Tuesday 3 October 2023

Taming the boardgame collection.

I have been an avid boardgamer ever since a chance encounter with a game store back in 1977.

It was a hobby already well established and serviced by hundreds of game titles by the time I discovered it and the S&T magazine up to issue 77 (Cobra), which I bought as my first game.

The ‘Old Guard’ of SPI, TSR, Avalon Hill, GDW, West End Games, OSG, Victory Games, Yaquinto and  Clash of Arms games, dominated the shelf space of the game store.

Boardgame production was (and largely still is) dominated by American publishers, so everything here (UK) was imported, with the exception of Keith Poulter’s Wargamer magazine, who himself eventually moved to America and the attractive games produced by Attactix Adventure Games.

I bought and experienced a lot of titles, but with money tight, it was always a case of selling existing games to buy the new ones and so titles good and bad continually flowed both into and out from a collection that was forever in a state of flux.

Considering the breadth of subject matter that I bought into, my collection has always been quite modest and for decades I just never really changed that early  behaviour of culling and selling off, to get the next ‘must have’ titles.

Recent years have seen that cycle somewhat broken. I have been much more selective about what I buy, no longer doing speculative purchases, while fewer games have been sold.

As a consequence, game numbers have grown, not dramatically, but enough that space (which is shared with my miniatures) has got a little tighter.

This sits alongside the fact that between the boardgames and the figure games, I am very conscious of just having far too many different rulebooks, too many different systems, more than can be serviced and it does distract me. 

Some games have sat on the shelves for years unplayed and there are more systems than can be conveniently held in memory, so I end up doing a full rules re-read whenever a game goes onto the table or worse, getting confused between similar sets (often both!).

Anyway, a while ago I resolved to shifting more towards series based games, simply so that a single common rulebook per series would allow more games to be easily got to the table and familiarity would make for better play.

Nice idea, but I still had too much stuff sitting outside of series systems, plus games that have not been played in the last 5 years and would be unlikely be played in the next 5.

Then, out of the blue, I was hit by one of those tidy-up and reorganise moments, the planets were aligned and I threw myself behind a proper game cull to aggressively get the collection tightly down to a limited number of series systems to represent my various interests - I mean this was going to be a proper job!

A combination of ruthlessly trading with a dealer, selling to the community and frankly …. throwing out, has brought me to a situation of clearer shelves and a clearer mind - Good!

So, what stayed? Well the idea was that each of my major periods of historical interest would be served by a single system as follows;

Ancients - Great Battles of History by GMT - (Used in association with their Simple GBoH rule set).

I have the SPQR Deluxe reprint which has 14 key battles from the era of the Roman Republic, so we are looking at the likes of Zama and Trebbia.

They do the full battle, with centres and wings, with a good looking battle line, but getting down into the hex, this is tactical system as much as anything else, with hexes representing 70 yards and each turn just 20 minutes, so there is much interest in seeing all of these many small actions feeding into the bigger picture.

Soon to be re-released is the reprint of the Alexander Deluxe module, with a further 10 battles. So between the two sets, that will give me 24 major battles, running off a single rule system. 

I may add the Caesar module in due course, but there is lots already here. Just playing one game a week of this system could take 6 months to get through these two packages, so I probably have enough already :-)

Medieval - Men of Iron by GMT.

A couple of years ago, GMT did a deluxe Men of Iron bundle, putting three of their games from this series in one box, these being - Men of Iron (14th Century including Falkirk and Bannockburn), Infidel (the early crusades including Ascalon and Arsuf) and Blood & Roses (Wars of the Roses including Bosworth and Towton).

Taken together there are 20 key battles in this tri-pack box.

Soon to be released in the series is Norman Conquests, giving us the 1066 battles plus Lewes, Evesham and the Normans in Italy. This adds another 7 battles to the system.

Map scale is different in each scenario according to need and there are no hard set game turns, with entire formations being activated on a die roll and play flipping over to the other side when an attempted activation fails and so the entire scenario is catered for by play going back and forth between players on an activation basis, a sort of never ending turn.

Taking the Ancient and Medieval systems together, one can immediately see that even a drastic cull still leaves a lot of playability on the shelf.

English Civil War - Musket & Pike by GMT

In 2005, I had the ECW module (called This Accursed Civil War) giving 5 key battles, but as part of my game selling churn that I described at the start of this post, it went out of the collection in trade for something else to come in, something I have always regretted.

Anyway, last year this came back into the collection as GMT did a re-print and combined it with another game in the system - Sweden Fights On and so this dual pack gives us 7 ECW battles and 4 Thirty Years War battles.

This series is an example of a more intricate system that benefits from more regular play than I would normally be able to give it, but with a trimmed down collection, perhaps I can give it better service now. 

American War of Independence (AWI) - This is an interest area for me, but as yet, I do not have anything that would fit as series system of choice - perhaps one day!

Napoleonic - Oh Dear! making up for the lack of AWI (above), I find myself holding two napoleonic systems.

Well, I will ultimately settle on one, but at the moment I have games from both the Eagles of France system from Hexasim and Jours de Gloire from Vae Victis. 

Eagles of France titles to date are Austerlitz, Waterloo, Quatre Bras and Ligny. Eylau is promised next.

Jours de Gloire has something like 45 battles in its series, but many are out of print. I have started to collect the reprinted titles in their folio form, redone with both French and English rules. 

Titles include Aspern-Essling, Austerlitz, Ligny, Quatre Bras, Wavre, Waterloo and Marengo and again, an Eylau design is rumoured as being next.

The JdG advantage is their relatively small footprint, particularly useful in keeping the longer games set up, but I find the rules to the Hexasim games to be a little more intuitive - or at least easier for me to remember.

I will probably hang onto both systems for now, see what comes next and also play more of the titles to get a better appreciation of which one should go!

American Civil War - The Civil War Brigade Battle Series from Worthington Publishing.

This is a young series, but the designer has a stated aim of 10 battles being covered. So far we have Antietam, Shiloh, The 7 Days Battles and Gettysburg is due out in early 2024.

This is a players series, with the rules being just 8 pages long. Hexes represent 250 yards and each combat point on the counter is representing 100 men …. Some of those early brigades were very big, so there are some high values here on the counters, but units have strength markers to show a slow degrading of strength.

I find this system makes the bigger battles playable in a reasonable amount of time and those 8 pages make it very accessible and all the more likely to get pulled from the shelf and played.

We jump now to WWII tactical - Old School Tactical from Flying Pig Games

OST is in the mould of good old Squad Leader, which to my mind was probably the single most important and influential game in my exposure to wargaming, giving us that 50 metres per hex tactical feel, with infantry jumping over walls and hiding behind hedges, while the armour engage in their cat and mouse antics.

OST encompasses all of that and is wrapped up in a very modern design with alternating impulses, clean simple rules and excellent artwork.

There are three core modules, East front (early ’41/42), N.W. Europe (late ’44/45) and Pacific (everything). Next up, hopefully early next year, is the Italian theatre. 

Each core module has expansions, to broaden scenario situations and increases the various orders-of-battle. So for example, east front has an expansion on Stalingrad and one called Red Blitz, which covers the mid war.

This would likely be by Desert Island game, I were only allowed 1 game!

WWII Operational - Battles in the East from Decision Games

This is a new series. Each volume has two battles and two volumes have just been released together, so there are already 4 battles for starters with two more volumes promised for next year, so hopefully with 8 battles covered, this will have developed legs and become successful enough for Decision Games and the designer to continue growing it.

The rules sit in just 14 pages and share a heritage with Cobra, Panzergruppe Guderian and Army Group South. The blurb says it plays in 2 - 4 hours, so a bit of a sweet spot for me.

I think the first game to the table will be Guderian’s Final Blitzkrieg - Tula 1941. I have been playing a lot of Barbarossa games this year, so the subject is familiar to me and it will help me bench mark this system against those recently played.

So that is pretty much all of my history interest catered for by just 7 or so systems ….. That is worth saying twice, SEVEN RULEBOOKS! 

What Else’s there?

It is of course the case that series games alone will not give me 100% coverage of what I want, because there are a few titles / subjects that I would most certainly want to see in the collection, but I am keeping these to an absolute bare minimum.

So far, this is a very select group of just 5 games and each has a specific purpose.

First up - Cobra 3rd edition from Decision Games.

This is here, purely because it was my first boardgame ever played (as presented in the S&T magazine No77). It was a ‘clean’ system, without ambiguity, an important fact in the pre-internet age and more importantly is my nostalgic connection to it, as the starting point of a lifetime of great hobbying.

The Russian Campaign - reprint by GMT

Well what can one say - an absolute classic and the only game that has ever kept me up until 4 AM playing it!

Originally an Avalon Hill game, this is a 2023 reprint from GMT and has been done over 2 maps and includes the original rules, with a further section of rules that detail the various variants and optional rules that have seen print in the intervening decades.

GMT have added a new stat to the rear of their box … ‘Replay Value’ and this scores 8 out of 9, which says it all really.

Napoleon’s last Battles 2015 edition from Decision Games.

Well this is simply just a joy to own. Originally published by SPI and later TSR, this was a quad game covering the four main actions of the 1815 campaign,  Waterloo, Wavre, Quatre Bras and Ligny and there was a campaign game that linked those 4 maps together.

The 2015 reprint has a Waterloo / Wavre map and a Quatre Bras / Ligny map, but essentially the 4 battles can be played independently and also the campaign game is available.

The hexes and counters remain small, like the original, but that is the only way to do this for the average gamer to hope to get the campaign game to the table. The new counters are highly colourful, while the map(s) remains somewhat sympathetic to the original pastel colours … very nice.

The new edition has an interesting 12 page historical booklet, which is a nice touch.

Bulge Game - there are two in the stash and I am not sure that I can see either as being THE bulge game that I ultimately end up with, but for now, both are very playable and entertaining.

The first is Bulge 1944 by Worthington Games, an area movement game that has specialised dice. The Germans get a better game here than they do with most Bulge games, as that sudden switch from offensive to defensive stance doesn’t happen so decisively and from the perspective, it reflects the original German intention / mindset and I find that Acceptable.

Overall an entertaining and playable game.

The other game is Bulge by Decision Games and it came as the game supplement in issue 3 of the Command Magazine. It has just 5 pages of rules and is interesting in that units have big movement allowances, which makes this is all about the Allies worrying about keeping road routes closed down and for the German player seeking out any gaps to exit units from the map (with those big movement allowance) and claiming a win, it really does pull both players emotionally into those roles and mindsets.

I think this game may have originally been called The Big Red One. The version I have is the Ty Bomba re-make and since release, Decision Games have put out a boxed version, going back to the original SPI design. Sadly, the new game is a small half sized map and small counters, while the magazine version has oversized hexes and counters, so I am likely to stick with the magazine version.

Stalingrad by Revolution Games

I sold two Stalingrad titles when I bought this. Unusually for me it is a dedicated solitaire system, with the system taking the Soviet side. It has been highly acclaimed and my game store sold out twice before I was able to secure a copy.

It runs as an area movement game, with the usual thing of units getting spent as they are used. The Soviet defence is managed by the system and the game starts with the Soviet counters being face down, so that the player, taking the role of the Germans, does not know their value. 

The rules look very tight and this is my next game going to the table, so expect some sort of write-up here over the coming weeks.

A Barbarossa Game - Guderian’s War by One Small step

I couldn’t begin to even guess how many Barbarossa games I have owned over the years, it feels like at least one new one comes out each year, but it is a classic situation.

This is another Bomba design with the trade-mark switchable move / fight or fight / move variations in the sequence of play and his usual attention to detail on supply rules.

Will this be the Barbarossa game I stick with? The counters still haven’t been punched, but I am moving this one up the list, it is another one of those titles that has sat there for too many years without being played.

I have one other new acquisition that doesn’t really fit into other categories. It is Cruel Necessity from Worthington Publishing. 

It is a solitaire game, examining the English Civil War and my intention is that it might make a good campaign manager for my ECW figures to play out the various actions on the tabletop - one to watch out for.

And so that is basically it, there is still rather a lot really, but much, much fewer rulebooks than was previously the case. There are a couple of solitaire games in there, with one being a potential vacation title, but everything else, though two player, all have solo friendly mechanisms.

My face-to-face sessions with Mike are generally in the 2½ to 3 hour region these days, so it will be a case of picking the smaller games / scenarios out of that lot and then just relying on repeat play to get more familiar with a smaller range of games and picking up a bit of speed through that familiarity.

I’m sure the odd thing will fly in and somethings will go, but this seems the most stable, focussed and fit for purpose collection than I have ever owned, with at least the prospect that a goodly amount of this will now get played.

The challenge is to keep it this way and then to move across to the figure collection and tackle that with a similar single mindedness (plans are already afoot! and I will certainly be able to handle that in a shorter post …. You will be pleased to hear :-).

Resource Section.

My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.