Month: July 2012

Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Review

First Foray into Cooperative Gaming

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue


Overview

Flash Point: Fire Rescue, designed by Kevin Lanzing and published by Indie Boards & Cards in 2011, is a board game for 2 to 6 players, advertised as suitable for ages 10 and older (which I agree is the appropriate minimum age). It’s a family game of low complexity which is usually playable within 45 minutes. Many games claim to be “family” games while really only appealing to a certain age range/gender/mindset. But Flash Point: Fire Rescue truly is a family game. My first game involved four players ranging in age from 16 to 79, with both genders represented. Doesn’t get any more family than that!

Flash Point: Fire Rescue falls under the broad category of “Euro Game”, and the narrower sub-category of “Cooperative Game”. A Cooperative Game generally pits all the players against a “system” of some type. In this case, the players represent firefighters working together to battle the fire (the “system”, in this case) and rescue the people inside. Simple enough, right? We’ll see…


Setting Up

There are two versions of the game: the Family version and the Experienced version. Both versions are relatively simple to play (relative to the kind of games I normally play, that is), but the Experienced version has more options and “chrome” that will appeal to older children and even experienced gamers. The Experienced game adds additional help for the firefighters in the form of Vehicles (Ambulance and Fire Truck) and special abilities for the players (ex: Paramedic, Rescue Specialist, etc.). But it also adds more dangers like hazardous materials (HazMat) and Hot Spots, which make the fire more volatile and uncontrollable.

In keeping with the “family game” theme, Flash Point: Fire Rescue Basic game can be set up and ready to go within minutes. The map board shows a bird’s eye view of a house, as if you’re looking down from above with the roof removed. It is a two-sided map, with one side designed to be more challenging as it has fewer entrances to the house (only 2 external doors vs. 4 on the other map).

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue

A clever “grid” system is used to uniquely identify any square on the map. The rows of the grid all have a red 6-sided die identifier (i.e. 1 through 6) and each column of the grid has a black 8-sided die identifier (1 through 8). When a random space needs to be selected, a player rolls a red 6-sided die and a black 8-sided die and looks at both numbers, tracing along the row (red die) and column (black die) to arrive at the space that meets at the intersection. To make things even easier, each space contains the red/black die number combination that uniquely identifies that space.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

Initially there are “Threat” markers placed in set locations within the house. One side of the Threat marker displays “Smoke” and the other side shows “Fire”. The initial 10 Threat markers are placed with the “Fire” side face up, to indicate a fire already raging within the house.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

Next, three potential “victims” are placed in different locations in the house. These markers are call “Point of Interest (POI)” markers and are placed face down so no one knows if it’s a real “victim” (person or animal) or a decoy. These victims are the key to victory in Flash Point: Fire Rescue. If 4 or more victims are lost to the fire, your cooperative team will lose the game instantly.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

Door markers are placed next, “Closed” side showing, on each of the 8 interior “doorways” in the house. Doors offer limited protection again spreading fire and explosions so it’s best to keep them in the “Closed” position as much as possible. An “Open” door is the same as “no door at all” when it comes to containing the inferno.

Finally, each player assumes the role of a firefighter, takes one of the colored pieces and sets up in the street outside the building.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

There was a sales promotion in effect when I bought my copy of this game. They were offering free“Meeples” with purchase. For those, like me, who do not know a Meeple from a steeple, “Meeple” is a generic term for little wooden figures used in board gaming. So instead of colored bowling-pin-shaped units, I get to play with colored firefighter-shaped units. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy Meeples, but I’m glad I have them as it adds another touch of flavor to the game. And the kids like them.

Feel free to chat, coordinate your starting locations, and plan strategies. It’s a “cooperative” game, remember? So you all either sink or swim together.

That’s it! You’re ready to play.


Playing the Game

Starting with the youngest firefighter, each player goes through the following “phases”, in the specified order:

  • Take Action – Spend Action Points, moving, putting out fires, chopping down walls and door when necessary and, of course, rescuing victims. What else would a firefighter be doing?
  • Advance Fire – Roll dice to see if the fire spreads. Results can range anywhere from a new “Smoke” marker appearing, to a dangerous explosion and possibly a “ShockWave” and “Flashover”. Trying to keep control of the blaze is how the firefighters earn their pay.
  • Replenish POI Markers – There must be at least 3 POI markers on the board at the beginning of each player’s turn. So, as victims are rescued, identified as decoys, or (gulp) killed, new markers must take their place. Dice are rolled to select random placement spaces for new POI markers.

Each player, in turn, will continue to perform these three steps indefinitely, until the game is either won or lost.

The sequence of events is designed to create suspense and tension in the game, and it succeeds remarkably well. The firefighters move towards the victims, putting out fires along the way, only to have new fires pop up again. The firefighters must perform the right mix of actions to:

  • Prevent the fire from raging out of control.
  • Prevent the collapse of the building.
  • Rescue the victims.

The victory conditions state that the players must successfully rescue 7 victims to score a win.

If more than 3 victims are lost to the fire, they lose.

If the building collapses, they lose.

Success or failure rides on the shoulders of the firefighters and their ability to work as a team, and react to rapdily changing environments.

Firefighters in Action!

Each firefighter is given 4 Action Points to spend on their turn. If they don’t spend them all, they may be retained (up to a maximum of 4 retained AP). Each action the firefighter takes costs X number of AP:

  • Move to a space without Fire: 1 AP
  • Move to a space with Fire: 2 AP
  • Carry a victim to an open space or a space with Smoke: 2 AP
  • Open/Close a Door: 1 AP
  • Extinguish a Fire marker: 2 AP
  • Downgrade Fire marker to Smoke marker: 1 AP
  • Chop with Axe: Place a damage marker on a wall (2 damage markers destroys a wall)

Firefighters can perform their actions in any order they like, up to the maximum amount of AP they have available. Their primary objective is to save the lives of the victims, but how they go about doing that is up to them. It was interesting to watch how different players approached similar problems in a different way. For instance, one of the players just refused to waste any time walking; he just charged straight towards the victims, chopping through any walls that got in his way. His theory was that the time he’d save on the way back (through the chopped walls) while saddled with having to carry a victim would more than make up for the time spent chopping. After all, it was the shortest distance between the victim and the fresh open air. This worked pretty well until a few consecutive explosions finished the job he started, weakening the walls to the point where the building collapsed on top of us. Lesson learned…

Example of Firefighter Actions

In this brief Basic Version example, we have two firefighters (Yellow and Red) at work in the building. Initially firefighter Yellow is located in space Red:4/Black:8, located in the game room. Firefighter Red appears to be trapped in a bedroom with a victim in space Red:6/Black:6.

Firefighter Yellow is planning to reach the potential victim in the kitchen, while firefighter Red has already secured a victim and is hoping to carry her back through the family room (with the piano) and outside to safety. The problem for Red is that, after he entered the bedroom to find the victim and closed the door behind him, a nasty fire broke out in the family room! Because a victim can never enter a hex containing a Fire marker, Red will have to battle his way out. Yellow’s plan is to dash into the kitchen, rescue the victim there, then dash back out the same way she came in.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

But it’s Yellow’s turn first and, although she’d love to be able to assist Red, there’s just no way she can get near him. She decides to proceed with her original plan to save the kitchen victim, and spends her 4 AP as follows:

  • Move forward towards the kitchen – 1 AP
  • Spray the fire to her right and downgrade it to Smoke – 1 AP
  • Open the kitchen door – 1 AP
  • Move forward into the kitchen – 1 AP

The fire in the game room is diminished down to Smoke status, which lessens the danger of explosion a bit. It would have been better to extinguish the Fire entirely, but that would have taken an additional AP which she thought was better spent getting closer to the victim. The door to the kitchen remains open so she’ll be able to make a quick getaway after checking the POI marker (potential victim).

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

Now that Yellow has spent all her APs, she will move on to the “Advance Fire” phase of her turn, which will be discussed below.

The “System” Fights Back!

After the player completes all desired actions, the next step is to see how the fire spreads. The black and red die are rolled to select a space on the board. A “Smoke” marker is placed on that space. If the space is empty and not adjacent to a Fire marker, nothing else happens. If that’s not the case then things could get ugly.

For example, if the new Smoke marker is placed on top of an existing Fire marker an Explosion is triggered. Explosions spread fires very quickly and can destroy walls, doors and (gulp, again) victims. An explosion radiates out in all four directions and, if any adjacent space is already on fire, causes a Shockwave that sends fire tearing through the building (and any human beings in its path).

Players must keep in mind that not only the victims, but the building itself is in danger. Small black wooden blocks are used to mark damage to the building’s walls. Most wall-damaging events, like Explosions and firefighters “Chop with Axe” action, cause 1 block to be placed on the wall. When 2 blocks are accumulated, the wall is considered “destroyed”. From that point on, it’s as if the wall is not there. However, there are only 24 blocks. When all 24 are placed on the board, the building is considered to have collapsed, killing everyone inside.

Finally, when all the Explosions and Shockwaves are resolved, any Smoke marker that’s adjacent to a Fire marker is changed to a Fire marker. This operates with a “domino” effect; a string of adjacent Smoke markers will all burst into flames.

Any victim marker that finds itself in a hex with a Fire marker (for any reason) is considered lost and counts against the players’ victory conditions. Firefighters are never killed, but they may be injured and sent back to the Ambulance, essentially putting them out of action until they can get back into the building. When the team is so dependent on every member to stay one step ahead of the blaze, such delays can cost them the game.

We found it a challenge to get the fires under control while simultaneously trying to rescue the victims. But that’s the whole point of the game, isn’t it?

Example of Advance Fire Phase

Continuing with our example from above, it’s now time for Yellow to roll the dice and see how the Fire advances.

Yellow rolls the red and black dice and the result is Red:6/Black:5, which places the target space just outside the bedroom door behind which Green is standing with victim slung over his shoulder! The rules indicate that if the target space already contains a Fire marker, that an Explosion has occurred and must be resolved. We have an Explosion!

An explosion radiates outward in all four directions (never diagonal), spreading Fire until it hits one of the following:

  • An Open or Smoke-Filled Space
  • A Wall
  • A Closed Door

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

So the fire spreads east (from our perspective) into space Red:6/Black:4 where a Fire marker is placed, and stops there. It spreads south, where it encounters an existing Fire marker, thus causing a Shockwave. The Fire will continue through the existing Fire space and slams into the south wall, doing one point of damage. One black block is placed on the wall to signify the damage. If another such hit occurs on that same wall section, it will be considered destroyed.

Most significantly for our example, the Explosion travels west where it runs into the bedroom door. When an Explosion (or resulting Shockwave) hits a closed door, the door is considered completely destroyed and the door marker is removed. However, if Red had not had the foresight to close the door upon entering the bedroom, the blast would have traveled right through the open door, knocking him down and killing the victim he’s carrying. This is a perfect example of how anticipating the worst case scenario can pay big dividends later on.

Next Victim!

There must be 3 POI markers on the game map at the start of any player’s turn. So, as the last step in the player turn sequence, if there are not 3 POI markers on the map, the active player must roll the red/black dice to select a space for placement of a new POI marker with “?” side facing up so that no one knows if it’s a real victim or a decoy.

Sometimes you get lucky and the new POI will be placed in close proximity to one or more of the firefighters, but just as often you’ll find the new POI marker being placed far away from all firefighters. And, if the dice are against you (and they always are), the new POI may land in the midst of a block of Fire markers.

Example of Red’s Turn

We skipped Yellow’s “Replenish POI phase, as we’re just assuming that there are 3 POI markers currently on the board. We can move on to Red’s Action Phase.

Firefighter Red has to make an important decision here:

  • Head for the closest door, which is in the family room (just past the piano; not pictured), fighting fires every step of the way and hoping he does not have to face another explosion.
  • Chop his way through the external wall.
  • Head south, putting out the fire there and moving away from the open door.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

Each of these options have positive and negative aspects. Heading into the inferno in the family room, with a helpless victim over his shoulder just doesn’t sound prudent. If there was another firefighter on the other side, maybe it would be workable. But there isn’t. On the other hand, that direction leads to the closest external door and safety…

Chopping through the external wall to the north sounds like a really good option at first. Except that he’d have to use all 4 of his APs to chop through the wall, and would have to wait until next turn to actually move out of his current space. Considering what just happened during Yellow’s Advance Fire phase, I can’t imagine he’s want to stay put and take his chances with the fire raging to his east and south.

So firefighter Red chooses the third option. He snuffs the fire to his south using 2 AP, and then carries the victim into that space with his remaining 2 AP. Now at least he is not directly adjacent to any Fire markers. And, more importantly, he’s now just on the other side of a wall from firefighter Yellow. Yellow can use her APs to chop down the wall, and Red can simply carry the victim through to safety on his turn.

Wrapping up this example, on Red’s “Advance Fire” phase he rolls Red:6/Black:4 and attempts to place a Smoke marker there. But, lo and behold, there is already a Fire marker in that space, so another Explosion occurs! Amazingly, the selected space is right next to the space that Yellow rolled on her turn (although not too amazing since I’m the one creating the example and I’m trying to make a point).

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

This time, when the Shockwave expands to the west, there is no bedroom door to hold it in check, so the flames leap right into the bedroom and into the space where firefighter Red and his victim would have been standing had he chosen to try to chop through the exterior wall. Another disaster averted due to Red’s good judgment!

I hope this brief graphical example has given you an idea of how the game is played, as well as some sense of the decisions that you’ll be faced with when playing Flash Point: Fire Rescue.


The Experienced Game

The Experienced Game takes just a bit longer to set up because there’s a lot more going on. It has three levels of play: RecruitVeteran, and Heroic, with Recruit being similar in difficulty to the Family Game, and “Heroic” being (as you might imagine) very difficult. I played at the Veteran level just to get a good sense of how much more difficult the game becomes.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

Things become noticeably more difficult right from the setup. You have to randomly place, and then resolve, 3 Explosions. So, the center of my building was already an inferno, with three points of Wall Damage to boot! Add in the placement of 4 Hazardous Materials markers and 6 Hot Spots and you have all the ingredients for a bad day.

With the introduction of HazMat and Hot Spot markers, the “Advance Fire” phase of each player turn now has the potential to create a genuine conflagration!

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

But, on the positive side, the firefighters have enhanced capabilities as well. There is a Fire Engine which is capable of putting out fires in multiple spaces simultaneously. And each firefighter is assigned a “specialty”, by choosing a Specialist Card. The following specialties are available:

  • Paramedic – Can resuscitate a victim.
  • Fire Captain – Can “delegate” 2 AP each turn to another firefighter, essentially commanding that firefighter to move or Open/Close Doors during the Captain’s turn.
  • Imaging Technician – Reveal a POI marker anywhere on the board (detects “dummy” counters).
  • CAFS Firefighter – Gets 3 AP + 3 free Extinguish AP per turn.
  • Hazmat Technician – More efficient at removing HazMat markers (i.e. does not have to carry it like a victim)
  • Generalist – No special abilities but has 5 AP per turn.
  • Rescue Specialist – Get 4 AP + 3 free Movement AP per turn.
  • Driver/Operator – Can drive the fire engine and fire the “Deck Gun” (i.e. water cannon).

More than anything else, the introduction of special abilities puts additional burden on the players to cooperate and utilize their enhanced proficiencies to maximum advantage. The “system” grows exponentially more efficient in the Experienced Game. So too must the players if they hope to win. Having these advanced firefighting capabilities is great but only if used properly.

I would definitely recommend the Experienced version for older kids (13+), adults, or experienced gamers.


Summary

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue Board Game

There’s a lot of random luck (both good and bad) in this game, but performing actions efficiently requires thought and care on the part of the players. Sometimes there’s just a right and a wrong way to do things, and you’ve got to be right more often than you’re wrong. Coordination with your fellow firefighters is critical to the success of the team.

Do you focus initially on putting out the fires, letting the victims wait until the fire is more contained?

Remember that after every player turn, the fire will spread by an unknown amount. It could be just another Smoke space, or it could be an inferno that kills one or more of your helpless victims. So you must strike a balance between containing the fire and getting victims moved to safety.

Do you walk all the way from the game room, through the kitchen, dining room and play room to get to the victim in the small bathroom? Or do you just chop down the shared wall between the game room and the small bathroom?

Every wall you chop and every wall that is damaged by the fire has a cumulative effect on the stability of the building. A building collapse is the worst way to lose because it’s usually the result of bad decisions made earlier in the game.

With each game you play, proper techniques start becoming more apparent. For example, there’s definitely a right way to manage a large block of “Fire” spaces to minimize the repercussions of an Explosion/Shockwave. There are also times when it’s smarter to just move a victim to a safer location, put the victim down, and then return to fighting the fire, rather than charging into a perilous situation in a mad rush for the exit. But we’ll reserve those discussions for a future strategy article.

Bottom Line: The game got mixed reviews from the participants.

The younger ones felt that it could have been more exciting although it appeared to me that they were getting mini-adrenaline rushes here and there, while waiting to see if an Explosion was going to take them, and the hapless victim they carried, off to the afterlife. But I can understand that. Competing with the sensory stimulation of XBox, Playstation or mobile gaming devices is a tall order for a board game designer.

The experienced gamers and adult players found the Family Game a bit too simplistic, but thought the Experienced game was more fun.

Our 79 year old firefighter loved the game, but thought it went on too long (the Experienced game lasted just about 50 minutes). I think he would have considered a 30 minute session to be perfect.

My own opinion is that any game I can share with everyone from my youngest son to my father-in-law deserves high praise indeed. It really grew on me. The very first (Family/Basic) game I played was a bit of a dud as everyone was learning the rules and just kind of sleepwalking through the motions. But, with each subsequent game, I enjoyed it more and more. The firefighters “cooperative” won about half the time, which puts game balance right in the sweet spot. Each game progresses differently. Sometimes, things go so smoothly you just can’t imagine how you could possibly lose. Other times you see just how horribly wrong things can go if the “Advance Fire” rolls go against you. So there’s a sense of urgency in every game that most of us found enjoyable.

This was really my first experience with a “Euro” type game. I’m generally a hard-core hex map wargamer. But I have to say that I enjoyed Flash Point: Fire Rescue enough that I’ll probably try other Indie Boards & Cards games in the future. Congratulations to the designer and publisher on a job well done.

Now if I can get all my nephews to give it the thumbs up, I’ll be really impressed. I’ll write a follow up after they have a chance to play…

Central America: Review

A Close Look at a Neglected Gem

Central America


Overview

Central America, designed by James H. McQuaid and published by Victory Games in 1987, is an operational level war board game simulating historical and hypothetical conflicts in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. The country of Nicaragua is at the center of the conflict in most scenarios, but the game also includes scenarios depicting internal conflicts in El Salvador and secondary conflicts between Honduras and El Salvador. And, of course, potential outside intervention by the United States, Cuba and (to a lesser degree) the Soviet Union, comprises the foundation of this board game.

There are aircraft, helicopter and ground units represented in the game. Since the US has such naval dominance in that part of the world, actual naval units are not used in the game and “carrier groups” are simply map boxes used to hold aircraft. The military units of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Cost Rica, Cuba, United States and the Soviet Union are included, as well as all the various guerilla, insurgency and political factions in the region (FDN, ARDE, FMLN, etc.). There are even special scenario units for Israeli Mossad, Communist International, Libya and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), so we’re talking about a well researched project, not simply a “red units” vs. “blue units” kind of game.

Although designed as a two player game, it expands well to accommodate two additional players (one per side) and is even marginally enjoyable solitaire. The publisher assigns it a complexity level of between 7 and 10 (i.e. “High” to “Very High” complexity), although I disagree with the high end of those ratings. It’s a big game in the sense that there are a lot of units and a lot of rules, but I don’t believe it should be viewed as an extremely complex game, as we’ll discuss in more detail shortly (I find games like Gulf StrikeFlat Top, and Pacific War to be much more complex). The 22″ x 32″ map and other game components are par for the 1980’s. The map is legible, succinct and functional (but could have been made a bit larger).

This article will take a fresh look at Central America, evaluating the major facets of the game and highlighting what I consider to be some of the more salient and interesting features.


The Rules

OK, let’s get this issue out of the way right now. I remember, back when this board game was first published, the initial reactions of a lot of gamers to the magnitude of TRP (Total Rules Pages). Let’s examine this.

Central America Board Game

The rules are broken up into two major categories: Conventional Game Rules and Intervention Game Rules. There are also 16 Scenarios, or predefined game situations, included. Each scenario is designed to be played as either a “Conventional Game Scenario” or an “Intervention Game Scenario”. The Conventional rules contain all standard movement, combat and supply rules and just about half of the 16 scenarios can be played using these rules alone. The rest of the scenarios require the usage of the Intervention Game rules which address the special abilities of American military, the enhanced capabilities of certain units (“Guerrilla Attacks”), and Political rules and restrictions. Finally, there are a set of Optional Rules that enhance the realism of the simulation.

The various documents/booklets are as follows:

  • Conventional Game Rules of Play – 64 pages of rules just for the Conventional (or basic) game.
  • Intervention Game Rules of Play – 40 pages of rules for the Intervention game.
  • We don’t need to mention the 63 page Scenarios Booklet, because that does not need to be read, just referred to prior to setting up a scenario, and afterwards to evaluate the victory conditions.

Now I know this doesn’t exactly sound like anyone’s idea of “light reading”, but once you’ve actually looked at the various books, things seem more manageable.

Central America Board Game
First of all, they are some of the most unambiguous rules I’ve ever read. While they’re intimidating at first glance, you’ll find that the heft is due mainly to the focus on clarity. They probably used twice as many words as were absolutely necessary, just to make sure there were no misunderstandings. While that can be annoying at times, I prefer it to the alternative: too few words and prodigious ambiguity. But you learn to skim over the various sections, drilling down to the small details when something doesn’t click at first glance. There are nearly 6 pages, in the Conventional rule book, containing graphics and descriptions of the unit counters, a glossary, and an abbreviation list. Did we have to know that “PCS” is the abbreviation for the “Salvadoran Communist Party”? No. But it’s in line the with high quality of the product… and, by the way, I do want to know the definition of every abbreviation on the counters.

Secondly, not only is each rule explained in great detail, but almost every rule section contains a companion graphical example. It’s a bit hard to quantify exactly, but I’d say that the Conventional Rules book contains approximately 12 pages of pictures and explanatory text, 1 full page index, and 1 full page Game Information Summary on the back cover. The Intervention Rules have about 8 pages of pictures and explanatory text, 6 pages of historical background text, a 4 page detailed Sequence of Play, and a 1 page Intervention Game Information Summary on the back cover.

Central America Board Game

Scratch the two booklet cover pages and the Conventional Rules table of contents… and you eliminate about 42 pages of rules. So, now you’re left with about 62 pages of rules remaining. Still not “waiting room reading”, but more in line with other games like “Gulf Strike”, “Vietnam: 1965-1975”, “Sixth Fleet”, etc. And, as I mentioned earlier, the rules are quite verbose, using twice as many words as you need to absorb the content. So, if we now divide the remaining 62 pages of hard rules in half… we end up with the equivalent of 31 pages of rules!

OK, so I may have used-car-salesman’d this argument to the degree that I’m losing readers already, but my point is this: the rules are not as difficult as the thickness of the booklets would indicate. I was able to skim the sections, drill down a bit here and there, refer back as necesary while playing the smaller scenarios, and I mastered them in no time. There’s no need to found a university dedicated to the study of Central America rules. Don’t be put off by them. ‘Nuff said.


Game Features

The Combatants

Central America was designed as a two-player game, although it is well suited for team-play. The two top-level combatants are referred to broadly as the Communist player and the Allied player.

Central America Board Game

The bulk of the Communist player’s forces are made up of Nicaraguan national forces, also known as FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front), with strong air support from the Soviet and Cuban air forces. The Communist unconventional warfare capability is formidable, and is composed of the several guerilla groups (most notably the FMLN) operating in neighboring El Salvador and Honduras, with the intention of destabilizing the U.S.-allied governments there.

There are several game scenarios that don’t involve significant American forces (other than the omnipresent CIA), but the most interesting scenarios allow for a wide array of U.S. ground forces (mostly rapid reaction types like 82nd Airborne and Marines), Air Forces and Naval Air power. They pack quite a punch, but are also a vulnerability as the victory point penalties in most scenarios are quite stiff for U.S. air and ground units lost in combat.

Central America Board Game

While Nicaraguan ground units are pretty sturdy, only Cuban and Soviet air units can give the American pilots a run for their money. There are no Soviet ground units in the game, but Cuban ground forces are quite powerful. Nicaragua also boasts a decent anti-air and EW capability.

Until American military units intervene, the Allied player is dependent on Honduran and El Salvadoran national armies to contain the sometimes aggressive Nicaraguans. The allied unconventional capability is provided largely by the notorious FDN and ARDE (aka “The Contras”) crossing into Nicaragua from bases in Honduras and Costa Rica to create trouble for the Soviet-inspired government there.

Central America

The various conflicts in Central America since the 1960s have generally been murky affairs, suggesting oversized interference by various world intelligence agencies, with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) preeminent among them. To reflect the CIA’s substantial (and covert) budget for the conduct of operations in the region, the CIA is accorded a powerful set of units including Engineer (ground combat), Entrenchment, Transport/Attack Helicopter, Electronic Warfare (EW) and Anti-Aircraft units. (The CIA probably never had so much firepower on tap again until after September 11, 2001).

Insurgency Units

Central America

One feature of Central America that differs from other “modern” warfare games I’ve played is the emphasis on Insurgency units. There are special placement, movement, disbanding and counterinsurgency rules that make Insurgency units potent, yet fragile, assets. They are weak relative to conventional ground combat units, yet they move fluidly through enemy Zones of Control, can disappear (Disband) and reappear elsewhere shortly afterwards, in a manner that is most frustrating to the conventional forces trying to hunt them down. There is even a specific Air Mission called Aerial Counterinsurgency, dedicated to the destruction of newly placed Insurgency units. You’ve got to learn to manage these units to best effect in order to win this game.

However, I found it a bit surprising when I discovered that, although they occupy a good chunk of the rules, Insurgency units’ only impact on combat is a +1/-1 (attacker/defender) modifier to the combat die roll. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from Insurgency units. After all, they probably represent poorly trained recruits with the ability to blend in with the general population. I just thought they’d have a greater impact in combat. But the game design directs that Insurgency units are most effective when doing what they do best: (1) slipping past Zones of Control to help encircle an enemy or penetrate deep into enemy territory, and (2) appearing magically (via the Insurgency Placement procedure) where and when they’re needed most.

Central America

Also, if using the Intervention Ground Rules, Insurgency units may make special Guerilla Attacks against installations or a terrain feature (road, bridge, port, etc.).

So now that I’ve enumerated their capabilities, I guess Insurgency units are effective enough in their own way. They just don’t mean much in a “stand-up” conventional battle. Which is probably what the designer intended. OK, Mr. McQuaid, I think we’re on the same page now regarding Insurgency units…

Helicopters

Due to the generally low intensity nature of the conflict simulated in this game (excepting the horrendously destructive air battles between U.S. and Cuban/Soviet air forces), much emphasis is placed on Helicopter units. Helicopters have their own rules section separate and distinct from the rules for fixed wing aircraft. They are versatile units that provide the players with Bombardment StrikeClose Air SupportGround Combat Support (an operation permitted only to helicopters), Aerial CounterinsurgencyTransfer (Ferry), Transport Strike (Paradrops and Helicopter Assaults) and Escortmissions.

Central America

The Ground Combat Support mission is unique in that a Helicopter can be assigned to the defense of a particular ground unit, and then remain in the hex to support a subsequent counterattack by the same ground unit. Conversely, they can be assigned to offensive Ground Combat Support, and then stick around to defend against a potential enemy counterattack. This attack/defense or defense/attack combination is considered a single mission.

As has been the case since the Vietnam War, Helicopters provide the mobility required of a modern army in the type of inhospitable terrain that exists in the jungles and mountains of Central America. In the larger scenarios, both players are granted a considerable helicopter transport capability.

Fixed Wing Aircraft

Fixed wing air combat units are heavily represented, and the air battles can get quite intense as U.S., Nicaraguan, Soviet and Cuban air units battle to control the skies over Managua, the Carribean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Aircraft basing, movement and combat rules are straight-forward and don’t bog the game down as can happen in other “modern” warfare games. When compared to the air rules for one of my other favorite board games, Gulf Strike, at least 3 things immediately come to mind as improvements in Central America:

  • Detection – Rather than making the inactive player roll a die to see if an approaching enemy unit has been detected, Central America rules assume that if the enemy unit has entered friendly detection range, it’s automatically detected. Probably dampens the realism a bit, but it sure makes the game turns move along faster.
  • Air Combat Ratings – This rating applies to the general capabilities of the aircraft (“D” = Defensive, “S” = Slow, “J” = Jet) and determines the ability of air units to engage each other. For example, “S” air units cannot even attempt to intercept “J” units. This adds realism, in my opinion.
  • Movement to Combat – After detecting an enemy air unit in Gulf Strike, interceptors move two hexes, then the “interceptee” moves two hexes, then the interceptors move two more hexes, etc. This can sometimes lead to bizarre chase patterns as attacking air units travel in circles and arcs, attempting to outlast a pursuing aircraft that may have a lower movement allowance. In Central America, if the enemy air unit is in detection range, is within the movement radius of the potential interceptor, and the interceptor has sufficient Air Combat Rating to catch the invader (e.g. an “S” rated intecepter vs a “D” rated attacker), then the interceptor is moved directly to the hex with the attacker and combat ensues. This simulates combat air patrolling and is, in my opinion, superior to the Gulf Strike system (although a subsequent Gulf Strike variant did somewhat address this issue).

Fixed wing Air units are afforded the same wide range of missions as Helicopters, minus the “Ground Combat Support” missions (which simulate a helicopters ability to linger over the battlefield and more effectively influence the battle).

Combat

Both Ground and Air combat are very basic affairs, and the respective combat tables are not particularly bloody. This may be a conscious design decision due to the nature of the combat (I mean, we’re not blitzkrieg’ing here). But it surprised me a bit as I felt it was kind of a dull spot in a typically exciting game system. Most air and ground units can absorb 1 or 2 “Steps” of losses before being eliminated. Since the combat results tables generally dole out hits in “onesies and twosies”, don’t expect to be blowing away stacks of enemy units in your mad assault across the tapering isthmus.

Central America

In ground combat, basic combat odds are calculated in a standard fashion (1-to-1, 2-to-1, 3-to-1, etc.) and then the “Initial Combat Ratio” marker is placed on the proper odds column of the Ground Combat Table, in the row that matches the terrain where the defender is located. Terrain effects are built right into the table. For example, the Initial Combat Ratio marker would be placed in column 11 for a 2-to-1 attack in Clear terrain, but would be placed in column 8 for an attack upon a defender in Jungle terrain. The higher numbered columns yield better results for the attacker, thus demonstrating that a defender’s odds are better in Jungle terrain than Clear.

Once the “Initial Combat Ratio” marker is placed, other factors are checked to see if there will be any column shifts, either to the right (favoring the attacker) or to the left (favoring the defender). Column shifts are granted for various reasons, such as the presence of artillery, engineers, special forces, attack helicopters on Ground Support missions, etc. Combined arms attacks are well rewarded by the column shifts. After all column shifts are determined for both players, the “Current Combat Ratio” marker is placed in the resulting column.

From that point on, Combat resolution is simple. A die is rolled and possibly modified (+ or -) for other factors, such as defenders in fortifications or attackers assaulting across a river, etc. The modified die roll is cross-referenced with the combat ratio column to arrive at the combat result. The number on the left is the number of hits applied to the attacker; the number on the right, hits applied to the defender. If the background is shaded red, the attacker will have to retreat (yes, the attacker retreats in this game) or, if shaded blue, the defender must retreat.

That’s ground combat in a nutshell.

As I said before, there’s no sweeping armor operations happening in this game but, once U.S. ground and air units are fully engaged, you can expect the enemy bodycount to increase dramatically. So, while I may find the combat results tables a tad boring, they’re probably based on realistic assessments of casualty levels that would be expected in a low intensity conflict.

The Air Combat Table is a bit bloodier than the Ground Combat, depending on the Intensity Level. The Intensity Level is determined by the total number of aircraft engaged. The total includes all aircraft, even those without combat capability such as Transports and EW units. This determines the table (Low, Medium or High Intensity) on which the dogfight will be resolved.

Air Combat, in Central America, places great importance on Tactical Air Initiative, which is determined by:

  • Presence of EW/AWACS air units
  • Proximity to EW ground units (or Masaya, which is a huge EW/Radar center for the Communist Player. Kind of like a ground based AWACS.)
  • Proximity to Air Facilities
  • Air Combat Rating (if all “D” units are being attacked, the other player will always have Initiative, for example)

Central America

The player with Tactical Air Initiative gets to choose to be either the Attacker or the Defender in the coming combat. Why, you may ask, would an attacker with total Air Combat Value of 16 prefer to be the Defender against an opponent with total Air Combat Value of 6? Well, as the Attacker, 16 to 6 yields a 2-to-1 combat ratio. But as a defender in a 6 to 16 situation, your opponent would have to attack at 1-to-3 odds. Not an inconsiderable difference.

In Central America, an attacking player who is intercepted may designate, at the moment of interception, aircraft as Escorts to engage interceptors. I find this adds a bit more excitement to the air combat engagements as opposed to the Gulf Strike system where you have to designate your Escorts at mission inception.

Granted, the Gulf Strike system is probably more realistic since aircraft are armed differently depending on the mission assigned to them (e.g. Strike vs Escort). But it’s not unreasonable to expect that an F-18, armed for a strike mission, would have some type of anti-air capability. (Military pilots: please let me know if I’m totally wrong!)

And it sure makes for more interesting air combats, as a player can “re-purpose” aircraft as the situation changes. Keep in mind, however, that once an aircraft is used in combat as an Escort, it can no longer use its Bombardment values for the remainder of the mission.

Air Combat is similar to gound combat in that (1) an odds ratio is calculated, (2) die roll modifiers are applied, (3) losses are apportioned to either attacker or defender (or both). Most die roll modifiers are linked to the presence or proximity of EW units (ground or air) or air facilities.

It’s quick, it’s fun, and it’s a reasonable simulation of the type of air combat that would occur over Nicaragua. That said, it’s also very difficult for the Communist player to make a dent in the U.S. air armada, even with Soviet and Cuban help. That’s the price you pay for a “reasonable simulation”. Suffice it to say that the Communist player must be extremely judicious in his application of air power.

As I mentioned earlier, the rule books are just chock full of helpful examples, both text-based and graphical. Normally I spend a considerable amount of time designing and creating the graphics for game examples. In the case of Central America the examples are so well done that I can use the layout and text descriptions exactly as they appear in the rule book:


Central America Board Game - Ground Combat Example #1

Example of Ground Combat: The Communist player has two Nicaraguan 3-3-4 infantry brigades in hex 3308, two 3-3-4 brigades in hex 3407, and two 3-4-4 brigades in hex 3406. The Allied player has one Honduran 1-2-4 infantry battalion in hex 3207, two 1-2-4 battalions in hex 3307, and one reduced 0-1-4 battalion in hex 3405.

The Communist player could have his two 3-3-4 units in 3308 attack the 1-2-4 battalion in 3207 (6 vs. 2, which is simplified to a ratio of 3 to 1), his two 3-3-4 units in 3407 attack the two 1-2-4 battalions in 3307 (6 vs. 4, simplified in favor of the defender to a ratio of 1 to 1), and the two 3-4-4 units in 3406 attack the 0-1-4 battalion in 3405 (6 vs. 1, or 6 to 1). However, he wants to concentrate his strength against the two 1-2-4 units in 3307.

He decides to attack the 1-2-4 unit in 3207 with one 3-3-4 unit in 3208 (3 vs. 2, simplified to the ratio of 1 to 1) and to attack the 0-1-4 unit in 3405 with one 3-4-4 unit (3 vs. 1, or 3 to 1). He will have one 3-3-4 unit in 3308, the two 3-3-4 units in 3407, and one 3-4-4 unit in 3406 attack the two 1-2-4 battalions in 3307 (12 vs. 4, or 3 to 1). This attack is legal because all adjacent enemy units are being attacked by some Communist unit. The main reason the Communist player chose to attack in this manner was to negate the die roll modifier for river defense against the 1-2-4 units (the FSLN 3-4-4 unit in 3406 is already across the river).


Central America Board Game - Ground Combat example #2 (with Insurgency Units)

Example of Insurgency Units and Combat: A FSLN 1-1-4 insurgency battalion and the FSLN 2-2-4 Simon Bolivar (SB) special forces battalion use insurgency movement to move from hex 2509 to hex 2308, and an Insurgency Reserve marker has been placed on the stack. A Nicaraguan 2-3-4 infantry brigade in hex 2310 is attacking an FDN 1-2-4 infantry battalion in hex 2309; there is an FDN 1-1-4 insurgency battalion in hex 2307.

During the Ground Combat Phase, the Communist player decides to attack the FDN battalion in 2309 with the Nicaraguan brigade and the special forces unit. The combined Attack Value is 4 (2 + 2 = 4), which results in a 2-to-1 combat odds against the FDN unit. The Communist player receives a one-column shift for the special forces unit and a +1 die roll modifier because it is an insurgency unit. The combat results in the FDN being eliminated, and the Nicaraguan brigade pursues into the vacated hex.

The FSLN 1-1-4 insurgency unit must now attack the FDN insurgency battalion in 2307 (all adjacent enemy units must be attacked). The initial combat ratio is 1-to-1. Because both are insurgency units, the Allied player receives a -1 die roll modifier and the Communist player a +1 modifier, which cancel each other out. However, the FSLN unit is attacking across an unbridged river hexside, so a -2 die roll modifier is applied to the combat. The Communist player rolls the die to resolve the combat. In this case, the FSLN unit takes a step loss and is forced to retreat. The Insurgency Reserve marker remains on the special forces battalion because it was not affected negatively by its combat, and it can move one or two hexes during the Reserve Movement Phase.

The Map

The various Terrain Types and Features on the single 22″ x 32″ game map are clearly delineated and/or color-coded. A simple movement cost per terrain type, distinct for Armored units and Infantry units, makes learning the basics of ground unit movement a breeze. If I could make one improvement, it would be to increase the map size by about 20%-25%. Many important pieces of information (objective cities, airfields, national boundaries, Nicaraguan Border Mines, etc.) are printed directly on the map and players will find themselves constantly shifting pieces around to see what’s underneath.

Central America Board Game - Terrain Key

The map already contains 3/4″ hexes, and the units are 1/2″, so obviously someone at Victory Games saw the need for roomy hexes. But I would have gone a step further and made full 1″ hexes.

Some unique and notable map features:

  • Masaya Detection Range Indicators – Rather than having to count hexes to determine if your aircraft are within range of Masaya (the massive Nicaraguan EW/Radar facility), the radar’s range is marked on the map by small triangles. Thanks, Victory Games, I hate counting hexes…
  • Tiger Island – A CIA occupied island right in the middle of the Gulf of Fonseca, which abuts on El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, complete with air strip. Communist units using Boat Transport within 3 hexes of Tiger Island are likely to take a hit if a CIA EW/Engineers unit is present on the island. And one is always present…
  • Nicaraguan Border Mines – Small mine indicators on the map provide a visual cue if the optional Border Mines rule is being used. A real nuisance for Allied units attempting to cross into Nicaragua.
  • Supply Source Hexes – Outlined with a thick green border for easy identification.

Central America Board Game - Detection Ranges

All the combat tables and combat modifiers are shown right on the map, along with the Game Turn TrackVictory Point TrackPhase Track (so players can easily track which Game Turn Phase they’re in), and World Tension Track. All well organized and convenient.

Supply

Supply rules are sufficient to enforce some logistics discipline on both players but are not at all onerous. As expected, it’s the U.S. player that’s most affected by the Supply rules, since they’re the ones operating far from home, but most other units are in their home country and thus don’t really have to go far to draw the day’s rations. Once you become comfortable with the locations of all Supply Source hexes, and nail down the special rules for FSLN Logistics Supply Units (LSU)Supply Depots“Southern Airways Supply” and Hidden Supply Depots, the Supply rules are not much of a burden.


The Scenarios

One of the strongest features of this game is the variety of predefined scenarios, in general, and the Scenario Generation System, in particular.

Granted, the first few scenarios are quite uninspiring. But they are intended to be training scenarios; much like the “Programmed Instruction” method that I prefer. I like learning a new game by actually playing the game!. So the first four Central America scenarios, appropriately labeled “Introductory Scenarios“, ease you into the game system quite nicely. They address the core ground, helicopter and air rules. The most interesting of these is a single game turn scenario called “The SS-20 Incident” that enables the Allied player to unleash the full power of two carrier groups in an attempt to locate and seize an SS-20 nuclear missile the Soviets are attempting to place in Nicaragua.

The next five scenarios are identified as “Intermediate Scenarios“. They address a range of hypothetical conflicts from an all out civil war in El Salvador to an expansionist Nicaragua moving against its neighbors (and the inevitable US counter-invasion). While these scenarios utilize the full set of Conventional and Intervention rules, they are relatively short at 8 to 12 turns. Only one, “Civil War in El Salvador“, is longer, requiring 18 turns. The Intermediates also give us the first taste of the “Diplomacy” aspects of the game. For example, the Communist player is allowed to attempt to have FMLN/ERP (Salvadoran guerillas) insurgency units break their treaty with El Salvador, spends Insurgency Command Points to make the attempt, and then rolls on a “Diplomatic” table to see the results of his effort.

By the time you’ve played through these five scenarios, you’re more than prepared to take on the last, and largest, scenario group: the “Campaign Scenarios“.

The seven “Campaign Scenarios” are what this game is all about. The group starts off with the lone historical situation: “The 1979 Revolution” and then proceeds to the “what might have been” scenarios that suppose a major attack against the Sandinistas by the local insurgent groups (“Christmas War”), and an invasion of Honduras and El Salvador by Nicaragua ostensibly encouraged by the doves in the US government enforcing a strict “hands-off” policy (“The Contadora Intervention”). The final four campaign scenarios are designed for the hard-core gamer. “Operation Big Pine”, “Paper Tiger”, “Missiles of Red October”, and “World War III”. The names of these scenarios alone give you an idea that you’ll be engaging in a long term (20 to 45 game turns) contest for supremacy of either Capitalism or Communism in Central America. Toss in the complete set of optional rules that include Standoff Air AttacksCluster BombsChemical Weapons, and Nicaraguan Torpedo Boats and you’re in war-gaming-hog-heaven, my friends.

But wait. There’s more. Let’s say you spend two years or so, playing the hell out of these great Campaign Scenarios. First of all how many things (that only cost $30, at the time) can you derive two years of continuous enjoyment from? But, to help me make my point, let’s say that it’s been two years and now you’re just starting to get bored with the constraints of the scenarios. Enter the “Scenario Generation System”.

The Scenario Generation System

The Scenario Generation System, designed by Mark Herman and Michael E. Moore, is really the icing on the cake, as far as I’m concerned. It is what makes the political and military aspects of the game mesh to create a unique and engaging gaming experience.

Players can use the Random System, in which die rolls determine forces available and the general intensity of the conflict, or the Player Selection System, which allows the players to select these values. Either of these “generated” systems brings all of the following elements into play:

  • U.S. Doctrine – Non-Intervention, Monroe Doctrine, or Aggressive Support. This “doctrine” can either be chosen by the U.S. player or can be assigned randomly, depending on the System being used (see above).
  • Communist Doctrine – Non-Intervention, Brezhnev Doctrine, or Adventurism. (I know… why are we “Aggressive”, a perfectly acceptable behavior, but they were “Adventurists”, demonstrating a reckless disregard for all humanity?)
  • Preparedness Levels – For the Communist player, the mobilization and general preparedness of his Nicaraguan, Cuban and Soviet forces. For the Allied player, it refers to the preparedness of Honduran, Salvadoran, Costa Rican and FDN/Contra forces (does NOT include Americans).
  • U.S. Intervention Level – A measure of how committed and prepared U.S. forces are for the coming conflict, and how relaxed the rules of engagement will be. This level can be increased and/or decreased during the course of the game.
  • World Tension and World War III – Certain player actions and events can increase World Tension, possibly leading to World War III. For example, the conquest by Communist forces of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, or the first time U.S. and Soviet aircraft engage in combat.
  • The War Powers Act and the Temperament of the U.S. Congress – This critical measure can result in a range of events from Forced U.S. Withdrawal to a U.S. Declaration of War, and thus can have an enormous impact on U.S. operations in the conflict.

Central America Board Game - Scenario Generator

These options create a real-world flow to the game. Imagine an aggressive US player, loaded for bear, attacking a half-mobilized Nicaragua. Not a very competitive situation at first glance. But what if, due to a sitting US Congress determined to enforce the 30-day provision of the War Powers Act, the US player now only has 15 game turns, representing 30 days, from the first appearance of US forces until the time they must withdraw completely?

The game becomes a completely different contest… a much more interesting and balanced one.

It’s impossible to convey all the nuances and interactions of the Scenario Generation system in the small amount of space available for this review. Besides, that’s what the rulebook is for. Click on the image to the left to see a larger view of some of the charts, tables and record-keeping dedicated to Scenario Generation. It will give you a better sense of the type of information that’s being tracked how it interacts (sorry, it’s not a great scan).


Summary

Central America was not very well received when it was released. I can’t quote the sales figures; I’m just talking about the general concensus among my gaming friends at the time. I’m not sure why it didn’t make a better showing, exactly, and I’ve never heard a convincing explanation from an authoritative source. The whole Iran/Contra affair was a really nasty business and the game was released at the tail end of it, yet while it was still fresh in everyone’s mind. This may have soured a lot of gamers on the whole premise. It’s also possible that the word of mouth about the massive rule books put people off (I remember hearing such talk at the time), but there are other successful games with daunting rules. It’s also plausible that I’m in the minority in my belief that it’s an interesting game, and maybe most folks just didn’t enjoy it. In any event, I played this game quite a bit back in the early 1990’s and, while I never enjoyed it as much as some other Victory Games titles from the 1980’s, I do recall being totally engaged by Central America and being disappointed at my inability to entice a larger number of opponents (only had two opponents, one of whom was my father – and we did play the hell out of it over one summer).

No matter how much time has passed, I’ve gotten the “bug” again and will be playing Central America at every opportunity. One of the most wonderful aspects of the board gaming hobby is that there’s no expiration date on the games. A board game that was enjoyable and challenging in 1987 can still be just as enjoyable and challenging today (July 2012, as I write this). In fact many of the nascent games of our pastime depicted battles from decades past, as in the case of the slew of WWII games that appeared in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Central America, in my opinion, earns an additional lease on life due to the fact that the dreaded “Central American conflagration” never actually happened, leaving us free to try different strategies, unencumbered by historical biases. I’ll be prodding all my gaming buddies to give Central America a try and hope to gain enough renewed experience and expertise to write up some helpful strategy articles. If anyone has some experience with this game, and would like to share, we’d enjoy hearing from you.

Long neglected by the war gaming community, Central America deserves another look, and some evaluation time on every war gamer’s table.

Daughter of a Wargaming Dad

by Samantha Mossman

The voices from F.A.T. D.O.G. drift up from the basement as I sit in my room
trying to drown them out with music from my IPod…


daughter_fatdog

F.A.T. D.O.G., for those who are not war game savvy, is the Friday After Thanksgiving Day OGaming. It’s a war gaming convention held in our house annually on the day after Thanksgiving. Every year I hide out in my room trying to avoid contact with the motley group of men who descend to our basement to fight past battles with cardboard counters and plastic dice. That may sound mean but the gamers can get very intense when playing these games. This thought is accentuated by an angry scream from downstairs and the fighting over the rules begins. I picture one of them stabbing the rules, pointing out some trivial case and point why this military unit could not have possibly done what it did. This usually costs them an hour lost of precious playing time. I chuckle to myself that boys will be boys and grown men will be boys given the chance.

F.A.T. D.O.G. can go on till two or three in the morning and by eleven I’m ready for them to quiet down so I can sleep. It’s not easy being the daughter of a wargaming Dad!

daughter_gamers
From left to right: Stu, Ray, harvey, Fred and Gary

I remember as a little kid having to explain to my friends my father’s upstairs “War Room”. It’s full of war games, historical gun replicas, books beyond counting, ancient helmets and military hats, paintings depicting scenes of battles from days long gone and a never ending display of G.I. Joes.

I remember being little and my dad cultivating in me a love of history so that one day I might warmly embrace the games he loved so much. As a young child the boards were intimidating and they made no sense to me, but as I grew older I started to understand the basics of the games. What the colorful counters were meant to be and why the giant map needed a plexiglass cover to protect it from spilled drinks and food crumbs. (An army marches on its stomach was the quote thrown at me). When we would go out to dinner, just my dad and I, he would tell me stories of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Patton and innumerable historic figures. I would love to hear the stories of Caesar’s wars, Hannibal, and even the myths of Roman society.

My dad’s bedtime stories were about historical people, their often chaotic, dramatic and frequently tragic lives. He made them come alive again and revealed how the extraordinary events of their day forever molded their characters and their greatness. I loved going to History class, knowing more about the subjects then anyone else. I loved knowing that if I needed help with History, I could go to my dad and he would paint me the picture of a past life in a way I could understand and relate to. He was the one who encouraged me to take the Holocaust class at my school which so affected me that it ignited my burning passion for history. I soon became as enamored with history as he.

daughter_draculaAlas, much to my father’s chagrin, I had not yet found the war games as intriguing. I remember one night he asked me if I wanted to play a game with him. I was nervous at first but once he told me it was a game that involved Dracula, of course, I wanted to play. Fury of Dracula involved all the characters from the novel. There was Mina and Van Helsing. Dracula ran around different cities in Europe while the other characters tried to hunt him down. If you found him in a city you would have to fight through henchmen or minions that the evil Count had left behind. The game was interesting and fun; it also required strategy, trying to figure out what city he would go to next and how best to trap and kill him.

I loved playing it though it was hard with just two people. The next time my two older sisters were home from college, we tried getting the whole family to play and after a lot of begging and coaxing, they agreed. They didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as my Dad and I, nonetheless I was happy to play. After spending my early youth avoiding historical board games, I realized that maybe I should give them a try.

daughter_dadAlthough my father feels he has failed miserably in our upbringing, since none of his three daughters have become committed wargamers, he has taught us to appreciate history in a way no other father could. He always told me that History was not about dates or cold memorized facts. It was about people, their culture, their personal lives and their greatest strengths and failings. The games were just one lens through which the richness of our shared past could be viewed.

And so, each year, I tolerate the noise and shouting at FaT DoG because I know it makes my father happy. Perhaps…this year…I will bring the guys some snacks and drinks, sit down by my father’s side….and roll some dice with him.

Many thanks to Samantha for this wonderful peek into the world of those “other people” (non-gamers). Although I think we just might get her hooked on gaming at the next F.A.T.D.O.G.