Monday, April 4, 2011


Why are the landings on the Cote d'Azure in the late summer of 1944 so unheralded in wargaming?A simple search on BGG brings up a mere four games with "Anvil Dragoon" in the title (one of which isn't even published yet). Compare this with the number of games referencing D-Day or Normandy (let alone Anzio or Cassino) and the verdict seems clear: Anvil-Dragoon was a mere sideshow compared to the drama of June 6, 1944, or the slogging match up the Italian peninsula.

Obscure, but fun

On the other hand, obscure campaigns and battles can become good games, as shown by titles like Winter War or Nordingen. This week's game, Anvil-Dragoon: Southwall 1944 (AD:S hereinafter) does not, unfortunately, belong to this august group. The game makes some very interesting choices in how to deal with movement and combat, but is hampered by poor graphic design and editing, being somewhat a victim of the assembly-line process of being a "magazine game". Roads and rivers do not conform to the hex-grid, for instance, and entire villages are misplaced.

In design, the game suffers a bit from trying to be too original. Each combat unit can be in one of three modes: Combat, Travel, or Strongpoint, and is represented off-map on a display which keeps track of steps lost and such. This is a bit fiddly but not unheard of (although more usual in pre-20th century games where infantry, for example, can be in line or column formation).

Where the game really departs from the norm is in combat, which is certainly not your usual "count factors and round down to the nearest unit ratio". Instead, each unit in an attack can have its effectiveness altered by its terrain, mode, height in relationship to enemy, and so forth, and the modifier for the entire force is then randomly bumped up or down by a first roll of the die. This adjusted modifier is then applied to the attack (or defence) value of the force, and then you compare them by ratio--but instead of always rounding down (so that 15:4 becomes 3:1) you round down or up to the closest unit ratio (so 15:4 is rounded up to 4:1), which is then cross-tabbed with a second die roll on the CRT. Losses are taken according to the number and type of enemy ZOC's the loser occupies and retreats can cause even more step losses.

Confused? We certainly were, and it was not helped by an example of play which was incorrect (even in the errata).

Once we pieced it together, the result was actually an intriguing war of position as the Germans can't protect everything and both sides are trying to exit off the north edge (another design flaw, actually, because what prevents the Germans from simply scarpering off and abandoning the south of France altogether?).

Also designed by Laurel Cochran
Another reason AD:S is interesting to me is because its designer, Laurel Cochran, is one of the few women credited with designing a published wargame. Her other published game is The China Incident, which was also published in the Wargamer magazine. This game shares many elements with AD:S including combat modes, off-map status markers, and a complex (slash unwieldly) combat system.

The fact that there are so few female wargame designers has been discussed on BGG--and the discussion therein is about as chauvinistic as you'd expect from a demographic that tilts so highly to the testosteronic. Or not--your experience may vary. My experience certainly supports the viewpoint that boys and men tend to be more interested in (a) war and (b) board games. Why? Is it all due to phallic competition? Or our atavistic hunter-gatherer ancestors? Or just that boys are socialized to like fightin' and gamin' more?

I dinna know, Cap'n.

In the end, AD:S earns my respect for not being a slave to convention, and with some tweaking (and graphic redesign) could be a fun game. But as is, I'd be hard-pressed to say when I'd play it again. Unfortunately, there's not much point in trying to sell it because I've marked it up with corrections, and even worse I've lost one of the pieces, so it's got no value in sale or trade. 

Ah least it doesn't take up a lot of space on the shelf...


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