Monday, February 20, 2006

Birthday Wargaming

Chuck came over on my very happy unbirthday (a date with an uncanny similarity to the day I was born) for a little wargaming. On the table: Crusader Rex and C&C: Ancients.

Last time, I was the Saracens and Chuck the Franks, so we switched places this time. The rules have changed slightly to allow "native" castles/cities to support 3x the units of "enemy" castles. For example, since Aleppo is Saracen with a value of 3, they can support 9 units over the winter, but only 3 Frank units. Other effects (replacement points) are as before. Also, Frank units may only set up in alternate seats within the kingdom they begin in. This means that the holy orders such as Templars have some limitations on where they can go aside from just the spaces with their mark on it.

Chuck got off to a great start dividing and conquering my areas. I got the Jihad card in the first draw, and used it to extremely poor effect - I must have had Deans Disease, as I rolled crap the first half of the game. Once Chuck got going, he started by taking the big Frank castle in the north and tried to roll his way down the board. Fortunately, the English showed up just in time to save Acre, and then the French showed up to threaten the not-so-fortified north. On the final turn, there was a big fight for that last big city (and a quickly taken and retaken Aleppo in the NE), but I kept forgetting about using Knight's Charge and Chuck managed to hold on to win the game.

So much of this game relies on when you manage to draw the Crusader blocks for the Franks. Despite terrible rolls early on, and only one really good run when the English came in to protect Acre (Jerusalem and Tripoli were never really threatened), I felt like I was in it right at the end. I still can't believe I didn't attempt Knight's Charges during the big fight for that city whose name I JUST CAN'T FREAKIN' REMEMBER. Sigh.

I wanted to try out Ancients, and Chuck was kind enough to put up with a game system he really isn't that impressed with. I haven't been either, I put Memoir '44 up for auction and Battle Cry is going on eBay soon. Still, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, my solitaire attempts were kind of fun. The biggest changes (aside from the bizarre component choices - If you've got blocks, why do I need four to make up a unit instead of rotating a la Columbia's games?) have to do with a wide variety of unit types, more rules to reward at least a semblance of historical tactics, and the devastating effect of heavy and medium infantry.

We played Cannae, and I got the Carthaginians as I was the unbirthday boy. The sides are pretty evenly matched, but the Carthaginians have the advantage of a six card hand to the Roman's four (to reflect Varro's complete lack of tactical comprehension). I began with a cavalry foray with Marharbal's units on the left flank. This didn't work so well, I lost two units pretty quickly and had to pull Marharbal back. I also moved my Gallic warriors up to cause some damage early, but they got mowed down pretty quickly for only one VP in return.

We started moving units up, with me focusing on the left side. Cavalry made more probes on the flanks, going after unsupported light units, but the real damage happened once the heavy infantry got into the mix. Say what you will, rolling five dice with a leader in tow is going to cause some problems on the other side's units. The lead in VP went back and forth, but finallly we were down to six VP each, and a devastating attack (or counter attack) would determine the winner. In the end, my larger choice of cards paid off and my medium cavalry killed the last unit in one of Chuck's auxilia.

Hey, at least I won something.

Chuck has serious issues with the luck, the lack of historical accuracy, and (as he put it), "Did you feel like you did anything that won the game for you?" As the winner, my natural answer was, "But of course!" It is a good point, but at least it's a good ride and a fun, short, light game with serious wargame elements. It's such a huge step up from M44, I can forgive that it's really not a wargame.

That was it for Saturday, but I did get the chance to play World of Warcraft solo on Sunday. This time, I was the Alliance with the Paladin and the Spooky Hand Lady (sorry, I have no idea who these characters map to in the computer game), fighting against Mr. Peek-A-Boo (you have to locate which of the five tokens hides the overlord). I had a couple of setbacks with both characters, and there was an Ogre-In-Training per the third-party solitaire rules that I didn't get around to whacking ahead of time, so I ended up fighting both the overlord and the ogre at the end. This killed me against the first overlord I found in my first solo game, but here it wasn't too bad. The Paladin is all about red and green dice, and I had very smartly chosen the 5th level talent that lowers the threat level (what you have to roll) for every red 8 you roll. Since the Overlord has a threat level of 7, getting this number down is H-U-G-E. It took three rounds of combat, and I took a lot of damage that first round when the ogre was adding attack value, but after that the Paladin had so many markers in the defense box that it would have taken a really bad roll. Spooky Hand Lady helped a lot in the first round (she was three XP out from level 5), but I'd blown a lot of Energy in the last turn getting her powers set up and she was pretty useless in the next two rounds (although that succubus is helpful in giving red dice and taking hits).

WoW strikes me as a puzzle game. There really isn't much differentiation between the various critters, although their effects do add up (and the different values between green/red/blue). What is fun is figuring out how to equip a character to best effect given the situation. What does get lost pretty solidly in the solo game is the event deck. The biggest issue is getting the "overlord sidekick" events, the others are really kind of non-starters unless you get a quest in one of the same areas. I get the strong sense that these make considerably more sense when you have six (or three solo) players, as there are fewer quests to go after on your side and you need more opportunities to get XP. I do understand that you refresh quests once one gets done, but it's difficult to plan to be in the right area if you don't know where it will show up, so having those extra "quests" is handy. I may try this with three characters next time, although to be honest I have no idea where the heck I'll put that third character sheet on my admittedly smallish dining table.

All in all, though, I feel like I've gotten more gaming value per dollar (and certainly per pound, this monster must weigh at least six) from this game than any I bought in 2005. Pizza Box Football takes less time to set up and play (WoW takes a good 20 minutes just for setup, another 15 for teardown), and you can take it on trips, but WoW is, so far, a blast.

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