Thursday, August 23, 2007

WBC West Report, Day 4

Holy crap, it's day 4 already!

Today was the day for Mike and I to get in some gaming, and we planned to play Europe Engulfed. Mike thought it would be a good idea to play the 7 turn tournament scenario, and in hindsight that was a damned good idea. EE is all about the special action tokens and their intelligent and timely use. Mike had a great start when he used one to bump up all of his units to full strength in one area, then push to Stalingrad. Unfortunately, he chose *not* to finish off the units he'd *almost* wiped out with another action, and he lost a valuable turn of campaigning. The Russians were able to outproduce him easily, and the historical result at Stalingrad was again reproduced. The scenario was also easy to learn and play as it left out all of the political, naval, and strategic warfare rules. This is one we'll have to get on the table for real sometime soon.

Next up for us was a continuation of the Gettysburg game from the previous night. Chuck was playing Tex in Nine Navies War, so he didn't mind if we started over. Chuck and I played this two years ago, and it seemed to be an interesting game that required very specific tactics to gain success. Mike had seen those tactics, I hadn't for two years, so the outcome was never in doubt. What surprised me was that I lost half of my fighting force less than halfway into the first day thanks to spectacular rolling by Mike combined with a double move that left me in a position that could only end with me wiped off of the board before more reinforcements could arrive for the Union. I think this is a great game that's flawed by the capricious initiative roll to see who goes first. On the first day, the Union is basically performing a holding action, so if they get a double turn they really have nothing to do but reinvest in their line, while the Confederacy can run up on one turn, then fire and melee into the line on the second, but only if they get the double move. Like Royal Tank Corps, this is a great game almost ruined by a couple of lazy design decisions.

After that clusterf*ck, I asked if we could play Combat Commander, which Mike generously agreed to do. This game did not go well for Mike from the start - we played Scenario 10, Commando School, where there is a German force trying to penetrate a Soviet Commando-held town. The latest C3i has a great article on setting up the two sides and the rationale involved, so we agreed to pick one and try it out. The first thing that happened was I got a leader/squad up to Mike's big MG in his backfield pretty fast, then immediately broke the weapon team manning it. Meanwhile, a pioneer squad with a flamethrower took out half of his frontline troops on that side. We had some back and forth, and for a while I was pretty sure I was going to run out of time, but in the end a lucky melee result followed by a squad/leader exiting the board put me in positive VP, and Mike's poor opinion of the game was reinforced instead. This was the first game where I was actively looking for order/action combos to accomplish what I wanted to do, and there was much discarding, so in that sense I was quite successful. I'll have to try the same concept when I'm the defender next. It's too bad tha Mike gets so frustrated by this game, because I always enjoy it even when I lose.

Finally, while Chuck and Tex started Reds!, Mike and I played one of the new C3i Command and Colors: Ancients scenarios, this one featuring Mago Barca and a lot of Gallic warriors facing a rather out-of-sorts Publius Scipio in Spain. Like most of these games, wackiness ensued and I won when I got exactly the roll I needed with my light infantry throwing pointy sticks at a horse. I'd had similar luck knocking off the elephants before they really got a chance to start snorting and stampeding. I like these games, and I hold that C&C:A is the best of the bunch for many reasons, but for me they will always be filler rather than something I'll pull out first thing.

After dinner, we tried out Age of Empires III, a game recommended by one of the people in Rip City Gamers as similar to Caylus and Pillars of the Earth but better. How wrong could he have been. The writing was on the wall when at a recent gaming session I asked if he had played the game recently, and he replied he didn't really like the game that much. After I'd bought it on his recommendation. Frankly, the game turned out to be even more disappointing than the usual Glenn Drover dreck - if there was ever a game company that should have gone under, it was Eagle - mostly because it was *so* *close* to being a good game. The problem? The completely random discovery mechanic that is a central element of the game. Sure, the explorers who when into the unknown had no way of knowing what they'd face, and in some games this makes for a great mechanism that I really enjoy. In this game, it was simply annoying as hell. Send out five explorers, get a tile that only needed two. Send out five, get a card that required six. Broken, broken, broken. And you have to explore before you can start to populate the new world, so you have no choice but to use discovery. This one goes on the pile, and I am done taking recommendations from pretty much anyone when it comes to Euro-style games. Yuck.

By now it was a bit on the late side, and no one really had the stomach to play anything else, so off to bed it was. Kind of a disappointing day, all things considered, but as always the company more than made up for the busts. Tomorrow looks to be two games of A Victory Lost side by side and see what it was that got this game an award over Combat Commander.

Only two full days left...


Greg said...

Hey Doug,

I'm surprised the discovery mechanic in AoE3 bothers you so much. How many times have you played and with how many players? I've played twice with six players.

It's possible six players reduces the necessity of discovery early by each player. The Caribbean is open during the first turn so you can colonize instead if you want to, even trying to vie for the trading tile there. In the early game I think there are plenty of other options as well.

In the middle/end game it seems like your best strategy for discovery is with specialists, especially those you don't have to place. Using five/six "colonists" can be wasteful but at least you're guaranteed the rewards and by the end game you may have colonists to burn.

I like AoE3 because it seems like there are a number of possible strategies to take to victory and potential for clever tactical play. We'll see if I still feel that way after a few more plays.


P.S. Ever played A Game Of Thrones?

Dug said...

We played AoE3 with four players. I had one "blown" discovery in the midgame (four colonists, needed five, after two discoveries that used five and only needed two), and two blown in the endgame when I went for two discovery cards (not tiles) with five colonists each, blowing both (the cards were for six). While I probably should have gone 6/4 instead, my point is that if I draw one of the three really good discovery cards I'm going to get a bunch of points late that are completely based on luck.

Were there a less harsh way to deal with discoveries, that might make things easier. But to lose all five colonists (assuming I'm going strong) when the payoff is so low is harsh, especially when colonists can be used for other things. And yes, I had a capital tile that gave me a free soldier in that box from the first round of the game.

I really wanted to like this game, and it came very highly recommended by a member of my group who later told me that he'd never said he really liked the game (his quote was "a very, very good game"). I just think that, regardless of the way you get points throughout, there is too much chance that the final decision will be based on who draws what card at the end.

I had a similar problem with Ted Raicer's The First World War, mutilated beyond recognition by Phalanx Games. In that game, you roll the die to see if the war ends, making it difficult to play with a long-term strategy. Apparently that mechanism was added in by Phalanx for reasons best known to them.

This is also why I've never really taken a cotton to The Napoleonic Wars or Wellington, either. Although Welly is such a wacky game I consider it more ride than game, and it does tell a good story. I didn't feel that AoE3 felt terribly literary, so why play for 90 minutes then just roll a die?

I owned aGoT a few years ago, it went on the sale pile after a couple of plays, mostly because it felt fairly static for some of the factions (Stark, for one).

I've gotten very fussy about games over the past few years, which I attribute to burnout. It takes a very interesting game to grab my attention these days, and most of the games I find interesting are historical simulations. Even if I'll never play the damned thing (such as the new Red Star Rising game that came in the post last week), at least I have a good time trimming the counters and reading the rules. Euros just don't have that same buzz for me anymore.

A quick note: the opinions I express on this blog are strictly my own, and I welcome discussion and other points of view. I never edit comments unless I feel they are in some way offensive. Thanks for commenting, Greg, it is appreciated, especially when you correct something I've gotten wrong (as with Starkweather's involvement with IGS).

Greg said...

I'll have to think about the discovery mechanic more. What kind of strategy did you try in your game? Balanced, more discovery based, colony based or economics based?

In my two plays, so far, I've concentrated on discoveries/economics almost completely ignoring the colonies to avoid contention for points. I've ended up losing in part because I've ended up wasting colonists on failed bids for merchant ships, specialists where they don't help and on capital buildings I can't afford. I'm going to play it again this weekend and also possibly at Rainy Day Games on Thursday.

I love aGoT, my first "wargame" experience, but I have to agree with you on Stark. They're so isolated in the base game. I think it's improved with Clash of Kings, but I haven't played it enough to be sure. The real improvment comes in the four player board in Storm of Swords. There's much more interplay and I think the game is improved by having a real power/politics component instead of entirely revolving around battles. It also plays a little shorter in my experience. Check out the rules on Fantasy Flight if you're interested. I have yet to play the full game with the Storm of Swords expansion parts, so I don't know how that effects the game yet.

Generally I'm content to lurk because I enjoy reading about different games that you and your group of friends try, I also read Chris Brooks' and Mike Deans' blogs. Every now and then something will come up that piques my interest enough to comment.

Glad to be of assistance with that award. Though you obviously feel CC:E is better game than AVL, what about as a simulation of the particular battles each portray? I've read enough about CC:E to know I want to play/buy it first, especially considering how little I get to play wargames.