Sunday, December 04, 2005

Two Player Games

Mike hosted a two-player gaming weekend last year, and it was so popular that he decided to do it again. Six of us showed up to play on Saturday, although for four of us that meant a 10-4 stint. I'd missed the South Tuesday session, partly because of a scheduling snafu, so I was looking forward to playing a few games.

Eric and Mike played a scenario from Under the Lily Banners, a recently published GMT wargame in their Musket and Pike series taking place during the 30 Years War, Tim and Dave played Columbia's Crusader Rex block wargame, and Chuck and I started out with Guilford Courthouse, the third in GMT's Battles of the American Revolution series. We played the historical scenario, which focuses on the battle as historically fought. The game itself allows the players more manuever in the early game and a few extra turns for the British to try to get to their historic objective (exiting the map beyond Guilford Courthouse).

I'd played the first game in this series, Saratoga, several years ago when I took it on a business trip to keep me occupied in the hotel room in the evenings, but it's been a long time since I played. I'd reread the rules (now in a Series and Exclusive rulebook set, which I typically hate), and most of the game is very straightforward, although there are quite a few modifiers used in close combat, enough to keep me off balance for the first couple of turns. However, by the end of the game we were having much less trouble, at least I was.

The Americans, who I took, have very few State or Continental Army units, with mostly wimpy militia that take a lot of damage (and don't cause much either). The only decent troops (all three of them, plus Greene) are far to the rear, barely able to advance to the front line in the few turns they have to work with. The militia start along a fence line a little ways away from the Courthouse, with heavy woods and a ravine inbetween. They also have a variety of rifle units in the militia which are less useful in close combat, but allow a free shot during both player's turns. Finally, the Americans have two decent dragoon units that can threaten units regrouping in the rear, whereas the Brits only have one.

The Brits, by comparison, have good leaders (and more of them), considerably better morale, and stronger units. There is little chance that the Americans are going to inflict much damage on the Brits, even less when the Brits start with a momentum counter that allows a reroll (with more to come, given the huge positive DRMs that the Brits generate). I think Chuck managed to collect something like seven momentum counters during the game, and I'm not really sure how the Americans are supposed to do more than occasionally scratch the Brits.

On the plus side, Chuck was having a lot of trouble doing much more than scratching my troops at first. In the first couple of turns, in fact, I don't think he captured more than one unit, an artillery unit that was nearly useless in the heavy woods most of the battle was fought in. He did manage to drive the Americans off of their initial defensive position behind a fence, but as the only benefit of the fence was that the Brits got to add to their morale, and Chuck was already maxed, this was hardly an issue. My rifles, about the only offensive capability I had in the early game, missed repeatedly, even with their initial shots which give a positive DRM to hit.

The big break for the Brits came when Chuck managed a "double-move" through the initiative rolls after he'd done some damage to my units and had them out of position. There were just enough light infantry and leaders to give some tactical flexibility and buck up the militia, but after this turn my morale was spiraling downward and I'd lost several units off of the line (although not as many as I suppose I could have). However, I managed to get the same benefit of a double-turn going into the next turn, and my rifle units were able to drive off enough units to make close combat practical. Chuck's one remaining momentum counter kept me from killing off one of his leaders to have at least a shot at a tie (he'd killed one of my minor leaders earlier). As it was, I got 1 VP for the Courthouse, which Chuck never got an LOS on, but he scored 4.5 off of captured or eliminated units, resulting in a .5 VP Marginal Victory.

I like this system, even though I'm not an AmRev buff by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't think that the Americans have any chance to win this scenario. The only way it could happen is if the Brits have to use their starting momentum counter early, then don't get a result that will give them another one (which happened over and over). My rifle shooting, weak at the beginning, was exceptionally sharp in the last half of the game, but the results were always pretty weak, and I never even flipped a Brit unit, much less eliminate or capture (again, partly because Chuck had tons of momentum counters, negating any decent rolls I did get).

As such, I left the game feeling like I had no chance to win, only to preserve a tie. Maybe the campaign game is better, although since the units are essentially the same, I can't imagine that things would go much better. There are three other games in the series, of which I also have the previously-mentioned Saratoga and the very recent Savannah, plus a second game in Eutaw Springs in the Guilford box. I want to give these games another try, as they are very quick playing and an elegant set of mechanisms, but I'm a bit concerned that it's tough to game the AmRev as it was more of a political fight than a military one. As such, games like We the People seem to be more successful than the tactical games or even Columbia's Liberty.

We finished up at the same time as the Crusader Rex game, so the four of us decided to play something a bit lighter. Chuck and I pulled out the recently acquired Pizza Box Football, while Dave and Tim played Dungeon Twister and Roma. PBF is a pretty light game with a lot of dice rolling, but still manages to give a statistically accurate game that feels like you're calling a football game. However, the only real decision points are in what plays (of a grand total of six, count 'em, six) you will call on offense or defense. Even then, the net effect is generally not big for the majority of plays. As such, it feels a bit like you're just picking a table to roll three dice on and see what happens.

We played the Smashmouth game, which uses the standard pro football time scheme but not the involved Professional Game time system (which uses hurry-up plays, time outs, and spiked balls). We did use the Expanded playsheet that I got from the official website, which actually improves the number of plays possible from three to six. This is usually part of the Advanced Game kit, that also includes special offense/defense play tables for each NFL team, and I have to say that just playing the basic game with run/short pass/long pass options would get dull very quickly.

Here's the thing...I had a great time playing the game. OK, I got blown out 28-0, and I couldn't seem to get a break even when I fooled the defense, but it was still fun and it was definitely more fun than a football video game. With specific team tables and a little clarity on how to incorporate goal line defense and long bombs into the expanded game, this is a fun little game. I think perhaps the Backyard Brawl version, where each player gets three possessions, might be the best for those not interested in league play, but I like the Professional version because I believe that ball control and clock management are key elements of the actual game and add a lot of tension. Tim and Eric played the Brawl version later in the day and enjoyed it.

By now my blood sugar levels were dropping quickly, and time was beginning to be a bit of an issue for some of us, so I skipped grabbing some food to try to get in a quick play of Lost Valley. Sure, this wasn't a two-player game and thus we really shouldn't have brought it out, but I'm a fool for discovery games. Big mistake. Two bad "helpful" suggestions to me by the one player who had experience with the game, along with a poorly translated rule that cost me the chance to get even a single gold marker from a mine I'd built (compounded by one of the suggestions earlier), soured me on the game quickly. While I abhor rules that you have to look at an example to figure out, it was clear that the phrase "only x units may locate in a space" meant at the end of movement, not during movement. I didn't argue the point, but a quick look at the rules after the game taught me to not worry about looking petty and instead ask to see the rules when you aren't absolutely sure what a rule means.

Combined with a truly astonishing set of technical domestic problems weighing on my mind that are seemingly never going to be solved (including not having a functioning refrigerator for better than 10 days, with another four to go before there is any chance of it working again), I stopped being interested in this game within ten minutes. I suspect that there's a good game here, but with an increasingly large library at every place we play with similar mechanisms, this isn't one I'll ask to have pulled out anytime soon. Maybe if there were dinosaurs...

Next up will be the regular session at my place on Tuesday.

1 comment:

Mike said...

> Two bad "helpful" suggestions

Sorry about my input or help that backfired. Please don't hold that against the game. Whilst I don't think LV is a 'top shelf' game (to borrow Dave's rating) it's a solid exploration game.