Saturday, April 12, 2008

Frederick the Not So Great

Chuck made the long trip down to save me from going out in the nice weather, and we got a little gaming in. Not a great success rate for me today, but we had a very good time.

First up was Prussia's Defiant Stand, a new block game from Worthington. I suspect there's a good game here. You'd never know it from the rules, full of holes and ambiguous wording. The basic problem - few concepts are defined formally, leaving you to "guess" what they mean. The FAQ covered none of the questions we had. Some notable problems - double defense is never defined, although there is an oblique reference made to what that actually means, although not using the term "double defense". One of the Frictions of War events says "no fortification steps" which could mean that you don't lose fort steps during a siege, or you can't add steps to your forts, or both. Start Areas for Russia and France could be considered "cities" or they could not. These are just three problems in a ruleset that is full of this sort of thing.

After three hours of play, we finally realized that our leaders could move two spaces and take infantry along with them without the forced march rolls, but no mention was made of leaders who only have movement one. At this point I decided to wait until there is a comprehensive FAQ or updated ruleset rather than try to parse one more ambiguity. Sadly, I think there's an excellent game here, but I'm unlikely to buy anything from this developer again. I had too much trouble with Phalanx's poor rules (again, a distinct lack of bothering to define simple game terms in most of their titles), and it's all development issues. Don't publish a wargame if you can't get a developer who can write (or at the *very* least, edit) rules.

For those interested in what the game is about, it's the 7 Years War in Europe, with Russia, Austria, and France trying to beat down Frederick's nascent Prussian state. The game uses blocks in a similar manner to Hammer of the Scots, although the cards you play also have events that you can use to gain an advantage in battle or play instead of activating leaders and units. Combat is very interesting, although none of this "flank" crap () - you go by the unit type, and cavalry has some choices to make that do make it feel like you want to leverage combined arms. Leaders are irreplaceable, infantry (on the other hand) is expendable like in no other game I've seen. All in all, this is a game I should love, but found fault with almost every informational element in the game. Worthington blew this one in a way we rarely see outside of a handful of companies, by trying to make a war game for Euro fans and their Euro sensibilities (the board is right out of a Euro). I'll consider it again when the rules have been shaken out a bit. A lot.

While that was a bit of a disappointment, we decided to try out one of the Paratrooper scenarios from the first Battle Pack for Combat Commander. Mike has complained long and loud that there *were* British paratroopers out there, some of which that performed just as well as the US/German ones (arguably, the Germans didn't perform all that well when they were used), but the set was published prior to CC:Med (where the Brits were introduced), so you can imagine the howls that would have ensued had you been required to buy that set to enjoy all of the scenarios. Can't please everyone.

Anyway, we played an interesting scenario set during the Bulge, with landed gliders in the No-Man's-Land between the German and US positions at Bastogne. I had trouble getting movement cards, and foolishly set up my main .50 cal MG position in a foxhole on a road, lowering my cover value and becoming a target for Chuck's big gun (and mortar). In the end, he swooped out and captured nearly all of the landed gliders on the map within a few card plays, while I was stuck in my lines. I might complain about my luck in this game (wasn't getting the cards I needed when I needed them, poor attack rolls, all of which is true to some extent), but when it comes down to it I simply placed my units poorly at the start and never made up for it the rest of the game. I will say I never had a single Advance card in hand the entire game, although there was really only one point when that would have been useful. Not sure if it's the scenario or the freakiness of luck, but this was not one of the more enjoyable CC games I've had. There really wasn't even a good story behind it, to be honest, which is the strength of the game.

Last up was Cold War: CIA vs KGB. This is a fun little game that I'd consider taking on a plane sometime (it would just fit on the tray tables), although I might consider smaller agent cards (not sure how the decision to make them huge was made), and perhaps some other token for the various "who won the Objective" tokens. Otherwise, it's a great game if a little long, but just by a bit. Chuck won our game in the end when I forgot which Agent I'd played that turn - I thought I'd done my Master Spy, but had in fact played my Director, so that I allowed Chuck to win an objective that gave him the game instead of fighting for it. This one is a winner, although I have so many two-player games now I'm really not sure how to even start to fit them all in.

With such a long drive for Chuck (he basically has to drive from one end of the metropolitan area to the other, a trip of at least 60 minutes one way without traffic), we're considering getting some gaming in via VASSAL, and now it's just up to us to figure out what game and whether or not there is a module for it. I'm pushing for Vance von Borries' Kasserine design, mostly because I've been learning that general system, and because I think it will be an excellent springboard for the East Front series, with which it shares a good amount of design philosophy. EFS will be difficult to play on VASSAL because of the scope (I just can't parse a big map on a computer screen), but there are many one-map scenarios and at some point we might just pull out the stops and try a big one at Sunriver one day.

Thanks again to Chuck for coming out, it's always nice to have someone my age out here.

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