Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Recent Gaming Wrapup

Quite a bit of gaming in the last couple of days, here's a quick wrapup:

1) Pursuit of Glory - I wrote a first impression of this more focused follow-on to the classic Paths of Glory card-driven wargame that took the system to new heights. Of particular concern was the new game's rulebook, clocking in at a whopping 48 pages. As comparison, the WWI monster Twilight in the East: 1914 has fewer pages of rules. After a "discussion" (as much as you can have trading posts on the 'Geek) with the designer, my impression is that the rules were vetted through ConSimWorld, and we all know how well *anything* by committee goes. By comparison, Paths rules were 16 pages. The designer tells me that Paths also had a 27-page FAQ, which is not surprising given the unexpected relationships between various events could be. 

That said, I went through the sample game, read the "quickie" new and modified rules (a two-page cardstock play aid), read through the rules (they've mentioned which are new, although often there are one or two changes in an entire paragraph, or that mention specific areas of the map, but it's still not a quick read), and started a new game that I've gotten into turn 3 so far. I can only do about one turn at a time, as parsing the board for both sides, trying to understand the various implications of events, etc, tends to make my head hurt the first couple of times out. 

So - how does it look? So far, very promising. The game is not, as may or may not have been suggested, a game you can learn on your own from reading the two page quickstart guide. There is a huge amount of chrome, enough to make Paths look like it was stripped down to nothing. There are tons of special units, each with special rules, a good dozen different nationalities, many with special rules, limits on where certain countries can place certain types of units, all sorts of craziness with the Turks' replacement factors, ways to build up small units into larger ones, and we haven't even started with the Russian Revolution (which is, for the vast majority of games, a foregone conclusion). If you were hoping for a carbon copy of Paths that you could open the box and start playing in 20 minutes, you will be sorely disappointed unless you know someone familiar with the game who will act as your opponent.

In my game, the Caucasus is not exactly stalemated, but there hasn't been a lot of movement (although there has been a lot of buildup). Persia remains neutral, mostly because the Russians felt that their numeric inferiority on that front when they had the card was going to be a liability. The Jihad level is at 5 or 6, and let me tell you that the quickest way to lose this game as the Allies is to ignore this as every time a new tribe counter shows up and often on one of the Allies' VP spaces. Interestingly, on turn 3 both the Bulgaria and Romania cards showed up in player's hands, but Romania won't really enter the war until Bulgaria does as you need to have an Allied large counter in the Balkans and that doesn't happen unless you start an invasion. Which the Allies did, but in Gallipolli. Also interestingly is that the Turks are trying to hold the Allies to their Beachhead because they hold the Verdun card which will either give them VP or force the Brits to lose units (not a good choice for them since they don't have that many on-board now), but they have to play it before the Allies get onto dry land. 

Also interesting is that by far the majority of Allied cards in their Limited War deck bring reinforcements onto the map. You can see that this is a game that the Central Powers want to get the upper hand quickly, then hold it, as their manpower issues can only hold them back. 

A game with this much story to it deserves a few good playings before giving it a thumbs up, but right now the literary aspects are very strong. If nothing else, this game will give you a very good sense of the war in this theater. If you've never played Paths or any other relatively complex CDG, or found them to be more than you could handle, this game will be no different.

And talk about a busy map. My god, there's stuff everywhere. It's a bit difficult to parse at first, but everything eventually makes sense. 

2) Conflict of Heroes - Taught this to Matt R on Monday night, we had an interesting game. I've been in contact with the designer due to me getting the incorrectly assembled rules (and you don't just open the staples and put it back together, this game has a huge square rulebook and it's *glued) together), and I have to say that any concerns I had about this game being distributed by Phalanx Games in the US was unfounded. Uwe Eickert is extremely responsive, friendly, and helpful. 

We played the first scenario, and I was again the Russians. It was looking good and I'd held off the Russians from the control marker through turn 3, but Matt nailed two of my units (one with a FOOT KILLED combat chit, the other with a 12 dieroll when he only needed an 8, enough to kill it outright). As such, I just didn't have the operational capacity to hold him off, and he ended up taking the space at the end of turn 4. I was able to bring in my SMG unit to challenge him at the start of the next turn, and even got initiative on turn 5, but had a 2 result in close combat. At that point, he killed that unit and I was left with the slowest MG squad on the planet that was too far away. 

While I've only played the first scenario (three times now), I can say that I am very high on this game. There are no leaders, which seems very strange at this level, but they're abstracted into the command point system, which is brilliant. If you found Combat Commander far too chaotic for yourself, you wish wargames came with mounted boards and huge counters, and like low complexity but lots of chrome built in that doesn't get in the way of the game, this may be the one for you. Highly recommended. 

3) Descent - The Road To Legend - JD, Laurent, and Alex took on the role of the good guys, first going after the Overlord's lieutenant in Dawnsmoor (who had built up two siege markers), and driving him off. I need stronger critters now that the heroes have gotten some good loot, it's very difficult for me to take on someone with five armor and get very far. Worse, they have a breath weapon that makes it nearly impossible for me to set up in the smaller dungeons without risking serious wipeage in the first round - I lost almost an entire dungeon level of critters who were only able to take one or two shots total. 

On the plus side, I have enough XP at this point to have three lieutenants which will make it very hard to go after them all as they start to raze cities. Also, I should have enough XP after this dungeon (assuming I manage to actually kill one or two of the party) to upgrade one of my critter categories to silver, which will make a very big difference in how much damage I can do. That's excellent news, as the good guys are already well-geared and this should even the scales a bit. I will probably pick the Beasts since that's the cheapest option. It will be important as my lieutenants are very tough, but require some backup from their minions, and right now most of the minions are pretty useless.

What's been very interesting about this game is that it is not getting old even after several months of play (although only once a month). What's keeping things interesting is that the strategic situation changes as the game moves on, and now that I have three lieutenants on the board the party will need to make very tough choices if I spread them around. Since I can always have the lieutenant run if they are placed near an exit, so long as the party doesn't get an absurd number of hits in a single round and kill them I can generally get away. At least I could with the first one, as he was immune to the Grapple ability one of the party has that essentially freezes an adjacent unit in place. This alone has been the biggest problem for the Overlord, enough that I almost think in this game it's too powerful and would have to consider watering it down, especially as in these smaller dungeons you can just forget spawning more monsters. My biggest asset is trying to get the card that lets me draw more cards more frequently - after my units were wiped in the first level I have zero chance of going through my deck twice this time out, which means a lot less conquest points for me. 

Anyway, it's been a fun ride, and while I'm not sure that it will hold up over 15-17 dungeons (we're on number three!), it definitely brings life to this title, one that I had trouble finding time to play more than once or twice a year. 

I plan to continue with the Pursuit of Glory game tomorrow. I'm also very interested in Bitter End, a low-complexity game on the German relief effort of Budapest in 1945. Two mapper, so not something I can set up and tuck away, but definitely a light ruleset and some interesting situations. The map is a bit of a horror, though. 


Laurent said...

I'm not a big fan of your ability to flee without penalty.
We have to lost time going after the Lieutenant and if they can flee without giving any advantage, this is going to be a never ending good story for us until they are too many of them.

Dug said...

What, you don't want some freakin' tension in the game? ;-)

Settle down. There aren't any more lieutenants for me to add for at least the next seven or eight dungeons. That said, you will have to scramble a bit to prevent me from taking down cities, but that makes for excellent literary elements to the game and will keep it fresh.

Seeing as the party is handing the Overlord's hat to him regularly now, it's hard for us forces of darkness to feel terribly sorry for the Good Guys. ;-) Besides, at some point you just gear up and go after the Avatar yourself, but you'll want to be ready.