Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'll Be Busy For Christmas

In addition to my new favorite game, "Will My Grandchild Be Born During A Severe Weather Event?" I've been getting a lot of new stuff in the mail lately. Here are my *very* early and initial thoughts on them...

1) Fields of Fire - This is a solitaire game, a rarity these days outside of play on a computer. You play a Battalion commander focusing on a single company of soldiers who have a very specific mission (there are 21 in the game) from three different eras - 1944 Normandy, Korea, and the Vietnam lowlands. That's quite a trick to pull off, as the core of the game is the command net and getting the forces you need to where you want them, as once they get there they'll start shooting like crazy. You actually have to issue orders to them to stop, or to shoot at something more dangerous. It's a little like Burning Blue, where you set up a plan as the Luftwaffe, then send the boys off to do it. Of course, you have a little more control as you can issue orders to reflect the changing nature of the battle as it evolves, but there's no question that planning is the kernel of this game that all else revolves around. Unfortunately, a really badly organized and nearly exampleless ruleset makes learning the game much more difficult than it needs to be, and since it's a solitaire game, you're learning it in a vacuum. See my previous post for how I'm trying to both learn and teach others the system, which I think is about as well conceived as I've seen. As Lee Brincombe-Wood put it, this game will have a FAQ as long as your arm and completely rewritten rules when the next expansion comes out. 

2) Unhappy King Charles - Every so often, GMT puts out a game that was clearly something they weren't thrilled about publishing for some reason, but felt obligated to do so for legal, ethical, or PR reasons. Manifest Destiny felt like that, with it's playtest-version clip art still in place and art that spanned the gamut from copies of classic oil paintings to cartoony cel drawings. Very jarring. However, MD is a great game, one of my favorite multiplayer strategy games. UKC is like that, I think. The map is nice, but the counters look like they were done twenty years ago - teeny art scans in the middle of counters with a solid color background. I like the counters in We the People better, which is an excellent comparison as this game is based strongly on that seminal CDG title. Feedback so far has been good, and I certainly don't have any *other* games about the English Civil War (the one during the 30 Years War), at least at the strategic level. Nice to have another relatively light CDG that will play in an evening, and I have no doubt that my good friend Mike will want to play, he having been one of those socially maladjusted folks who dresses up in funny costumes and stands in a field until someone tells him he's dead.

3) Combat Commander: Pacific - The third installment of this groundbreaking series. The first volume, Europe, was incredible, and the scenarios all felt exciting. I've had more trouble getting into the Mediterranean scenarios, in part because they seem to be less balanced, although that might just be because the minor power decks have such poor discard values and card mixes. Even the Paratrooper pack (or as Mike says, seeing as there are no Brits in it (which there weren't, officially, at the time of it's release, in the CC system), Yanks and Cranks. He's very proud of the Brits in the 1st at Arnhem, perhaps there will be a Market-Garden pack at some point. Pacific brings a lot of new things to the table, especially in terms of the Japanese. There are morale values up to 11 on those guys, and they are built to close and engage. Eek. There are Banzai rules that act as a mass rally then move order, infiltration rules that look absolutely brilliant, and a few other things like caves and beach invasions. Here's hoping this game refreshes the entire system. 

4) Not enough Combat Commander? How about a Stalingrad pack? With new counters? A ton of maps? And, perhaps most exciting of all, a campaign game that plays out over multiple scenarios? I think Stalingrad is for you. If you ever played the original Squad Leader and saw the Tractor Works that was on the map at, oh, 1/1000th the size it should have been (the designer notes for that game said it would take several of the 8.5"x22" maps to fit), now you can get a map that is more or less nothing but Tractor Works, except for the rail access running through the middle. And who couldn't use a Molotov Cocktail Launcher for the holidays, especially on New Year's Eve? I have no idea how I'll get in another 23 games of Combat Commander, but it's nice to know that if I'm snowed in with another player I've got at least a few days of distraction on hand. 

5) Texas Glory - Columbia Games is a strange beast. Having met the owner, I have a small insight into why (he's a bit of a rugged individualist, which you'd have to be as an American living on the border of Canada). Some years ago he decided to stop selling to distributors entirely because he felt that discounting was killing his online store sales, selling only directly. That lasted a short time, then back to stores and online shops. Fortunately they're still cranking out the great block-based games that are their raison d'ĂȘtre. However, I had thought that they stopped using their preorder system some years ago as well, so I didn't think to contact them when I moved a bit more than a year ago, and when they *hadn't* stopped their preorder system after all, we were all surprised when Texas Glory went to my old address then came right back to them. Now I can *really* remember the Alamo. And everything around it for at least several miles. To be honest, I've pulled the rules out of the box and that's about it, but it appears to be a relatively short block game in the vein of Hammer of the Scots, at the operational level or thereabouts, so while you'll have Crockett and Co holed up in the nation's cheapest car rental agency, it isn't the focus (at least, I don't think it is). With all of these other games out, this one is likely to just sit on the shelf unless someone tells me what a great game it is.

6) I try not to boast a lot. Really. Especially about things that I've just gotten lucky at, like hitting the being born lottery and being able to retire at 40, things I had zero control or influence over. When things drop in my lap, I might bring it up once or twice, but I don't like to mention it too much because it feels like I've gotten away with something more than having earned it. The old Protestant Work Ethic, virtually a lifestyle choice for my father, just keeps hanging on in the back room of my head. So it is that I reluctantly mention that I scored perhaps the most incredible deal on wargames I've ever gotten, and it's all thanks to Eric who notified me that Avalanche Press was having it's Gold Club member sale for two days, and it appeared that the 45% discount applied even to their crazy "buy these seven huge games for $300" specials. I got in within four hours and picked up a huge Second World War at Sea bundle priced at $280 for $163, including shipping. Seven games, including the enormous Leyte Gulf package that retails for $199. In other words, six other games that are for all practical purposes free. All are smaller than that, of course, but it's close to $500 worth of games if you paid retail for them. 

I have none of the SWWaS games, partly because I have a few of the Great War at Sea games and found them a bit disturbing on a couple of levels. First of all is that while they have a tactical element, which to me means pushing a bunch of ships around in formation to keep them from ramming each other, it's completely uninterested in formations. In fact, it feels a lot more like high-level air combat but without things like momentum and vectors. Second is that the strategic game seemed to be difficult to figure out for some reason - Chuck and I gave this a good go one rainy Saturday, stopped to go to lunch, then looked at the game and decided to play something else instead after. All of those crazy pages and pages of ship damage records don't help, anything with more than six ships becomes onerous to track. 

I'm really hoping that SWWaS, with more of a focus on air operations, will have a better feel. No one cares how the ships are formed up at Midway, as trying to get down to the individual aircraft level isn't really my thing, and I'm perfectly happy to play a game with a higher level of abstraction. However, I'm the first to note that Avalanche struggles with putting together a tight set of rules, and I'm hoping that this game will be more playable than GWaS was. 

Eric noticed within a day that Avalanche had quickly figured out that this was far too good of a deal, and so they extended the exclusions on the Gold Club sale to the specials, but I've not seen anything telling me that my particular purchase has been voided, sorry. However, I also haven't seen the games yet either. Seeing as I am still waiting for one module from the Panzer Grenadier bundle I got over the summer (and the Cassino '44 module has been so late, which I paid for in July), I only feel a little guilty at getting away with this one. Assuming I have. With bad weather closing in, I'm hoping it arrives today, as otherwise there's every chance it won't get here before Christmas. The *real* trick will be to explain to my wife that it was a deal I couldn't pass up.

One last note on the Avalanche order - A lot of people buy these with the intent to resell them, that is not the case with me. That isn't to say that I won't resell it at some point, although I'm more and more loathe to do that with almost any of my wargames, but I'm not going to keep them in shrink, keep them unpunched, etc. I am going to need another bookshelf, though...

Twelve new games in a couple of weeks. And I keep whining that there are too many games and not enough time. I just hope that when all of my wargaming friends retire, all of us are mentally with it enough to keep up the wargaming, although I have a hunch we won't be able to see the board by that time, much less read the counters. Sigh. 


Mike said...

1. FoF - This one looks interesting, if a lot deeper than I was expecting. I've been going through the rules, as well as the BGG posts, and I expect to get it on the table soon
2. UKC - Yep, I'm all over this one; don't mind me if I wear the fancy duds while playing this....
3. CC:P - I kept the pre-order, in the end, and it looks pretty interesting. (Incidentally, re CC:Pr, it's just that when asked to name the biggest paratrooper battles people will probably mention Arnhem, Crete and D-Day. 2 of those don't feature in CC:Pr. At all. And it was released at the same time as CC:M, so could have used that game for components. I notice that CC:S requires CC:M for 4 of the 11 scenarios.)
4. CC:S - The campaign looks very interesting
5. TG - Looked at this one, but I'm holding off for the moment. I'm interested in trying it, so it may yet get onto my 'buy' list
6. SWWaS - Absolutely no interest in this one at all

With recent GMT and MMP orders from their sales, I, also, am not short of a game or two to play.

And my copy of Steel Driver arrived.

Dug said...

Re: the CC Paratroop Pack -

With both products in development, it would be foolish to rely on the components of one product to be important to the playability of the second. Counter values change, art changes, print schedules get messed up, you don't even know if anyone will buy it yet. While CW pride may have been dinged, and important airdrop situations ignored (for now), I can't imagine they could have done it any other way without risk, especially when the games came out during the holidays.

Whether or not they should have held off on the Paratrooper Pack idea for a little while, that's an entirely different question. Perhaps a Typhoon or Kursk module would have been more appropriate, but then again Americans do like to pretend that they were the only people fighting in WW2 whenever possible, and that's what sells.

Mike said...

Nothing to do with CW pride. It's like calling your game 'Armor!' but only featuring Germans v. Russians at Kursk. They could have called it 'Paratrooper: D-Day' and it would have been fine.