S&T 296 (Korean War Battles) is here…


Korean War Battles is a game I designed in late 2013. It is a game that features three scenarios of battles that took place in 1950: Pusan Perimeter, Second Battle for Seoul, and Changjin (aka Chosin) Reservoir. The game was designed for Strategy and Tactics magazine, published by Decision Games, and uses a variation on the simple “Fire and Movement” rules used in DG’s modern period folio games, of which there are at least two dozen.

Got my subscriber copy (#296) today.

Of the last three games I have published with Decision Games, all three have had major changes made to them, to the point where they ignored, cancelled or even reversed the major points I was trying to make in the original designs… without my input or knowledge.

I turned the files for this game in in January 2014. The last time I heard from DG about it was early March 2014, 19 months ago.

What follows is a description of the changes that have been made between what I turned in and what has been published, with comparisons to what was in the original and the import of these changes. They are entered in the same cases as they are encountered in the rules sections. This would be better presented as a comparative table, but WordPress blogs don’t seem to be able to show these well (if you have some tips about how to do this, I’d like to hear them).

As I have done before with Greek Civil War (https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/greek-civil-war-dux/) and Next War in Lebanon (https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/next-war-in-lebanon-redux/), here are the original rules and charts I turned in, freely available, along with a PDF of the counter sheet. As they have made fundamental changes to the counter mix, you will have to make your own counters. You can still use the maps, once you straighten out the terrain costs which they got wrong on each map, and ignore some terrain features that were not in my submitted version, like the three bridges across the Han and the five hill hexes between “Ascom City” (Taejong-ni, actually) and Yongdungp’o in the Seoul scenario. I’d put my original maps up but they are pretty schematic and have no colour to them.

Korea3 FM ctrs alt1


[edited to add: Michael Kirk has made a really nice-looking, well laid out and illustrated set of rules! PDF file.]

KWB charts F&M


[edited to add: “Ken” from Japan has translated the rules into Japanese;  here they are!]

4.0 Mobile Movement Phase: In the original version, US and Commonwealth infantry units were permitted to move again in this Phase, but only on roads/trails and they could not attack in the ensuing Mobile Combat Phase. This was important to show the truckborne mobility of the American troops and how they were able to shift their forces rapidly to meet threats, especially in the Pusan Perimeter scenario. Also, North Korean supply units were permitted to move in this movement phase only, showing how their logistical  tail could only follow advances. The DG version drops all this; both US/CW infantry and NK supply units move once only. This is a major change.

5.1.2 Infiltration: In the original version, only non-divisional leg units were allowed to infiltrate through enemy ZOCs. This was important, especially in the Pusan Perimeter scenario, as the NK player had to break his divisions down to infiltrate the UN lines, and because he could not build back up into divisions later this was a crucial choice for him. The DG version does not have this, and instead allows entire divisions to work their way forward through the UN lines. This is a moderately important change.

5.2 Effects of terrain: The original version had only one terrain effects chart, with terrain types and movement costs that were common to all three scenarios. The DG version has three slightly different sets of terrain, with differing interpretations and costs for each. To make a long story short, they got the terrain types reversed so that clear hexes (of which there are only a small number on the maps because Korea is a very lumpy place) are harder to move through and more defensible than hilly, unroaded hexes (the “default” terrain in that country). This is a major change.

6.0 Zones of Control: In the original version ZOC did not extend into Rough (called Mountain in the published version), or City hexes, or across river hexsides. This was an important consideration as Communist units could infiltrate through closed terrain close to the road-bound UN units. In the DG version ZOC penetrates all, except Mountain, but this is only mentioned in the Terrain Keys printed on the map, not the rules. This is a major change.

7.5 Fortifications: In my last communication with DG, I thought we had agreed not to include Strongpoints in the Chosin scenario. But there they are on the map, but there is no indication whether they are fortifications for purposes of this rule, or what they are for – there are no references to them in the rules at all. So this could be an important addition, maybe not – I never put it in, and argued to have it left out.

8.4 Bombardment Support Fire: In the original version, Communist units could not Bombard an enemy unit unless they had a unit adjacent to it, because they did not have spotter aircraft or radios to direct remote fire. This is dropped in the DG version. Moderate change because of scarcity of their fire support markers but quite ahistorical.

8.4.1 Counter-battery fire: In the original version, the Communist player could not do this for the same reasons as above. This is dropped in the DG version.

10.0 Lines of Supply: In the original version, the Communist units had to trace a 3-hex line back to a supply unit, which had to trace any length back to a supply source hex on the edge of the map. UN units traced a 3-hex line back to a Road/Trail, and from there along roads/trails back to a supply source. This kept the Communists near their supply heads, and showed the road dependency of the UN troops. This is dropped in the DG version; each side just traces a line of any length to supply units or ultimate sources, though the UN is not allowed to run his supply convoys along mountain tops. This is an important change.

10.3 Supply Depot units: These had a number of uses in the original version; besides being normal conduits of supply, they could also be “burned” to feed intensive (“human wave”) attacks or emergency supply or replacements for cut-off Communist units. None of this is in the DG version; instead the Communist support fire marker allotment drops by 1 when a supply unit is eliminated. I had the latter apply to both sides only when an HQ unit was eliminated. Moderate change.

11.0 Breakdown units: Here are some major changes. In the original version, breakdown regiments for the North Korean, Chinese and South Korean divisions were chosen randomly, said regiments being made up on a curve – so NKPA regiments, for example, were valued from 3-2-4 to 4-4-4, but on a curve so most of them were 3-3-4s. I weighted it so the “average” NKPA regiment had an attack factor of 3.3 and a defence of 3.0, a Chinese regiment an attack of 3.75 and a defence of 3.25, and a South Korean regiment an attack of 2.2 and a defence of 2.87. This made the decision to break down divisions one to give the player pause, but emphasized the power vs. dispersion tradeoff.

In the DG version, when divisions break down they are replaced by three regiments of identical strength, depending on the original division factors. The NKPA regiments have been “tuned down” to an average attack of 3.0 and a defence of 2.85, the Chinese regiments are all identical at 3.0 and 3.0, and South Korean regiments are “tuned up” to  an average attack of 2.6 and a defence of 3.4. But the values of the divisions are the same as in the original version, and in fact in the DG version it makes sense to split up, because this increases the defensive strength of the overall unit!

More importantly, the depth of units has been changed. In the original version, all divisions had four steps and all regiments had two. In the DG version, all divisions now only have two steps, all North Korean and Chinese regiments now have only one, and US Marine Corps regiments now have four. So the power and durability of one side in all three scenarios has been halved. This is a huge change, especially in a game system like this with a Combat Results Table that is dominated by “Exchange” results in which both sides are depleted.


You know what?

Life’s too short.

The little word counter in the edit window says I’ve been going on for over 1,300 words here so far, and I am not even halfway through the list of things that have been changed. There are at least 25 more changes that I noted, some more significant than others (such as, it now appears impossible for the UN player to win the Battle for Seoul scenario) but also not counting the many minor changes to the counter mix.

I really have better things to do with my time than this – like making new games.

I’m tired of writing posts like this; this is three for three now, and the pattern of non-communication and basic lack of respect for my work is disappointing and frustrating.

As I said above, if you want to play the game that I originally designed, developed and tested, download the rules, charts and counter sheet PDF. You will have to make your own counters, unlike the Greek Civil War debacle but like the Next War in Lebanon debacle, but as with the other games you can still use the map – once you correct the terrain costs in the Terrain Key and ignore a few added map features.

Or you can play the game that they published. Either way I hope you have fun. Life’s too short for this sort of thing.

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

17 Responses to S&T 296 (Korean War Battles) is here…

  1. Rob Bottos says:

    Brian, this is the game you were testing with Ian at BottosCon 2013 right? Given how DG has shown very little respect for your work, have you thought about nolonger submitting your designs to them, or perhaps putting in some sort of required consultation in your contract? It’s my understanding, that while designers design, and developers develop, there should be communication between the parties.

    • alsandor says:

      If I may weigh in here as someone who has been on both sides of the design/develop issue, I want to say that to exclude the designer from the development is a serious mistake. When I took over developing Lincoln’s War from Adam Starkweather, we had a skype chat and he told me to separate John Poniske from his game. Now, that is the old style developed at Avalon Hill and SPI which is why somem if not all of the games are not remotely what the designer intended. Sometimes the changes are not crucial but as we have seen, sometimes they are, and it’s the designer’s reputation that suffers from a badly developed product over which he had no control. “So what can you do? Throw rocks at God?” as a friend of mine says.

      I was involved directly in the development of my game, Thunderbirds at War. Over the entire process, the developer and I disagreed once and it was on the spelling of an expression. Every
      change was agreed upon by the both of us. It was unfortunate that we were not able to add more to the rules (a few things here and there) as the magazine had no more space available.
      We decided that that was what errata and FAQs were for and moved on.

      The interesting thing is that this collaboration is part of Compass’ modus operandi. They encourage both parties to collaborate. If that had not been the case, my game of night ops over Germany might well have been turned into a clone of B-17. As it was, the developer did not know anything about Bomber Command ops. He had to learn the salient points quickly and he did.

      After we had published Lincoln’s War, I undertook development of Black Eagles (which is at CoA now) and a small game called Banana Wars on insurgency during the long period of US interference in Central America and the Carribean (1897-1945), all with John’s hands-on collaboration. This last one is over at Victory Point Games now, or so I’m told, slated for publication in 2017. I believe Victory Point also has a collaborative approach.

      So it is doable. But there are still companies that believe the product is theirs once they get their hands on it and that they have to make it “sexy”.

      Issues of intellectual property arise. If the designer no longer owns the game and the game is botched, his reputation should not suffer, i.e. his/her name should not be on it. Companies want to use it as a selling point, but what the buyer is getting is not what the designer had in mind so it’s a bit like expecting a Mercedes-Benz SL coupé and getting a Trabi instead. They’re both cars but the similarities stop there. One is a racy little number from Zwickau and the other is a Mercedes 😉

      • brtrain says:

        Rob: I was playing that game with Ian but it was a different system – it was a development of one I used in one of the first games I ever designed, Pusan Perimeter (http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4835/pusan-perimeter).
        For reasons I won’t go into here the Korean War Battles game used the Fire and Movement folio system, which DG has been tweaking for quite some time now.
        S&T 298 will have my game Balkan Gambit in it. It uses the Victory in Normandy system which XTR and DG used in about half a dozen designs over the years (Second Front Now, Operation Sea Lion, more recently Soft Underbelly and Downfall).
        Originally it used a completely different system, one I used (with variations) in Summer Lightning and Winter Thunder and which I have preserved in Balkan Gamble (only 10 were made; still have one copy left for sale).

        In general I agree with Michel (in general I usually agree with Michel).
        Communication and collaboration work better than the opposite, and it shows in the final item, whether it’s a wargame or any other creative product.
        In the five years since Eric Harvey joined DG as chief developer, they have turned out over 80 magazine games between the three titles, and several dozen Folio, Micro, and boxed games besides.
        It doesn’t seem that this allows for much communication or collaboration, since there are only so many hours in the day.
        I did have a certain amount of back-and-forth with Eric on this design, more than I did with Greek Civil War or Next War in Lebanon, but that stopped after March 2014 – I thought the issues had been settled and all questions answered; they had been, to my satisfaction.

        Balkan Gambit will be the last thing I publish with DG; I turned it in to them in at the beginning of 2014, just after I turned in Korean War Battles.
        Eric and I have discussed the situation a couple of times and agreed that for various reasons the DG magazines are not a good venue or fit for the games I design.
        As you can see from this blog, my designs are finding homes with other publishers (where I don’t do it myself, with BTR Games).
        So off we go… as I said, life’s too short.

        Great news about Banana Wars and VPG!
        This is one I want to check out, for sure… been thinking about a design on such a subject for many years.


  2. alsandor says:

    “Great news about Banana Wars and VPG!
    This is one I want to check out, for sure… been thinking about a design on such a subject for many years.”

    It was doddle compared to the other two. The rules were mostly in good shape and the cards needed minor editing. The only change I made to the map and the cards was to put all the country names in the language of the locality (so mostly Spanish). It’s a flavour thing.

    We did the same thing to the map in Black Eagles, using a geographical and historical list of placenames, Géographie de l’île d’Haïti, by Alexis Beaubrun Ardouin in Port-au-Prince in 1832. It has the distinction of being the first educational textbook published by a Haïtian. I found the text on Google Books along with the 11 volume Étude sur l’histoire d’Haïti also by Beaubrun Ardouin.

    Obviously, i made sure he was a reputable author. Alexis Beaubrun Ardouin was born in a free family, not a slave. For that reason he was educated, was elected to the Senate in 1832 and later served on the Council of Secretaries of State in 1845. One of his brothers was also a politician and a historian, and another brother was a poet. As a historian, he attempted to put the Haitian Revolution in the context of other nationalist revolutions in the Americas. In that sense, Ardouin was an an early version of a Marxist interpretation of historical dialectic (years before the fact).

    John and I playtested it a few times (I won playing each side once), then John playtested it with a few others and ruled it done. How it got to Victory Games, I have no idea. He merely inforned me that it had been delivered.

  3. ken says:

    I made the Japanese translation of this rule(KWB rules F&M v10 & charts).
    Could you possibly open this with your blog?

  4. Rick says:

    Brian, thank you for expressing yourself honestly.

    I have “Korean Battles” (S&T 296) on the gaming table now. The scenarios are “playable” but I wonder if they really have any “replay-ability”.

    As for designers & developers working together, I completely agree with you on that. I have read and re-read some many of the old SPI “Moves” magazines over the years to understand what SPI was doing decades ago. Since I am “on the outside” as a subscriber in both cases, I sincerely question whether DG is trying to turn out volume or quality or “trying to find a place in between”.

    DG today reminds me of the old SPI when they expanded into SSG “retail boxed” games along side the magazine. Some of the old SSG games were “real dogs” and I haven’t played many of them in years. I still replay some of the old S&T magazine games. There are very few DG games that I want to play again and again. Some of the games “seem like dogs to me” (that S&T American revolution game and that Falklands game) while others might need some careful changes (“Mare Nostrum” and “Afrika Korps DITD” come to mind) to make me play them again and again.

    I will find time to re-read this page on your blog and reflect on your changes versus what I saw in the published version.

    Keep up the good work.

    • brtrain says:

      And thank you Rick, for the good wishes and trying out the games anyway.
      I think of the three, the Pusan Perimeter scenario has the most replayability because it’s the widest open situation and the map lends itself to approaches/offensives from several different directions.
      The other two are more straightforward races against time and the enemy, but they have a certain amount of suspense in them too.
      Best to download the original rules and charts to see all the changes that were made; I listed less than half of them on the blog page.

  5. Pingback: Balkan Gambit… the rest of it | brtrain

  6. Robert McCoy says:

    It’s been a while Brian:

    I saw your name on the credits yesterday when I played the Chosin scenario of Korean battles, and didn’t think about it. I and my wargaming buddy were kind of looking for something better after our bad experience with JM’s Chosin: the escape of X corps.

    I will have a look at your version in a bit.

    I posted the following on Consimworld.

    I played the Chosin module of Korea battles and my opponent and I found it to be a simple yet tense game of the Marines escaping. It was enjoyable, and the rules made sense.

    This was, however, a third time lucky try. Previous experiences with DG operational level games covering the Korean War revealed some serious problems — Naktong Bulge (folio) and Chosin: escape of the X corps. The former suffered from lack of offensive punch for the NK forces, and the latter had overwhelming air power for the UN forces.

    In this Chosin game the Marine regiments really do need 4 steps, else their chances of survival would not be promising in the face of masses of Chinese armies. I managed to escape with one very weak regiment (two steps), and two battalions of Marines. I won the game by 4 vps.

    This gives me hope that DG is finally doing some serious playtesting, and not just pushing games out like its infamous predecessor SPI. Having the long perspective, we tend to remember the classics but forget all about the lemons.

    I am now looking forward to trying the Pusan Perimeter game.

    take care
    Rob McCoy

    • brtrain says:

      Hi Robert!

      If you’re prepared to do a bit of shop-and-compare, you ought to try the Chosin scenario with my original rules and counters. Though I will say the many, varied and often quite substantial changes between what I submitted and what was published make good comparisons problematic.

      The major changes I outlined in the blog entry above (mobile movement phase, ZOC and infiltration, supply depots, unit depths, changes to unit strengths, etc.) affected all the scenarios strongly. I stopped listing them before I came to any of the changes peculiar to the Chosin scenario, except for the changes in unit depths (four-step Marines and one-step Chinese, vice two and two) and the Strongpoints (the fact that they are on the map, yet have no rules related to them, makes me wonder whether this scenario was seriously playtested – I’ll never know). I don’t have the time or inclination to go into detail on these now but take it from me, you will have a different experience playing the original, with rules meant to work together – as opposed to DG’s changes, which seem like they grabbed a bunch of knobs on the control panel and twisted them at random.

      I think the Pusan scenario is the most interesting, in that both sides get to attack, there is room to maneuver, and there is a good number of units to push around. The other two scenarios are somewhat more contrived situations (as they were historically).

  7. happywanderer says:

    Hi Brian,

    Can you confirm that to use your original game (as submitted) that a player should use the core rules ( http://strategyandtacticsmagazine.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ST296_Korean-BtlsRules_V4F.pdf ) and then substitute the EXCLUSIVE rules in this thread ( https://brtrain.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/koreanwarbattles_briantrain_originalrules_6.pdf ) and the revised charts and counters?

    Thank you

    Happy Wanderer

    • brtrain says:

      Yeah, it looks like the standard rules run up to 9.0 in the magazine, then it goes off the rails. I am guessing the standard rules printed in the magazine are the same ones I was working from when I designed the game. My exclusive rules, like other folio games, are written as a set of exceptions, replacements, and additions to the standard rules. You will have to make up the counters yourself and substitute the charts, and mind the corrected terrain effects chart which they messed up three different ways. Oh, and note the bit about Fortifications too… good luck!

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