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Subject: BOOTS ON THE GROUND - YES...THEY REALLY DO MATTER rss

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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Boots on the Ground (BOG) is a new game from Worthington Games on what we now politically characterize as “The Long War”, the war against terrorism. It is both with perhaps some irony and trepidation that we review a game so close to our own life, one in which in the paraphrased words of Oliver Wendell Holmes touched us with fire. It is a game that both on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan I came face to face at the micro level of understanding modern combat. Moreover as a previous commander and combat arms officer, I perhaps have the unique perspective of training soldiers for war and ensuring they were good shots (my “body guard” were two 40 out of 40 shots on the range, former SF and former Marine during the invasion). So with that sort of background, and having been on some of these types of missions, I feel able to review it from a first person perspective.

Components
The components on the whole aren’t bad. We have a standard sheet of counters, game aids, 8 page rule book, 2 dice, and two map sections that make up an urban terrain map. The one thing Worthington did they truly impressed me in terms of packaging was including a box for the game cards that drive play. Taking the counters out of the counter sheet presented some issues as they were of that softer cardboard that is maddening. I messed up 3 counters while removing them which is never a great start for any of us in a gaming experience. The map is an overhead shot of an urban area (think Iraq), sort of a not great Goggle Earth shot, but is real fuzzy and blurry. Actually not that I reexamine it, it looks like it is urban rubble with the resolution used. The yellow type used to delineate buildings is often hard to see which begs my eternal question and comment – why not use a bigger and bolder font and right color scheme? What I loved about the map though was that it had specific spots where civilians (C) and vehicles (V) set up, established by C and V’s on the map. The pics on the game cards are a little grainy which may or may not bug you, but the cards are on a substantive cardstock. I liked them and found that they are holding up well. The Player Aid Card – simply top notch! Same for the 3 scenario cards that nicely set up the game and are on again substantive cardstock and easy to read.


Rules
I’ve read on the Geek and elsewhere there are serious issues with the rules. There are some holes but in general I didn’t find any show stoppers for me – and lord knows I look for them (usually people smarter than me find more of them! But there is a feel of a slight rush. For example the game’s scenarios speak to IEDS of which there is no mention of in the rules. The -2 critical hit marker – is it a -2 DRM or is it 2 hits? Does defensive fire in the game mean the insurgents can’t fire on you and only respond with fire if fired upon? Moreover, I was a little confused about what constituted the force mix for the insurgents – is it the total counter pool of 71 or is it limited to the starting number of your scenario in terms of numbers?

Game Play
The scenarios are nicely set up in terms of understanding what your mission is, how it plays, and how to win. As an example, the scenario Egg Hunt states “there are 2 WMDs hidden in the Lock Boxes. Find, secure, and return to your Green Zone. Simple, economical and parsed down language but effective.
The scenarios are nicely set up in terms of understanding what your mission is, how it plays, and how to win. As an example, the scenario Egg Hunt states “there are 2 WMDs hidden in the Lock Boxes. Find, secure, and return to your Green Zone. Simple, economical and parsed down language but effective. Game play is absurdly simple. Activate an individual, team or squad. You then either move, fire and try and kill insurgents or find things. Playing solitaire, you then draw a card that will dictate the insurgent’ activations and follow-on actions. Really guys, it’s not much more complex than that. There are also options for 2 or 3 player games that can get downright nasty in the 2 player game as both sides control the insurgent’s during the other squad’s turn. In terms of play value, it rates high as the solitaire game works and is fun, but the multiple player versions are simply not thrown together add-ons.

However here is where my issue with the game comes in – it simply doesn’t feel like it comports with the reality I saw firsthand, know intellectually and worked with these past 6 years as a historian often at the tip of the spear in the Long War. Insurgents rate of fire. Fire discipline and ability to kill with aimed weapons is thankfully distressingly low. They simply suck for a number of reasons in the realm of marksmanship – from lack of practice, institutional structure / schoolhouse to teach good shooting to properly care for weapons. As an example I had to design a new training scenario in order to teach Army Historians. I used the Battle of Mussayib, a one day battle between 67th Armor (a unit I belonged to as a young enlisted man) and Sadr’s militia. What I know from my research and footage of the battle is the number of rounds and fighters involved vs. the lack of US Casualties. In fact from that battle and others we concluded that often gunfire was often used to try and canalize troops into an IED kill sack. The game doesn’t reflect any of that and in fact makes the terrorists at least ok in terms of fire power. Moreover there is no factoring in of US body armor, unless it is sort of factored in by the fact that when an insurgent is wounded they are out of play but the American isn’t?
However one needs to be very careful with their advertising copy and promising more than they can deliver. Worthington Games states that “During your briefing you are told your objectives and known intel on the area. As always, intel always changes once the Boots are on the ground.” True, the enemy has a vote and intel and the situation does change but where in game play does this change? I couldn’t find it so I reviewed every game card to see if I had missed something. Nope – no cards that change intel for you, against you or change the parameters of the way the insurgents fight. So what were they talking about here?

Conclusions
There is always room for a fun, scaled down, lighter version of modern combat (I think of this game as son of Day of Heroes lite). Sometimes you simply want a play and forget type game, that has just enough substance and reality without delving down into the detail of your sniper’s arthritis acting up today in his thumb and trigger finger – please role on the temperature table and cross index that with the arthritis table…. This system shows some promise and I am interested in seeing how they go forward. I hope they take my real-time criticisms from experience to heart and perhaps rethink some of the design philosophy in terms of ratings, as I think they somewhat unhinge and mar what otherwise at worse would be a good to great introductory game.

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Charles Neal
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Thanks for sharing your hard-earned insight. Maybe scenarios could be designed where the initial placement of insurgents and potential IEDs would recreate the situation you described. One could add extra insurgents and degrade the accuracy of their firepower.
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Ron A
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M1Tanker wrote:

This system shows some promise and I am interested in seeing how they go forward. I hope they take my real-time criticisms from experience to heart and perhaps rethink some of the design philosophy in terms of ratings, as I think they somewhat unhinge and mar what otherwise at worse would be a good to great introductory game.


The game was released in 2010 and nothing since then, so I don't think there will be any new content going forward. Not from Worthington, maybe fan-made (like the airliner map).

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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Thanks Ron!

Smitty
 
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Charles:
I suspect like you that this was released and then - silence.

Smitty
 
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Charles Neal
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M1Tanker wrote:
Charles:
I suspect like you that this was released and then - silence.

Smitty


Quite likely Smitty. I happened across it recently. Perhaps some fan made scenarios will emerge.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
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Charles:

Maybe - I'd need to look over on CONSIM.

Smitty
 
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