Thursday, March 05, 2009

Luck In The Afternoon

One of the few bright spots about moving south to Wilsonville has been being close to not only Jesse's Hobbytown USA store, but also to Jesse. While it's been a spotty schedule at times, we've been making time to play games regularly on Wednesday afternoons while our respective wives are working. So far we've gotten in a game of Storm Over Stalingrad and last week was a big Combat Commander scenario. This week, another CC:E scenario as well as an "Advance" game of Through the Ages, the first time I've played this to completion. 

Our CC:E scenario was another US vs Germany, this time with the US as the defender, trying to hold a small but pointy hill with a limited number of units, as well as a disabled "tank" (represented by a bunker, a howitzer, and a .50 cal MG). I've played this before, and know that the important thing is to control the damned hill, as the scenario can fly by if you aren't careful. IIRC, this is scenario #11 in the base game.

Of course, having played before I immediately put the tank in a poor position. You don't want to put things too far forward, as there will be trouble if the Germans swarm past your position and start exiting the map, so I foolishly placed it one hex away from where it should have gone, thus giving the Germans a lot of excellent cover out of LOS of the big gun. A dumb move on my part, but I did a lot of that on this particular gaming day. 

Jesse placed his units so that there would be only one hex I could fire at, at least until he got to the hill objective, and he only needed to move into it because it was an objective (although one that never ended up scoring points). My units on the hill in their foxhole started getting shot up badly very early, and I'm sure I lost my leader in the area after only a couple of attacks, and the Line team (with yet another unused satchel charge, I seem to have a problem with these) was lost not long after. The squad held for a while, and got the benefit of a Hero (which also recovered that unit), but it eventually was lost as well, leaving only Lucas, American Hero in the hex against the rapidly approaching Germans. 

To make matters worse, I saw very few Move cards in this game, at least in my hand. I'm pretty sure I went for something like 20 draws without a Move card, and while I built up four squads and a leader in my backfield, they never even made it to the objective hill on the map. On the plus side, I did draw at least two Time! triggers within ten cards of the start of my deck, which gave Jesse relatively little time to work with. I also managed to get him to turn over the Initiative card about halfway in when the squad on the hill drew a defensive roll of 11 (he needed a 10 to survive), and I chose to keep the Initiative rather than take the low odds of rerolling. 

In the end, Jesse was literally knocking on the door of my objective when I managed to draw the Time! trigger that forced a Sudden Death roll, and sure enough I made it without having to redraw. My good friend Chuck believes that you hang onto that Initiative card for dear life unless you absolutely *must* use it to avoid losing the game, and this game showed just how important it was. While it was nice for Jesse to get that squad killed, it wasn't critical at the time, and in fact it helped me ensure the game would end when it did. 

This was a very quick game for us (about an hour!), so rather than pull out another CC scenario, we decided to play Through The Ages, which I spent some time earlier this week learning solitaire as so many people in Rip City Gamers are learning to love it. My first encounter was playing Chris, where I fell behind quickly in terms of military strength, and Chris constantly played Aggression cards to make me fall behind further. Jesse had played the Simple game several times, and we felt we had just enough time for the Advanced game rather than the Full game, and that was pretty much dead on. 

This time, I decided to have a strong military, which I accomplished, being "strongest" for nearly the entire game other than a brief run by Jesse near the end when I sacrificed nearly the entire army to gain a colony (worth 4 culture points through an Age III random event in addition to 4 strength), but came back quickly, which was important because the biggest army was worth another 10 culture. 

What I struggled with was Ideas. I never seemed to get the chance to buy into a tech that would give me more than the two measly lightbulbs from my initial Lab tech. I picked up a Drama tech early, but never got around to playing it. I'm fairly certain at one point that I moved Jesse's Idea marker up the track instead of my own, but by then I'd already "gone back" to produce resources and food on at least one occasion (with some skepticism by Jesse, although I'm quite sure that I'd forgotten), and decided if I couldn't remember to do things correctly, I wouldn't try to "fix" it once the other person was taking their turn. To my mind, that's the most problematic part of the game, as it relies on the players to remember to do all this *other* stuff after you've taken what can be a rather involved turn. 

In the end, I did manage to win thanks to the army, but felt that I definitely needed to work on the science side of things more in the next game. The thing that won the game for me, however, was my choice of first age leader: Columbus. I drew a Military card that had a territory that added three population to your set, which meant a lot of people for relatively cheap prices, and I used them to great effect. Better, I didn't have to fight for the colony as Columbus lets you take one colony from your hand for free, so I didn't have to wait for it to go through the Event deck first. 

I did get a lot of Raid military cards, but decided against using them as we both were fairly close in terms of strength (usually two points difference as the game went on). As it turned out, we were both holding Defense/Colonize cards for most of the game, so that was probably a pretty good idea. Considering that I had very little tech (I bumped up resource production, and that was *it*), only added two military tech cards (knights and swordsmen), and one special tech (Civics, which gave me an extra civil action), and never improved past Despotism, I felt that things went pretty well. I did pull Hanging Gardens, which was helpful in keeping my populace happy, something Jesse fought against in the late game, although my increased population made it so that I didn't have to think about it much as the game went on.

One other lesson for me, aside from the light bulbs: Don't take a card into your hand unless you can use it right away, or else you intend to play it (and *can* play it - those damned light bulbs screwed me up every time) and won't see many more of them (government and miltech cards especially). I got caught with four cards I couldn't get out of my hand, all of which needed ideas to play, and with only two ideas a turn it took forever to get them out. 

While I still believe that this game can have a huge downtime problem unless you have experienced players (or use a timer, which I'd consider with some opponents - not Jesse, he was fine), and I'm leery about playing with more than two. Fortunately, there's a pretty good VASSAL module online that I tried out today. While it won't support solitaire play (boo!), it seems to be a decent interface and one that I'd use if anyone else in my group a little more remote was interested in trying. 

Other than that, it's a brilliant game. There's a ton of things to think about, and a few conceptual humps to get over (the whole tech vs worker thing really threw me for my first game, and it took me forever to figure out that your urban building limit applied to workers on cards, not to cards), but it's a great game. Jesse gave me the update kit to the third edition (mine is second), which has larger play mats (with different colors?!?!?), stickers to fix the scoring track (who cares), and linen finish cards that don't seem as hefty as the ones that came with my game. In all, I'll probably keep the set I have unless I feel like trashing the insert in the box and bagging everything. 

This is one I'll push to play in the evening at WBC, and I don't think I'll have trouble finding partners. 

Thanks to Jesse for having a poor bored retired guy over to game, even if I do say, "Help, help, I'm being suppressed!" every time I have to put the marker on a unit in CC. Really, it's a compulsion.


dave said...

Chuck and I would probably play TtA every night with you if you were willing. We're obsessed!

Greg W said...

TtA is a game I'd love to play more. I've barely played it since last GameStorm. :) You mentioned that you played Age III cards. In an Advanced game shouldn't those only show up as scoring bonuses? The player colors are different for 3ED because they have larger player cubes for markers in those colors.

Dug said...

We did use the Age III cards as scoring bonuses. I meant the word "play" as in "played before we began" rather than "play during the course of the game".

I think there's something to be said for different colors, seeing as the population, resource, etc markers in 2nd ed, while shaped differently, are the same colors as the player colors. However, since the only marker that really "interacts" with the small round markers is the one to keep track of happiness, I would have preferred to have gotten a couple of extra blocks in the same color as the original to keep track of pacts. As it is, you can just as easily use the small round markers to keep track of pacts in 2nd ed, so no real need to change out the markers. I have no preference as to the larger player mats, although I do like the small size of the 2nd ed mats.

It strikes me that unless they upped the size of the scoreboard significantly, the larger blocks would be hard to place in the smaller scoring spaces, which is hard enough with the small blocks.