In the days and weeks following SPIEL Essen ’23, I attended two awesome historical game conventions in California. Just a few days after I returned from Europe, I headed to the GMT Games warehouse in Hanford, CA for their fall Weekend at the Warehouse event.
• I was chatting with Rachel and Gene Billingsley shortly after I arrived at the warehouse and noticed a pre-production copy of The Plum Island Horror in Gene’s office. I was instantly pumped when they offered to play it with me. The Plum Island Horror is a very thematic, co-operative, tower-defense style survival game for 1-4 players, created by Dawn of the Zeds designer Hermann Luttmann.
In The Plum Island Horror, players must work together to successfully evacuate civilizations while dealing with an onslaught of horrors and horror mutations.
We had a great time playing The Plum Island Horror. With the challenges the game presents, you really have to coordinate and work together with other players if you want to win. I really liked that we had our own unique factions representing different groups of people on the island, with our own strengths and weaknesses. Plus, some of the flavor was reminiscent of Dawn of the Zeds and Dead of Winter, which I loved because there’s a cool narrative that evolves as you play. I was also really impressed with how streamlined the gameplay is compared to how it initially appears. I’m looking forward to playing it more when it’s available in late Q4 2023.
My Neighborhood Watch player board
• There was also a pre-production copy of Vijayanagara: The Deccan Empires of Medieval India, 1290-1398 floating around, which looked stunning. Vijayanagara, from designers Cory Graham, Mathieu Johnson, Aman Matthews, and Saverio Spagnolie, is the first game in GMT’s Irregular Conflicts series, which is a spinoff series from the COIN series.
Vijayanagara (pre-production copy)
Unfortunately, I didn’t get an opportunity to play Vijayanagara because I was immersed in a learning game of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood‘s Bomber Command: The Night Raids, which I had been wanting to try for the past few years. Thanks to Non-Breaking Space (NB) for the teach!
Excited to finally play Bomber Command
• Speaking of Non-Breaking Space, I played a quick scenario of his latest prototype of Solitaire TacOps: Ortona, which is the first in a very promising series of solitaire campaign games featuring an innovative dice system for resolving player and opposition actions. Here’s brief overview of what you can expect in Solitaire TacOps: Ortona, which is available on GMT’s P500 pre-order as of late October 2023:
Solitaire TacOps: Ortona (prototype components)
The gameplay for Solitaire TacOps: Ortona felt streamlined and suspenseful. It’s great that you’ll have the option to play one-off scenarios, but it sounds like the game will shine even more as you play through a campaign. I can see this being great for playing solo, but I played co-operatively with Sam London, which was really fun. Thus, I could see this also being enjoyable for people playing solo games with a companion.
• After playing Solitaire TacOps: Ortona with Sam London, I played his Firefight Tactical prototype, which is another exciting new addition to GMT’s P500 pre-order, that I’m excited to play more of. Firefight Tactical is an innovative dice-driven tactical, squad-level World War II game for 1-2 players. In the game, you draft different colored dice, similar to some eurogames, to assign them to your units so you can perform actions with them. The gameplay was tense, smooth, and fun. It really seems like this one will be a good introductory game for people interested in dipping their toes in wargaming, but also innovative enough to excite experienced wargamers.
Firefight Tactical prototype
• It’s always great to see Scott and Bruce Mansfield the GMT warehouse. Here they are enjoying a play of the late Chad Jensen‘s Fighting Formations: US 29th Infantry Division (prototype), which Kai Jensen and John Foley are developing.
What a beast!
• At GMT’s Weekend at the Warehouse, I also enjoyed my first play of Christoph Cantzler and Sebastian Freudenberg‘s Carolingi, which is an interesting area majority game with a few twists, where 2-6 players take on the roles of Charlemagne’s grandchildren competing for the throne. I played Carolingi’s competitive mode for my first game, but I’m very excited to also try the semi-cooperative mode. Spielworxx is launching a crowdfunding campaign for Carolingi in Q1 2024.
• Just a couple weeks after GMT’s Weekend at the Warehouse, I headed 2 hours south to join some of the same folks, but even more new faces at San Diego HistCon (SDHistCon). This was my first time attending an in-person SDHistCon event, and I had a blast. Similar to GMT’s event, there were nothing but good vibes flowing the entire time. There were many designers and content creators there, most of whom I met for the first time.
Matthias Cramer, me, and Maurice Suckling
• I bumped into Sam London again at SDHistCon, and while he was running demos Firefight Tactical again, I ended up playing his prototype of Dear Boss, which is a unique Jack the Ripper-themed trick-taking game that fuses elements of Letters from Whitechapel with trick-taking. In Dear Boss, one player plays as Jack the Ripper who’s trying to escape without being caught, meanwhile the other players are trying to find Jack by deducing which card the Jack player plays into each trick. It was pretty neat, so hopefully it gets picked up by a publisher so more people can play it.
Dear Boss prototype
• What a treat it was to sit down with designers Liz Davidson and David Thompson to play a scenario from their latest prototype of Night Witches, which is a future offering from Fort Circle Games.
Night Witches designers Liz Davidson & David Thompson
In Night Witches, 1-2 players step into the cockpit as female pilots of the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment, working together to fly harassment missions on the Eastern Front during World War II. I had a blast playing this with Liz. It’s an introductory wargame complexity-wise, but with lots of cool, challenging gameplay to experience.
Liz & I braved Mission 2 on Veteran difficulty level (prototype components)
Running out of fuel… (prototype components)
• Of course I brought Kutná Hora with me and was happy to teach and play it for the fifth time. I’ve been enjoying this historically-based, economic, city-building game from designers Ondřej Bystroň, Petr Čáslava, and Pavel Jarosch, and CGE.
Me with Zenobia Award finalist Lauren Ino and Natalia Wojtowicz
• I played an awesome 6-player game of Border Reivers, which is a new release from GMT Games, designed by Ed Beach (Here I Stand, Virgin Queen). In Border Reivers, each player represents a major family trying to protect its borders and become the most notorious border reiver in the land.
• I was so stoked to play a pre-production copy of Arcs, the upcoming, big Cole Wehrle release from Leder Games. Arcs nails it with boiling down a space opera game to 90 minutes, and it has interesting mechanisms that have me really excited for its release in 2024.
Me with Drew & Cole Wehrle, Dan Thurot (Space-Biff), and Josh Starr (Grand Trunk Games)
I talked in depth about my experiences playing Land and Freedom, Border Reivers, and Arcs on episode 30 of the BoardGameGeek podcast if you’re interested in hearing more about any of them.
• Lastly, one of my favorite highlights of SDHistCon was participating in “Celebrity Liberty or Death”. I teamed up with Cole Wehrle as the Patriots to play against the Indians (Jason Matthews, Liz Davidson, and Jason Carr), the British (Harold Buchanan), and the French (Alexander and Grant from The Players’ Aid) on an epic, giant, beautiful version of Liberty or Death. The only problem is, I’m spoiled now. How will I ever play the normal-sized Liberty or Death ever again??