Sunday, May 28, 2006

Weekend Wargaming, 5/27/06

Cruelly trapped at home with my dogs while my wife is out having three martini lunches in San Francisco, Chuck was kind enough to come save me from an afternoon of trying to sink Japanese shipping in a solitaire session of Silent war. So what did we play?

First up was Twilight Struggle, which Chuck has compared to dating for personality. The game went to turn 9, and I as the US was actually doing pretty well considering. Chuck bid 2 for the USSR (a low bid, I have learned, although I don't believe the bid had an effect on when the game ended). However, getting the two scoring cards for areas I was going to lose in killed me, again through no real fault of my own.

I made one or two errors, the first being not playing Defectors for the headline phase in the mid game, although the effect of this was minor. The bigger mistake was playing Allende instead of another card in my hand that let Chuck into South America (although, frankly, all he needed was a successful coup). When I got the South America and Asia scoring cards in that last hand, I knew I was dead as Chuck was going to pull down tons of points, enough to win handily.

Chuck, for his part, misplayed when he got the chance to order my hand (the one full of his events) and left the one that allowed me to discard a big card early in the mix. His card got discarded, of course - I had Suez Crisis, Muslim Revolution, and The Reformer, none of which I was anxious to play, and got away with just Suez getting done (when Chuck already controlled France and Israel).

What totally killed me was having Red Scare after Red Scare played on me, at least three of the nine turns. That's about 20 OPS points lost, and the space race suffered as well when I wasn't drawing sufficiently large enough cards. How I made it into turn 7 only a handful of points down, I don't know, but none of it mattered when the scoring cards started coming out.

I'm afraid that this game lives or dies on the deal. While I'm the first to admit that Hannibal has the same problem in close games (what you draw on turn 9 will determine the winner, I've found, but again only in close games), TS seems to have that problem throughout the game. Combined with the double punishment of scoring cards that can hurt you, I am ready to pronounce the game broken as a wargame, even with bidding. What a disappointment after such an exciting first game played with the incorrect rules!

Still, it was fun up to that point.

After lunch, we tried out Decision Game's ACW card-driven title "Battle Cry of Freedom". Despite the usual Decision "rules" and enough text on your hand of 13 cards to require 5 minutes of reading every turn in the early going, this seemed to be a fun little title. Yes, the luck of the draw is much larger here, although I think it's better than in, say, Blue vs Gray, where you are dependent upon drawing both useful combat units and generals. Cards have multiple uses, which is nice and makes hand management important. While the Union generally dictates pace, the Confederacy has the chance to mix it up a bit with certain types of cards.

Why would I like BCoF and not TS if they're both luck heavy? The answer is that BCoF allows you to get into trouble in a specific battle, but you are not likely to lose the entire game because of one bad hand. Plus, every card in BCoF is usable for at least a Frontal Assault at +1, so you get something for your trouble even if the cards aren't playable.

What I did notice (and would like to see if we got this part wrong, we seemed to get a lot wrong), was that bad generals seemed to be clogging up my hand much of the time. Given the South's leadership advantage, this seemed to me to be a problem with not much of a solution - you can only discard one general per turn, and when half of your hand is useless cards (they can't be used for the Frontal Assault, they are just generals), you are in trouble unless your opponent has the same problem.

Also, there was no way to differentiate generals that had been pulled from a theatre from those just drawn (the latter *must* be placed in specific theatres initially), which is why I'm wondering if perhaps that particular element was played incorrectly. Not that it mattered, we played through about a third of the game and I had done well at holding Chuck off up until my generals became a problem. Hard to say who would have won, although Chuck's infrastructure was doing much better than mine, creating a snowball effect that would almost certainly have doomed the South.

Regardless, we had fun playing both games, and it was a nice way to spend a rainy spring Saturday in Oregon. Thanks, Chuck!

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