Monday, August 18, 2008

WBC West Report #1 - Sunday Evening through Monday Afternoon

Perhaps the most anticipated gaming event of the year for certain members of our group is our own wargaming nano-con, whimsically titled WBC West after World Boardgaming Championships, which while perhaps over-ambitiously named is slightly bigger than ours. By a factor of a few hundred. 

But we have fun anyway, and so it was that Chuck, Dave, Mike, and myself went out to Sunriver on Sunday afternoon to start off the week. We like to play "lighter" games (which most Euro gamers would term as "heavy") in the evenings, and Sunday was no exception. Because dinner took a while, we didn't get started on our first evening game, Britannia, until nearly 8pm, and finished sometime around 1am. It was Dave's first game, and the first time I played Yellow (in the FFG edition, purple in the AH edition), and so while I did well with the Romans and was looking forward to being competitive, my dice went stone cold around turn 10 and I went for a couple of scoring rounds with nearly 0 points gained. In fact, only the Norwegians really contributed anything, but having Mike's Danes going after me required me to either put most of my units in with my leader or hope he had other fish to fry. Nope, I was the fish. 

Interestingly, Dave (the only person who hadn't played before), who had the benefit of all of us voting for him for Bretwalda early since his Saxons had a very rough start, managed to win the game in the end because his Norsemen kept scoring tons of points up north after the Caledonians and Scots were eventually wiped out. Chuck came in third even though his Normans were able to lock up the kingship at the end of the game for an extra 10 points. 

I like this game well enough, but it's brutal to be Yellow. You have six turns to do interesting things, then literally eight turns to do nothing at all (or very little), ending with a brief run with the Norwegians who come on strong on turn 13. That, to my mind, is the basic flaw of these games, and it's always good to come to the table with something to keep you occupied (I clipped the counters from the Solomon's Campaign game from the latest World At War magazine). 

After a night filled with thunder and lightning, bringing with it blessed cool air (today has been extremely comfortable in the house, last year it was a little toasty the first couple of days), Chuck and Dave played first Flying Colors (Napoleonic Era Age of Sail combat), then War Galley (take it back 2000 years or so, give 'em oars, then yell "Ramming speed!!"). Dave first beat Chuck with his British ships over Chuck's larger Spanish ones, then won again as the Spartans over Chuck's Athenians. 

Meanwhile, I had my OCS virginity sullied by Mike, who loves that system like I've never seen him get into a game before. I tried mightily to learn it solitaire, and I just don't think it's something within my capacity to do. Fortunately, while we did look up a few rules here and there, things went pretty smoothly, at least in the rules foraging parts. About three hours in I was not sure that this was going to be a game for me, but I trusted that I'd either come around or not by the end of the game. And come around I did, at least enough to want to give it another try some time in the future. 

Our game was the initial stages of the campaign in North Africa in late 1942 in Tunisia. This is a smallish scenario, having less than 100 units per side and a relatively short time-span of 15 turns. That may seem like a lot if you know OCS, but given that fully 2/3rds of the turns have better than a 50% chance of neither side doing much of anything (because of rain turning the entire country to mud) it's more like four turns of a bigger scenario. The difficulty is in managing your logistics to allow you to do all of the things you want to. However, since the Axis (for example) can only bring over 2 supply points a turn (three if it's nice weather, and that means no reinforcements from Sicily), and since it takes pretty much a supply point to move the mech units you want to move and another to fight with them, you literally have to choose your battles. I think I initiated something like three or four battles the entire game, while Mike (as the Allies) had tons of supply and was able to attack at will, further draining my own supply since I had to use it to defend over and over. 

What saved me in this game were two or three things. First, Mike had trouble getting replacement units (which you can save) early on - I think he got his first one about a third of the way into the game. This made things tricky for him as he kept losing units in attacks even though he was otherwise winning them and making some progress. His victory condition was to take three of the five key points in NE Tunisia, up in the corner near Tunis and Bizarte. He ended up taking one, and getting pretty close to two more, and even threatened Tunis. 

Secondly, Mike got some mud weather early and a few no flying turns. That hurt me as well because of my transport from Sicily, but it helped him get DG results on the units he wanted to attack. He also got his transport line up to where it needed to be and got his units into the fight quickly. Worse, he was able to win most of the initiative rolls early, allowing him to get double turns to exploit breakthroughs. Were it not for some good luck for me with his attacks somewhat blunted by me seeming to get surprise a good amount of the time, I would have been toast quickly. 

In the end, Mike made a very strong attack that punched a hole in my line, opening the way to Tunis, but instead of shoring up the hole and punching through the next turn, he decided to wheel south to put a couple of my units out of supply. I got lucky by getting the initiative on the next turn, then brought elements of the 10th Panzer down in an overrun that reestablished supply, cut off his exploiting units, and did some other damage along the way. In the end, I was able to use my tac air to disorganize his spearheads and even though the weather was better than it had any right to be at the end of December, he just couldn't punch through to any more objectives and I got my first OCS win. 

Despite the Deansian Statistical Distortion Field, I was starting to see ahead a turn or two and what you needed to do to get supply to your units and how best to use it. Given that I was constantly running out of supply when I most needed it, usually when Mike would make attacks that forced me to burn my remaining supply, preventing me from refitting my aircraft to make his airstrikes more potent, I felt I did pretty well. This is not a game where you just move units around the board. Like real commanders, you must first stockpile materiel in ways so that your opponent doesn't know where you plan to strike, then run an offensive in such a way that you protect your rear areas while driving on your objectives. This is not a game for everyone - it requires tremendous awareness and concentration like perhaps no other game I've played, and it's fairly draining (one reason why it was game 1 for us this week) - but if you can weather a few hours of feeling like you have nothing near what you need to prosecute the war you'd like to have, there's a really amazing system here. 

Here's the best part - the cleanest ruleset I've ever seen in almost any wargame, and the *series* rules run for 40 some pages. There's an index. Rules are, almost without exception, where you'd expect them to be. I hear ASL has a similar ruleset, although the almost constant errata (even in the updated edition from a few years back) makes keeping things up to date a bit of a challenge. With OCS, it may be that the 4.0 ruleset is going to be it. It falls, along with Wilderness War and Combat Commander, into a realm that most designers can only dream of. 

This is not to say that I'm now an OCS freak, far from it. This is not a great system for the solitaire gamer. There is simply too much going on in a turn, even in a small scenario, for one person to be able to parse and digest without a little down time between turns. Yes, downtime is a *good* thing in OCS. And the campaign games are almost certainly far from something I'd ever be able to finish, at least in any game that has more than two mapsheets. Even with Tunisia, perhaps the most accessible of the series, I'd want to play a campaign where one player took over the Torch units while the other Allied player took over the 8th Army pursuing Rommel from Alamein, and find ways to divide up the Axis units as well. Of course, the full game would require two players to more or less start for a couple of sessions, as the 8th army doesn't really show until 25 or 30 turns in. Mike and I finished our game at the very start of 1943, and there's at least a month until the 8th Army shows up. 

The OOP games in this series (Tunisia, Case Blue, and Burma are the only ones available) typically go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. I kick myself for not grabbing DAK2 when they fire-saled it last December, and I'll preorder the reprint of Guderian's Blitzkrieg.

Tonight we play War of the Ring, then tomorrow (Tuesday) Dave and I will play Wilderness War while Chuck and Mike take on the first half of their marathon two-day Glory 3 game. that night we'll play some Martin Wallace games, so while my brain load will lessen in the next day or so, it's still a long, fun slog with one day down and many to go. 

It still goes by *so* fast.

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