Golden Annual No. 1:
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Some time ago, I decided that I wanted to design an Infantry Attacks game on the Austro-Hungarian campaign against tiny Montenegro during the First World War. I knew it would fit into a very small format, which was good, but I eventually punched myself in the face to remind me not to publish games we can’t sell. If you have to first establish that Montenegro is a real country, that Austria-Hungary is a real country, and that they fought a real war between 1914 and 1916, you’re never going to convince anyone to buy your game on the conflict.
All of that changes when you make the game exclusive to our Gold Club. They know that Montenegro exists, they know its tiny army fought in the Great War, and they’re eager for a new Infantry Attacks game on any historical topic.
For 2020, I decided that we needed to make the year’s first Golden Journal an oversized issue with a complete game. I’ve long wanted to do a Golden Annual, and when we first established the Gold Club our marketing guru of the time included an exclusive new game as one of the proposed benefits of membership. I’m not sure this was the brightest of ideas, but it does make for a really cool extra for the Gold Club.
While Infantry Attacks: Black Mountain is a complete game, it achieves completeness by moving what we call the “series components” (the rules and charts that go in every game in a series, in this case Infantry Attacks) to downloadable format. Infantry Attacks is receiving new second edition rules, which feature an overhauled artillery sub-system, and this gives us a chance to make them available to the Gold Club.
It also greatly reduces our cost, not just for the items themselves but the need to find some way to package them (in a box, or a Playbook). Black Mountain is still pretty substantial, with a half-sheet of pieces and a map and a booklet, but it costs us much less to make it than a Playbook game like Horn of Africa. It’s still much more than a Golden Journal costs us, and I’ll have to evaluate whether we’re getting enough marketing push, as opposed to a regular Journal, before we make another one (at this point, I suspect it’s not going to be enough to justify the additional cost, but here we are).
So what’s inside the package? Well, it’s a complete game - there are 88 pieces, including troops, weapons and leaders for both Austria-Hungary and Montenegro, and the markers you’ll need during play. The Austrians are mostly mountain troops, from the 18th Infantry Division (which commanded several mountain brigades). The Montenegrins include both regular forces and komitadjis, the local militias who had fought the Turks in the just-concluded Balkan War and saw front-line action in the Great War.
While the Imperial and Royal Army isn’t up to the standards of the German first-line forces or even those of the French, it’s still a Great Power army and possesses standards of weapons, supplies and training simply far beyond the resources of tiny Montenegro. The Montenegrins are plenty tough, and they’re going to need to be. They are out-gunned if not out-manned. This front is considered backwater by the Austro-Hungarians, who want to secure the naval base at Cattaro for attack but have far greater problems elsewhere and can’t spare the forces to conquer the Black Mountain.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a great deal of fighting. The game begins in August 1914, after all, when everyone - Montenegro included - decided to go on the offensive. Black Mountain has ten scenarios, because that’s what will fit in the booklet and what we can support with the 88 pieces in the set. They mostly take place in the late summer and autumn of 1914; the final conquest of Montenegro included regular formations not represented in the counter mix but we’ll add these later as Gold Club Premium Content, using pieces from Fall of Empires and maybe some additional maps from other games.
Infantry Attacks is our World War One sister series to Panzer Grenadier. It has a lot of similarities in its interactive sequence of play (built on player activations), initiative system, morale, leadership and the basics of moving and firing. But it’s not simply a World War II system ported over to an earlier war. You can’t play Infantry Attacks scenarios with Panzer Grenadier rules; you can try (you bought it, it’s your game), but they won’t work.
If you already play Panzer Grenadier, but not Infantry Attacks, you can learn the game really fast. Many of the rules concepts are going to be familiar. Like Panzer Grenadier, Infantry Attacks is pretty intuitive and gives each player things to do. Panzer Grenadier was designed to give infantry and artillery equal place with armor on the cardboard battlefield, something other tactical games didn’t do to my satisfaction. That makes the transition to a battlefield with just infantry and artillery (and cavalry) pretty easy, and when we add tanks back into the mix those will work, too.
Black Mountain has just one map, that also appears in Panzer Grenadier: Parachutes Over Crete (for the game to be free, it can’t require new map art). The rugged terrain on the island looks just like the hills of Montenegro, south-eastern Hercegovina and southern Dalmatia in 1914, on down to the white-washed buildings.
While we’ve tried to give each of our game series a smaller, lower-cost introductory game, I’ve begun to doubt whether that’s really as necessary as just having one or more normal-sized games at a normal-sized price to give new players the full experience without the training wheels attached. Black Mountain is a very low-priced game (initially there’s no additional cost for Gold Club members; $0.00 is about as cheap as a game’s going to come but it will rise first to $17.49 and then to the full $34.99).
In place of the traditional introductory game, we have a free introduction for the Gold Club, to entice the hard-core players who haven’t sampled Infantry Attacks, and give those who have something truly unusual that they’d never see in any other format: we’re not foolish enough to try to sell a game on the Montenegrin campaign. At least I hope we‘re not.
Just like the Golden Journal, the Golden Annual is only available to the Gold Club (that’s why we call it the Golden Annual). It’s free when we first offer it, but then it’s $34.99 afterwards. We print enough of them to handle initial demand and a few extras, but once they’re gone we won’t reprint them – there’s just no profit in a company as small as Avalanche Press keeping a $34.99 item perpetually in stock. If you want your fighting Montenegrins, the time to grab it is now.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold thinks coyotes would be great new friends.