It's been a little while since I reported on my gaming activities. Partly that's been because I got a new computer (distributed computing for my music library was *not* a technology ready for prime time), joined a band, and have been very busy getting my family's books in order in anticipation of tax season (and getting out those great 1099/W2 forms). I also had perhaps the worst flare-up of gout yet, one that lasted well over a week (and is still hanging on by it's toenails). I'm now working under the assumption that what may or may not have been gout at one time has morphed into rheumatoid arthritis, which I'm having screened in the coming weeks. I love January.
In the midst of all of this activity, I've also done a little gaming, and thought I'd talk a bit about it. Late December and early January were pretty barren of gaming - Chuck and I got in an afternoon, playing one of the new CC:Med scenarios where the Finns lay waste to a drunk Russian column (really) that went about as expected for Chuck's wasted Ruskies, plus a couple of games of Race for the Galaxy which we split. I'm a big fan of this latter title - it has all of the things I like about CCGs with none of the things I hate, and it works quite well with two players (and plays *fast*). I was a bit disappointed we weren't going to play Barbarossa to Berlin as we'd considered, but given that I live about as far from Chuck as it's possible to do and still be in the Portland Metro area, we figured the delay between sessions would be so long as to make our enjoyment minimal.
Just before the holidays began in earnest, Chris and I tried out the introductory scenario of Downtown, a very interesting but complex game on the US bombing campaign over Hanoi during the Vietnam War. After a lot of looking up rules, we felt like we had a pretty good handle on the basics of movement, detection, bombing, AAA, dogfighting, and planning. Fortunately there is little for either side to do in this game - it's mostly just an exercise to show off the system with a minimum of rules, and in that sense it was very successful. I think I was the NVA. We got just enough of each element to create a foundation for learning the rest of the rules.
Which we did just about a week ago, playing the suggested second scenario, Beginnings. In this one, I took the role of the USN, flying two bombing raids deep into NVA territory, while Chris got to plan where to place his AAA and run the NVA aircraft. We waited maybe a *little* too long between games, and had to look up quite a few rules again (and got a couple wrong), but in general we felt that this is a great system that will play quickly once we have the rules internalized. My F-4Bs did quite a number on Chris' MiG-17s, but the telling factor was that we all ran out of ammo after one dogfight with each flight, and that's pretty much it for the fighters. On the plus side, Chris opted not to go after my A-6's, which had the potential of creating "MiG Panic," scaring off the flights and sending them home. One of the two bombing runs was particularly harsh on my A-6's, and Chris ended up shooting one down. In the end, I came through with a marginal victory, having managed to inflict Total Damage to both targets. We got a little confused about the damage level as the A-6's can be equipped with Shrike missiles (which do one level lower damage, being designed to attack SAM sites), which we mistakenly took as the main bomb armament. With the loss of one plane, I managed to miss completing the mission successfully by about a point. Definitely a game that would work with multiple players (each can be responsible for a set of flights, or for ground defense vs air defense), and one I'm looking forward to learning more about (the next suggested scenario has a photo recon flight trying to take pictures and avoid SAMs).
I was shut down when I tried to get to Mike's holiday session by the SO, and that was pretty much it until the session at Chris' on the 8th, where we played Cuba. I like this game quite a bit, don't get me wrong, but it seems like more of the same to me. However, we all had different strategies and in the end it was really pretty close (I misunderstood a critical function of a building, and I'm pretty sure it cost me the game). This was my second playing, and while I'd happily play again I just don't think it will find it's way into my personal collection. Which is strange - I like the playing of the various personalities, a la Citadels, and I like the theme well enough, having been to Havana in the past few years (note for Bush administration data miners - legal trip), but there's just something missing. Perhaps it's lingering Euro ennui, I dunno. Still, very good company and I was very happy to get out and play games after a good two week break.
Mike came over the following Saturday and we played a couple of games. My brain has failed me at this point, but it seems like we played a moderately satisfying game of Combat Commander. I think it involved the British, and I think Mike won. Of course, the reason it all escapes me was our Epic (and I mean that literally) game of C&C: Ancients. That's right, we pulled out both boards from expansions 2 and 3, set up the Raphia Epic scenario involving a very long line of Selucids vs Ptolemeics (and lots of hephalumps), and went at it. One of the things I like about the Epic rules is that you play up to three cards during your turn, but only draw two (and then up to your hand limit). That means that often you are saving to get the right cards for a big push by playing the army cards first, although your hand limit makes it worthwhile to play the field commander cards sooner if they aren't just right. Mike took pictures and may have actually gotten them up on his site if you want the full play by play, but the story went something like this:
I push on my right flank, getting some success with putting the Elephants into the opposite line. On the left, a similar push goes a bit wrong, and Mike makes some headway there. In the center, Mike has a *big* push midway into the game, threatening that entire section of the board with all of his heavy infantry decimating my own heavy troops. Amazingly, my own troops managed to fight back on my next turn, not only wiping out several of his units but also killing his leader in the center with a lucky roll. As a result, I was in position to use my archers to pick off his weakened units at that point and sneak in for the win.
A couple of things that I learned in this game - Cavalry is *great* for cutting off retreat routes and increasing casualties, but you better be ready to pull them back a bit. Just another reason to try to keep your lines intact, not just to keep your troops bold. You are never out of it - your opponent usually will take some lumps in the process of giving you some, so be ready to counterstrike when it makes sense to. Elephants are best served by sending them into your opponent's lines where they stand the best chance of doing "good" damage when they get nervous about all of those pointy sticks. Better him than you!
I loved the scope of the Epic game, and also the increased flexibility of the use of cards, one of the weak spots in the system. What I don't like is that now all of my units are spread across four boxes, in something like 10 different Plano boxes for sorting. Clearly I need a way to hold and transport the entire set, in much the same way that ASLers do. With six different armies, that's a lot of Plano and a pretty big case to hold them all, plus the boards and rule/scenario books. Then again, maybe I'll just stack everything on a shelf, like i do now with my ASL stuff (gathering dust).
I hosted my first regular session at the new house in Wilsonville. Not surprisingly, it was not well attended, although two people dropped out at the last minute who live in the general area, so that was a bit disappointing. What was *not* disappointing were the games we played: Mordred, Aquaduct, and Ra. All three of these games played brilliantly with three players, and if I had to add a fourth it would have been Big City for the quadfecta.
Mordred is an early Wallace design that he recently re-released to benefit TSUK, an unfortunate acronym in line with COCC (Central Oregon Comm College). In this case, it's an organization that benefits athletic competition among organ transplant recipients, of which one of Wallace's family members is one. Jesse got me a copy for Christmas, and of course this was the infamous Valley Games reprint which they managed to get into the hands of everyone but those who had preordered and then claimed that they had *meant* to do that. Or something. I'm vitally unimpressed with their efforts so far, although Mordred is quite good. In a nutshell, you can either try to look out for yourself at the risk of Mordred winning, or play on the side of the angels but have less to work with. Interestingly, if you start helping Mordred out, you are likely to reduce your own chances of winning, but the same is true of taking the side of virtue! Mike and I were angling for both types of victory, but Ben was making a pretty good run on taking out Anglesly, Mordred's home castle. I won by a nose when Ben's desperation endgame income rolls sent Mordred over the edge. An absolute winner in my book, weakened only by the fact that it plays with 3-4.
Aquaduct got played once back when I was hosting in Multnomah Village, and while it seemed interesting it wasn't *that* interesting. I was working from a translation of the German rules, which say that you can only build *one* direction out of a spring, but the US rules say you can built *two* ways out. That changes the game dramatically, and I actually think I prefer the way we played. It was a very tense game, with the player-controlled end-of-game condition adding quite a bit to the game. In the end, Mike squeaked by me for the win. The simple decision as to whether to try to build up your villas or lay canals makes the game extremely transparent while forcing you to balance between long-term planning and immediate needs. But the place where the game really shines (as with all three games we played) is the ability to play so as to mitigate the luck factors. In both Aquaduct and Mordor, you roll dice (unusual in a Euro), but in both cases you have some choice as to how you deal with that luck. It is the ability to mitigate and manage your luck that makes these games more than a dicefest.
Last up was Ra, perhaps my favorite three-player game ever. The entire game is managing your bidding power as an extremely transparent resource, but the push-your-luck element takes it into the realm of genius for me. Every bid has to be carefully considered, as you are constantly planning for the next round (or even for the bidding tile bonus points at game end), so even if there isn't a single tile that is worth your time on the board, it may be worth it to call Ra just to bid 1 to get that 13 sitting in the middle of the board. Our game was a bit on the wacky side, making it all the more memorable. We had more than half of the Flood tiles come out early, and in fact I think we had very few that came out the rest of the game, making my extensive Nile tiles worthless at game end. Most of the God tiles came out early as well, and they were extremely valuable in the 2nd and 3rd rounds when Flood tiles were in high demand. There was consistent competition for the Monument tiles as well, both to keep others from getting the endgame bonuses, but also to build up your own set early. I had six different types by the end of the first round, and that drove much of my opponent's behavior for the rest of the game. In the end, I beat Mike by fewer points than the bonus for Most Bidding Points, which we shared. One point falling Mike's way, and the game would have been his. On the other hand, I had a couple of bidding tiles left and the tile draw all to myself, only to have a Ra tile come out immediately. Man, I love that game. For God's sake, don't play with five, though. Then the bidding tiles become too far and few between, and you don't have as many options for forcing bids by calling Ra. In other words, your ability to mitigate luck goes way down and the game becomes too tactical for it's own good.
If you've stuck with me this far, you might as well finish up with our abortive attempt at Die Macher on Saturday. We expected a four hour game, but when no one had read the rules I had to spend an hour covering the various systems and how they interact. This game needs a cheat sheet so that a new player can see how Media buys, Party Meetings, Shadow Cabinets, Party Membership, the various positions, and the issue pool all interact. As it was, we spent quite a lot of time looking up what Media buys actually bought you. It's not obvious, although I have to say I did better with the too-similar symbology of the Valley Games edition. BTW, I at one time mailed them asking if they would publish a replacement set of position cards to make it easier to distinguish them across the board. They never deigned to respond. By 3:30pm, we were into our second turn of seven, and since I had to leave around 5:15, it was clear we wouldn't finish. We did play out the second turn to reinforce what we'd learned, but I won't try this one again unless we have better play aids and everyone has at least scanned the ruleset. I finished up the afternoon playing Aquaduct with Rita and Mimi, losing to Mimi (I think) when she managed to get the last canal build just before I was going to use it to cement my own win (the turn before I was still in second, so was hoping to get one last shot). My placement rolls at the very end of the game didn't net me enough points to pull past her. I'll note that we used the US rules, so spring placement wasn't as critical as in the earlier game. I'd suggest that with three players, you only use one feeder from the spring, with four you can use two. Worth a try, anyway.
That's it for gaming for now. This is what we all get when I don't blog on gaming for more than a month, even when I have a serious drought for two weeks!