by Gary Mengle, 29 September 2018
For the wargamer the annual Buckeye Game Fest, held each September in Columbus, Ohio, offers a rare opportunity. While the main event, a general boardgaming extravaganza, starts on Thursday and runs through Sunday, the hallowed War Room opens on Monday, and the wargaming diehards can start setting up their monster games.
This year we had three: two playtests of the in-development Third Winter for Multi-Man Publishing’s Operational Combat Series and the battle of Zorndorf from Clash of Arms’ Battles from the Age of Reason.
Third Winter is four years into its playtest and while it may not be the next OCS product made available for preorder, it’s pretty far along – basically ready to go aside from some tuning. The situation is the southern USSR in late 1943 and early 1944. Here the German forces are primarily on the defensive, unable to hold ground – but still strong enough to land some heavy counterblows, perhaps enough to draw the campaign to a stalemate.
Third Winter is four years into its playtest and while it may not be the next OCS product made available for preorder, it’s pretty far along
Third Winter‘s unique mechanism is the four Soviet Front HQs, each of which can either be in a defensive or offensive posture. Offensive posture means that everything works normally per the OCS rules, but units in a front on defensive posture take an Action Rating penalty when attacking and get a smaller bonus on defense. All of the Fronts can’t be on Offensive posture all the time, creating a natural pacing mechanism to Soviet operations that drives the game in a very satisfying way, and reflecting the historical tendency of Soviet offensives to peter out, at which point the USSR would start pushing hard in another sector.
The campaign at one table began in September of 1943 with the Germans well east of the Dnieper; at the other table we began in January of ’44 with the Germans dug in on its western bank and strung out to the north in front of the two key cities of Uman and Vinnitsa, in passable defensive terrain. Holding these cities was a major objective of the Germans on that table; their loss has major ramifications for German supply.
In neither case did the Germans fail to retreat, nor the Soviets fail to make at least one major breakthrough. The situation itself is very sensitive to mistakes on the German side – one slip-up that the Soviets can meaningfully exploit and the whole German line could easily collapse. And indeed this is just what happened in both games. The post-game analysis, however, revealed that the Germans playing the campaign were far closer to disaster by week’s end. The January scenario, on the other hand, saw the Germans driven back but the withdrawal was relatively orderly. While some forces did end up getting pocketed, the bulk of the Germany army drew back behind the Dnestr inside the Carpathian highlands, from which positions the Soviets would have had a difficult time pulling them out in the month or so remaining until the end of the scenario. By the numbers this looked a lot like a clear Soviet victory, but in avoiding utter catastrophe we German players left satisfied.
Clash of Arms’ Zorndorf recreates the titular 1758 battle between the Prussians of Friedrich the Great and the Russian General Count Fermor, during the Seven Years’ War. Both the game and the Battles from the Age of Reason system had players raving one way or the other the whole week. In the end the Prussians dismembered the Russian forces in a victory much more complete than in the historical battle. It may be that some tuning to the scenario is needed, but at the same time some of the participants praised the game system for its clarity despite a high level of complexity (it’s based, in part, on the venerable La Battaille system).
The War Room this year wasn’t just twelve fellows pushing monster game counters, though; a number of smaller games, in both footprint and time, were played, including some surprises. Designer Richard Borg was in attendance to run multiple days’ worth of non-stop Commands & Colors (in various flavors), and the main gaming room also hosted a number of crossover titles like Twilight Struggle, Triumph & Tragedy and Combat Commander.
In the War Room, though, the hexes and counters were alive, even aside from the three monster game tables. And some of the choices surprised (and delighted) me. Bagradas Plains was fought using GMT’s Great Battles of History series rules. Musket & Pike made its presence felt with a scenario from Under the Lily Banners and four different players broke out two separate games (Champion Hill and Shiloh) of The Gamers’ venerable Civil War Brigade series. Two scenarios (albeit by the same two people) of Next War: India-Pakistan were also played, as well as some COIN stuff, Pax Brittannica from Victory Games, Great War Commander from Compass, Fog of War’s Ides of March and a sprinkling of others.
Other amenities were also in evidence; while BGF is not a great shopping event, there were nevertheless opportunities to pick up some fine wargames. The small vendor room hosted Enterprise Games out of Indiana, As at Origins, they brought a large selection of GMT titles along with a variety of other wargames from Compass, Hexasim and others. And their sale table is not to be missed.
The consignment store (in lieu of an auction) offers attendees the opportunity to unload idle games, and while it’s mostly Euros and the like, there’s always a scattering of wargames in the mix. This year we saw a number of Avalon Hill and SPI titles come up and one or two odds and ends from GMT. By the third buy period the prices on most of these were very low.
As in previous years, the War Room had its own separate space, this time at the far end of BGF’s footprint. This kept random traffic to a minimum – those in the War Room were there because they meant to be there. The room was spacious, there was plenty of table space and the hotel (mostly) kept the water dispensers full.
Prior to the event there was some grumbling about the new site: the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Columbus – the same hotel that hosts part of Origins every June. The hotel rooms were a little more expensive (partially mitigated by the free War Room ribbon for those staying at the hotel), but the chief complaint was the cost of parking. The event rate was $12 per day, but for those driving in from out of town that adds up over the course of a whole week. Unless, of course, you made arrangements with locals for a landing space for your car for the duration.
This location, though, does have significant upsides. It’s a huge facility; BGF could triple in size and the hotel wouldn’t notice. There’s a food court and shops for essentials (there may have been a run on nail clippers) literally feet away. And fancier grub abounds at local establishments familiar to Origins regulars, like Barley’s Brewpub, North Market, and the Flatiron. Perhaps most importantly, though, there are already dates for next year, so we won’t have a repeat of previous years when we didn’t have dates.
For the wargamer, Buckeye Game Fest offers a chance matched by only a very few other events – ConsimWorld Expo, Winterfest in Sandusky, Ohio and the World Boardgaming Championships in Pennsylvania – to play a monster game for a whole week in relative seclusion from the hustle and bustle of a good-sized event. Or to get in whatever smaller wargames you’d like in the company of other wargamers. And hey, if you play Euros, there’s that too.
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