire had been in the original rules set, for starters. There is further elegance to be had as well as further historical perspective to be had in this game. I hope Mr. Krohn will keep squeezing.
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Andy Cowen
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Nice write up, thank you.

"I'm well fed up with hearing how 506 PIR won the Normandy Invasion"

-Actually, it was the 2/508th PIR that won the Normandy invasiondevil
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Norman Smith
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Quote wrote:
There is further elegance to be had as well as further historical perspective to be had in this game. I hope Mr. Krohn will keep squeezing


I hope not too much. BoB has two really good attributes. firstly it has a good historical feel in which the tactics feel right when playing and secondly, a potentially complicated subject has been managed into a tight system that occupies relatively few pages of rules - a contrast to most other similar systems that I am aware of. I am sure it is bringing in new gamers into WWII tactical that would otherwise be (or have been) put off by the more complex subjects.

Everyone has their favourite rules from other systems, which are fine to use as personal house rules, but to start adding to this system would undo where it sits at the moment. Next thing you know, we will have people asking for By-Pass movement

I think Jim has rightly kept a tight discipline on 'rule creep' during the design.

I think the more you play the game the interaction of some of its elements just make the cleverness of the design more obvious. To describe it as a playtest kit feels way off.

It looks like we share a nostaligic passion for basic Squad leader. BoB is the first tactical game that I have played since that really takes me back to the excitement of my early discovery and immersion into Squad Leader (1978 4th edition basic). I did not enjoy the following modules (except Cross of Iron) and even less so ASL because something good just became crushed under a ton of rules and exceptions.

The opening scenario is probably what people take as their first game and I agree that paratroopers against 2nd line units is not giving the most fun for that first exposure to the game. I imagine that the next module will really start to open things up. I am looking forward to seeing a Russian Order of Battle.
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p55carroll
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Games are like songs: you never get tired of playing the best ones over and over, and you can enjoy them all by yourself.
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Scenarios became showcases for particular rules. Which was cool and even rewarding most of the time, but also made me feel like I was lost in some programmed approach that would last for fifty years. Stop! Now you can play Scenario 190. (You are now 63 years old.) This was kind of soul-crushing and probably makes Patrick Carroll sad.

Oh, but it does!
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blush


Thanks for nailing that--and so many other aspects of this topic. Top-notch stuff. Great read and food for thought.

I still need to get my copy of BOBSE on the table and find out what it's really like. I'm impressed that it has so far been recommended by two or three wargamers whose opinions I respect. (Oh, and then there's Marco's video; everybody respects those.)
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Neal Durando
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normsmith wrote:
BoB is the first tactical game that I have played since that really takes me back to the excitement of my early discovery and immersion into Squad Leader (1978 4th edition basic)


Yeeeesssss.

The reason why I suggest BOBSE grow in terms of rules is that the basic design seems so very sound. More so than SL even. (But of course BOBSE had the great advantage of building on good designs.) I'm more open to expansion, obviously, but like you I remain a fan of concision in design.

So what do you think of my opinion that fire lanes belong in the next edition of the rules? Fire lanes, after all, are a core aspect of infantry combat of the era. Historically, they are as intrinsic as fire and movement. How do you think it would change game play?
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The main change would be on the relationship between OP fire, final OP fire and the order chit that can extend the final OP fire for machine guns, conceivably it may not matter too much. more to the point, it will add a quarter of pages of rules just for one pet rule. Extra counters will be needed and the decision taken as to whether a new or the existing die roll is used when fresh units cross the fire line and whether the fire lane continues into the rout phase and what impact that has. It could be treated as artillery does for moving units.

potentially hitting multiple targets in different Hexes for the cost of just one Morale or proficiency check may put MGs out of balance with the design and current scenarios. It is likely that enemy units may move to draw fire and fix the lane and then move other units around the MG's non fire lane hexes and assault (without the MG being able to do final op fire of any sort) - which cannot happen under the current rule.

Also presumably when locked into a fire lane the unit will not be able to final OP fire into a hex outside the fire lane or use the command point to extend final OP fire and so will lose flexibility making it less effective in defence.

Bag of worms potentially and more to think about than first appears the case. How have you found the outcomes in your playtesting of a fire lane rule?

Edits because I am writing this on a stupid tablet
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Neal Durando
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normsmith wrote:
...more to the point, it will add a quarter of pages of rules just for one pet rule. Extra counters will be needed and the decision taken as to whether a new or the existing die roll is used when fresh units cross the fire line and whether the fire lane continues into the rout phase and what impact that has. It could be treated as artillery does for moving units.


Certainly a caution, but I don't think fire lanes would be a pet rule. Machineguns seem nerfed without such a mechanism. I haven't playtested anything because I'm too busy. I wrote my review to incite and encourage.

That said, I think it could be handled without too much fuss. As you point out, artillery has a quasi-residual fire mechanism already. The question were I a developer would be how to implement this in terms of what the design already does. One option, cribbing from a L&L card, would be to Opportunity Fire as per normal and put down a counter in the target hex. Subsequent movement through adjacent hexes would be subject to a proficiency check to make a half FP shot, without expending a command point.

The other limitations you mentioned actually seem like features to me, not bugs. Seems like such a change would encourage historical defensive plans with little or no expense to the complexity of the design. Machine guns, after all, were about heavy, sustained fire to canalize movement as well as to provide suppression. Doing so concisely would enrich the experience of newcomers to the subgenre. (Just as playing on historically-based terrain does.)

Now, mine dogs--there's a pet rule. (Gah--I forgot to mention encirclement. I'd love to see encirclement rules. This is probably too chrome-y as encirclement nets real benefits in terms of cutting rout paths, but I don't think it would be out of order to expect a drop in morale for the encircled unit.)
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Jim Krohn
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I believe BOBSE was created with a company commander’s field manual from 1944 in Jim Krohn’s left hand. The grim concisions of fire and movement found therein are evident in the game. I believe BOBSE was well play tested. It’s an elegant system. It could have been better developed, however. I wish the variant suggested on Consim World to limit the wristage associated with advancing fire had been in the original rules set, for starters. There is further elegance to be had as well as further historical perspective to be had in this game. I hope Mr. Krohn will keep squeezing.


Thank you for the compliments....and your description of what my left hand was holding is pretty accurate. Probably should be plural, though.

Quote:
The opening scenario is probably what people take as their first game and I agree that paratroopers against 2nd line units is not giving the most fun for that first exposure to the game. I imagine that the next module will really start to open things up. I am looking forward to seeing a Russian Order of Battle.


It was really just meant as an introductory scenario. Not everyone has tactical game experience.

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I think Jim has rightly kept a tight discipline on 'rule creep' during the design.


I was pretty vicious about what to include in the game for some of the reasons discussed. My attitude hasn't changed so I wouldn't worry about the game getting big and complicated. However, some rules did need to be added for Ghost Panzer - Hills, Smoke, and Halftracks being the ones that really stand out. Hills and Smoke had to be added because other modules will need them also. Halftracks add a page of rules, and it was painful to add them because of that. However, I just couldn't tell the story of a Panzer Division without them.

Except for additional rules for terrain types (like in the desert and the Pacific), the base rule set is done. There is a Commonwealth module in the early stages, for example, and I don't expect to see any new rules (well, the PIAT will be added to SATW list).

However, I do want to give people the option for some extra chrome and let people flavor to taste. There will be at least a couple of short, optional rules added in with Ghost Panzer. They are short and not needed, but they add a little more detail/flavor. I'll talk more about them later.

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The reason why I suggest BOBSE grow in terms of rules is that the basic design seems so very sound. More so than SL even. (But of course BOBSE had the great advantage of building on good designs.)


I loved SL. It was by far my FAVORITE game of all time (I still have it and COI rated as a 10) and I would not have designed BoB without the influence it had on me. However, it also caused me some problems. When designing BoB, you could probably say that I started with SL and a field commander's manual in my left hand. Eventually, I had to drop SL and just hold onto the manual. The reprogramming was painful.
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