Monday, July 20, 2015

Swordfish at Taranto & Poor Bloody Infantry – Minden Games Part 1

Swordfish at Taranto & Poor Bloody Infantry – Minden Games Part 1

Originally this was going to be two different reviews but the similarities between these two “experience” games and the fact that Swordfish at Taranto is now listed as Out of Stock, led me to the decision to do one combined review.  

One thing I will mention now, is that I will not be going into a lot of detail about rules and tables used in the games.  Both of these games have a lot of tables and charts that are in use as you play.  Since some of the components such as the maps and counters are available online I don’t want to do a disservice to the publisher and put something out that would result in someone not needing to actually purchase the rules.  

Swordfish at Taranto
Williamson turned and nodded to his navigator as he began his dive toward the harbor.  Jinking to starboard and banking towards two large warships, he flew 30 feet above the surface, pressing the attack to close range.  They felt the sudden jerk upward as the torpedo dropped from the plane and the Swordfish began swinging hard to port and climbing to the safety of the black sky…

Swordfish at Taranto by Minden Games is a small, solitaire, zip-lock bag game available for about $9.95 in the US and Canada (  Though as of June 30, 2015 the game is listed as Out of Stock.  

The game was originally part of Panzer Digest #2 which was published in 2007.  It was then re-released as a zip game in 2012.  I picked it up last year from Minden Games but haven’t had a chance to play it, until now.  

I’m not really sure why I wanted to buy this game.  I really know nothing about the attack at Taranto but for some reason I was intrigued enough to purchase the game.   Part of it was that it was a solitaire game and part was that it was a different publisher and subject matter then I have played.

The actual attack took place on the night of November 11th and 12th, 1940.  The British launched Fairey Swordfish aircraft against the Italian ships.  While the Italians lost half their capital ships at once, I have also read that the actual impact on the naval war in the Mediterranean was negligible.  One major influence may have been the use of aircraft to attack a fleet in harbor.  It is felt that the success of this attack contributed to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.  

 I also like the idea of a small game that I can play to completion in a short amount of time.  I have been gaming for a lot of years now.  I went through a period where I wanted big, monster games.  I wanted something that would dominate the floor or table for days or weeks.  Now that I am married, work full-time, and have a cat that wants to play too, having something sitting around just isn’t practical.  

Since almost everyone in my area is more into Magic or Flames of War miniatures than standard wargames, I find myself playing a lot of solitaire titles.  I have always enjoyed games like B-17, Patton’s Best, and London’s Burning.  More recently I have acquired The Hunters and Picket Duty.  I figured that a small solitaire game would be a nice addition to the collection.  

First of all, this game really is small!  It comes in a zip lock bag that is approximately 10 inches by 6 inches.  The map is about this size also and the game only has 28 counters (though 3 are blank).  It is a great game to play in a small space.  It is basically a desktop published game.  The map is on light card and the counters should really be mounted on something.  If you don’t picking them up could be difficult, though not impossible.  

The first thing I did though, despite wanting something small, was to enlarge the board a bit.  I actually used the photo from Board Game Geek (from the Panzer Digest printing) and enlarged that.  I also scanned the counters and mounted them on wooden craft tiles from Michaels.  Any type of Scrabble type tile would work though.  I did this to have a little big larger playing area and to have something that I could easily move around as the game progressed and so that I would have a larger map without it becoming too large.  In the words of Goldilocks, “it would be just right”.

The game itself poses some interesting questions and provides the player with a different perspective from most wargames.  You are the planner or overall commander for the operation.  Your job is to use the rule guidelines to put together a plan of attack that will result in the successful conclusion to your operation.
You will need to decide how many planes are in each wave, what they are carrying (bombs, flares, or torpedoes), the attack approach, and the target.  Once all of that is done, the game actually starts.  The game itself is played out by working through the various stages of the attack and rolling on charts to determine the outcome of events.  

One question that I have seen previously about solitaire games is, “Do I get to make meaningful decisions during the game?”  While that statement is a bit ambiguous, I am guessing that they are asking if they have to do anything important during the game or are they just along for the ride.  I have often heard complaints about the old Avalon Hill game B-17 – Queen of the Skies.  The criticism is usually that the game just drives the player along and you really don’t have to do anything except roll dice.   I for one enjoy B-17 so maybe I am the target audience for a game like that.  

Swordfish at Taranto requires a lot of thought in the planning stages.  You need to figure out all of the various composition of your waves and the targets you will be going after, before things get rolling.  All of the pilots are individually named but that really plays no part in the game.  Some people may wish to do a “role playing” type situation though, where you select a pilot to represent you and if he survives the mission influences your chances to win or lose.  

This game reminds me a lot of B-17.  While you don’t have to worry about your crew and the positions of them in the aircraft you are using a lot of charts that drive the game. Do you have to make a lot of decisions during the game, no.  Most decision making will be made in the initial setup steps and that should be about it.  The game is about the experience of watching your plan succeed or fail.  

At the end of the day, I like this game. The components are nice for a DTP type game, the rules are very well thought out, and the game plays quickly.  I admit, a few more decisions during the game might be nice but I had fun getting to the end of the game.  To me that is what all of this is about, fun.  I don't need a game to be a long, drawn out experience that takes me weeks to play and hours to setup and break down.  I want something I enjoy.  

If you are looking for a lightweight, fun, solitaire game, and can find it, you may want to pickup Swordfish at Taranto by Minden Games.  

Next time - Poor Bloody Infantry.  A World War 1 experience game with some similarities to Swordfish at Taranto. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

NJ Con 7 - June 12 and 13, 2015

For those of you not familiar with NJ Con (New Jersey Con) it is a games convention held in Edison, New Jersey.  Previous to moving to the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center it had various, smaller venues, for the first two or three years.  I had discovered the convention the year prior to moving, when it was held in a hotel in the New Brunswick, NJ area.  The following year I was very pleased with the change in location. 

This convention offers a lot.  First of all, it is small enough to actually "see people".   A lot of us have friends in the hobby but when you go to the larger conventions you may never actually see people that you know.  You may have heard they are there but, you wouldn't know it because the place is too spread out. 

The second that I like is that the staff that runs it is friendly.  That isn't to say that the staff at other conventions run around screaming and hollering but the NJ Con staff seem to go out of their way to make you feel welcome. 

Of course, there are some downsides to the convention.  First of all, hotels are maybe a mile away.  It is an easy drive through a business complex, but you can't just roll out of bed and into the gaming hall like you can at a convention held in a hotel.  Of course, considering what some people look like rolling out of bed, it may be a good thing. 

The other downside is food.  There is no on-site restaurant.  The organizers have brought in vendors over the past few years, including food trucks out in the parking lot, and inside food vendors.  The food varies year to year. 

My personal favorite was the NJ Con 6 vendor that was there on Saturday.  Really good sandwiches and soup and they kept circulating around with drinks for sale.  And for those that may be wondering, I believe it was all non-alcoholic drinks. 

There are some restaurants in the area, and they have menus at the registration desk for anyone wanting to order food. 

Now, about the convention itself.  This is a game players convention.  There are a few vendors available but primarily I find this a time to game.  The vendor are offers a lot of the typical items that you would expect to find.  If you need some basic items, then it is a good place to look.  If you are looking for that rare, item that you hope someone might have because you would otherwise have to order it online, you will probably not find it. 

There is also a "Bring and Buy" offered.  This is similar to Wally's Basement at the HMGS - East conventions, but you don't have to sit there with the items.  You bring them in, tag them with your name and prices, turn in a master list to the room staff person, and they watch the items, sell the items, and will call you on your cell phone, if there are questions.  They charge a 10% fee for this service. Selection here varies from year to year but it is a great service that they offer. 

I arrived on Friday around 1PM.  I quickly met Augie T. and Chris G.  They were planning on playing Sergeants D-Day.  Sounded good to me.  The staff let us know where some tables were available for open gaming and we went to it.  They selected a three player scenario, House of Heroes.

For the SMG players that may not be familiar with SDD, the footprint needed for the game is very small compared to SMG. 

The table proved to be just large enough for everything needed to play, except the rulebook. 

I believe it was the first time any of us had played SDD.  Chris had brought it with him.  I am not sure about Augie but I had never actually seen the game before.  I saw the Kickstarter campaign but hadn't backed it.   I wanted to learn more about the game and really didn't have the cash at the time.  

The game itself was fairly straightforward.  Augie and Chris were the Americans and I was the Germans.  

My mission was to enter at one area and exit at another.  Seemingly straightforward but, as a lot of things, easier said than done.  From the game play, I figured that Augie had a mission to scout or capture landmarks.  The way he was moving around seemed to indicate that.  I have actually seen him have that same type of mission in a SMG game and win.  

Long story short, Augie won again.  I managed to get a soldier or two off of the designated exit point but Augie had racked up a lot of points by fulfilling his orders.  Unfortunately I don't remember Chris's VP count or orders.  

Overall I really liked the game.  It plays very similar to SMG.  The biggest difference was the movement differences.  We had some questions that came up during playing.   Chris posted them on BGG in the Sergeants D-Day forum.   I liked the fact that it takes up less space.  Of course we were all wondering what maps could eventually be built, that will allow for massive, large scale battles.  At this point we can dream but what the future holds, lies in the LBG secret bunker...

On Saturday I arrived early and Chris was already there.   We set up our table and prepared for a day of Sergeants gaming.  One thing I have taken to doing is to bring something to level the tables.  While this is not really an issue when running a standard miniatures game, it does become problematic with the Sergeants universe.  Nothing like having the map falling apart on you.  

Of course at one convention I had the table collapsing while playing.  Any type of pressure on it and the legs would start to buckle.  I spent 3 hours with my leg around the table leg to keep it from falling on us.  

My wife found foam mats that hook together like puzzle pieces. Previously I had used dollar store foam board and taped the pieces together to create a level surface.  This worked well but, would bend fairly easily so new, replacement pieces would always have to be purchased.  She found these mats as a more expensive alternative but with the added feature that we don't have to keep buying them.  

Setup for the SMG games I ran

Chris preparing for a SDD game

I set up the SMG game and forces that I had for my game while Chris worked at the other end of our table setting up SDD.  
I was running my "standard" 4 player scenario from World Boardgaming Championships a few years back.  I believe it is called Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  I have built four fairly balanced forces.   I have incorporated the MG 42 tactics panel that allows them to fire each phase and the American panel that allows their MG  to Shoot and Shoot again once per turn.  

For the first game I had two players, a father and son.  They were looking for something quick because they only had a couple of hours to play.  One took the Germans and the other the Americans.  I had them use the two MG squads so that they would see the most action. I specifically pointed out the ability of the MGs to each of them.  They promptly forgot that.  I have seen it happen with experienced players too, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  

They actually played the scenario  twice.  The first game was quite interesting with a lot of random events. 

I even had the extremely rare, two random events in one turn happen.  If I hadn't known I had shuffled the cards I would have wondered what was going on.

Both players had the same orders, capture the landmark in the middle of the board.  They both advanced quickly to the landmark and started shooting it out.  The Germans lost the MG 42 and they decided to call it, since they didn't want to stick around on the battlefield. 

For the second game I offered them the choice of playing the other two squads, or keeping the same ones.  They elected to stay with the same ones.  The second game they played had a similar outcome, without the random events though.  The MG 42 was lost and they decided to call it.  For them the time worked out as they had another game to go to. 

Chris continued to run his SDD game at the same time as I ran SMG.
We had some time to relax and look around the convention before the next round of gaming Sergeants would kick off. 
Board listing games, times, and location

The city of Stalingrad

Various Waterloo games

NJ Con 7 offered a wide variety of games on Saturday.  There were a large number of Waterloo games being run (most, if not all, by Dave Waxtel).  The games looked great and seemed to have ample players.  

There were also some naval games, a huge Stalingrad game, American Civil War, American War of Independence, and other periods represented.  Of course, more games are always needed.  

I believe there was also a Flames of War tournament going on.  I noticed that there seemed to be less people going back there though.  Not sure if it was just a bad weekend of if Flames is dying out.  In the dealer hall I noticed that Bolt Action seemed to be the current flavor of the month.  There were a lot of dealers selling Bolt Action items.  

For the second game of SMG I was going to run the father and son actually recruited two new players and came back for another go.  

It was the same scenario but with the additional two players things played out a bit differently.  This time around, while everyone was battling over the landmark, some Combat Contact hand to hand broke out.

This resulted in people being pinned, wounded and killed in hand to hand.  I built the squads so they have very few kills, so that new players won't get wiped out right away.  Some did have some nasty tricks like an extra .45 pistol, piece of equipment that allows them to get a shot in before the combat.

In the long run the game ended with more of the Germans dying but the one German player actually accomplished his objective of eliminating more points of Americans and won the individual orders.

One comment that they had was not understanding how he won, just because he had accomplished his orders, but had more dead than the Americans.  I know I have heard other people suggesting "side orders" and then individual squad orders.  That way if you lose the orders for your side your squad points are lessened.

Overall they all said that they had fun.  Isn't that the point?

Chris had picked up the SDD game and set up for an SMG game.  He started out playing another person but then a second player joined in.

I highly recommend NJ Con to anyone interested in miniature gaming, not just Sergeants.  This is a great convention.  It is small but needs you to help it grow.  If you don't go to Historicon because of the move, you should consider NJ Con.  A great group of people, in a nice venue, are available in June for all to enjoy.

This has become a great time that I look forward to each year.  I hope that it continues to grow and flourish. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sergeants Miniatures Game at Historicon

This is a video created from photos - Historicon 2013.  The SMG Company Level Game