Michael R.
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Being a eurogamer in search of something a little more substantial and meaty, a while ago I sought recommendations of wargames that had little down time and high immersion factor. I got a lot of suggestions and went down to my local game store to see what I could find. After a bit of shelf shuffling and chin scratching I came away with a copy of Afrika II, a hex and counter game based on the North African campaign between 1940-42. If the box was to be believed it’s low complexity and highly suitable for solitaire.

And what do I know about the African campaign….hmm…I can at least say I’ve heard of Rommel, some German guy, and I know there was some action there during WWII. But this guy O’Connell…no never heard of him. I like history as much as the next guy, but I’m not a military buff by any stretch of the imagination.

In my mind I’m a would-be-wargamer. It’s not so much the military aspect that attracts me, in as much as it’s being able to enjoy a complex and immersive gaming system that’s highly variable and replayable. If I got into wargames I’ve always imagined that I could wile away the long winter nights playing them. Euros are good but perhaps not that good.

So what do you actually get in a typical wargame? In fact, I’ve no idea if Afrika II is a typical wargame, but anyway here’s what was inside the box:

2 big colour paper maps (nice and shiny)
a bunch of small cardboard counters with numbers and symbols on them
2 six-sided dice (one red, one white)
2 rulebooks (one series rule book and one game specific rule book)

£17.99 for that. I was underwhelmed to say the least. Not disappointed, simply not impressed such as I was when I opened Reef Encounter for the first time and oohed and ahhed over the quality. So perhaps the presentation of the typical wargame is rather sparse, at least so when compared to the typical euro. Not to worry, as I suspected all along I was buying into a game system rather than buying for aesthetic reasons.

Ok, I thought, I have this game but what do I do with it, being that I don’t have a gaming partner to try it out with. No point asking my wife as there’s no way she’s going to go near the thing. She will try almost any euro game but wargames are a bridge too far.

First things first: rules. I’ve never had much trouble learning euro game rules, usually 2 or 3 plays is enough for me to be pretty comfortable with the basic game mechanics and strategy. But how about this wargame stuff? Is it something that only pipe smoking, bearded men can understand or do us wannabe wargamers have a chance?

The Afrika II rules are not that long at all. In fact you could say they are a model of economy and precision. Everything is precisely stated – perhaps a bit too precisely, mind you – an individual with a perfectly logical mind should have no trouble deciphering them. Eight pages for the general series rulebook and 16 pages for the game specific rule book (including scenario descriptions and designers notes). Over the next couple of weeks I read the rules a few times on the train and a little of it sunk in. I pretty much understand the series rules but the game specific rules left me baffled. I even got a bit of headache just thinking about wading through them. In retrospect I can say this is not the best way to go about things. You really need to look at the map and touch and feel and move things around a bit. I should stick to my Murakami books on the train.

Another week or so passed by and I thought I should have a fully fledged attempt at getting into the game. I did pay £17.99 after all. So, just like the rule book helpfully suggests, I laid everything out on the table, punched out a few counters and started working through the turns. And you know what – the rules actually started to make sense, and I even had a reasonably good understanding of the game specific rules: coastal shipping, supply points, reinforcements, the restriction box, the Tripoli and Alexandria box. I got to thinking: this wargame stuff isn’t soooo complicated after all. I even got a bit excited at this point, thinking just what it would be like to be out fighting in the desert….yes I can see that supplying troops with food and equipment etc. would be quite a challenge, and that it’s not just about who has the biggest and nastiest weapons.

The map is just superb – rather like Caylus almost all the information that you need to play the game is printed on the map: combat resolution tables, turn counters, etc. It’s all there. More games should do this – it’s really helpful. I even began to appreciate the rather spartan nature of the counters. To play the game you do need to know the attack, defence, and movements values; that’s far more important than having a nice little picture of a soldier.

As far as complaints go, I still haven’t got the hang of stacking all those little counter on top of each other, and moving them around is fiddly to say the least. Somewhat like moving around the city counter in Ticket to Ride Marklin. The map bumps up around the creases, refusing to lie completely flat – but I could say the same thing about the Through the Desert board. All in all, some complaints but nothing to spoil my growing excitement and enthusiasm.

So the would-be-wargamer had made his first small steps forward. I played a bit more, checked the rules and really wished that they’d thought to include just a bit more detail about the supply system or even a fully illustrated game turn or two. But no such luck. However, I did pop over to consimworld and saw that other beginners were asking the same questions as me and eventually found the answers I was looking for.

I could get to like this wargame thing. I might not be able t find opponents very easily or get to play very often, but just knowing that these game systems exist gives me a little warm glow inside. It’s likely going to be a long road ahead, as Afrika II is (apparently) low complexity. Sure I’ll probably be baffled by the rules, slightly underwhelmed by the components, but it’s all for the greater good. So, if you’ve always wanted to try a wargame, I’d say go ahead, give it a try. Buy something cheap and low complexity like Afrika II and you might just end up having some fun.

But be warned, after that you’ll start to think of the big boys like East Front and Europe Engulfed. I want them, oh yes, I really want them! Imagine all those blocks laid out on those giant shiny maps. Fantastic! But let’s take it one step at a time, Afrika is so big after all and there’s so much to see.
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Jeff Thompson
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Nicely done. Your story sounds a lot like mine and probably many others.

I'm glad you made it passed the rules reading. You need to put the pieces on the map and go through the motions. War games aren't played right out of the box. There's a learning curve for the rules, and also for the game. It takes some time and effort to play your first real game. It sounds like you are enjoying the journey.

A piece of plexiglass helps cover the paper maps and provides a smooth surface. Also for games with large stacks of counters, many players use medical tweezers (which can be purchased from war game companies).

I enjoy war games for the same reason, an interesting game applied to history. I have learned more about history through wargames than anything else. Sometimes directly and sometimes because the game sends me to the library to read more about it.

I hope your story gives others the courage to go for it and find out that wargames really aren't any harder and the reward is worth the effort.
 
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Jeremy Carlson
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Wow. You got a counter game. You are braver than I my friend. I'm a euro-gamer too, and I also decided to try this "wargame" thing myself. I did a lot of review reading though before I tried anything. I found a great review on Crusader Rex (made by Columbia Games), and decided that this was the game I would try.

Very good one to pic. At least for me. If you can handle, and like Caylus, then this is the type of game I would have recommended to you. Plus you can play it on vassal (vassalengine.org).

Sooo, if any of you other euro-snobs out there, like me, are itching to try a wargame, I suggest either: Crusader Rex or Hammer of the Scots. Both excellent, have a LOT in common since they are done by the same guy, and while being more complex than a euro game, easy enough to get through with one reading of the rules (8-10 pages).

For my review on Crusader Rex (titled: A review for and by a Euro-snob), go here:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/123306

I also plan on writing a review on Hammer of the Scots when I get done with a couple of games. Have fun with your wargames!
 
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Peter Vrabel
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mjrobertson wrote:
Being a eurogamer in search of something a little more substantial and meaty, a while ago I sought recommendations of wargames that had little down time and high immersion factor. I got a lot of suggestions and went down to my local game store to see what I could find. After a bit of shelf shuffling and chin scratching I came away with a copy of Afrika II, a hex and counter game based on the North African campaign between 1940-42. If the box was to be believed it’s low complexity and highly suitable for solitaire.

An excelent choice, SCS is a simple and highly regarded system, even better, the series rules make learning the other SCS games easy.
Quote:

And what do I know about the African campaign….hmm…I can at least say I’ve heard of Rommel, some German guy, and I know there was some action there during WWII. But this guy O’Connell…no never heard of him. I like history as much as the next guy, but I’m not a military buff by any stretch of the imagination.

That's about my my level of knowledge as well. Which is why I want to get a North African wargame so I can learn more about it. I've found wargames have really increased my interest and knowledge about history.
Quote:

In my mind I’m a would-be-wargamer. It’s not so much the military aspect that attracts me, in as much as it’s being able to enjoy a complex and immersive gaming system that’s highly variable and replayable. If I got into wargames I’ve always imagined that I could wile away the long winter nights playing them. Euros are good but perhaps not that good.

Wargames are lengthy, that's their strength and weakness, Euro's are fun and great, but they don't have the epic feeling that wargames have. A defeat is a lot more meaningful when it's been preceeded by hours of fighting, that when it's 30 minutes of trading.
Quote:

So what do you actually get in a typical wargame? In fact, I’ve no idea if Afrika II is a typical wargame, but anyway here’s what was inside the box:

2 big colour paper maps (nice and shiny)
a bunch of small cardboard counters with numbers and symbols on them
2 six-sided dice (one red, one white)
2 rulebooks (one series rule book and one game specific rule book)

Yep. This is typical. Wargames mostly have paper maps, which are normally 22x34 inches. Many have one map, but medium sized games may have two, and massive games may have 4 or more. And those counters? Get used to seeing those symbols, they'll appear in virtually every non-tactical WWII game. A single countersheet has 280 half inch counters , and that's about the minimum number for a wargame, but more than 720 counters (Three countersheets) in a game is not very common.
Quote:

£17.99 for that. I was underwhelmed to say the least. Not disappointed, simply not impressed such as I was when I opened Reef Encounter for the first time and oohed and ahhed over the quality. So perhaps the presentation of the typical wargame is rather sparse, at least so when compared to the typical euro. Not to worry, as I suspected all along I was buying into a game system rather than buying for aesthetic reasons.

I have to admit I think wargames are expensive for the material components you get. But you have to think about the research that goes into them, unlike a Euro where you can just draw a picture of a pretty castle, wargamers want well research OoBs (Orders of Battle, the units that were involved in the fight) When the scenario says that a 1-2-2 units starts in hex 23.56 that means the designer consulted books or even historical records to determin if that really is the correct position and if it's a good indication of the unit's strength.

Also: Economies of scale and thier absence.
Quote:

Ok, I thought, I have this game but what do I do with it, being that I don’t have a gaming partner to try it out with. No point asking my wife as there’s no way she’s going to go near the thing. She will try almost any euro game but wargames are a bridge too far.

No one to play with? I'm like that mostly. Except the bit about a wife.
Quote:

...

The Afrika II rules are not that long at all. In fact you could say they are a model of economy and precision. Everything is precisely stated – perhaps a bit too precisely, mind you – an individual with a perfectly logical mind should have no trouble deciphering them. Eight pages for the general series rulebook and 16 pages for the game specific rule book (including scenario descriptions and designers notes). Over the next couple of weeks I read the rules a few times on the train and a little of it sunk in. I pretty much understand the series rules but the game specific rules left me baffled. I even got a bit of headache just thinking about wading through them. In retrospect I can say this is not the best way to go about things. You really need to look at the map and touch and feel and move things around a bit. I should stick to my Murakami books on the train.

I find the best way to learn rules is to skim the rules to get a outline of them, ignore all the complicated stuff (When learning, I've sometimes ignored things as important as aircraft, artillery and weather just to make things simpler.) then throw a few random units on the map and fight it out. And remember that wargames are trying to be simulations, if you can't remember what happens in a certain situation, and can't be bothered to look in the rule book, just do whatever sounds reasonabls. Check the rulebook later, you'll probably be right.
Quote:

Another week or so passed by and I thought I should have a fully fledged attempt at getting into the game. I did pay £17.99 after all. So, just like the rule book helpfully suggests, I laid everything out on the table, punched out a few counters and started working through the turns. And you know what – the rules actually started to make sense, and I even had a reasonably good understanding of the game specific rules: coastal shipping, supply points, reinforcements, the restriction box, the Tripoli and Alexandria box. I got to thinking: this wargame stuff isn’t soooo complicated after all. I even got a bit excited at this point, thinking just what it would be like to be out fighting in the desert….yes I can see that supplying troops with food and equipment etc. would be quite a challenge, and that it’s not just about who has the biggest and nastiest weapons.

I love supply rules to, sometimes wars are not won by who has the biggest tanks, but by who can keep these tanks fuled.
Quote:

The map is just superb – rather like Caylus almost all the information that you need to play the game is printed on the map: combat resolution tables, turn counters, etc. It’s all there. More games should do this – it’s really helpful. I even began to appreciate the rather spartan nature of the counters. To play the game you do need to know the attack, defence, and movements values; that’s far more important than having a nice little picture of a soldier.

The standardised symbols also make it easy to tell units apart, how can you show the difference between an infantry unit, and an engineer unit with little drawings on a half inch of cardboard?
Quote:

As far as complaints go, I still haven’t got the hang of stacking all those little counter on top of each other, and moving them around is fiddly to say the least. Somewhat like moving around the city counter in Ticket to Ride Marklin. The map bumps up around the creases, refusing to lie completely flat – but I could say the same thing about the Through the Desert board. All in all, some complaints but nothing to spoil my growing excitement and enthusiasm.

Yeah, sometimes those stacks of units can be a pain to manipulate, that's why I like games with a low counter density. I've never found I need tweezers though.
Quote:

...

But be warned, after that you’ll start to think of the big boys like East Front and Europe Engulfed. I want them, oh yes, I really want them! Imagine all those blocks laid out on those giant shiny maps. Fantastic! But let’s take it one step at a time, Afrika is so big after all and there’s so much to see.


Oh yes. Oh yes. I want some of those larger wargames so badly...even though they're so massive that I'll never play them. Ever.

Excellent post!
 
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Michael Lawson
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LordStrabo wrote:
Oh yes. Oh yes. I want some of those larger wargames so badly...even though they're so massive that I'll never play them. Ever.

Excellent post!


FYI, The 12th Point-2-Point podcast has an interview with the designer of Europe Engulfed; it's worth listening to understand what went into the game and a bit of the reasoning why EE is the way it is. Oh, and if you preorder on the P500 list, you can get the reprint of EE for (I believe) $65 instead of the $95 list.

Two of the previous podcasts (8 and 10, I believe) contained two halves of an interview with the creator of Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex; again, really good stuff.

www.point2pointsource.com

 
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marc lecours
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Finding a gaming partner or gaming group is hard. Some wargames are available for playing online (at places like wargameroom) and by email.
 
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Mike Frantz
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Highly recommend going down to your local Home Depot and picking up a sheet of acrylic/plexiglass. Makes the maps much more attractive, and moving the pieces easier. It really adds to the experience, IMO. Pretty soon you'll appreciate the paper maps/plexiglass combo, and even prefer it (Provided you don't have to transport your game at all...then it's a PITA).

 
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Kevin Moody
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I hope there's a Home Depot in Scotland! If you don't have access to acrylic sheets, there's a kind of clear plastic roll some people use -- perhaps someone can recall the name of it for me. A poster holder works well for the typical single-map game.

To help with the counters, use a nail-clipper to take off the counter corners...just the minimum amount you can snip off, and no more. That'll make for much easier movement (so they won't snag on each other) and crimps down the counter corners (if you end up playing it a lot). Don't clip off too much or your resale value will suffer.


For more on the conflict, I suggest W.G.F. Jackson's The Battle for North Africa 1940-43, long out of print but available for very low prices through online resellers (well...it was in the US -- the UK looks pretty pricey, so maybe an library loan would work). Jackson wrote the offical UK histories on that conflict, and this book is somewhat of a general reader single-volume version. He's an excellent writer. You might find it fascinating and will probably improve your enjoyment of the game.
 
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Phillip Heaton
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The first thing I would recommend is for you to get in contact with other wargamers. Great Britain has always been a hotbed for wargaming, much more so than the United States. There are a bunch of conventions there, I believe they are called Game Days. There are plenty of stores that carry these games, and lots of game clubs. I've also found that many Colleges have gaming groups. You should have no trouble, hopefully, finding other wargamers.

Wargaming in Great Britain seems to revolve more around miniatures games than board games. Most board wargames are made in the United States. This can make the hobby very expensive for you. You might want to look at print and play games. Available on the internet, these games are inexpensive (some are free) but you have to print them out yourself. Search geeklists for "print-and-play" and "free wargames".

The Free Wargames geeklist has Target Arnhem: Across 6 Bridges as one of its games. This is an excellent beginners game, and it is available for $5 shipping and handling in the US - you would have to contact Multi Man Publishing to see how you could get a copy. It comes with punched counters, a paper board and the instructions. All you have to provide is a die.
 
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Paul Bravey
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There's not a Home Depot, but there's Homebase which is basically the same thing.
 
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Denise Lavely
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Michael, thanks for sharing your experience. I'm a wanna-be wanna-be wargamer (would like to try it but two small children pretty much rule out ANY games longer than PR for a few years), and it's very interesting to hear what you had to say from the eurogamer's perspective. It sounds more and more like something that would be worth the struggle of getting involved in, once I have the time!
 
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Mark Buetow
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Just wanted to give you a kudos for a fine post! It very well describes my ascent into the higher plane of "wargaming" or maybe better, "consimming." To that end, I ordered a subscription to Against the Odds Magazine atomagazine.com They have a well produced consim/wargame in each mag and a bigger annual. I ordered the deluxe subscription (first class postage and counter trays) and that means I'll get 5 top notch games for around $24 each.

I have not tried plexiglass but I use a poster board and frame. About $25 investment but worth it. Easily portable because the map is safe under the "glass" and you just truck the frame around.

Anyway, thanks again for the really good post!
 
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Adam Deverell
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Quote:
Sooo, if any of you other euro-snobs out there, like me, are itching to try a wargame, I suggest either: Crusader Rex or Hammer of the Scots.


Yes, agreed, however before splurging on the Colombia games I'd try a GMT Games Card-Driven Wargame first.

One of my first wargames was HotS, and while I enjoyed it I FAR preferred games such as We the People, Wilderness War and now Twilight Struggle. The block system was/is a bit too abstract for me and the combat resolution too repetative and long. I also far prefer the event cards and historic flavour in a CDG.

Another benefit for those looking for opposition is that CDGs can be played on ACTS or wargameroom.com - I'd play 90% of my wargames on-line.
 
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John Weber
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I would certainly recommend Twilight Struggle. It's basically an area control game with a wargame like theme, but you aren't moving armies around per se. I consider it the best current example of the "crossover" type game that combines elements of both Eurogames and Wargames.
 
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Hank Drew
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Eastfront is probably my next wargame purchase (along with A Victory Lost). If you make it down to London some time, I would be happy to join you in a game.
 
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Richard H. Berg
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I would (heartily) suggest you try Consimworld, the website for historical gaming: www.consimworld.com . . .

i would also suggest you ask yourself what areas of history you are interested in . . . it is tough to find a subject that has NOT been covered by the Historical gaming "industry". (And Consimworld lists by subject area . . . )

"MMP, the publisher of Afrika II is a moonlighting job for 3 guys, compared to the eurogame companies with are serious companies."

Well, GMT has more than a handful of full-time employees . . . and almost no company, Euro or otherwise (except for the true giants, like Hasbro, etc), have on-staff Designers. Almost all game designers are free-lance.

And MMP may have temporary employees/owners . . . but one of them makes sevaral million $$ a year: Curt Schilling, Boston Red Sox. Great pitcher, ASL gamer, and a very ncie man.

RHB
 
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Andrew Prizzi
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Curt Schilling is a grognard?? Maybe somebody should do a celebrity gamer geeklist.
 
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mjrobertson wrote:
In fact, I’ve no idea if Afrika II is a typical wargame, but anyway here’s what was inside the box:

2 big colour paper maps (nice and shiny)
a bunch of small cardboard counters with numbers and symbols on them
2 six-sided dice (one red, one white)
2 rulebooks (one series rule book and one game specific rule book)

£17.99 for that. I was underwhelmed to say the least. Not disappointed, simply not impressed such as I was when I opened Reef Encounter for the first time and oohed and ahhed over the quality.


This really speaks to the heart of what wargaming is all about. You're paying for an experience, an intellectual exercise, whatever. A wargame isn't a mere physical object. It's going on in your head.
 
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Michael Lawson
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prizziap wrote:
Curt Schilling is a grognard?? Maybe somebody should do a celebrity gamer geeklist.


Yep, Curt's a grognard. A long time ago (late 80's/early 90's) when Curt pitched for the Astros, they had an article in The General on him. He'd stopped by the AH offices one day to check out the home of ASL. In the article, he credited his dedication to his craft (pitching) from his years of playing ASL.

 
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mtlawson wrote:
prizziap wrote:
Curt Schilling is a grognard?? Maybe somebody should do a celebrity gamer geeklist.


Yep, Curt's a grognard. A long time ago (late 80's/early 90's) when Curt pitched for the Astros, they had an article in The General on him. He'd stopped by the AH offices one day to check out the home of ASL. In the article, he credited his dedication to his craft (pitching) from his years of playing ASL.



I think a pitcher has a fair amount of down time between starts. Lots of time on the road wiht the team in a hotel room, not wanting to go in public for fears of being mobbed by fans means plenty of time to play games.

-M
 
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