Friday, June 09, 2006

Central Tuesday Session, 6/6/06

Nothing like a Day of the Devil for gaming.

FYI, many scholars consider 666 to be a misprint of 616, much like the mistransmission that resulted in Moses crossing the Red Sea (it was the Reed Sea - and for those who argue that the Bible wasn't written in English, the transcription error was essentially the same in Latin). Many believe it is a numerological representation of a name, understandable as Hebrew letters are also their number system.

Anyway, I'm typing this, so apparently the Second Coming is still pencilled in sometime in 2009.

Matt wasn't feeling well, so I took over the hosting duties. This worked well since I'll be out of town in two weeks when I'd normally be hosting. Chuck, Wes, and Carey joined me in playing a couple of great games.

First up was San Juan with Chuck and Carey, as Wes was coming in a bit late. We normally play this game very quickly, but it was only the second playing for Carey. I'm learning that this game is best when it's played at a blistering pace - but then isn't everything? Chuck creamed us, scoring almost as many points as Carey and I combined. I went with a Chapel early, but I had trouble generating enough cards in my hand to get me where I needed to be, and was actively avoiding the Grange Hall, erm, Guild Hall strategy, which is usually my go-to tactic, but I wanted to try something different. Sadly, the strategy worked very well for Chuck.

Wes showed up, and I took the opportunity to pull out AH's year-old-title Nexus Ops. Think Risk 2210 with a variable hex board, fluorescent rubbery figures, and wacky secret missions and action cards. Plus, thankfully, a short playing time (60-90 minutes, our game was about 75 including teaching) and a very streamlined sequence of play. One of the things I like about the game is that you can be beat down by the other players and still win on VP. Most other games of this type require you to "take the board" or at least be well on your way, but this game rewards tactical play as well as strategic.

Chuck, of course, hated it.

Carey and I came out strong, and while I had a lot of territory and income, I wasn't getting secret missions that were giving me decent points until later in the game. In fact, at one point I was pretty sure I could win by taking my Giant Flying Bug piece to the monolith in the middle and winning a battle, but sadly Wes had taken his Rock Striders off of the space right before my turn, depriving me of something like 7 VP in my final turn. Carey had done quite well with his VP, and by leaving a Leaping Lava Lizard alone in a space he was able to take it and win the game.

I have to admit, while I own lots of games like this, I really don't like playing them. I sold my copies of A&A:Original/Pacific/Europe (I kept D-Day, it's quite a good 2-player game), along with a bunch of the early Eagle Games titles, but this one is a winner in my book. Short play time is a big plus, as is the story arc (you start small, expand and explore, and then fight). The "monolith" is a particularly crappy component, but otherwise the pieces are nicely done. The backstory is a bit wacky (armies fighting for mining rights on some planet with very large bugs), but what really matters is the game, and I for one had a great time.

At this point Chuck left in disgust :-) and so Carey and Wes and I played a quick game of Zircus Flohcati, a great little card game about setting up a flea circus. You want to collect the highest card you can in each of the ten suits, each suit a different act (The Great Flea-dini, for example), but also want to get "triples" of the lower scoring cards in order to get 10 point bonuses. During your turn, you can turn over cards until you decide to stop and pick one of the face up cards, or you turn over a card whose suit is already exposed and get nothing. The cards are still there from the previous person's turn, so you may or may not be setting them up when you turn over cards. Playing time is about 20 minutes, and aside from six "action" cards that trigger specific events, the game is language-independent. Since you don't have to worry about the action cards until they get turned over and it's all public anyway, this isn't much of a problem.

I won by getting all of the suits in hand, with 39 points in six of the suits (the highest card in each suit is a 7, so three sevens and three sixes isn't too bad), plus a triple and the ten point bonus for going out first.

We are overloaded with great filler games - Money, Katzenjammer Blues, Geschenkt (No Thanks), even San Juan (we play very fast). This one needs to come out more often, it really is a fast, fun game that's extremely easy to teach and it has a great "chicken" element that I love.

Thanks to everyone who attended!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Silent War - Updates

I haven't really updated my Silent War campaigns lately, so here's a brief update on the two campaigns I've started since the initial report.

First up was the 1942 Solomons game. This 5 month mini-mini only uses three OpAreas and around 15 subs total, and focuses on the period surrounding the invasion of Guadalcanal and the other islands in the Solomons chain in the South Pacific. A very quick game, I finished in a couple of evenings. Quite interesting is the fact that you start out with a bunch of old S-boats that get replaced with some of the early Gato subs. What a difference! A good second game after doing the Dutch fleet, as you can start sinking ships in earnest. Plus, you get bonuses for sinking capital ships of the IJN (heavy cruisers and up). I finished this one a couple of weeks early with a decisive victory, so I must be doing something right.

Next up was the year-long (52 turn) 1942 campaign that starts in July, just after the changeover to War Period 2. Unlike my earlier campaigns, this one uses the entire map and all of the US subs (in service, of course). There are typically something like 23-25 subs on patrol at any time, plus another 20 or so in dock or waiting to go out to sea. I've been playing for more than a week, including a weekend when my wife was out of town, so I've put in something like 12 hours (about an hour per week). At this rate, I'll finish by the end of the summer!

The big problem with a campaign this large and this long is, of course, that I desperately need a place to keep the game set up, and I don't have that kind of space in my house. I'm anxiously awaiting a cyberboard module (and a stable version of Boot Camp so I can run it on my MacBook Pro) so having the board set up won't be an issue. I'm seriously considering writing a Java app to handle the search/combat portion to speed things up, I figure I could finish a week in 15 minutes if I didn't constantly have to draw counters out of cups, not to mention reseeding the cups every month so that I no longer "know" that one of the meatballs in the C cup is a Diligent Escort, which can ruin your day really fast.

Anyway, the point of this particular campaign is to get to War Status 3 as quickly as possible. Getting there in 12/42 is very good, although you need to have sunk something like 225 ships (I'm at 150 in early October) and about 1,150 tons (I'm around 600). On the plus side, I'm pretty sure to pass the November 620 ton mark that allows me to continue. I have a long way to go, although I'm sure I'll have to gear myself up to set the game up again once I get in July and have the time to play again (vacations and family visits will prevent any play between now and then).

I'm not sure I'll set up another campaign game with the physical game, it simply takes too long. However, for the 3-6 month campaigns that only use a portion of the board, the game is quite enjoyable, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the subject matter and enjoys solitaire wargames where the story is as important as whether or not you have meaningful decisions (you do, but combat is random enough to drive 18xx fans nuts).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Hannibal Rides Again

My very favorite wargame is the AH chestnut, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. Sadly, I haven't played this title since I had a spate of five games in 36 hours at the WBC tournament in 2004. I played Carthage in four of the five games, and won the first three, later losing to the guy who won and missing wood by a die roll or two in my final game. Chuck was one of my opponents in that tournament, and I'm sure he was looking for a chance to get me back. Well, here it was.

Hannibal is the reference for all of the shorter (less than six hours) two-player card-based wargames. Considering that it was the second title in the series after Mark Herman's We the People, it was an amazingly tight design, especially after the 2nd edition rewrite. I myself have never played 1st edition more than a couple of times, as the 2nd ed rules are so much easier to follow (especially for consular armies). After a few stabs at Twilight Struggle, I really have to wonder why I bother with that flawed design when H:RvC is around.

Me, I prefer playing the Carthaginians, and I like taking the heffalumps over the Alps. Getting Gallic allies (CUs are hard to come by in this game!) once I take attrition made this a mandatory strategy, once I'd locked up Idubeda in Hispania. Of course, I roll a six for attrition with a fully loaded army, knocking me down to seven with one elephant. Not a great start, but I did get back up to 9 with the reinforcements. Note to self: leave a CU with Mago in Saragentum when you leave. At least I remembered to leave Mago this time.

Hannibal was getting off to a good start in Italy, grabbing a couple of spaces in Samnium by the end of turn 2, when Chuck decided to be aggressive and took an army into Western Numidia. Unfortunately, I'd already blown 5 CUs when they sunk with Mago, and a later run with Mago and some CUs to cut off the Roman bridgehead also sank. By now, Chuck had two armies in Africa, and Hanno was getting punched around quite a bit. By turn 5 I'd lost both Numidia's and was losing Carthagenia. At one point, Longus was sieging Carthage while Hannibal was sieging Rome with the siege engine!

When it was clear that my rolling wasn't going to be helping me out, I decided I had to send Hasdrubal with most of the Spanish army to Carthage to save it from Longus. He landed successfully at Utica, then managed to smack Longus around significantly. This was a crucial battle, as there were now three Roman armies in Europe!

Having saved Carthage for now, I sent Hannibal against Africanus, who sadly never made it to Africa. After three battles, I managed to kill the bugger, and could focus on retaking Africa. By the end of turn 8, I was poised to kick the Romans out of Africa completely, and while I'd lost two of the three provinces I had controlled in Italy, Rome was down to around 10 CUs on the board and things were looking good. My hand helped some - I didn't get any really useful cards such as Diplomacy or the good Hannibal cards, but I did have a card that wiped out Celtiberia (which I'd already lost three times during the game), and my hand had 7 3 cards and two 1's.

I'd already taken Capua via a card play, so I knew that all I needed was 9 provinces to win. The trick would be to keep Numidia from being wiped out. The problem was that Spain was all but undefended. In the first couple of card plays I managed to destroy the last of the Romans in Africa, controlled both Numidias (with CUs on three spaces in each province to make them revolt-proof), but by then Scipio the Elder had gone to Spain and I had to hope that Chuck had a lot of 1 cards.

After sending Hasdrubal and Mago to Spain to pick up the units that had been collecting in New Carthage and confront Scipio, I still had my hands full. I'd been so busy taking back space that I hadn't been able to build my holdings in Spain back up, especially after Celtiberia had revolted the previous turn. Chuck spent a lot of cards gaining those areas, but he needed an army to keep them, and I had an opening. Hasdrubal made an attempt on Publius to knock him out of Baetica (he already had Idubeda and Celtiberia), but I lost the battle and was barely able to get Mago up to Idubeda in order to steal one extra province back (and Hannibal, now alone in Italy, to take back Samnium). Had I left Hasdrubal and one CU in Baetica, I could have forced Publius to fight one more battle with Mago to take back Idubeda, but I hadn't been thinking that far ahead.

As it was, I'd already lost one card (amazingly, one of my 1 cards) to an intercepted message, so Chuck used his last three cards to good use to take Baetica and win with 9 provinces. Certainly one of the closest games I've played (the closest came down to a 50% die roll at WBC), and certainly a moral victory for the Carthaginians who were within two siege points of giving up Carthage itself.

Thanks, Chuck, for playing what has to be one of the top 10 wargames of all time, certainly the most elegant of the CDGs. This one will come out at WBC West (my own wargaming micro-con in July) for sure. I can only hope that MMP's Shifting Sands title, in preorder for years, will be half the game this one is.