June 17, 2024

Origins 2023 ~ Day 2 On The Ground

Patrick Rice, 2 July 2023

My second day at Origins mainly revolved around the Armchair Dragoon booth, since an open schedule for the day let me try out several of the games being run by the Dragoons.

click images to enlarge

Zurmat, Armchair Dragoons

My day started with Zurmat, a counterinsurgency game based in the Zurmat province of Afghanistan in 2008. I ended up playing as the Taliban (red) against the Coalition, mainly consisting of Afghan troops (green) with some U.S. support (blue).

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Zurmat focuses on establishing political control of different villages and sectors in the Zurmat province, both through the use of military forces and civilians with pro-Coalition or pro-Taliban sympathies. The Coalition player is forced to deploy out of a central firebase, while the Taliban gets to pick two starting locations after building the province with random tiles. I choose to establish one Taliban base far from the Coalition firebase, on the far end of a long single road, in order to build up support free from Coalition influence, while my other starting position was right next to the Coalition base, along with most my troops. The purpose of this base was to draw attention away from the rear base, while forcing the Coalition to invest substantial resources in order to push into their section of the board, which could only be accessed by the road they controlled.

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The game was quick playing, so I only took pictures of the starting and ending positions of forces. My plan was mostly successful, with my blocking base successfully keeping the Coalition out of Western Zurmat, and my rear base contesting and controlling most of Eastern Zurmat, even out from under the noses of Coalition troops in the area. I think my opponent underestimated the influence of the civilians in those regions, and perhaps thought I would choose to try and attack to take them back from superior Coalition ground forces. I instead focused on spreading my influence in areas I knew the Coalition had few friends, and spending time fortifying mine just enough where he struggled to find a weak point to capture one of my sectors.

What I Thought: I have played counterinsurgency games before, and I always find playing as the insurgents to be a fascinating red teaming experience. Playing a scenario where you must find ways to win without entering combat is somewhat against the normal style of wargames, and I find it a great mental exercise; it also helps me understand the difficulties of suppressing a well-organized insurgency. Zurmat gave me ample opportunities to undermine the Coalition forces, and I started no combats except one where I was practically guaranteed victory. I am a firm believer that in order to fight insurgency, you have to understand how insurgency fights, for which Zurmat presented an excellent source of experience.


Judean Hammer, Armchair Dragoons

Another counterinsurgency game, but this time set in the 2nd century BCE. I played as the Jewish Maccabean revolt (green), rising up against the Hellenic Seleucid empire (purple) which tried to eliminate Judaism as an independent faith in the areas around Jerusalem. To win, I had to make sure I was in the lead on victory points by the time me or my opponent had reached 10 victory points, which we gained by controlling regions of Judea (marked by different colors on the game mat).

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The Greeks started the game with a strong hold on Jerusalem and the surrounding regions, but were dependent on supply routes to their better controlled cities (the white regions at the edges of the map). I knew that cutting off the Greeks from their supplies at the end of the turn would result in one Greek unit being destroyed in every territory cut off, so I started to plan a risky strategy to sever Jerusalem and all three central regions from Greek supply bases, in order to weaken the area enough for an organized counter-offensive. Judean Hammer is played using a deck of cards which lean in either Greek or Maccabean favor, which could be “burned” for powerful effects, at the risk of worse odds in combat later (combat is resolved by comparing the values of troops in a territory, then drawing a card to add a bonus to the respective faction). By avoiding the use of my cards special abilities, I made sure my opponent would face ever greater difficulties in winning combats against my forces, at the risk of short term losses for myself.

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By the second turn, my strategy of cutting off the central regions had mostly succeeded. All Greek controlled territories in the central region, Jerusalem itself, and half of the territories in the northernmost region were cut off from supply, and a dozen Greek units were lost. I quickly capitalized on these gains, and as my opponent tried to bring more troops in from his supply bases, I spread out and secured as much territory as possible. Knowing my opponent would move slower if he was forced to engage in frequent combats, I spread out small groups of Maccabean troops to delay Greek reinforcements, and allow me to reinforce my victory point lead. By the end of the game, the Maccabeans controlled most of central Judea, and the Greeks were only just beginning to move out of their supply bases in force; too little, too late.

What I Thought: Judean Hammer was an interesting contrast to Zurmat, in that the war for Judea was more of a conventional war than the hearts and minds of Afghanistan. While I had the ability to summon guerrilla forces in wilderness areas, and could launch ambushes against the Greeks, most of my game was simply about punishing the Greeks for undefended supply lines, and trying to fight unsupported combat actions deep inside an overwhelmingly hostile area. The Greeks have many tools at their disposal to simply prevent Maccabean control through warfare, while the Coalition in Zurmat is forced to guess where the Taliban will reveal their secret control next. Another excellent game for analyzing insurgency, especially one that is happy to meet the counterinsurgency force in open warfare.


Song for War, Armchair Dragoons

My second game of Song for War, I once again played as the Germans. This time, I intended to secure Malta with less forces, prevent a landing in Greece, and deny Sicily to the Allies at all costs.

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This time our game went all the way to turn 4, although we agreed the Allies had run out of options by the end of turn 3. The lighting strike into Malta went exactly as planned, and an early loss of Crete saw a devastating counterattack from Axis naval forces out of Athens. Tunisia was lost to overwhelming Allied ground and air forces, as well as the ever present American navy, but Axis air forces were left in positions where they could escape to Malta when the fall came. The second turn saw the Allies upgrade both their American air transports (into C-47 Skytrains) and the British light bombers (into DH.98 Mosquitos), warning the Axis about a possible air offensive into Sicily and Italy from newly captured bases in North Africa, especially since the Germans drew Combat Engineers, allowing them to place naval minefields along the sea entrances to Naples, Palermo, and Athens.

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With naval assault off the table, we knew the Allies would lean hard towards air assault. In response, we invested as many resources as possible into building fighters and AA guns to cover Sicily, as well as building a Fleet in Being to either respond to any possible naval attacks, as well as support the destruction of Allied airborne beachheads. The second turn saw a first attempt at breaking through Fortress Sicily, with waves of Mosquitoes and Skytrains grinding the Axis defense to the breaking point. Lucky rolling and well-placed air screens turned back the Allied assault, and by the third turn Axis air power was increased to the point that I had no more fighter tokens to place on board anymore, something the game designers said they had not seen before. With naval approaches heavily defended, outnumbered in the air, and with ever increasing concentrations of German and Italian troops on their prospective landing zones, the game was called an Axis victory at the beginning of the fourth turn.

What I Thought: Song for War was the only game I played more than once at Origins, and the Axis game we played was the strongest gameplan I used over all three of my games. I found myself wondering how the Allies were supposed to break through Fortress Italy at all, and decided I would play the Americans in my final game, to find out how to do it.


Day Reflections: I focused more on board games on my 2nd day, since I had used my open time slot to walk around the exhibit hall for a few hours. The hall opened early to people with media passes, so I had done a walkthrough when the hall was mostly empty, then again when it was busy, to see where people were most interested in going. I was surprised to see practically every booth full of people interested in whatever the vendors were offering, and there were no notable places people seemed disinterested in. Each day at Origins was busier than the last, and the line to get into the exhibit hall from the gaming hall when it first opened was a good hundred people long. I can only imagine the line in the main hallway was longer.





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Oh, the Origins Game Fair’s now done
And the fun and games, they’ve all run
Our hearts filled with sorrow
As we pack up tomorrow
Till next year, our spirits are undone!

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