Saturday, February 16, 2008

Weekend Warriors

Chuck came over today to play Barbarossa to Berlin with me. At least, that was his intent. In fact, the game played him. This was Chuck's first time as the Germans, and history was not kind to him. In fact, we made it through about six turns before it became clear that things were not going to a point where he'd be able to get to 11 VP in time for Totaller Krieg, the only way the Germans have to really keep the game going if they don't get an auto victory in the early going.

The invasion of Russia started out well enough, but I was able to inflict step losses here and there on his armies fairly regularly. Despite his Panzer Refit, he was getting too many casualties, not bringing up his infantry quickly enough, and as such the Germans never really got past Kiev in any force. He had three VP spaces after the Winter of '41, which lost him two VP, but the crusher was leaving a hole big enough for three Sov Fronts to move through and cut off two foot and one panzer army in Leningrad (which fell fairly quickly). At that point, Chuck was down to eight VP, about to lose Tunis and Tripoli, and the Casablanca card coming right behind in my deck for another four points gone. Chuck felt he made a mistake in playing Hitler Declares War in Winter of '41, as it allowed me to play both US Build Up and Torch in the spring thaw of the next turn, but I think it would have been a bigger mistake to have waited a turn and had to deal with the delta of six Russian VP taken in the winter of '42 (plus the loss of the HDW point).

German play in the early going requires focus, skill in bringing up your slower units, and decent card draws. Our decks were a little weird (I didn't get Industrial Evac until Spring of '42, which hurts the Russian offensive options considerably, and got all of the reinforcement cards for the Blitzkrieg deck in one hand except card 24), but I think the biggest problem was just unfamiliarity with getting the Germans up into position and using the Panzers to dash around and exploit whatever holes the Russian leaves open for you. I know the Russians exploited the German hole up north quite badly - even with 10 points of LCUs, the best he could hope for was to knock a Sov front down to an army, then watch it flip with the No Retreat option in the forest, and no other units in the area to help out.

With a couple of hours left, we decided to give Combat Commander:Med a shot. Mike and Chuck played a game where the Italians were whupped rather nicely by the Americans, with Mike complaining that these scenarios were not terribly balanced, and I wanted to see how well I could do with the Allied Minor deck (which only allows a single discard per turn, and then only if you don't do anything else).

The French deck may move slowly, but those Timer events sure came up fast. In fact, at one point I would shuffle the deck repeatedly, cut repeatedly, only to draw the next card as a Timer event. Twice. And another time with the card coming up within five or six cards. Chuck couldn't compete with that, and I ended up holding my own quite well. We played the scenario with the Moroccan troops defending a sunken road during the invasion of France in 1940, and Chuck did graciously allow me to reset my units after I misunderstood how gullies worked. I suspect that had an effect on the game, but this one gives the Moroccans so many VP to start (31!) that it requires the Germans to wipe the board of the Moroccans and take all three objective hexes without losing a unit, plus whatever the Moroccans get from Timer events.

Kind of a bummer for Chuck, although watching those Timer events come out one after the other was quite a sight to behold. Kind of a bummer for me too, although I sure enjoyed finding out just how frustrating the French can be when you have three Rout cards and a Command Confusion in your hand and realize that it's going to take you four turns just to get a hand of decent cards. I must have discarded at least four cards only to draw the exact same card, same action, same order. If Chuck wasn't also discarding (although he could discard his whole hand at a time), I would have been in serious trouble. I did manage to get Recover cards most of the time when I needed them, though, although I never had a single Ambush to play on Chuck in any of the three Melees we had, while he always seemed to have at least one. No way to save those up for the French, I'm afraid.

I still love this game, but that's two Med scenarios that have been blowouts in a row, and that's just me. I'm glad they expanded the game, but I may try a random scenario next to see if it works any better than the drubbing that Chuck has taken in our two games. I still haven't played any of the paratrooper battle pack scenarios yet.

Hey, at least the game played within 90 minutes. With all of those Timer events coming out, that's not any sort of surprise.

Thanks to Chuck for coming all this way only to have two less than tense games (good tense, not bad tense).


Dismal Numbers said...

I have played Paths of Glory so I am somewhat familiar with at least 1 of the card driven games. My concern is that most of the people I would play with would not know all of the nuances of playing their cards right (so to speak). Is Europe Engulfed and Asia Engulfed better choices? My perception is 1 of the players better the most VP as they can as in history because if they don't, they'll have no hope later. True?

Dug said...

An experienced PoG player will whup a novice almost every time - it's the kind of game where understanding what is important when will make a tremendous difference, and card play is one of those factors. Although I have played Paths several times, I am clearly not in their league.

While I have not yet played Asia Engulfed, my general sense is that it strips out all of the complex rules that have to govern multiple political entities, as all pre-Barbarossa ETO games must include, whether it's World in Flames, Totaller Krieg, or even Third Reich (or it's progeny). There are definitely fewer units in AE over EE.

PTO games in general are saddled with historical hindsight that the Japanese had no hope of knocking out the US so long as the US had the political will to fight the war. Yamamoto stated as much when the raid on Pearl Harbor was ordered, saying that he had six months to run wild and then they'd have to hope they could negotiate peace, something that the Japanese mindset at that time would not allow.

Which is to say that most PTO games require the Japanese to do just that - accumulate a ton of points early and hope they can hold out until the buzzer dings. Empire of the Sun does perhaps the best job of this, although it is saddled with the usual overly verbose and complex Mark Herman ruleset (We the People is the only CDG of his that has an elegant and clean ruleset).

I am a big fan of the idea of Special Actions in EE/AA (and now FAB Bulge), I think they give the player tremendous versatility as to how to conduct their campaigns. EE is, unfortunately, just a bit too big and too chrome-laden for me, at least in the non-tournament scenarios, and I'm hoping that AE will be easier to grok (the map is half the size).

Of all of the CDGs, Hannibal is probably the most accessible. While there are cards you need to be aware of (especially the ones that strip provinces of control markers), but because it's a single deck that both players share the learning curve of understanding where the minefields are is a little lower than it might otherwise be. PoG and BtB are full of said minefields - the cards need to be played in a particular way in order to be successful.

Hope that answers your questions.