Today marks the last day of 2011 and speaking for myself, its end and the arrival, now just hours away, of 2012 couldn't be more welcome. The year that is finally limping to a close has brought with it few, if any, real signs of economic improvement, either here in the US or abroad. And "wars and rumors of wars" continue, along with dire warnings of an impending worldwide financial Armageddon, to dominate the daily news cycle. Moreover, 2011 — thanks to a combination of computer and health woes — has truly been an "annus horrilibus" when it comes to my own attempts at writing. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that my personal problems are now largely behind me and I can at last look forward to a more productive and less challenging twelve months of blogging than those that are now ending. In any case, as the final hours of 2011 tick away, I want to extend my best wishes to all of my readers for a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Now that 2011 is Finally Coming to a Close, It is Time to Look Forward to a Brand-New Year

The arrival of yet another December 31st has, as it usually does, put me in a reflective mood; it sometimes seems hard for me to believe, but my eccentric little blog has now been up and running for more than two and a half years. “Map and Counters,” was launched — pretty much on a whim — in April of 2009, and thus far, over three hundred and forty separate posts have been published on its pages. The gradual growth, over time, in the numbers of new and repeat visitors — currently, the site averages somewhere around six thousand unique visits and 17,000 page views per month — has been both an ongoing source of encouragement and the main justification for my decision to continue with this effort going into 2012. That being said, I want to take the occasion of the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new, to again thank all of you who have taken the time to visit “Map and Counters” and have stayed long enough to read my often overly-long and sometimes frivolous ramblings. Both your interest and your continuing support are deeply appreciated.

From its start, this blog has concentrated on presenting highly-detailed game profiles and operational analysis of traditional, out-of-print, board-style war games. The reason for my focus on older titles is simple: there are already any number of excellent internet sources for timely game reviews, After Action Reports, and even in-depth profiles of recently published titles (e.g. boardgamegeek.com, grognard.com, or consimworld.com, just to name a few); for this reason, I have, with very few exceptions, preferred to avoid this contemporary, state-of-the-art area of hobby commentary. Instead, I have — with my many posts on out-of-print, oftentimes obscure titles — endeavored to serve as an information resource both for long-time players and collectors, and also for those enthusiasts who have entered the hobby more recently, but who, for whatever reason, have developed an interest in these older games.

The focus of "Map and Counters" on the the hobby's so-called "Golden Age" will continue in the coming year; however, I should also note that there probably will be, as there have been in the past, a few modest tweaks around the margins, when it comes to the site's content in 2012. Moreover, as regular visitors to this blog already know: in addition to my usual run of game-related posts, "Map and Counters" will — as it has almost from its beginning — continue to offer commentary on other tangential subjects such as movies and books, our national Holidays, hobby personalities, convention announcements and updates, and even a few posts to cover important (in my view, anyway) breaking hobby-related news. This basic format — like the primary emphasis of my blog — will not change appreciably with the advent of the New Year. On the other hand, whatever my own preferences, it nonetheless matters what types of offerings you, the gamers who actually visit my site, most want to see featured on the pages of "Map and Counters". And for that reason, I would like to invite you all — as I do every year at this time — to put forward your own suggestions about possible new topics for this blog. If there are any game-related subjects that I am not currently covering, but which you think would be of interest to other readers, please let me know via the comments section of this or any of my future posts. I cannot stress strongly enough that any comments (so long as they are, at least, barely civil) or suggestions about the future direction of this blog will always be welcome.

As I look towards 2012, it is my sincere hope that “Map and Counters” will continue to be a site worth visiting regularly in the coming weeks and months. That, at least, is my main goal. The year that is now ringing to a close has, for a variety of reasons, been a difficult one; let us all hope that 2012, unlike its predecessor, will at last usher in better times for us all!
Read On



The First World War; by John Keegan; Vintage Press (May 2000); ISBN-13: 978-0375700453

Second wave of British troops
leaving trenches on the Somme
The First World War, despite its name, was not the first "multi-continent" conflict in history — strictly speaking, that title could more accurately be applied to the The Seven Years' War (1754-63) — but it was, nonetheless, a truly all-encompassing conflagration that ultimately spread beyond the confines of Europe to the far corners of the globe. In spite of its worldwide reach, however, this four year struggle was, in its antecedent causes, in its conduct, and in its unfortunate aftermath, a peculiarly European War. Or, at least, such is the view of noted British historian John Keegan. Moreover, this is only one of several intriguing ideas that the author puts forward in what is certainly an ambitious attempt to review the major events, both political and military, that initially propelled the major European powers into an unwanted general war, and then insured that that conflict, once begun, would continue virtually unabated, from 1914 to 1918, until the original belligerents had all finally reached the point of military and societal exhaustion.

Beginning with the first few pages of "The First World War," John Keegan makes it clear to his readers that, at least from the author's perspective, this book is intended to be more than a simple catalog of the various military campaigns that were fought on a myriad of different battlefields — from Flanders to the Baltic, from Galacia to the Italian Alps, from the Caucasus Mountains to the Middle East, and from Africa to the Far East — which, when woven together, combine to form the bloody historical tapestry that was then, and is today, still referred to by many as the "Great War". Certainly, providing such a chronicle of military events is one of Keegan's main objectives in writing "The First World War"; but, while it is obviously important, it is not the author's only purpose in creating this work. In point of fact, Keegan's historical narrative, both in form and in substance, is directly linked to his other more personal goal which, according to the author's own words, is to present an unsentimental, but deeply respectful account of the almost incomprehensible sacrifices that long ago were asked of, and usually willingly made, by the millions of soldiers who fought in this protracted and sordid orgy of industrialized slaughter. The attempt to seamlessly combine these two themes makes for a challenging project, and if the author, in spite of his considerable gifts as a story teller, does not always quite pull it off, his is a worthy effort, nonetheless.

German troops holding first-line trench on the River Aisne
The tragic story of the epic clash of nations that Keegan recounts in "The First World War", is — because of the author's flowing prose and easy-to-follow chronological format — without doubt, the most compelling element of Keegan's ambitious enterprise. Thus, in spite of the work's comparative brevity (the book is only a little over four hundred pages long), its gracefully written treatment of this complex and far-ranging subject is surprisingly detailed. In fact, the author at least touches on almost all of the significant military events that occurred in both the major and secondary theaters of war. I would even go so far as to suggest that it is in his descriptions of the various ground campaigns that Keegan is at his best: his ability to bring a sort of descriptive order to chaos and to make the mayhem and confusion of the battlefield comprehensible to the reader is, perhaps, one of the author's greatest talents; and, in "The First World War", he does not disappoint. Moreover, Keegan also takes the time to include, along with his carefully constructed verbal pictures of the First World War's more famous land battles, a collection of short but illuminating vignettes on the conflict's various, but less well-known, naval engagements.

American troopship Tuscania,
sunk by a German submarine 6 Feb 1918
Keegan, being the experienced student of military affairs that he is, cannot resist including — along with his survey of the major events and significant actors that helped to shape the historical arc of the First World War — his insights and opinions on a number of other intriguing, but less obvious issues. For example, as part of his discussion of the opening days of the war, the author expands his description of the first clashes between the advancing Germans and the reeling Allies (the French, British, and Belgians, in this instance) to include his personal (and, I confess, unexpected) view that the Germans' "Schlieffen Plan" was essentially doomed to failure — because of insurmountable logistical and organizational problems — even before the first shot was fired. In addition, he also points to the military opportunities that were lost to both sides in the conflict because of a wide-spread lack effective strategic coordination between the different member nations of both the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey), and the Entente Cordial (the Allies). Moreover, given the sheer scope and lethality of combat operations during the First World War, it is only a matter of time before Keegan turns his attention to the cruel calculus imposed on all of the war's participants by the requirements of modern, industrialized combat. To this end, he looks first at the crushing societal and economic sacrifices that the various belligerents were called upon to make as they strove to produce the huge and ever-increasing quantities of manufactured war materiel that were consumed, with staggering profligacy, during the four years that the fighting continued. The numbers are all quite staggering, and in a particularly grim continuation of his discussion of the broad theme of national sacrifice, KeeganWar's thirty-five thousand hours of combat) that none of the commanders of the contesting armies seemed able to avoid. Finally, as the war ground its way from one bloodily inconclusive year to the next, the author considers the wide-ranging and increasingly desperate search — by military thinkers on both sides of the conflict — for a way to break the bloody stalemate of the trenches and to restore mobility to the battlefield. Some of the conclusions that Keegan draws from his observations are intriguing, and some are familiar, but in all cases they are presented without noticeable bias, and in a forthright and cogent manner.

  World War I graves at the front of
the Lorraine Troyon France cemetery.
In "The First World War", as has already been noted, Keegan's main focus is on revisiting the known and, in most cases, uncontroversial historical facts surrounding the conflict in question; however, the author's work also includes, as was alluded to earlier, an important subtext. This subtext, or parallel theme — which Keegan emphasizes both in the introduction and in the conclusion to his larger historical chronicle, and which threads its way through virtually every chapter of this work — is the author's touching account of the terrible human cost of the First World War. Millions upon millions of soldiers were killed between 1914 and 1918, and Keegan — by reflecting on the impact that the deaths of so many young men had on their communities, instead of by concentrating on the familiar (and almost incomprehensible) casualty tallies so common to other works on this topic — brings this point powerfully home to the reader. For John Keegan, as both an Englishman and a student of history, the most tangible and lasting reminders of the First World War are not really present at the sites of that war's now silent and deserted battlefields, battlefields that once overwhelmed the senses with their noise and violence, and which devoured the soldiers that contested over them by the tens of thousands. Instead, the author argues with moving earnestness, the most obvious signs of the tragic consequences of the "Great War" are to be found in the well-kept cemeteries and churchyards of the countless villages and towns that dot the landscape from one end of Europe to the other. It is, Keegan suggests, in these quiet places — where the dead from the First World War still rest — that the final, incontrovertible proof of the virtual destruction of an entire generation of young men can still be found. These silent dead — who perished, in their millions, on the battlefields of the "Great War" — were, the author makes clear, more than entries in some morbid and largely forgotten accounting ledger. Instead, Keegan reminds us that their deaths, besides creating a permanent gulf in the lives of both their friends and families, also profoundly and permanently affected the post-war trajectories of the societies from which they had been removed.

General Erich Ludendorf

Clearly, there is much about "The First World War" that I like. Nonetheless, although I acknowledge the book's numerous good points, there are also a number aspects about Keegan's treatment of his subject that I, "nit-picker" that I am, find personally disappointing. And while these elements would not, I suspect, trouble most readers; they do bother me enough that I feel compelled to at least catalog them so that my readers can judge their importance (or lack, thereof) for themselves.

For starters, the author, no doubt in an attempt to appear even-handed in his approach to his work, seems a bit over-generous in his treatment of General Erich Ludendorf. It is almost as if, impressed by the German general's military achievements during the first two years of the war, Keegan is inclined to skip over the clear evidence that, by 1918, the strain of command had pushed the ex-officio dictator of Germany to the edge of a mental breakdown. Curiously, the author is also strangely silent when it comes to the fact that, more than any other single individual, Ludendorf bears responsibility for the poisonous "stab in the back" military and political myth that emerged in Germany in the years immediately after the war.

Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig
Another important topic that receives surprisingly little attention in "The First World War", although it certainly had a bearing on the overall Allied conduct of the combat operations in the west, is that of the mutual dislike (almost loathing) and deep mistrust that characterized relations between the senior British commander, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and his civilian superior, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George. In fact, the prime minister's lack of confidence in Field Marshal Haig had become so deep-seated by the last year of the war that it very nearly led to Allied ruin in 1918 because of Lloyd-George's refusal to supply Haig with much-needed additional manpower: this, because of the prime minister's fear that, if he dispatched significant numbers of fresh troops to France, his senior general would squander them on yet another bloodily unsuccessful offensive.

Perhaps because I am an American, I was also more than a little nonplussed to see that some very important political actors are given astonishingly little consideration in "The First World War". Keegan's decision, for example, to largely ignore the significant (if often deleterious and confusing) effects of President Woodrow Wilson's diplomatic meddling on the sensitive negotiations between the Allies and Germany during the last months of the war seems odd, particularly given the amount of print that he devotes to the lead-up to the conflict. Such is also the case when it comes to Wilson's naive (and almost total) underestimation of the complex and Byzantine political dynamics that actually shaped the negotiations between the various Allied leaders at Versailles once hostilities had formally ended and much of the world's map was being redrawn. Moreover, the misguided and badly botched Allied military attempts to influence events in post-revolutionary Russia, and the toxic long-term political effects of these armed expeditions on post-war relations between the West and the Communist leaders of the newly-constituted Soviet Union are also passed over by the author with only the briefest of commentaries.

Military maneuvers south of Jerusalem,
before the Turkish Declaration of War.
March past Zeki Bey,
the Military Commander of Jerusalem, 1914
Finally, and most troubling of all — if for no other reason than that Keegan shows an uncharacteristic orthodoxy in this instance — is the fact that the author spends a good three chapters defending the widely-accepted but, in my view, panglossian hypothesis that World War I was actually all a tragic and easily avoidable blunder; that the conflict that suddenly erupted in August, 1914, was really the unintended result of inept diplomacy and bureaucratic inertia; and that it was these factors, when taken together, that pushed the leaders of the Continental Powers, against their collective wills, inexorably towards armed confrontation. To defend this version of historical events, Keegan points to the economic and cultural interdependency of the Continental Powers, and to the important family relationships that linked the various European ruling dynasties. This popular contemporary theory that somehow the stability, peace, and prosperity of the early 20th century's European Belle Epoch were all thrown away purely by accident, I find particularly disappointing coming from a historian of Keegan's stature. This is especially galling because Keegan, for whatever reason, largely ignores those historical factors that undercut this "tragic accident" hypothesis. As a counter-argument, I would suggest that he and the other proponents of this romantic view of the pre-World War I relations between the major Continental Powers are really only able to make this case if they ignore the deep economic, social, religious, and ethnic fault lines that ran just below the surface of European life. Moreover, I would add that the steadily building political pressure from these various sources — along with the "zero-sum" character of traditional Old World diplomacy and Britain's implacable opposition to the continental hegemony of any other single European state (whether that country was France, Russia, or Germany) — had, by the summer of 1914, already pushed the competing Continental Powers perilously close to the brink of a general war. The fact that the flash point for that war ultimately came in the Balkans is not surprising; however, the spark that lit off World War I could just as easily have come in Poland, in Colonial Africa, or in response to the sudden collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Finally, although the author makes no mention of this issue, the German possession of the formerly-French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine (seized as a result of Germany's victory in the Franco-Prussian War) virtually guaranteed that another war between France and Germany was bound to happen.

British soldier and horse wearing gas gear
In terms of the book's physical presentation and graphics, I am afraid that "The First World War" warrants, at most, a gentleman's 'C'. It is not that the book has any glaring problems, it is only that, from the dust cover to the type face, it is simply a bit unoriginal and nondescript. As might be expected given the nature of its subject matter, "The First World War" contains sixteen pages of period photographs. And although a few of these illustrations were new to me, the majority of the plates seem to have come from the usual archives and were already quite familiar. The most serious criticism that I have of the graphic presentation of this work, however, has to do with the fifteen maps included with the text. The cartography is simple but clear; the problem is that a good half of the maps are either misplaced in terms of the text, or, if properly situated, contribute little of value to Keegan's narrative. Certainly, the book's editor probably bears some responsibility for this failing, but the "lion's share" of the blame — though it pains me to say it — must still go to the author.

Damage at Verdun, France
In the end, even if "The First World War" can quite fairly be described as part war memorial and part history, it remains a highly readable yet carefully-crafted overview of a conflict that, more than any other in the modern era, transformed the political and cultural face of Europe, if not of the world. It is, by no means, Keegan's best or most insightful work. In addition to the criticisms already voiced above, the work suffers from two additional failings, neither of which are trivial: for one thing, Keegan uncharacteristically relies almost exclusively on secondary sources and offers almost no original scholarship of his own; and for another, there is a certain amount of repetitiveness to the author's treatment of his topic that, while not really that off-putting, is a bit distracting. Still, in spite of its several flaws, "The First World War" can nonetheless be viewed as a useful historical reference, particularly for those individuals who are interested in a fairly detailed recounting of the major events of 1914-1918, and for whom a single-volume study is more than sufficient. My overall verdict on "The First World War" is that it is probably a weak choice for the serious student of the "Great War" because, in spite of Keegan's graceful prose and sometimes interesting insights, it actually fails to deliver anything in the way of new scholarship. On the other hand, to both the military history buff who has only a passing interest in World War I, and to the casual reader who enjoys an occasional foray into the realm of historical non-fiction, I feel comfortable in recommending this book highly. It may not be perfect, but it is still an excellent and informative read.
Read On



This is my second attempt at a post on the subject of the 2011 Holiday Season. The first version, my wife gently but firmly explained to me, was both too dark and too depressing. This is not to say, by the way, that she took exception to my overall view that the current times are hard and — after three long years of economic stagnation and high unemployment — still pose very real, and sometimes even existential challenges to far too many American families. Instead, her central point, and the main reason for her criticism, was that for me to devote the bulk of my Holiday post to these troubling issues was to miss the real meaning and significance of the Christmas Season. She's probably right. Things could certainly be better for many of our fellow citizens, but they could also, I suppose, be much worse. And, although it is an easy thing to lose sight of during the hectic days of December, the true message of Christmas has very little, if anything, to do with decorated trees, Santa Claus, or even gift-giving; it does, however, have everything to do with the promise of spiritual redemption that came with the first "Christ's Mass", more than two millennia ago.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year; but Watch Yourself, it's a Jungle Out There!

The days leading up to Christmas, my father once ruefully commented after a particularly gruelling day of holiday gift shopping with my mother, are just a bit like wartime, in that they bring out both the very worst and the very best in people. At the time he said this many years ago, I was still very young, and really had no idea what my father was talking about. Now, I do; and if the Christmas Season appears, on occasion, to bring about an increase in public displays of human frailty; it also — often with more frequency, but with less fanfare — gives expression to the "better angels' of our natures.

Clearly, whatever else one may say about it, the current Holiday Season seems to provide abundant proof of the essential truth of at least the first part of my father's long-ago statement. For example, the Christmas gift-buying season, if the advertisers are to be believed, now starts between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Moreover, in the days leading up to Christmas, we are treated to multiple images of people who have camped out in front of huge box stores just for the chance — when "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving, for my foreign readers) finally rolls around — to save a few dollars on gift items that they probably neither need nor truly value. Then there are the reports of other holiday shoppers literally coming to blows with each other over parking places in crowded mall parking lots; and for those lucky enough to make it into the stores without incident, physical altercations over dolls, or game consoles, or even tennis shoes (I can understand how someone might be willing to fight over a game console; but come on, tennis shoes?).

If the rank commercialism and frenzied silliness associated with shopping during the Christmas Season wasn't already enough, we also have to put up with the atheists — it is, after all, their favorite time of the year, too — who emerge from the woodwork during the holidays with their unpopular and oddly pathetic seasonal campaigns to remove even the tiniest hint of religious content from publicly-funded Christmas displays which, curiously enough, are associated with a federally-mandated holiday which officially celebrates Christ's birthday. Unfortunately, since more and more US municipalities and even a few private companies have decided to give in to the hackneyed legal blandishments of this tiny, but obnoxious minority; the atheists no longer have nearly as many opportunities as they once had to go after traditional religious targets such as Creches and Christmas carols; hence, in order to stay in the public eye and to promote their own virulent brand of secular orthodoxy, they have chosen to expand their anti-religious activities to include assaults against Christmas trees and traditional decorations, and — I expect, at some future point — Yule logs, Charles Dickens, and eggnog.

And, of course, no Christmas Season would be complete without the sad, but predictable spike in thievery that always seems to go hand-in-hand with the arrival of the holidays. This year is no different; in fact, the current batch of criminals somehow seems even worse than usual. Thus, we see that — from outdoor Christmas decorations to wheel chairs, from Salvation Army collection kettles to copper wire and tubing, from Church "poor boxes" to toys intended for sick children — this conscienceless band of light-fingered ne'er-do-wells has again shown up, like "Bad" Santa's delinquent helpers, to victimize anyone and everyone that they can.

If the long lines, jammed parking lots, pointless rudeness, and the various other bad behaviors that seem to proliferate during the holidays weren't enough, the mainly secular (and anti-religious) northeastern "chattering classes" also do their part to diminish the spiritual significance and joyousness of the Christmas Season. Year after year, starting around Thanksgiving, these pompous media "know-nothings" (and yes, Anderson and Shep, I mean over-paid twits like you and your friends) begin a month-long campaign devoted to recounting each and every incident of criminal activity, mob violence, or consumerism run amok that crosses their desks; their unstated message: it is these unfortunate events, more than anything else, that now define the real spirit of the season for most Americans. Given these carefully-picked examples, and others like them, it is probably no wonder that many in our society have come to see these Holiday "horror" stories as yet more proof of the coarsening of American culture and of the fraying of the country's social compact. And yet, along with this dreary collection of holiday tales showing societal anomie, there are also stories that vindicate the second, positive part of my father's wartime-holidays analogy.

Christmas may be under assault by the forces of militant secularism, but it has not yet been vanquished. Thus, we see, on the one hand, thieves vandalize and rob a church, and on the other, a former convict find a stranger's wallet with over a thousand dollars in it and, against the odds, return the wallet and cash to its owner. In another instance, the basement of a childrens' orthopedic hospital is broken into and thousands of dollars worth of donated toys and other items are stolen; in response, legions of donors, both large and small, come forward to replace the hospital's losses three-fold. Then there is the relatively recent phenomena — a response, perhaps, to the country's current difficult economic times — of anonymous good Samaritans visiting Walmart and other stores with, it would seem, no other purpose than to pay off the "lay-away" balances of perfect strangers so that those strangers would be able to retrieve their purchases in time for Christmas. Stories like this — which rekindle both our sense of the true meaning of Christmas and our faith in our fellow human beings — abound during the Holiday Season; we have only to look for them.

Needless-to-say, not all of the thousands of individual acts of kindness and generosity that occur day-in and day-out during the Holidays are quite as notable as those mentioned above. Nonetheless, they are all important because of what they represent. The harried shopper, for example, who, in spite of the many pressures of the moment, still takes the time to stop, dig through her purse, and to place a donation in a Salvation Army kettle has, whether she realizes it or not, affirmed her faith in the simple value of "doing good". The teenager or the retired senior who volunteers to help with a local food or toy drive, both, in their own way, contribute to the spiritual impact of the Christmas season. Hundreds of thousands of times every day, someone holds a door open to let someone else who is in a bigger hurry or carrying more packages, or holding a child's hand, enter or exit a room or building first. In fact, each selfless gesture, whether great or small, adds — in my view, at least — something intangible but very real to the peculiar person-to-person magic that is an integral part of Christmastime.

For most of us, the Christmas Season is a time when friends and family — even those who, during the rest of the year, are separated by great distances — gather together to share conversation, food, and presents. Certainly, for most people, these seasonal reunions are a genuine high point, and the exchange of gifts — especially for the children — is an important feature of the Holiday. Still, no matter how generous we are to our friends and family, there is, whether we wish to admit it or not, an implied quid pro quo element when it comes to exchanging Christmas presents with those with whom we have a personal bond. Thus, precious as these family times around the Christmas tree are, I think that most of us know in our hearts that they do not capture the real essence of the Holiday — the "spirit of the Magi" — in the same way that the act of giving to complete strangers does. That being said, I appeal to those of my readers who can afford it, to give something — be it time or money — to help those who are most in need during this special time of the year. If you do, I sincerely believe that, of all the gifts that you give this Christmas, you will find that those that go to strangers will turn out to be the most personally satisfying of all.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my readers both here and abroad, may you all have a joyous and safe Holiday.

Read On



In the last few years, Pearl Harbor Day has taken on increased significance to me personally, not just because my father and many of my uncles served in the armed forces during World War II, but also because most of the veterans of that war that I grew up knowing have passed from the scene. It was an extraordinary time: rendered more so by the fact that Pearl Harbor and the events that followed are as historically removed from the experiences of the present generation as the trauma of the Civil War was from those of my father's generation. That being said, I now view this day as a perfect excuse to invite my father and those of his surviving friends who lived through the often uncertain years of World War II to reminisce about their friends and experiences. Some of their stories I have heard over and over again, but some are surprisingly fresh and unexpected; this is why it strikes me as particularly poignant that before too much longer virtually all of these recollections — some funny, some touching, and some sad — will, like those who currently share them, be gone forever.

A Long Time Ago, on a Sunny Morning in Hawaii ...

Mrs. Beard lays a wreath on Pearl Harbor Day
at the anchor of the USS Arizona
At 07:40 on Sunday, 7 December 1941, a mixed-force of Japanese carrier aircraft composed of 45 fighters, 54 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, and 50 horizontal bombers appeared in the sky over the island of Oahu, part of the then American territory of the Hawaiian Islands. This was the first wave of a devastating surprise aerial attack on the American naval and air forces in and around the important American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Fifty minutes later, a second wave of Japanese carrier-based aircraft struck the island again in a follow-up raid. The effects of this surprise air raid, considering its short duration, were devastating.

As a direct result of these two Japanese attacks, eighteen U.S. ships including seven battleships were either sunk or so badly damaged that they would be out of action for months. In addition, of the nearly 400 military aircraft on the island, 188 were destroyed, and 159 were damaged. Total American casualties were 3,581, of which 2,403 were killed. The pillars of black smoke billowing up from the burning ships and airfields at Pearl Harbor after the Japanese air strikes bore witness to the stark fact that, although no formal declaration had yet been made by either nation, the United States and the Empire of Japan were now at war.

Remembering the "Day of Infamy" Seventy Years After

Pearl Harbor damaged battleships
Arizona Tennessee and West Virginia
Today is the Seventieth Anniversary of the Japanese carrier-based attack on Pearl Harbor. And although the bombing of the American Pacific Fleet and the airfields and other military installations in Hawaii — at least for the generation of Americans who lived through the harrowing and tumultuous events that followed December, 1941 — long held a special place in their collective memory. Today its historical significance, as the single galvanic event that catapulted a neutral and  predominantly isolationist American citizenry into World War II, has largely faded from the popular consciousness. Time marches on, and three and half generations have passed since the first surprised American sailors — on a balmy Sunday morning long ago — looked skyward to see neat formations of unidentified dots high above their heads suddenly grow larger as the dots turned into enemy aircraft that swooped down again and again to strike the war ships lying at anchor on "Battleship Row". The ships themselves were helpless in the face of the enemy attacks: tied up in their respective berths, with their boilers banked, they could neither maneuver nor fight. The outcome of this uneven engagement, when it was over, was predictable, if amazing: a few hundred enemy planes — launched from aircraft carriers far out to sea — had succeeded in inflicting the worst defeat on an American naval force that the US Navy had ever suffered in all of its long and illustrious history.

USS Arizona Pearl Harbor
Valor in the Pacific National Memorial
In a very real sense, 7 December 1941, marked a major historical turning point for the United States because that date signaled the precise moment in time when a war that had already been raging in Europe for more than two years — suddenly took a circuitous and unexpected Pacific detour — and finally found its way to America's shores. Within a few days of the Pearl Harbor Raid, Adolph Hitler joined with his "Honorary Aryan" allies, the Empire of Japan, in its war against the hitherto neutral America. The United States, its people, and its institutions — spurred by this sudden, unexpected, but existential "two-ocean" war — embarked on a national project that, by the conflict's end in 1945, would leave the country transformed in virtually every way imaginable. As a direct result of the war, vast numbers of people would permanently relocate, sometimes moving great distances; new technologies, whole new industries, and breakthrough medicines and dramatic new medical therapies would be developed; women would enter the labor force as never before; and a generation of young veterans, who — before the war would never have considered continuing their educations past high school — would use the GI Bill for a college education; and finally, the United States, its territory largely untouched by the devastation that laid waste to much of Europe and Asia, would emerge from the war — thanks to its unrivalled industrial and agricultural productivity — as the dominant economic power in the post-war world. But all of the changes that ultimately resulted from America's entry into the war can really be seen as epilogue. In purely historical terms, the story of the United States both during and after World War II, like any narrative, must, along with its ending, also have a beginning. And when it comes to the story of America's participation in its "two ocean war", everything begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor: there, in the space of a few shattering minutes, the arc of the country's destiny changed forever; and, for better or for worse, the United States and its people were, after December 7, 1941, both set upon a path that would guarantee that neither of them would ever again be the same.

U.S. Marines landing on Guadacanal
Yet, as important as the Pearl Harbor attack was to all Americans at the time, it was actually only one of a number of devastating blows that were struck, during the last month of 1941, and the first part of 1942, by the armed forces of the Empire of Japan against US, British, Australian, and Dutch military forces and installations throughout the Central and Western Pacific. In surprisingly short order, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, the Phillipine Islands, and the Dutch East Indies would fall, one after another. Before it was over, it would take the Allies four gruelling years to wrest the recent Japanese conquests away from the hands of a tenacious and determined enemy. Americans and their allies would battle the forces of Imperial Japan in the air and on the sea, and — in one bloody action after another — fight their resolute enemy for the control of island strongholds with hitherto unfamiliar names such as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. And only a terrible, but necessary atomic "epiphany" would finally bring a merciful, if long overdue, end to the carnage on both sides.

Pearl Harbor veterans share experiences at
Wesley Bolin Plaza remembrance, Phoenix Arizona 2009
Of course, 1941 was a long time ago, and even the "Baby Boomers" who were born in the years immediately following the end of the Second World War are now, like me, sliding inexorably into the dotage that comes with old age. More important, of course, is the fact that every day, a large number of the veterans of that long ago conflict pass permanently from the scene. This, in a very real sense, is a major loss to us all because, with their passing, a wealth of irreplaceable knowledge about that unique period in American history go with them. For this reason, I urge my readers to take the opportunity offered by Pearl Harbor Day to ask those who actually lived through the war years to share their thoughts and experiences from that long ago time. Before too much longer, those memories and those who harbor them will all be gone.
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Back on November 16th, I published a brief description of what I understood then to be the preliminary details of a soon-to-start PBeM STALINGRAD Tournament. At the time of my initial post, the final format and rules for this tournament were still being sorted out among those members of the Consimworld STALINGRAD Forum community who were most interested in seeing this project actually get off the ground. This is no longer the case: The final guidelines for the tournament have now all been agreed upon and cardboard combat for the STALINGRAD PBeM championship is set to begin in about two weeks. At present, there are more than a dozen confirmed tournament entrants; however, for those visitors to "Map and Counters" who might be interested in taking part in this unique PBeM event, TOURNAMENT REGISTRATION IS STILL OPEN. That being said, I invite anyone who would like to participate — whatever their experience level — to follow the link at the bottom of this post and to contact the tournament's Game Master, Joseph Angiolillo, about entering what has, somewhat belatedly, been rechristened The 50th Anniversary Tournament of STALINGRAD. And the best part of it all — given economic conditions here and overseas — is that there is no entry fee: tournament participation will be free to all comers!


After being exiled from the tournament scene for over three decades, the "grand daddy" of all East Front war games, STALINGRAD is finally slated to make its long overdue comeback. This classic Avalon Hill title — designed by Charles Roberts, and developed by Tom Shaw and Lindsley Schutz — has, since its introduction in 1963, long been a favorite of many of the hobby's grognards; however, in recent years, it has also enjoyed a modest rebound in popularity among a small, but growing crop of newer players both in the US and abroad. Thus, it is completely fitting that, in two weeks time, both old and new STALINGRAD enthusiasts from all over the globe will again have the opportunity to fight it out on the classic game's instantly-recognizable blue and white map board. I can't be sure, but I suspect that each and every one of these different players — whether they admit it or not — will, like me, be competing in this tournament for exactly the same thing: to win it all; and, by so doing, to become the undisputed champion of a very special commemorative event, the 50th Anniversary STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament. And even without the "Anniversary" cachet, this tournament, in my view, is a gaming opportunity that simply should not be missed by anyone with even a passing interest in this venerable, but still challenging, game of warfare on the Russian Front.

And now, for those of my readers who would like additional information, a few tournament particulars ...

Thanks to the yeoman efforts of Brian Britton and Joe Angiolillo (as well as many others), this "landmark" competitive event will officially start on 15 December. The early round "match pairings" will be organized according to a two-tiered (novices versus novices; experts versus experts) "Swiss" style tournament format. The advantage of this type of arrangement — for those who are unfamiliar with "Swiss" style competitions — is that, unlike "single-elimination" tournaments, in a "Swiss" tournament setting, a player can suffer a defeat during the early rounds of play and still battle back to win a berth in the final four. In addition, the "two-tiered" approach guarantees that players who are relatively new to the game will not be "over-faced" during their early match-ups. By starting out this way, it is hoped that newer players will have an opportunity to garner some valuable tournament experience before they have to go up against one of the more seasoned veterans in the later rounds.

Of special interest — both to those of us who have been involved with wargaming since the fifties and sixties, and to those younger gamers who have developed an interest in the history of the hobby — is the fact that this tournament (hat tip again to Joe Angiolillo) has received the personal endorsement of the lead developer of STALINGRAD, wargaming icon: Thomas Shaw. In fact, as a sign of his support for this project, Tom has volunteered to autograph the souvenir "awards" certificates that will go to the top four tournament finishers. Moreover, as an added incentive to participants for them to play their best game in this competition, the tournament champion, along with a "first place" certificate, will also receive a plaque commemorating his or her victory in this "once in a lifetime" 50th Anniversary STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament.

Finally, to actually register for this "historic" wargaming event, prospective participants (both inside and outside the US) are encouraged to contact the Tournament Game Master, Joe Angiolillo, as soon as possible at the email address listed below; also, for those of my readers who are seriously considering participating in the tournament but who would like to obtain a copy of the "Official 50th Anniversary STALINGRAD Tournament Rules so that they can look them over before deciding, a ".PDF" link has been provided at the bottom of this post.

STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament Game Master's email address: angiolillo_joseph@hotmail.com

To obtain a copy of the Official 50th Anniversary STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament Rules, please click on this ".PDF" link:

    STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament Rules

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Another year is rapidly approaching its end and it is again time to take note of the onset of the Holiday Season. Unfortunately, another somewhat melancholy Thanksgiving post seems all too appropriate as we gather with friends and family to celebrate this year's holiday. Much has happened since last Thanksgiving, but regrettably, very little seems to have improved from last year to this. Nonetheless, in keeping with the original spirit of this special day, I remain hopeful that 2012 will see a happier and more prosperous holiday than this one for us all.

General George Washington and Old Nelson,
The Prayer at Valley Forge, by Arnold Friberg
Today is Thanksgiving. And, as every school child in the United States knows (or should know), this annual feast day traces its beginnings all the way back to 1621, when a pitifully small group of Pilgrims from the Plymouth Plantation (only thirteen, in all), along with about ninety neighboring Native Americans, celebrated the colony's first successful harvest. Interestingly, this first "Thanksgiving" feast lasted a full three days. A number of the other early American colonies, it should be noted, also observed, on a regular basis, their own versions of the Plymouth settlement's first harvest feast. As a widely-recognized national holiday that was no longer limited to a few states in New England, not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is most closely associated with two of the American republic's greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. On 3 October 1789, the first president of the fledgling United States of America, George Washington, proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving; however, it was the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln who, while the nation he presided over was racked by a terrible Civil War, proclaimed the final Thursday of November, 1863, to be celebrated across the North as a national day of remberance and religious observance. That date, and the holdiday it marks, are both with us still.

Of course, nowadays, in spite of its religious antecedants, the final Thursday of November is, for the vast majority of Americans, almost exclusively a secular holiday that is mainly associated with family gatherings, turkey dinners, and football. It is also — famously or infamously depending on one's point of view — the day that preceeds the peculiarly American commercial free-for-all known as "Black Friday". Nonetheless, as we make our separate arrangements to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends, let us all take a moment to remember those whose lives and circumstances have been made more precarious by our nation’s ongoing economic problems. And let us also set aside a little time to remember those who wear our country's uniform, and who presently serve in faraway and often perilous places on our behalf. This year, like the two preceding it, has been a challenging time for a great many Americans, but let us hope and pray that the year to come will be a better one for all of our fellow citizens, both friends and strangers, alike.

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BPA Posts This Year’s WBC Tournament “After Action Reports”

It’s that time of year again. Don Greenwood and his tireless (and largely unpaid) minions have at last made available the long-awaited — at least by me — event recaps from the 2011 WBC Convention Tournaments.

For the many wargamers (like me) who, for one reason or another, were unable to attend this year’s WBC Convention, the recent posting of the 2011 tournament “After Action Reports” represents an excellent opportunity to vicariously enjoy the championship matches of each and every one of this premier convention’s hundred-plus gaming events. These extensive post-tournament narratives — which are compiled by each of the hard-working tournament Game Masters and published every year on the BPA website — provide an overview of virtually all of the late-stage (semi-finals and finals) convention action, and, most importantly, allow nonparticipants to follow the competitive ups and downs in all of the games that personally interest them.

Speaking for myself, even in those years when I put aside my deep dislike for air travel and make the trek back to Lancaster, I still look forward to checking on the results of the various tournaments: reviewing the different reports always brings back a flood of pleasant memories both of friendships renewed and of the whole recently-past convention experience. Moreover, these reports, besides being interesting in their own right, are an excellent way for players to do a little research on the specific gaming events that they are considering entering at some future date; and, I should add, they are also a great way for players to check on the tournament fortunes of their friends within the hobby.

As a final note, I strongly encourage those visitors to this blog who are specifically interested in past or future WBC Conventions, or who have a more general interest in high-level tournament play, to visit http://www.boardgamers.org/.  I'm pretty sure that you won't be disappointed.
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A question a few days ago from one of this blog's visitors regarding the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table got me to reminiscing about the early days of "play-by-mail" gaming. It was, for those of us who were in the hobby at the time, an interesting, if occasionally frustrating period. And while I don't claim that the personal recollections that I am about to recount regarding this long-past era are totally correct in all of their particulars, they are, nonetheless, accurate enough to satisfy the relaxed requirements of this somewhat whimsical look back at the rise and fall of "postal" gaming.

Double click image to view chart full size and print. A hat tip to Joe Angiolillo for redoing the above chart so that it is actually legible.


A Present in the Mailbox
by Joe Ruiz Grandee, American b 1929

A long, long time ago, before Al Gore invented the Internet (or discovered that there was money to be made lecturing the rest of us about the weather), wargamers who wanted to expand the available pool of opponents beyond their immediate circle of family and friends (and honestly, how many times can you beat your younger brother at D-DAY before he loses interest, anyway?) had only two viable options. On the one hand, they could travel to the small number of sparsely-attended tournament conventions (this was before the advent of "Origins") which — during the "Jurassic" era of wargaming — were usually organized either by the earnest, but affable loons from the Spartan International Competition Society (SICS), or by the somewhat more reality-grounded members of the Avalon Hill International Kriegspiel Society (AHIKS); alternatively, they could try their hand at playing wargames by mail. Attending tournaments was a problem for a lot of us back then because there just weren't all that many of them to start with. Moreover, those that did get past the planning stage — or so it appeared to those of us living on the West Coast — always seemed to end up being hosted at least half a continent away (usually in Baltimore). Under those circumstances, it is probably not surprising that quite a few avid gamers (me included) turned to play-by-mail (PBM) as a less satisfying but cheaper (you could buy an awful lot of stamps for what it cost to trek to a wargame convention) substitute for tournament "chasing". However, inexpensive or not, it turned out that playing wargames by mail, besides being slow (the U.S. Postal Service isn't called "snail mail" for nothing), presented players with a completely new set of problems. Which is to say, once a gamer decided to take up postal competition, successfully tracking down a reliable opponent (a bigger challenge than one might think, in the early days) and actually getting a game started was a bit daunting; particularly because, in the beginning, no one except for those actually involved in the first pioneering efforts to promote PBM play (the aforementioned SICS and AHIKS, augmented by a few independent gamers) seemed especially interested in helping players with this side of the hobby.

Double click photo to view full size or print.
But "all things come to those who wait"; and so it was with play-by-mail wargaming. As might be expected, the boys in Baltimore — in keeping with Avalon Hill's traditional glacier-like reaction time when it came to changes in the hobby that they had helped to create — were, at first, slow to follow up on this budding interest in postal play among their customers. However, proving yet again that "even a blind pig finds an acorn once in awhile", when the evidence became overwhelming that PBM play was not some temporary fad, but was rapidly becoming a staple feature of the wargaming subculture (if, indeed, there actually was one), Avalon Hill finally — beginning in the mid to late sixties — threw its minuscule corporate weight behind this new and financially promising gaming alternative. Having decided to jump in, the first order of business for the Baltimore game publisher was to bring order to the somewhat chaotic PBM game environment by standardizing the grid coordinates of its various titles, since none of the early games had numbered hexes. A number of players, using chess as a model, had come up with their own "home-brewed" griding arrangements, but Avalon Hill regularized the basic system so that everyone was playing with the same game maps. The next thing that the powers at Avalon Hill did was to tap into the commercial end of postal gaming by selling preprinted PBM "Order of Battle" sheets (in tablet form) to complement their early games. [Unfortunately for the gang in Baltimore, the rapid proliferation of office copiers in the 1970's insured that, within a decade of its launch, this lucrative little sideline pretty much went the way of the supermarket "TV tube-tester".] Probably even more important than the useful (but surprisingly expensive) PBM tablets, was the game publisher's decision to allow the (initially) tiny pool of subscribers to its bi-monthly "house organ", The General, to advertise for opponents within its pages.


Double click photo to view full size or print.
Certainly, the contributions of Avalon Hill to postal play, when they finally came, were helpful; there was, however, one additional impediment that still remained to be overcome, even after players had gridded their game maps, acquired their Avalon Hill "Order of Battle" game sheets, and tracked down a postal opponent or two. That was the problem posed by the baked-in need for there to be some way to "remotely" resolve the outcomes of individual PBM battles. And this was, it should be noted, not a trivial issue. After all, wargames were, and are, called "wargames" for a reason: they almost all involve combat which, in turn, relies on some random means of generating combat results. In the case of face-to-face play, this process is easy: the player conducting his or her move (the phasing player, in contemporary parlance) will, once all movement is completed, simply specify the order of any combats to be executed, roll the six-sided die (that came with the game) for each combat, and, as these battles are resolved, cross-reference the resulting die-rolls (one at a time) with the appropriate odds-columns and numerical cells on the game's Combat Results Table (CRT) to determine the actual outcomes of all this "cardboard" mayhem. This process, of course, is easy when one's opponent is able to watch as the die is being rolled for each battle; it is a little more difficult, on the other hand, when one player is in San Diego and the other is in Saint Petersburg. Needless-to-say, as the concept of "postal" play began to gain traction, several different ideas were quickly put forward, from different quarters as possible solutions to this thorny little problem.

The "Honor" System

Double click photo to view full size or print.
The first suggestion to surface, which emanated from the likes of Tom Shaw and Tom Oleso in the early 1960's, was the hopelessly naive "Honor" system. In a nutshell, the panglossian proponents of this approach argued — since the PBM participants were, after all, only playing a recreational game — that attacking players should be content to simply allow their distant (and often faceless) opponents to roll the die on their behalf and then notify the original attackers of the outcomes of their various battles. This hare-brained idea, not surprisingly, went nowhere. The vast majority of gamers, it turned out, were (and still are) an intensely suspicious lot; and, in their almost universal rejection of the "Honor" system, they proved that they were also more than a decade and a half ahead of Ronald Reagan when it came to adopting the motto: "Trust, but verify."

The "Matrix" System

 Opening the campus mailbox
A very different method for tackling this problem, although workable, turned out — in the eyes of quite a few of us — to be a lot more trouble than it was worth. This was the "Matrix" system pioneered by AHIKS. The logic behind this approach was impeccable; it was the cumbersomeness of its execution that was the problem. The key feature of this combat resolution system, not surprisingly, was the multi-cell matrix. These matrices would vary in their cell counts, but for most games, a matrix displaying one hundred individual numbers, each ranging from 1 to 6, would suffice. A typical 10x10 (hundred number) matrix would be set up as follows: across the top of the chart would be a longitudinal series of ten letters, starting with "A" and ending with "J"; running down the side (from top to bottom) would be another (latitudinal) series, this time consisting of the numbers "1" through "10". For the system to work, each player had to procure two identical copies of their own 10x10 charts; one copy would be kept while the other copy was sealed in an envelope and sent to a neutral umpire. For a phasing player to actually resolve his or her combats, the cell coordinates for each battle would have to be listed along with the specifics of the battle, itself; i.e., all adjacent units in 3 to 1 vs. 4th Rifle C9 (+5). Along with the cell coordinates (which could only be used once), a number from "0" to "5" had to be included with the other combat instructions. [This was done just to make sure that a devious opponent, for example, had no incentive to list nothing but "5s" and "2s" in each and every one of the cells of his matrix.] To actually resolve the battle, the defending player would first find the appropriate cell on his matrix, then the number in the cell would be added to that of the value of the integer sent by the attacker. For example, if the number in the cell was "4" and that sent by the attacker was "5", the defender would then perform the following short computation: 4+5=9-6=3; which, in this instance, shows that "3" was the actual die roll. Needless-to-say, besides being both tedious and time consuming, this process was also highly vulnerable, unbelievable though it might seem, to mathematical errors. And this could be a major problem because the different copies of the matrices were not exchanged and inspected by the two opposing players until after the conclusion of the last game turn. Human frailty being as common as it is, it is not difficult to see why this procedure repeatedly led to "scrapped" games because of mistakes in simple arithmetic. Although AHIKS persevered with this ponderous combat resolution system for years, most of the rest of us couldn't wait for a less-complicated substitute to come along, and sure enough, it wasn't very long before one did.

Double click photo to view full size or print.

THE NYSE Stock Sales System

The third method of PBM combat resolution would probably never have come into use if its predecessors had not been so unsatisfactory. As already noted, the "Honor" approach to die-rolling was, for obvious reasons, out of the question for everyone except, perhaps, for Tom Oleson or Nelson Mandela, and, just as clearly, the "Matrix" system was both too error-prone and too awkward for the majority of non-AHIKS players. So, given that neither of these approaches really worked all that well, the question on most postal wargamers' minds was: what actually would? Which is to say, what kind of relatively simple-to-use (and inexpensive: most of us, after all, were students in those days) mechanism was there, already widely available, that could reliably generate hundreds, if not thousands, of tamper-proof random numbers day after day. The answer to this question, happily both for Avalon Hill and for a growing fraternity of PBM players, turned out to have literally been lying on most people's doorstep from the very beginning; and that was: the New York Stock Exchange stock reports that could be found in the financial sections of virtually every daily newspaper in the country. This idea, in its own way, was a major breakthrough. The key to this system lay with the information on stock transactions transmitted by the NYSE to the wire services at the end of each trading day. These reports, which covered virtually every individual security traded on the NYSE, listed the high and low prices for every stock traded on the exchange; they also reported the sales volume, in hundreds of thousands of shares, for those same stocks. Assuming players stuck to those stocks reported with large numbers of daily transactions, this "sales in hundreds" tabulation was a perfect mechanism for generating random numbers. 
Double click photo to view full size or print.
Thus, it seemed that the Monday through Friday NYSE documentation of America's capitalist activity, so far as the usual PBM issues were concerned, was the perfect answer to the postal players' combat resolution conundrum. It did, however, present a couple of problems of its own. First, because not all local newspapers went to press at the same time — there was, remember, the pesky issue of different U.S. Time Zones — some papers published the NYSE stock reports prior to the actual close of that day's trading. This meant that the "sales in hundreds" figures in one player's local newspaper might not match those printed in his or her opponent's community paper. Needless-to-say, this was a problem. Happily for all concerned, the solution turned out to be relatively easy: it was to require the use of a single national publication that, it was assumed, would present uniform reporting from one end of the country to the other; and the national publication that best fit this description, not surprisingly, was "The Wall Street Journal" (WSJ). Better still, since virtually every library in the country already subscribed to the "Journal", the penniless (all of our extra money was already going to buy new games, after all) members of the PBM proletariat, assuming that they could get to a library, didn't even have to actually buy newspapers to check their combat results.

The Birth of the D10 "Postal" CRT

Double click photo to view full size or print.
However, no sooner had the idea of the stock market "sales in hundreds" combat resolution system been put forward than another problem reared its ugly head. This one had to do not so much with the "Journal's" mechanism for generating tamper-proof random numbers as with the numbers themselves. The problem was both simple and obvious. In face-to-face play, the phasing player's battles — as already noted — were typically resolved using a six-sided die and a Combat Results table that was designed around the numerical values ("1" through "6") possible with that die. Unfortunately, the last number in a stock's "sales in hundreds" WSJ entry could be anything from "1" to "0" (10). This was a trifle inconvenient to those players who had originally hoped to precisely match the distribution of combat outcomes found on the "standard" D6 Avalon Hill Combat Results Table in the new postal system; regrettably, it was clear — even to the arithmetically-challenged members of the gaming community — that ten was not evenly divisible by six. [Which, by the way, was not nearly the problem that many postal gamers initially made it out to be: a fact that will shortly become abundantly clear.] Nonetheless, the popular consensus among PBM players was to forge ahead and to create a new (ten-based) D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table that could be used in lieu of the standard Avalon Hill D6 version whenever postal games were played. Thus it was that, thanks to the efforts of an unknown and unsung designer (probably Tom Shaw), the D10 "Postal" CRT at last came into being sometime around 1964. And, interestingly enough, once its final form had been settled on, it was instantly (no hesitation on the part of the boys in Baltimore this time around) copyrighted by Avalon Hill. Still, all was not perfectly harmonious in "River City". The D10 and the D6 Combat Result Tables, although similar, were, and are, different enough that the introduction of the D10 CRT (and its formal endorsement by Avalon Hill) actually generated a modest amount of controversy within the hobby. And that controversy — unfortunately for those of us who liked the new CRT — did not diminish with the passage of time.

The main reason for this ongoing kerfuffle was that the D10 CRT was slightly more "attacker-friendly" than its predecessor (a fact that becomes obvious the minute the two tables are laid side-by-side); hence, while some "traditionally-inclined" players disliked the changes it made to the distribution of combat outcomes; to other players, its modest rejiggering of combat results in favor of the attacker was actually considered to be a plus. This is because, for quite a few face-to-face and PBM players, the old D6 CRT was perceived as just a bit too skewed in favor of the defender; hence, for many of us, the minor adjustments in the distribution of combat outcomes in the D10 CRT were a welcome correction to what we saw as the "standard" CRT's baked-in "pro-defender" bias. Welcome or not, however, it was a correction that would not long survive the assaults of its critics.

The Return of the "Original" D6 CRT

1960's U.S. letter carrier
If the dictates of simple arithmetic were the initial impetus behind the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table, they were also its undoing. The problem — which many of us recognized from the outset — was that the D10 CRT was, in reality, an artful solution to a nonexistent problem. That being said, it wasn't long before a growing chorus of the D10 table's critics — who, inconveniently for the rest of us, had apparently mastered the mysteries of "long division" — pointed out that to convert a base-ten integer to a base-six integer, it was only necessary to divide the former by the latter; the "remainder", if there was one, would inevitably yield a value of "1" to "6" ("0", in this case, counting as "6"). Those of us who actually preferred the D10 table quickly countered this argument by pointing out that requiring players to divide large (often, very large) numbers by six opened up the possibility of mathematical error; and we all knew the problems that simple addition and subtraction had created with the "Matrix" system. Not willing to be outmaneuvered on this front, the anti-D10 forces responded by pointing out that the main source of the problem with the "Matrix" approach was not really the occasional mistake by a careless player; but, instead, it was the fact that errors of this sort — because the two players could not review each others' Combat Resolution Charts on a regular basis — were concealed until a game was finished. And since, in the case of the D6 "Division" method, the attacker could always check the defender's arithmetic immediately, the "Matrix" argument simply did not apply. This last argument was enough to convince Tom Oleson who, in turn, persuaded the editor of The General to publish his article on this system in the Nov-Dec 1974 Vol. 11, No. 4 issue. Back in 1971, Avalon Hill had issued its most complete guidelines, up to that point, for PBM play. At the time, this little booklet pretty much had the authority of a Papal "Bull"; particularly since it covered a number of different PBM issues including postal combat resolution. Shortly after Oleson's article, the PBM Guidelines were reprinted, but this time with the stipulation that, henceforth, the "Division" system, used in concert with the original D6 CRT, was to be the only "authorized" method for resolving postal combats. This unequivocal declaration, by Avalon Hill, more or less ended the D10 CRT's ten year reign as the CRT of choice in the realm of postal play, and, except for a small band of "partisan" hold-outs, it largely faded from the popular gaming scene after 1974.


Bruno Sinagaglio
If the official Avalon Hill Play-by-Mail Guidelines published more than forty years ago pretty much eliminated the D10 Combat Results Table as a feature of most regular play, it did not succeed in completely quashing its use. Interestingly but not that surprisingly, a few grognards, by mutual consent, continued to use the D10 table both in their face-to-face and in their PBM games long after it had officially passed from the popular gaming scene. And so things puttered along, decade after decade. Then, a few years ago, the old base-ten CRT made a minor comeback of sorts when Bruno Sinagaglio (may his tribe prosper and his flocks increase) resurrected the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table as a play-balance option for the WATERLOO players participating in the Grognard "PreCon" event that he runs every year at the WBC Convention in Lancaster. The widespread acceptance by both the old and new participants in Bruno's annual celebration of the early days of wargaming has led many of us to believe that, while the D10 CRT is probably never going to supplant the traditional Avalon Hill D6 CRT in regular competition, it just might (thanks to Bruno) have gained a new lease on life when it comes to classic titles like WATERLOO, STALINGRAD, and D-DAY. Of course, only time will tell; but for those of us who prefer the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table to the "standard" D6 version, the portents of things to come are at least promising.
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