Open Vassal Playtest, Saturday 4 February 2017, 2000 UTC

Excerpt of an account of 359IR’s fighting vicinity of Chambois, ~22 August 1944

After a restorative holiday visit to the US I’m bringing back a great number of new documents from the John Colby papers housed at the University of Oklahoma, two of which are particularly illuminating about the action at Beau Coudray in which two companies of 357IR were overrun. (This will be the subject of an upcoming scenario, BEAU4.)

Anyway, I’ll be doing a drop-in playtest of the learning scenario SEV0. Download the playtest package and drop me a line. Or just show up. As usual, communications will be via Skype (neal.durando). If you need help using VASSAL, just let me know. It isn’t hard–there’s remarkably little configuration hassle.

VASSAL module
Playtest Kit

Demo at MMFW

Karl and Chris face off in a small scenario called “American Patrol”. I set out the counters and let them ask questions.

In hindsight I should have played against them both, hotseating between games. One of the difficulties of playing in a museum is that there are a lot of fascinating artifacts literally within arm’s reach that are catnip to chatty people like me.

I’m glad to have selected Band of Brothers to provide the base rules for the system. Both Karl and Chris were able to pick up concepts like LOS, movement costs, and fire attacks with a simple, verbal instruction. I don’t think Karl ever looked at the player aid card. This has less to do with the indifferent brevity of my explanations and more to do with the staying power of the base system designer Jim Krohn’s simple, enabling design decisions.

The experience inspired me to organize a starter set, a smaller footprint, print-and-play version of FTGU. Over the next month I’ll organize the four learning scenarios and a reduced counter set into four ledger-sized pages.

Demo at Military Museum of Fort Worth, 15 January, 1200 hours

Current exhibit (ends April 2017)

I’ll be there with the director of the museum. I’ll do a quick presentation of the game and we’ll get right to it. Depending on the number of people who show, I may run a short tournament with the prize being a complete set of playtest counters to the winner. We’ll play BEAU0 and SEV0, two all-infantry learning scenarios which take place on an excerpt from the Beau Coudray and Sèves maps. When I get a moment, I’ll put this together as a PnP sampler of the whole module. Anyway, hope to see you there!

A note about the Military Museum of Fort Worth. Tyler Alberts’s labor of love in honor of his grandfather is unbelievably well curated. Really a jewel of a museum and where I’ve done the lion’s share of my research. Tyler has unbelievably precise knowledge of individual veterans in addition to an excellent and deep understanding of 90ID’s actions from Normandy until the end of the war. He is especially good with the social history of the artefacts in his displays. If you want to know where the laundry number in a 1942-issue U.S. musette bag can be found, Tyler is you man. He can probably even track down the original owner. Even if your questions aren’t about 90ID, if you have a question about the experience of the citizen-soldier in the Second World War you would be hard pressed to find a more accessible and knowledgeable source.

Open Vassal Playtest, this Sunday 2000 UTC

Obligatory tactic-y image.
Obligatory tactic-y image.

At 2000 UTC, Sunday, 19 November, I’ll be conducting a live, drop-in playtest of a small, learning scenario for my game Band of Brothers: From the Ground Up. Download the VASSAL module and meet me on the server at 2000 UTC (1500 EST, 1400 CST). Just open the module in VASSAL and hit the server connect button at the upper right and voilà. Voice comms will be via Skype (neal.durando). I’ll teach the rules, but if you want to read them, they’re in the package.

Scenario Design, Armored Feint, finis

So, after another play through I added a 2nd line MG42 team to the German setup pool, mostly because it was a very likely historical deployment. I’ve played through this three times now and I don’t see anything else obvious to take care of. Slowly, I’m learning not to overwork scenario designs, as different playstyles are essential for new perspectives.

I’ve tried full, medium, and minimal initial draws for the Germans. Each present different challenges for the US force. There is some advantage in feeding the fight as it develops and choosing the lane for your reinforcements. But, heck, it’s possible I’m overlooking something.

Beginning, Turn 5, third test. Weak initial draw. GER runs a tank down US right, but too late. On GER right, reduced paratroop squad menaces a PzF shot. Germans ahead by 3VP.
Beginning, Turn 5, third test. Weak initial draw. GER runs a tank down US right, but too late. On GER right, reduced paratroop squad menaces a PzF shot. Germans ahead by 3VP.

I like how the tank-infantry coordination rule cleaned up. Its easier to remember and makes for some interesting maneuver problems. Was gratified to find the Turreted Vehicles rule I wrote didn’t require refining. I’d forgotten whether I’d reduced firepower for tanks which do not change their facing to target. A vehicle counter with a turret ring may engage targets to its sides and flanks without changing orientation but suffers -2 to its firepower. While I respect the logic of the basic game, new terrain in FTGU cries out for some nuance here. I think mine is an acceptable compromise. All the counters in the module are marked accordingly.

Now I leave it up to you. Comment here or email me should you be interested in testing this or other parts of the module. Unfortunately, I can’t offer a physical playtest kit, but one can be printed (complete with counters) at reasonable cost. However, I’ll be updating the VASSAL module in the next few days and, of course, it will be available for free.

Here’s the finished (for now) product.

Man proposes; nature disposes

Projects 2016-17
Yes, I know “Le Inquietud” isn’t Spanish. My brain needs a good long rest. So did my bisabeulo’s, evidently, who seemed to name properties after his mood on that day.

My Master’s defense, for better or worse, happens this week. So I’ve taken a moment out to look at my research priorities for the coming year. Think of it as my effort to get around the postpartum period. Little of this will get done should somehow I beat the odds in the French labor markets and actually find a job.

I haven’t prioritized anything yet, by From the Ground Up (FTGU) is what I start working on this Wednesday. Unless of course I’m asked to do more cartography for my Master’s. (I think, though, the department is anxious to see me awarded my degree; I can feel a wind at my back, for better or worse.) Lots of travel and project management stuff to deal with here, so I thought I would give readers a heads up, especially should they might have free time for playtesting.

Any interested playtesters should know they have two options. By October we will have an updated VASSAL module. For those of you allergic to VASSAL or who can’t be bothered with computers, a playtest kit will be available. Unfortunately, developing on spec means that you will have to pay for it. However, I have physical copies of the counters which will be available from Print N Play games, and they are worth the expense. Contact me for details.

I am attempting to coordinate with the Military Museum of Fort Worth for an afternoon and evening where Chris Mata, the playtest honcho, and I can present the game in person and get in a bit of play. I hope the curator will have an opening in the museum’s holiday schedule.

I regret nothing! Except missing Connections UK this year.


Defense Linguistics's CP, vic Orglandes 11-18 June.
Defense Linguistics’s CP, vic Orglandes 11-18 June.

Announcing the From the Ground Up tour and playtest. We’ll be staying near Orglandes in La Manche, 10-18 June, seventy-two years to the day that 90ID disembarked at UTAH and began feeding itself into the grinder that was Lower Normandy.

Plan is to roll out every morning, roam where permitted, get rained on, photograph, eat sandwiches, and lots of fussing with maps and binoculars. Evenings at liberty, drink, or fussing with games or all three. Reserved a whole week so there’ll be plenty of time free to visit other, more well-known spots. La Fière and Amfreville (Timmes’ Orchard, Hill 30, the causeway, etc.) are not far. Nor are Ste. Mère Eglise, UTAH, Carentan.

Racks enough for five more. Don’t bother to call ahead, y’all — just make like 82ABD and drop in. For those of you who can’t make it but who might have questions about the cartography, here’s a list of points of interest I’d like to visit. Feel free to add to it!

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Turn 7 of first playtest of St. Léonard 1: "Not Such a Bad War after All."
Turn 7 of first playtest of St. Léonard 1: “Not Such a Bad War after All.”

Just look at this mess. Three missions active, two of them called at or near the end of the turn. There would be two more as well had my opponent forgotten his amazing ability to roll 10s. What bothers me is that, at the moment of close assaults on the German objective, the moment for using artillery to suppress is well past, nor is there much concern for the  negative consequences (other than a short mission) for firing so close to friendly troops. Tsk, tsk.

It goes this way in every scenario I’ve playtested. There is a lot of isolated, vicious artillery fire at units just across the street from the objective you want to take. The two sides’ missions converge like perfectly coordinated trash compactor jaws. Not good. This made me consider doing away with artillery altogether and represent its effects in a more notional way. Yet artillery must still be represented because it such an important part of planning a successful tactical mission. Getting it right should be rewarding.

Perhaps some new rules are in order.

Radio Check

Coming back from a very long absence. Things looks strange but stable. From the Ground Up continues and has even taken on momentum. We have a good VASSAL module. We have a developer and head playtesters. Our playtesters range from California to Poland and we hope to have new ones in Asian time zones soon.

I’ll be restoring previous posts. I have a few new posts to make and they’ll be up soon.