Wargamer Year in Review 2016: Excellence in Evolution29 Dec 2016 4
Truth be told, I’m not a fan of such things as Game of the Year (GOTY), especially for tabletop gaming whether with pewter or cardboard. First, the cottage industry nature of the hobby means there are literally hundreds of participants producing top notch products that don’t use this income to put food on the table. They do it for fun, stroke an ego or two and many other reasons. And if you don’t think there is new stuff literally coming out every day, just check the home page of TMP on any date you might desire. Second, I can’t be everywhere and know everything. What I am familiar with is what I read about, what I play myself and what I see in conventions and hobby stores. So if I have excluded your favorite game or figure, my apologies in advance.
With that said, I normally look at any GOTY award as recognition for something special, revolutionary if you will, something that has a long range impact on the hobby. Remember when Minifigs dropped figures on a strip production and introduced their larger, super detailed line? Remember when SPI started putting complimenting games in a periodical magazine, or when they introduced the concept of a second movement phase for mech units in the game France 1940 (later sold to Avalon Hill)? That’s the kind stuff I’m talking about.
I didn’t see that this year, but what I did see were some exquisite products that extended older product lines way past their default termination date. It wasn’t a matter of revolution, but of evolution for toys that started off great and over time got even better. With that in mind, read on and consider this: if a product is so good that it continues to be updated, modified and published, is that not a revolution in and of itself?
GOTY Miniature Rules or Supporting Literature
By Fire and Sword, Warsaw 28th thru 30th July 1656. They play tabletop games in Poland? Yes they most certainly do and a purely Polish product named By Fire and Sword has taken the entire world by storm. The rules cover the period of the Polish Renaissance when the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth took on all comers, trampling quite a few under the hooves of their equine tanks known as Winged Hussars. The entire series seems to be based on an 1884 historical triology by Henryk Sienkiewicz, so there is a baseline set of rules with the same name, a second set named The Deluge AND a second edition that combines the latter two into a single tome.
This year the company released Warsaw, 28th thru 30th July 1656, a 48 page uber comprehensive campaign book for $ 20.00 US that includes not only six new scenarios, but brand new skirmish and army lists, leader and unit profiles and special rules, all done in the spectacular color graphics that typifies this firm. Original art is superb and the English version has the best translation from one language to another that I have ever seen. Come to think of it, they actually do English better than we in the colonies or across the pond, but I digress. Typically, the firm also released several brand new sets of figures specifically sculpted to support this new publication and in many ways this is what sorta makes the lads at Historical Wargames Poland so special. This is truly a one stop shopping enterprise. Yes, the rules and supporting pubs are the main focus, but these folks also make all the miniatures necessary to play (and each set comes with custom bases and flags), flags, casualty markers, order tokens, dice, etc, etc, all produced in several styles for each faction in the game. Next up is a new publication on the Danes, and I can hardly wait.
Honorable Mention – Sengoku Jidai: Mandate of Heaven. Because, no, it’s NOT a PC game but a miniatures game that’s been digitized, with rock solid graphics and play to boot.
GOTY Figure or Model Line
Blue Moon Enterprises 15mm English Civil War (ECW). This is the latest line by Blue Moon Manufacturing; created in 2007 as a subdivision of Old Glory Miniatures to reestablish their well received 15 mm series. Some 26 separate lines later, the sculpting remains excellent, even if more the rough vice smooth Minifigs style. And like its predecessors, the company’s new English Civil War product comes as a complete new package, not just a few new figures to support an already existing line. Thus not less than 43 new individual figure packs were released, to include seven artillery pieces, eight packs of pikemen, 11 of musketeers or firelocks, as well as dragoons, casualties, generals, personalities, camp scenes, wire pikes (a much better and painfully sharp alternative, and a great way to guarantee players are careful with your figs), camp scenes, musket rests and a whole bunch more.
Further, each of the packs noted above has its own three or four different figure poses, giving a finished unit a more realistic look and an almost human personality. Seriously, the Royal personality set even has the King’s favorite hunting dog, what looks to be a Wolfhound. The figures are of the larger, almost 18 mm variety and come packaged 30 foot for $ 16.00 US, two cannon for $ 6.00 and so on. A little pricey, but so good looking when put on the table that - just like their Mexican War line – I’m thinking about stocking up myself. And no, I do NOT play this period. Yet.
Honorable Mention – Architectural Heritage Buildings. These are not new additions to the old line now produced by JR Minis, but the original designer getting back in the business with a new product line starting with three European buildings all related to beer consumption. What’s not to like, because even if you lose, you won’t care.
GOTY Historical Boardgame
Operational Studies Group Napoleonic Library of Battles, Fleurus 1794. Although Napoleon’s Quagmire, 1811 the Peninsula War II is due out any day, as of this article’s deadline, it’s not. That’s OK because this year award winning game designer Kevin Zucker and OSG have graced us with the Battle of Fleurus 1794 expansion module to 2015’s Napoleon’s Last Gamble, the Battle of Waterloo 1815. For those not aware, the latter is really the latest take on the old SPI Quadra-Game Napoleon’s Last Battles which entered this world back in 1976. This latest offering is one of the first, if not the first, game focused on the French Revolutionary Wars, and like its siblings is a battle level game with brigades as units, hour long turns, 480 meters per hex and 500 – 800 per strength points. Graphics have been completely modernized and a new card system allows for advanced command and control, not to mention random events to simulate Clausewitz and von Moltke’s famous combat “friction.”
This game is number 70, no I didn’t stutter nor stammer, I said number 70 in the list of battles simulated by this system and that says something. You will need the original Waterloo game (with the Highway to Brussels add on) for the maps, but I simply don’t know how anyone can resist a game that includes a cardboard counter for a French balloon reconnaissance unit. This is a ziplock product and costs $ 24.95 US, but it’s worth it. This series is probably the best cardboard simulation of Napoleonic battles today, and I have every game thereof ever published to include Napoleon’s Quagmire whenever it’s published.
Honorable Mention – Clash of Arms la Bataille de Ligny 1815 2d Edition. This new game is notable for just about the same reasons as Fleurus 1794, pushing the evolutionary envelope from Martial Enterprise’s 1975 la Bataille de la Moscowa. Credited by Richard Berg as being the hobby’s first “monster game,” the granddaddy of them all with a system still going strong.
No, not a lot of earth shattering developments in tabletop gaming, but a damn fine year nonetheless.