Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WBC West, Part 1

Lookit me, I'm blogging the WBC West!

I'm only impressed with myself because I am notoriously bad at blogging from a gaming event. Today, though, I am motivated.

I should mention that our wargaming retreat, which we call WBC West because we figured it was much cheaper and just as much fun to go out to Sunriver in a three hour drive instead of flying across the country and getting the Funky Wargamer Convention Smell in our clothes and hair. We're growing like crazy, today we were at a 50% increase in attendees compared to the same point last year! OK, one more person. But it's a start - the Pacific Northwest is not known for it's wargaming population like the mid-Atlantic Coast is.

Dave, Chuck, and myself arrived at Sunriver Tuesday afternoon around 5pm, got our stuff unloaded, and Chuck and I jumped right into Shifting Sands, the new MMP CDG on the North African campaign that came out in the last couple of weeks. I've had this game pre-ordered since, I sh*t you not, June of 2003. To say it was "anticipated" is a bit of an understatement.

North Africa and Rommel must have at least 100 published wargames devoted to the topic, perhaps more than any other besides the Russian campaign of WWII (although the Battle of the Bulge and the Napoleonic Wars are close seconds). What differentiates this game is the inclusion of the entire campaign, from the first Italian incursions into Egypt in 1940 through the Torch landings and the evacuation of the Germans via Tunis in 1943. In addition, it also includes the Levant, the Horn of Africa, and even Chad. Really.

As far as similarities to other CDGs, the closest in terms of rules is Barbarossa to Berlin (BtB). Armor can convert from movement to attack, units can (and very frequently are) in Limited Supply, which forces one OPS per unit in a space when attacking. There are quite a few fiddley little rules for the various side-theaters, and unfortunately these are not collected anywhere useful (although every combat card is listed on the player aid). Another big difference is that the player's hand get bigger and bigger as the game goes on, so playing lots of CC's becomes more and more doable - at game end, you have 10 cards per hand, and play six of them as OPS/RP/RD/Events. That gives you quite a bit of flexibility in what you play, and minimizes the possibility of bad hands, which I applaud. It also gives a definite feeling of how the campaign ramped up over time.

Chuck took the Brits and I took the Itailians to start. Italy starts with a very strong position in East Africa, and I was able to drive the Brits out of Khartoum in the first turn, triggering an Egyptian revolt. My entire strategy in the game was to force Chuck to fight lots of little annoyance battles in the sideshows rather than go after the Italian divisions in Libya, which are extremely brittle (thing Austro-Hungarians in Paths of Glory, but lamer). As such, there was a small amount of activity in Libya, but the Brits got no further than Tobruk and spent until late 1942 in a Sitzkrieg with the Italians and a couple of panzer divisions. Chuck discovered through an Ultra play that I had the 88mm Flak Guns card, which allows the defender to fire first, and he didn't want to lose too many units. While the Allies are stronger than the Italians, and the Germans are better, but don't have many units, it is important for the Allies to push hard in this theater, and I was able to drain enough OPS to other areas (such as Iraq and Vichy Syria) that by the time he got around to making the push, time was becoming a factor.

When the Torch forces landed (there's an entire setup of about 20 units when this card gets played, to simulate the opening moves from each side), I was pretty sure I was dead. There were so many big strong US units and all over the place that I figured Chuck would run over me in minutes. When he played Patton to get the -1 US drm removed, I figured the next card was Vulcan and I could count on him chewing up my units in no time flat. But Vulcan never came, I spent the cards to take Malta without much effort (I held Herkules and Air Support, just in case, for two turns while I waited for Ramke's paratroopers to show up). At the end of 1942, when Chuck still hadn't seen Vulcan and we had to cycle the discards into the deck, I knew I had an excellent shot. In fact, we were thinking that I had locked up the win until we recounted and discovered that if he kicked me out of Africa entirely he would win by a nose.

And then, in the next to last turn, I played U-Boats on Chuck, limiting him to 6 cards in the final turn, making it tougher to get Vulcan, and that was it.

We had a lot of questions, and it was clear that Malta with it's two VP and potential loss of Axis RPs is critical to the game, as it should be. All in all, it is a very promising game, although it did take us six hours to finish to completion (I'm hoping for maybe four, myself). This will be a title I play at least a few more times, although the disappointment of Twilight Struggle and it's balance issues is still fresh in my mind. It was, however, nice to see that the general historical flow (other than no back and forth in Libya/Egypt) was there. Nice work, Mr. Rinella.

We interrupted Sands to play World of Warcraft: the Boardgame in the evening - Dave had been playing Blackbeard solo and doing other things, as he needed more relaxation than anything else. We did the cooperative version published on the 'Geek, although this was the first time I'd done it with three players instead of solo. We started around 8:30pm, jumped right in with me explaining as we went, and finished with an easy win over Nefarian by 11:30pm. I didn't like the game as much, especially when there was a battle or two inbetween anything of consequence happening with me, but I still think it's a great solo game. I'm really looking forward to the expansion, although I suspect this will affect the solo version to some extent. Dave and Chuck stayed up playing M:tG, but I decided to hit the hay.

We picked Sands up on Wednesday morning, and finished by noon. Chuck wanted to try out his Down in Flames campaign that utilized some of the Italian planes from GMT's Fighter Pack, and things went well until the last two missions. I had a 15 point lead, enough for a marginal win at that point, but with two missions left anything could happen. It did. I drew a handful of In My Sights cards, including the dread "Fuel Tank Explodes", and this with a Pilot with an Ace counter. That was it for Chuck's main fighter and pilot, and my bombers devastated his airfield, doubling my points while Chuck got zip. At this point, I was likely going to win a decisive victory, but fortune can flip back on you in this game, and Chuck had a bombing raid for the last mission.

Of course, I had the same card, and used it on one of his bombers immediately, and chewed up the escorts as well. Chuck ended up scoring nothing in that mission as well, while I added another 30 points. This was an unusual situation, to be sure - getting the killer card twice in a row at the perfect moment is easily a 1 in 1000 chance, but I'll take the win.

It was mid afternoon by now, and since we were trying to play three-player lighter fare in the evening to avoid burnout and involve Dave a bit more in the gaming, so Chuck and I finished up the wargaming for the day with a rousing game of my favorite wargame of all time, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. These games can often hinge on incredible streaks of luck, but in this case I played a very clean game as the Romans. Chuck made a strategic mistake in sending Hannibal down into the heel of Italy with no control of provinces, and a combo of Nero and Marcellus defeated him and removed him from the game. Chuck made some plays for Sardinia, the Tarentum region, and even a push by Hasdrubal to get into northern Italy, but my final hand had three campaign cards and I was able to repulse every move he made. When both Mago and Hasdrubal were effectively eliminated from the game, he conceded. This one I'll take full credit for.

Four games, four wins (although one was cooperative). Tonight we play one of Chuck's games, and tomorrow we take on Royal Tank Corps again, which Chuck soundly spanked me in last year. It will be nice to see him crush me like a grape for a second time!

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