Sunday, April 06, 2008

Kicking It Lone Wolf Style

Damn, I'm hip.

One of the very few benefits to living out here at the South Pole is that I have a decent game room for the first time evah. Well, actually that's not quite true - during grad school I had an entire unfinished basement room, complete with ping pong table, that could have housed Case Blue. Assuming, of course, that I had the money and time to take on something like Case Blue back in those days. I did set up 7th Fleet at one point with all three maps in a campaign game, but that was mostly because I had insomnia and thought it would make me sleepy.

But I digress.

My current room has two 2'x4' tables which are set up against the window in a linear form, one holding my attempt at seeing if Ambush! is as cool as I remember it (I'm finding the paragraph booklet to be a bit of a pain, but I'm enjoying the replay of the very first scenario), and the other holding a test run of Lock 'n' Load: Band of Heroes. The latter is a scenario that is all but labelled for solitaire play, as the Germans don't move at all until you are next to them. It will be a good test of whether or not I like the system (so far it seems cool, but the rules already are showing signs of holes).

On the main table, I've set up the SCS classic Stalingrad Pocket, 2nd ed. I don't play a lot of hex and counter wargames, at least not with this many counters. The density is such around the city of Stalingrad that I went out and invested in electronics tweezers (big, tips are angled at the end). I've been practicing picking up counters with these, and it's clear I'll need to continue doing so. Most attempts to pick up counters, especially as I adjust the tweezers appropriately, are resulting in massive earthquakes in the region. I guess this is as good a game as any for the practice, but it's really easier for me just to pick up the counters at this point. Regardless, I like the general philosophy of the SCS games - relatively clean rules with a little chrome for the specific conflict, and good games. Perhaps setting up the historic campaign may have been biting off a little much, but I figure it will all get put away after a few turns, as there are many other games waiting to be tried out - Roads to Leningrad, Blitzkrieg '41 (old Command Magazine game), Blackbeard (coming out later this month).

That's a lot of games to have set up. Making things more interesting is my "games in progress" shelves, where my game of Downtown (halfway through the first "real" scenario, ongoing with Chris who has been in Europe the past couple of weeks) sits waiting for us to pick it up. I suspect that we will finish it mostly so that we can once again reinforce the rules in our heads and Chris can see how a Rolling Thunder operation works. There are two more slots open, assuming I can swap out Stalingrad Pocket (the only currently deployed game in a poster frame), so it's possible that Roads and Blitz will both get set up.

On the other hand, I'm hoping to start getting a little more gaming in regularly. Matt has offered to do so in late April, and I'm sure that Chris and I will continue with something if Downtown doesn't work out (Burning Blue is calling my name). Of course, I also have a bunch of boxes along the back wall of the game room that I've never gotten put away, mostly TSR roleplaying material from 2nd ed D&D. A couple of bookcases will take care of that, if I just get off my butt and get them. At that point, I'll probably pick up a couple more 2'x4' tables to put along that wall. Because The Great War In Europe isn't going to get played sitting in it's box, you know.

The strange thing about all of this solitaire wargaming is that I seem to enjoy setting up the game more than actually playing it. Stalingrad Pocket has been set up for a couple of weeks now, and I put off playing until I'd gotten back from Palm Desert. Once I got back, I found a historical setup that I used, but I still haven't made that initial push yet. I've been thinking about why that is exactly, and it comes down to two things:

1) I'm a social gamer. I enjoy gaming as much for the company as for the game itself. That's very true with Euros, but still holds when wargames are involved. Weightlifting (back when I did it) was similar - if I was going to go work out, I was about a million times more likely to do so if I had a partner. No partner, I fell off the wagon pretty quickly. Setting a date with someone to play a game not only forces you to play it, but also forces you to *learn* it.

2) I really like playing the game by the rules. Part of that is because I enjoy wargames not only as insights into historical events, but even more so because I am fascinated how people can take a real-life event and reduce it to a large piece of paper and some cardboard chits. Software was the same way for me - the act of specing a piece of code was the fun part of the job for me, figuring out how to map one set of information, conditions, etc into code. Object oriented code was just coming into vogue when I left the industry to get a music degree, and I suspect that had I stayed (and coded) I would have been quite good at it. Crazy as a loon, divorced, but good at coding.

What that means for solitaire wargaming, however, is that I'm a bit nervous about playing the game without knowing the rules. While my history clearly indicates that having a partner doesn't keep me from running into that situation, it certainly improves the odds that I'll have the game down pretty well by the time I finish playing. Because it's a whole lot easier to catch mistakes when two of you are paying attention instead of one. Call it rules accuracy paralysis, but I'm just a little nervous about getting two or three hours into a solitaire game and discovering that I really screwed something up. With a game like Stalingrad Pocket, that's quite a bit of work to get the game back to it's original state.

Like I say, hopefully that will change a bit. However, there will always be games that will tend to be solitaired, if for no other reason than my usual opponents aren't fond of a given system (Roads to Leningrad appears to fit this mold - both Chuck and Mike disliked it, claiming it had a very convoluted combat system). I'd set up one of it's conceptual ancestors, Invasion: Sicily and found not only the components to be boring but also difficult to read (especially the rules and printed order of play). I'm hoping that the larger counters and clearer rules (and activation markers) will make Roads a bit more solitaire friendly.

Plus, of course Ambush! is intended as a solo game. That doesn't work all of the time - I tried Patton's Best yet again (the fourth time I've taken a stab at this flawed gem), only to have the first battle my tank was in end when a panzerfaust found me during a random event and the rules didn't cover exactly what I was supposed to do vis a vis what part of the tank the charge had hit. As a gumption trap, it was enough for me to put the whole thing back in the box. Again, the teeny tiny type outlining the sequence of play (on the board) didn't help. I clearly need magnifying glasses spread around the house.

That said, I find that a game like A Victory Lost is a blast played solitaire. The rules are straightforward enough that I rarely make mistakes, the activation chit pull makes the game unpredictable but still very close to what it's like in a face-to-face game, and the literary ebb and flow make up to some extent for a real opponent. Given a choice, however, I'd take an opponent any day of the week, assuming he or she didn't make little rocket launching noises every time they used a Katyushka to fire an arty barrage. :-/

Next week is pretty busy with transitioning my nephew Alex into my role as bookkeeper for my family's business, and the week after that will be prep and performance of the Missa solemnis, so I don't anticipate getting to more than one of these set up games before the 20th. After that, with no more choir rehearsal and no work at all, it may be time for me to start looking for other retired opponents within a 20 minute drive or finally getting around to learning the rules to every wargame I own. The World In Flames part of that process should be interesting, especially if I decide to go the kitchen sink route. Kidding.

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