Dale's Wargames

My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Review of Rivet Wars: Eastern Front

One of the things I have been trying to do is play a lot more games with a system before reviewing it. After a couple of early examples of enthusiasm when reading the rules and then finding the gameplay revealed serious flaws I think this tack might be a bit more productive.

Rivet Wars is one of the Kickstarter campaigns that I bought in to. Less than the Up Front Kickstarter (which still hasn't shipped), but more than the Sergeant Miniatures Game Red Devils. So far I consider this my most successful purchase through Kickstarter.

What is it all about?

Rivet Wars is a tactical, miniatures board game. This seems to be a growing area of gaming, using miniatures to replace the traditional hex counter but still using a game board as the playing surface. As with most board games it does not use free-form movement, but rather uses a (square) grid to regulate measurement and control the number of units that can fit in an area (i.e. control stacking).

Rivet Wars is basically a science fantasy version of World War One. There are steam tanks, rocket cycles, monowheel cavalry, manned walkers, jetpacks, and so on. One key feature of the game is a simulation of Real Time Strategy (RTS) computer games (like Starcraft, Command & Conquer, etc.) by removing the traditional "get points, buy an army, set up forces" style of gaming. Rather, each turn the players get a set number of points with which to buy the 'next wave' of troops coming in to take the scenario objectives. If you need more speed, you can buy the faster units. If you need to capture objectives, you can buy more infantry. (Right now, the only limitation on force composition is the number of units I have of each type. That will change as Wave 2 ships and we start incorporating those figures into the game.)

At the heart of the game is rock-paper-scissors. Like many good games (DBA springs to mind), units are good against some unit types, but not against others. It is the combination of units that allows you to fight effectively in the game. Your opponent buying lots of heavy armor? Buy more anti-armor units. Even better, the game does not make both sides carbon copies of one another, only in different uniforms. The Allied infantry, for example, is good against unarmored infantry, whereas their Blighten counterparts are better against armored targets. To kill infantry the Blightens call upon their cavalry (dragoons riding monowheel vehicles, to be exact) for the job, while the Allied cavalry (men riding tracked motorcycles that fire missiles, called Rocket Cycles) does better against armor.

A second concept of the game is the use of plugs. Essentially some special models (mostly tanks, walkers, and aircraft) have holes bored into them allowing you to plug different components into them as a way of customizing the unit. Need more anti-infantry firepower on your Sturmpanzer? Plug in the turret with twin MGs. Need anti-air firepower? Plug in the AA missiles instead.

The two other elements that stand out in the game are the deck of Action cards and Secret Mission cards.

The Action cards are events that you can hold in your hand to alter the outcome of a normal game. Examples are off-board artillery barrages, an aircraft strafing the battlefield, a gas attack, increased production from the factory (can deploy more troops), a paratrooper drop, and so on. Play of these cards is key as they can often turn a battle to your advantage.

The Secret Missions are basically additional victory conditions above and beyond the normal given for a scenario. Most scenarios require the player to earn a number of victory points, which are obtained by holding specific squares on the board, or in killing special enemy units (heroes or large vehicles). Secret Missions offer additional victory points such as killing three enemy in one turn, moving an infantry into the enemy deployment zone, attacking with three cavalry units in one turn, killing an enemy tank, and so on. Each Secret Mission gives the specific requirements to complete and the number of victory points awarded. These can easily allow a player to come up from behind and snatch victory out from under you.

Game Ratings

So, using the review system from before, here are the game ratings for Rivet Wars.

Drama – do the rules create tension during play?

Both the Action and Secret Mission cards are designed specifically to increase drama, as they allow the player to do unexpected things, like produce more units or get one closer to victory by awarding points for play that typically does not produce points.

Rivet Wars rates 4 out of 5 in Drama.

Uncertainty – are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty into the game?

The rules have a number of chance elements, from the roll of the dice for combat resolution, to the draw of the Action and Secret Mission cards. I have seen some games won almost entirely on Secret Missions while other games had none come into play for either side, despite both players trying to use them.

It is not a completely random game, however. The player has to make critical choices regarding troop mix and placement. At the core of the game is getting infantry to take objectives, which is definitely what a tactical game of World War One should be about.

Rivet Wars rates 4 out of 5 in Uncertainty.

Engaging – do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?

I definitely find the game engaging. The primary decision each player must make is: what troop mix do I buy every turn. I think that aspect of the game design (using RTS elements in a board game) has been very successful. It gives the player a critical decision to make every turn. Infantry are essentially the weakest and slowest troops on the board, yet you must purchase them as they are what take the objectives.

Combining that with Action and Secret Mission cards is critical, however. An example might be that you have drawn a Secret Mission to make a glorious cavalry advance (get three cavalry units into No-Man's Land in a single turn) to inspire the troops. This requires you spend the points on that unit type where you might not normally. If you draw an Action card that gives you a free cavalry unit it might just entice you to spend the points necessary to knock out the mission in a single turn. That decision, however, will come into play for many turns as you now end up a little cavalry heavy ...

Rivet Wars rates 5 out of 5 in Engaging.

Unobtrusiveness – do the rules get in the way?

There are a few icon indicating special abilities given to troops. In fact, almost all troops have special abilities granted to them. The good thing is that there are very few to remember. That is about the only time you look up the rules.

Rivet Wars rates 4 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness.

Heads Up – are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?

Combat is about the only time you look at a reference sheet (or cards). Each unit attacks with a certain number of dice, which depends upon the armor or type of the target unit. So that you usually look up (although there are a few that you will eventually remember, just because you use them so much). The unit also has a number of attacks allowed, so units you don't use as frequently probably also need a reference check. Combat itself is trivial. After determining the number of dice to roll per attack and the number of attacks allowed you start chucking dice. Except in one rare case there are no die roll modifiers. If you score a 5+ you hit, otherwise you miss. Most units have one hit point so one hit equals 'remove the unit'.

Although the above may not sound that good, it is extremely fast and simple. But you do reference that chart all the time.

Rivet Wars rates 3 out of 5 in Heads Up.

Appropriately Flavored – do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?

This genre is World War One science fantasy. Right now, without all of the extra goodies, it is pretty basic. I did not like that the Germans ... I mean Blightens ... use Panzerfausts (a World War Two weapon) as their primary weapon, but I understand why they did it. So there is a bit of World War mixing. But given the background of the world (this is not Earth), and that the war has been going on for some 20+ years, that does not bother me too much.

The RTS aspect of the rules feels really good. It feels like your forces are coming into the fray in waves (albeit with a little less organization than you might like), and that somehow feels right. You imagine a whistle blowing as fresh troops enter the board every turn. Very much throwing more troops into the meat grinder. The fact that troops recycle adds to that feeling.

What might feel out of whack are the ratios of firing range to movement, firing range between weapon systems, and figure scale to ground scale. This is a very abstract game. Single figures probably represent units, but they fight as if single men (or machines).

Rivet Wars rates 3 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored.

Scalable – can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or number of units played – from a 'normal' game?

Right now my game is limited by the number of figures and tile boards I possess. (That will change when Wave 2 comes in!) But I could get several games together and piece them up, no problem. Scaling is achieved by adding more figures to select from, more tiles to fight over, more deployment points to buy troops with every turn, and adding more players to manage the troops.

Technically the game is two-player, but alternating between players on a side and having them control sectors of the battlefield is a pretty easy solution to adding players. With the base game only it is not advisable to try and play with more than one person per side.

Rivet Wars rates 4 out of 5 in Scalable.

Lacks Fiddly Geometry – do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?

It has squares. Need I say more?

All measurements are in grids (squares). You count horizontally and/or vertically with one diagonal allowed. Very easy. There are no angles whatsoever (everything fights 360ยบ) and no line of sight issues at all. I love it.

Rivet Wars rates 5 out of 5 in Fiddly Geometry.

Tournament Tight™ Rules – are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the players need to 'fill in the blanks'?

This game is the primary reason I decided to play several games before reviewing. For whatever reason I approached this game with some misconceptions about how the game was played. It was only after a few games that we discovered that we were playing a few major rules completely wrong. Part of it was bad assumptions on my part, but others were that critical rules were buried in a single sentence and never referenced again.

I finally got on track by watching a Let's Play video made by staff of the Cool Minis or Not company (the company that produces Rivet Wars). That cleared it all up. (In fact, I have now started looking for more Let's Play videos for all new games, in order to double-check my assumptions. Beware, however, that some gamers are just as wrong as you are!)

There is an FAQ out there to clear up some of the hazy spots. We have also come up with a few questions of our own. This problem lies with the increasing number of games that rely on Special Abilities and the blanket statement that "rules for these abilities override the normal rules". It is typically the interactions between special abilities that gum up the works. (I have seen this happen with Warhammer 40K, Warmachine, Memoir '44, and many others. I think it is just a problem with this game design element.)

Rivet Wars rates 4 out of 5 in Tournament Tight™ Rules.

Solo Suitability – do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?

Two key elements of the game – Action cards and Secret Mission cards – rely on keeping information hidden from your opponent. Can you play with these cards face up and revealed? Yes, but it lowers the Drama and Uncertainty scores if you do.

Rivet Wars rates 2 out of 5 in Solo Suitability.

Component Quality – are the components provided made with quality?

This is a new rating, meant primarily for board games, which addresses the quality of the physical components.

Cool Minis or Not makes excellent board games.

The card stock is good, but maybe a little thin. The cards are easily shuffled, however.

The tiles are thick and sturdy, but interestingly they immediately warped (and I am in a low humidity climate). Once I put the boards back into the box and placed all of the other (heavy) components on top, they unwarped, but I can see a little warping and unwarping each time. I am hoping they will eventually flatten out.

The plastic miniatures are made from hard styrene plastic, which I generally like, as it takes paint well and holds it better than soft, flexible plastics. That said, some of the details, such as swords, rifles, bayonets, turret handles, and such I can easily see being snapped off. I get nervous about that everytime I use the miniatures (which is probably one of the reasons I have not painted them yet). I am actually thinking of stiffening them in some way. I'll let you know as things break and I find solutions.

The only thing missing from the game, however, are card holders. Very simple thing, I know, but it is one of those things I like about Memoir '44 that I wish so many games would do. The more impact that cards have on game play the more they should include card holders so the cards stand up and are always displayed to the player so they are reminded of a card play. (Sounds like sour grapes from someone who missed playing a card at a critical point, doesn't it?)

Rivet Wars rates 4 out of 5 in Component Quality.

Test Games of Rivet Wars

We have easily played a dozen games of Rivet Wars so far and for me it is one that will not get old. I eagerly await Wave 2, which will include new units, more of the current units, plastic terrain pieces, and new scenarios. I hope they will include additional cards in the future (the community is already doing so).

At first we thought that the Allied side was heavily favored, but I think it just took some getting used to the Blighten side with its reversed roles (i.e. infantry is good against armor for Blighten while cavalry is what you use for the Allies to stop armor).

Best of all, we have seen games where one player was steadily trudging towards victory while the other just did not seem to gain any substantial victory points, then a critical turn would occur where the player would be able to fulfill several secret missions while killing a key enemy unit and they game would be completely reversed, with the player that was behind would leap in front, and sometimes leap straight to victory. That makes the stuff for exciting and memorable games.

Summary

Outstanding quality, easy to play, very quick to setup (almost no setup time in fact), very few rules questions and no real disputes, no fiddly bits: who could ask for more? Highly recommended.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").