A 1st MN favorite back in the day
I was reading one of Brian Train's reviews and he pointed out Jim Dinnigan's comments regarding his RCW game (in MOVES 31):
"I like this one because I had to sweat blood designing it and because I really enjoyed playing it... I saw the Russian Civil War as primarily a period of chaos. Giving the players too much rationality would deny them the key element of the event. The player is given too much information just in the rules and the game components. And there's always historical hindsight. So, a lot of strange, but effective elements were built into the game."
Interesting design decision: how many dials, levers and knobs to give your players to impact the chaos of the conflict. Personally, I say, A LOT. However, there is a question of play time (how much, length the rulebook (64 pages? 32? 16?) and what do you want your players to spend time doing?
Faction/Country control cards in Persian Gulf: Battle for the Middle East: not many games with the Iranian Communist faction!
I've always liked wargames with a very healthy dose of political dynamics. Empires in Arms first pique my interest with the groovy country modifier chart: the idea being that Portugal would drift closer to Britain than certain other powers due to political dynamics present at the time of the conflict. Next, I saw that idea - political influence/powr of certain countries over others, appear in Persian Gulf with their Faction/Country control cards. I mention this one since I know Volko is fan of the 3rd World War game series from GDW. Of course, Dunnigans game from the SPI glory days, Russian Civil War 1918-1922 (first edition) , had a great dose of it: purges!
Not anything was done with the Persian Gulf card mechanic, until ADG/Rowland picked up the innovation and gave us Days of Decision. It laid dormant, I think, until I went wild with the concept in Triumph of Chaos. The whole idea being that factions/countries were at play; something players could spend energy thinking about how to snag. Snagging this or that country/faction then changes the battlefield. Would like to see a lot more of that in wargames, given the historical importance of this dynamic.
First encountered LAB at WAM ( http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX/.1dcdf7a5/2346 )
Playtesting at WAM VIII with the WBC GM godfather, Don Chappell (on left)
( Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ? ). I first saw it during playtest. Volko brought it by WAM and wanted the sharks to see it. So we did one Sunday: it looked like an interesting game and sharks had a good first impression. It was soon published. For some reason, I didn't play it post production (our hobby's high class problem: too many damm good games being published recently and way too much fantastic content in the inventory).
One of many fab bookstores in The Cities...
...and their Iraq War section.
Last week, I was at a local bookstore. Checked out the Iraq War section. Thought of LAB. Then, last Friday (APR 8), I saw LAB played at First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society . It looked interesting and boys were enjoying it. I sat in and decided I needed to get LAB on my table ASAP (finally!). I then did some research (books, read a thread or two, checked for playaids, etc) prep'ing to play.
LAB at 1st MN APR 8
The other links with LAB is seeing it hit the 4th estate the last few years:
...and the Washington Post story done on Volko by 1st MN's very own Lt.Jason.
Lastly, Volko is a frequent panel guest on Guns, Dice, Butter
So, MANY reasons for myself to want to play LAB. The day FINALLY arrived on a glorious spring Friday, when a fellow 1st MNer comrade, Gordo, agreed to dungeon master LAB.
Last summer I was on a pedigree kick: from which games do designers innovate from? The idea arose from handicapping the Churchill Downs, Peakness and Belmont each spring: the Dosage Index. MANY years ago I was lucky enough to see the legendary horse, JOHN HENRY, run at Arlington. Wow. I digress, as always...
I started here (of course!) Triumph of Chaos v.2 (Deluxe Edition) pedigree..
...did one for Wilderness War
...expanding the pedigree effort, slowly, to other games. Hopefully, others will pick it up.
Power Politics. Love the idea for that genre of games that co-founder of wargaming, Jim Dunnigan , gave us at SPI: focus on political dynamics of historical conflicts, with a nod to the military dimension (which is HEAVILY abstracted in this genre). Unfortunately, after Dunnigan's initial mid 70s burst of creativity, the hobby didn't really pick up the idea until recently. There were a few, during 80s & 90s, but, just precious few - with the outstanding Republic of Rome at the top of the mountain.
In 2000s, power politics resurfaced with Twilight Struggle > Unfortunately, designers believe (rightly so!) that gamers want to spend time with CRT (combat results tables) and NOT PRTs (political results tables), or, most feared and hated: LRTs (logistical results tables). Consequently, this genre will probably remain in banished to the backwater of wargame design None-the-less, I dig the genre and I believe LAB fits squarely in that space.
A Cross-over/Recruiting game...
Stumbled across this list this morning: My Foray into Wargaming VERY cool: LAB recruiting new warmers. I've been on kick over the last few years to help expand the hobby. Related list here: Wargame/Wargaming Grasshopper, Noob, Rookie, Padawan List
The fact that LAB is helping enlist gamers into our tribe says A LOT about the design. Like Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand , it's accessible and the topic is sexy/provocative: cold war, The Reformation! and current extremist islam vs the world conflict.
So, that's the background/context (for me!) that LAB sits in...
A bit about the game
Card Driven Wargame
SO, WHAT IS IT?
LAB is a Card Driven Power Politics Wargame: Twilight Struggle set in the current global conflict. Multiple paths to victory: this is good:
The countries: love the granularity
WHAT IS AT THE CENTER OF THE ACTION(in the game)?
Countries. Specifically, whether they are allied to the Coalition and the quality of their gov't (good>fair>poor>islamic). I really like how that is depicted on the game map (the little table for each country): very cool. I hope that is picked up in other games: it could be used for regions/countries to show alignment, quality of control, level of insurrection, etc. in addition to the country info.
Map has received a tart up
SO, HOW DOES ONE FIGHT?
Each player has a list of options each turn. A player plays two cards: then the opponent goes. Back and forth. Play a card for ops (operations) or the event. Although, if play for ops and your opponents event is listed, the event is implemented (there is a way to "bury" an opponents event). Ops include:
A MODEL WITH DEPTH
Volko has weaved into his model, prestige, posture, troop track, Jihadist Funding and GWOT (Global War on Terror) Relations Track: all cool and part of the excellent game model he has developed. It has A LOT of dimensions: this is good...very good. It has depth. And it's elegant: something Volko demonstrated in spades with Wilderness War.
Prestige, posture...and there other decent tracks that beef out Volko's model...all good
GOOD BITS. GOOD PACKAGE. BUT...
The overall package is very good: great rules, pieces, cards, etc. No complaints except...
Something (among many things!) I'm on my high horse lately is high quality bits in our wargames. I've ranted a few times against the 1/2 inch counter (burn it!). Been on a kick to get more wood into our beloved wargames. LAB has that (as do the COIN games). I like it as long as it doesn't sacrifice the flavor of the units represented. That's one of my main knocks against LAB; the woods good, but, we've lost the flavor of the personalities represented by the bits. That's not good. I think it can be easily addressed: stickers, different shapes of wood/color/size, etc. Give us unit names: these represent the personalities in this rich story. We can't lose that.
Of course, Volko knows that also. I suspect something else at play. Years ago I asked Ted Racier why the armies for countries didn't have different values on them. For example, why are all the german armies rated 5-3-3. "Because I don't want my players messing with that stuff; I would like them focussed on other things". Great answer. Probably similar case here. So, what about the actual session?
...and pimping out is ALWAYS good
Turn 1: SO, what do you do?
Gordo took the USA, given we think it is more of the driver in the game. I looked at the map and decided the jihadists were going to go via the Central Asian route to victory; it looked like a decent back door to victory - while also capitalizing on multiple lines of advance. The USA took to improving government in the Gulf and KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). The Jihadists managed to quickly get 5 cells into Central Asia, but, boooooofed the die roll (the first of many!). Additionally, a cell was dropped into the UK.
Turn 2: Action in Central Asia
Central Asia goes to the dark side
T2 after first card play: Central Asia goes Islamic Extreme
Turn 2 began with the Jihadists successfully forcing Central Asia to Islamic: the door to phase 2 of the plan was open. USA responded with an invasion of Afghanistan. Russia went soft on terrorism (wtf?) and the Abu Ghraib event appeared much to Gordo's chagrin. A note here: love games with the where the political bonehead move/dynamic (mandatory offenses - Paths of Glory, Road to Ruin - For the People, etc) changes the battlefield. Volvo's weaved in a lot of this in LAB.
Jihadists responded with more recruiting into Central Asia. Note: not once in the game did I use the air travel mechanic: I just kept recruiting for free in Central Asia and moving from there. Turn ended with a failed plot on the Caucasus, a failed attempt to change posture of Putin's Russia and 4 cells moving into Iran. At that point, Bob the Source (our 1st MN lair resides in his outstanding game store, THE SOURCE) stopped by to chew the fat. We talked some about his Fire in the East game underway. At some point, we also discussed women rights in the Islamic state - which then led to a discussion regarding "row boating". Don't ask.
Back to the game...
Bob the Source stops by: a "row-boating" discussion occurs
Turn 3: A NATO ally says yes to Islamic Rule
Turn began very well for the Jihadists. US prestige fell to 5...UK maintained their soft posture (with a cell). Jihadists shoved 5 cells into Turkey and then attempt to snag another government. Dice were tossed across the floor in clear violation of normal die rolling etiquette. However, the tactic worked: Turkey went Islamic Rule. BIG TROUBLE for the USA. Posture also went to Soft (on the GWOT track). At this point, Gordo remarked, "It's looking grim for the good guys".
Turn 4: USA Invades a NATO Ally!
Jihadists now began working on Syria (which would give them the victory). USA decided desperate measures were in order and changed the GWOT track to HARD. Jihadists now were in the position to try to immediately win the game, with 5 cells in Syria. Dice were rolled...he would need 2 out 3 rolls to be 1-3...much shouting...and...a glorious failure.
Gordo responded to this reprise from the dice gods by invading Turkey: they would be made to understand the errors in their way.
Syria goes Islamic
Turn 5: The Race to "Victory" in Iraq
Turn began with the Jihadists again attempting to install an islamic state in Syria. 3 more dice tossed. Shouting. More spectacular Jihadist failure. At this point, the USA was also close to victory (it had countries with 10 resources under "good" gov't). Gordo tried to work on improving things in Afghanistan. He managed to get the Afghans to "fair gov't", but, sadly, could make no further progress.
Meanwhile, the Jihadists were FINALLY successful (3rd attempt) taking down Syria to Islamic Rule. USA attempted to improve gov'ts , but, failed. Jihadists managed to get 5 cells then into Iraq. A crowd of early day 1st MNers watched as the dice to decide the game were tossed across the floor of the store (it worked once before, why not again?) . When they stopped tumbling, Iraq had Islamic Rule. Game over.
Final victory in Iraq for the Jihadists...
...while Gordo captures the moment of defeat
Post Game: WWI German Airplane Manufacturing: Dials, Nobs, Levers...
Dungeon Master SteveV
After LAB, we decided to give Wings for the Baron (second edition) a toss. It has been played at the club previously to decent reviews. SteveV volunteered to dungeon master it for us. We are BLESSED at the club with a stable of outstanding game teachers (Gordo, Lt Jason, Sir Patrick, SteveV, Classy Andrew, Rich...a bunch of them!).
I'm glad to played Wings; fun game. OK screwage, good flavor, fun. Basically, you run a german airplane company fulfilling contracts. Simple game, but, many decent amount of dials, nobs, levers for an under 2 hour play. I sort of had the feeling of trying to run an airplane company in WWI (this is good...evocative). Seemed to be decent tradeoffs about where to spend time & energy: research? design? industrial espionage? the frickin bankers? And, when to contribute to common war effort or just worry about your own hide?
Interesting contrast with LAB; both evocative...both decent models. But, a slight difference in the degree to which the designer wants you making sausage.
Wings for the Baron (second edition)
T-shirt of the day: an Avalon Hill classic
Accompanying 1st MN Friday (April 15) session report: G.A.A.R. -- 4/15/16 -- Hurdy Gurdy Edition
Wrap Up: Thumbs Up!
Fuel for the session report at Bryant Lake Bowl
A fan of ToC just made a homegrown vid for the preorder of ToCv2. Homage to the conflict of the game. Got a similar vibe with LAB: the cards, the cover, the map. Really like the cover art for LAB: very evocative of the game inside (that's great when it works WELL - which, is rare).
There has been a fair amount of buzz regarding LAB over the years regarding two points in particular:
1. A game regarding an ongoing/current conflict?
Always a touchy subject: to do a game on a current conflict - for obvious reasons (we all bring baggage, the conflict is not yet resolved, our brothers and sisters are making the ultimate sacrifice, etc). BIG HATS OFF to Volko for taking up the challenge and treating the story with the respect us hairy arsed wargamers expect from our top notch designers. He's given us a big boy/adult "treatment" of the conflict.
An election = good government? Maybe not...
2. But, is it a good simulation?
While prep'ing to play, I stumbled across this thread and commented (p13): https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/594871/flawed-simulatio...
My read, after this initial play, is that given under 16 pages of rules, A LOT is packed into how the Bush administration ran the conflict up to "the Awakening", the temporary Iraq disengagement (we're back...again) and the Arab Spring.
Volko got that right: the neo-con's central idea: regime change to install some "good government" (...I'll bite my tongue, hard, regarding the naiveté of trying to install "good governments" [and that was defined as something resembling Jeffersonian democracies] in societies that have yet to go thru the Reformation (or Renaissance!) and lack ANY of the prerequisites for functioning good government...thankfully, LAB gives us no verdict/comment on that whole notion). But, this prelim conclusion is only based upon one real play. So, I'll leave it to the 13 page thread cited above to hash it out: give it a read - a good discussion of the topic.
Game play? Decent, based upon my initial play and the playtest I remember. Gordo, and other gamers I respect, love it. (Note: I should disclose that I never got the Twilight Struggle bug and MANY other did).
It has the basic "GO" element that CDW (Card Driven Wargames) do so damm well (legendary gamer Alan Applebaum nailed that idea years ago). It has some card angst (not as much as Paths of Glory, but, nothing else does). A decent dose of chaos. Good flavor, without any chrome baggage (something Volko did an outstanding job of in Wilderness War). I found myself fully engaged...scheming. So, yeah, decent play value.
Bottom line: Thumbs up.
We enjoyed it (one of Gordo's favorites - and -Gordo knows games). It produced narrative. I still have my main reservation: that LAB doesn't have enough dials, levers and nobs for me to get at the central struggle depicted in the game: "spreading good, allied gov't". But, then again, I've only scratched the surface. I hope to play again very soon and really look forward to the LAB expansion (Awakening) that 1st MN is play testing. It should be very good: the designer, Trevor Bender, is a fabulous gamer (he even won WBC's For the People tourney one year). So, he'll pay attention to producing engaging game play.
And with that, time to re-read the LAB rulebook, fire up the vassal module and start pushing LAB pieces.
1st MN doing some Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010 – ? play testing
A couple of 1st MN geeks playing LAB
More of my session reports: 1st MN/Sawatdee/Herr Dr Session Reports
- Last edited Tue Apr 19, 2016 3:17 am (Total Number of Edits: 19)
- Posted Sun Apr 17, 2016 7:47 pm
Print and Play Gamer
Labyrinth is a tough game for the Americans. You're always reacting to the Jihad player, trying to play catch up. I had a pretty good engine going, I was flipping countries to the "my way" of thinking. It was close, if I could have just flipped Afghanistan I would have had it.
Re: Springtime LAB: 1st MN Gives Labyrinth a Toss on Tax Day: The Cities...The S ource....April 15, 2016
Fabulous writeup Dr & Gordy! I hope to be back up at The Source this Fall.
Small World department: Dave Townsend ("Wings") lives across town from me, I often gamed at his house, and our boys went to grade school together. Great guy!
- Last edited Tue Apr 19, 2016 2:26 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Tue Apr 19, 2016 2:24 am
That is a small world! Yes, he did a nice job with Wings. Sort of reminds me of Circus Train (Second edition) ; fun, club nite game.
Look forward to seeing you this fall, Volko. Let us know what you want to play that weekend: don't be afraid of suggesting a monster
- Last edited Tue Apr 19, 2016 3:02 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Apr 19, 2016 3:00 am
Nice charts and report.
I don't know why you put "Greenwood" as designer for The Republic of Rome, he was the developer, the designer was Robert Haines. Well, I suppose that's because he's more known and because the credit Haines gives him in the design notes, is that?
- Last edited Wed Apr 20, 2016 1:27 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Apr 20, 2016 1:24 pm
He's listed as one of three designers for the game here on BGG: yes, I could listed all three.
BGG needs a game entry space for developers.
- Last edited Wed Apr 20, 2016 2:38 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Apr 20, 2016 1:57 pm