Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Game Roundup

A bunch of new stuff just in, and a bunch more to come in the next month or so. 

On the Euro front (which gets thinner and thinner as time goes on), I picked up the new Ticket To Ride - Ya Shore Yoobetcha Edition, which is supposed to be good for two or three. I may get a chance to play that tonight with Matt if I'm the only person showing up at our game night, but one never knows. I also picked up the US release of Pirate's Cove, Kahuna (I'd had the very old and component-weak Arabana-Ikibiti, which Funagain put out back in the day), plus the first of the WWII Wings of War game, mostly just so I could see what changes they made and to keep my WWI edition (don't remember which one) company. I also got Agricola, which was not only much more expensive than just about any Euro I've bought at this point, but also had some incredibly flimsy cards. To sleeve these might be more $$ than I'm willing to put into the game at this point, as it's a few hundred cards. 

And that's it for Euros. This says something about how that market has gone beyond saturation for me. Yet I keep buying wargames...

Actually, I keep *preordering* wargames, and they show up right about the time I'm not expecting anything to show up. From MMP, I picked up the Operations Special #1, their house organ that came with the Iwo Jima area movement game, an HASL map and a few scenarios, counters for a Fallschirmjaeger (SCS) variant, and some errata counters. Of all of these, the Iwo Jima game is definitely the most interesting to me, as I've yet to get FSJ on the table, ASL continues to elude my shrinking brainpower, and the errata counters are about 80% cosmetic in nature rather than containing actual gameplay effects (such as correcting numeric values other than the unit number). Since the shipping was horrific, I picked up the Normandy 1944 ASL Action Pack #4 as well, because, ya know, I may actually play that game someday.

Then, a few days later, I got Storm Over Stalingrad, which I had completely forgotten I'd pre-ordered. Since MMP typically starts shipping to preorders about three months before they finish shipping, I'd foolishly assumed that I hadn't caught this. The game is another in their "Japanese Gaming Series" (the "International" moniker is far that only in the sense that the games are from another country than the US), and is a *very* simple area movement/impulse game. I got through the rules in about 10 minutes. Big differences are that there are no disruption levels, so spent units are at risk (although their defense values are typically larger than in, say, BK:N). Also, units may fire from an adjacent area, and terrain benefits are non-existent if you are fighting in the same area. Finally, defensive units do not roll dice in combat - the values are built into the defensive factors on the counters. Oh, and since most units have attack factors of 1 or 2, they are simply added together rather than using the usual method of adding one for each additional unit. Divisional integrity is achieved by simply only allowing units to activate together if they start in the same area and are in the same division. 

In other words, if you can streamline it, it's been done. The only complaint I have is that you are expected to bid for sides at the start of the game, and while they recommend a bid of 2 or 3, that seems arbitrary. A strong recommendation for a bid would be a much better choice rather than hedging, especially in an introductory game, and I don't think that "2 or 3" counts. If anything, make it two and one side wins, three and the other wins. Ambiguity in an entry level game is a bad idea. However, this is a nit at best. 

Also new to the table is the CDG Clash Of Monarchs, giving the Seven Years War (in Europe, although there are global events abstracted into the system) the treatment. It's up to a four player game, which is always a good thing (assuming it still works for two, which games like Sword of Rome and Successors do not). I have to admit that I was very excited about seeing this game, but I've had tremendous trouble getting into the rules - like Kutuzov, the initial section of the rules is very off-putting for some reason. Maybe I'm just getting old. The complexity is set at 7 of 9, which is a pretty high level for a CDG. Still, were there not *so* many games coming into my life right now, it would be something that would be set up and prepped to play. 

On the Everything Old Is New Again front, the third edition of one of my favorite multiplayer CDGs just got rereleased. Successors has a very different feel from other MP CDGs I own, with it's variable starting situation and multiple paths to victory. It's not a game you'll win by bashing your way to the top - in general, it's a game of holding back (the Usurper rules make you a prime target if you end a turn with the most VP) and maneuver, and a total blast to play with good opponents. Unfortunately, my experiences at WBC (the "real" one) have both spoiled me for the level of play I expect from others, while simultaneously demonstrating how petty those who play for stakes (even when it's just bragging rights for having won a tournament) can get. 

The new edition cleans up a lot of problems with the old ones. The first edition was a bastardization of a Richard Berg game (that, I suspect, eventually became The Conquerors: Alexander), which was "Hannibalized" when that title came out and was received so well. As a result, the game was a bit of a mixed bag and not developed as well as it should have been. Enter John Firer, who with co-designer Mark Simonitch, cleaned up some rules and added the mechanism that made the game great instead of merely interesting - use the Tyche cards to allow extra movement if you don't have anywhere to place control markers or can't use the event. A very simple change with far-reaching consequences, it made the game much more fluid and gave enough options to take it to the next level. Unfortunately, the rules were a mess, with special considerations for different types of units spread all over the book. The rules were only distributed over the internet, and at times were very difficult to find. My own copy was given to me directly by Mark S., and I used those rules extensively when I GMed the game at WBC. 

The latest edition makes several changes, mostly to card text (a welcome fix in most cases, as 2nd ed had card changes spread all over the rules where they were difficult to find). The production is first rate for the most part, although the stand mix for the generals left out sufficient black stands. As mentioned before, the board is mounted, which is sort of a mixed blessing and in most wargames would be a detriment (at least to the grognard crowd), but there's no arguing that it's *much* easier to parse than the original, although the art is more or less intact from that edition. Since I have yet to play, no word yet on whether gameplay is cleaner or better than earlier editions. I still think that Surprise cards are too powerful (if you get one and use it, you get another card, which could be another Surprise card. In tournament play, whoever got the most useful Surprise cards in a late round usually won). I've suggested a variant where you play a used (not discarded) Surprise card in front of you that is later used as a 2 Tyche card rather than just getting another card, so it's in effect a Bonus card that you can get the benefit of the event part prior to actually playing it. 

Finally, Conflict of Heroes came out, and I got through the first "firefight" a short time ago. I saw someone compare CoH to ASL with the Beyond Valor module (East Front Germans and Russians), which is ridiculous in any sense other than scale. There are no flamethrowers, no bazookas, no sense that there is any differentiation in experience level, no leaders, very little in the way of ordnance other than the handful made available in the game. Even the scope is extremely limited to '41-'42. I'm not trying to dis the game, I think there's some definite potential here, but there's no question that not only is this not ASL, but it shouldn't even be compared other than wrt era and scale. Combat Commander is a much better comparison, and frankly I think CC wins hands down in terms of accurate reflection of the realities of war. However, CoH is an excellent introductory wargame, and so long as  you aren't the kind of person who thinks you've got only one slot in your closet for a game of this scale and era, there's absolutely no reason you couldn't own both. I do. 

That's a lot of new games, but in the next two weeks I expect to get a couple more. The latest release from Vance von Borries' Eastern Front series is due out, Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov. I have all of the games in this series except Army Group Center, and kick myself regularly that I didn't just drop the $70 for it when it was in print. At that time, however, I figured I'd never get around to playing a monster game, and that one was - four or more maps, thousands of counters. Of course, I've eventually come to realize that monsters are slowly creeping into my collection and I'm more and more interested in playing them as I get older (and have space for them, or at least one). So now I've got several games with more than two maps to them, and am in the process of learning pretty much all of them. For me to take on OCS alone speaks volumes about how my tastes are changing. It's a damned good thing I have friends who are interested in playing, or I'd *never* get any on the table, and maybe that's got a lot to do with why they're now being added to my collection. 

The other new GMT game coming at the same time as B:KtR is Pursuit of Glory, the Paths of Glory game that focuses on the Near East. The designers made it a goal to have as close to the exact same ruleset as Paths as possible, just a different map, scale, and counterset. Scale is obvious -the Pursuit map is the same exact area as the Paths NE inset map, in other words something like 1/10th of the entire Paths map. I'm happy to see this topic getting more and more interest, even though it was for the most part a sideshow back in the day. Still, the things that happened there echo to this day, and were a war of that scope fought now, chances are that the Near East would be the main front rather than a sideshow. This is one that will get punched, clipped, set up, and soloed almost immediately, even if I have to take out Burning Blue to do it. 

Speaking of which, I *finally* got around to doing more than prepping for a solo run at Burning Blue. There are a few questions I have about how things have gone so far, but it's a very interesting situation. In a short convoy raid, the German top cover ME-109s took on a unit of Hurricanes, but weren't quick enough to prevent them from causing minor damage to the Stukas they were protecting, then after the intial combat was over, were disrupted to a point where they were forced to pancake, leaving the Stukas to the tender mercies of two flights of Spitfires and a squadron of Defiants (obsolete fighters with tail gunners who were quickly reassigned to less active theaters after the first day or so of fighting). Lots of rules lookups, as you'd expect, and lots of special cases - since the Hurricanes were in pursuit of the raid group, they perform combat (twice - once with the Stukas, once with the Messerschmidts), then the MEs and the Brits immediately fought again in the dogfight phase. That seems a bit strange to me, and I'll need to try to understand the sequence of play a bit better now that I've pushed some cardboard around. It's still a complex game, but in actual play things move along pretty quickly when you know what you can leave out and what you have to pay attention to.

As with most things at my increasingly advanced age, I'm finding I do a whole lot better if I have someone to work things through with. Burning Blue, however, seems to be a game too far for most of my cronies, which is a damned shame because I'm finding I like these air games that require planning ahead of time. 

Once I finish this attempt at TBB, I'll be setting up Storm Over Stalingrad for a quick play, then it will almost certainly be time to try out Pursuit of Glory, although I'm hoping to get in that Edge of the World scenario from Case Blue in the meantime - Jesse and I are playing Devil's Cauldron every Wednesday now, so getting that solitaired is less interesting than it was although I'm finding that having run through a situation ahead of time makes for a much more interesting game, at least for me. 

Oh, and I played Combat Commander with my friend Connor the other day too. Guess I should quit whining about not getting enough gaming in. ;-)

1 comment:

Jesse said...

I'll play burning blue with ya you old fart.