Thursday, July 30, 2009

How To Feel Like A Complete Idiot In RAF: Eagle

I got through one full day's worth of raids in the Eagle game (where you play the Germans) in the new edition of RAF. I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing going in, and the result was humbling.

To be fair, there are no player notes that come with the game, and so I found myself doing what seemed like good things, but the end result was the British at +13 points at the end of the turn, and I realized I'd completely forgotten to run one more raid (which I have no reason to believe would have come out any better than the others). The British had no planes that were even shot down, while I had three in the Heavy Damage box and another four in the Light Damage box. At this point, I decided that I'd learned what I had set out to learn and pronounce the game over.

RAF: Eagle was introduced to the reprint of the base game in response to players who wanted to play the German side as well. In the end, a 2-player game was also introduced, although for reasons that will become clear as you read this essay, I can't imagine playing this face to face, although I could see some very interesting things happening in a multiplayer online game over time.

For those familiar with The Burning Blue, the German side is almost completely about planning, then seeing what happens as a result of your plans. The end result for a game like this is about 15 to 20 minutes spent carefully considering your options, then about 90 minutes of running the AI. As you can imagine, this is not for everyone, especially those who like to make decisions as the day goes on. Don't get me wrong, you do get to make decisions, but it's limited exclusively to whether your ME109 fighters will be performing close support, hunting, or strafing at the start of each raid. It's not a huge decision.

At the same time, the narrative is fairly compelling, unless (like me) you end up with raid after raid getting it's hat handed to it, only to completely miss with the bombs. I ended up tossing the dice that came with the game after I was done, as they seemed to be weighted toward rolling ones and twos almost exclusively. If you're a serious gamer, you should invest in a set of balanced dice anyway, although getting enough to play (say) Wellington is probably not economically feasible.

So here's how the game works for the Germans. At the beginning of the turn, you do a little administrative work (rolling for weather), then it's time to plan. You draw a set of target cards from the Target Deck, which will evolve as the game goes on. Early in the game you start with no Strategy Cards, but as time goes on you will draw these to give you some options. I could have used these, and really have no idea what they entail although I assume it's a good thing for the Germans. From these 10 Target cards, you find the ones that will result in No Raid (those for low priority targets with strategic importance of 1 or 2, or medium priority targets with strat importance of 1). That means you'll have an essentially random set of targets to choose from, perhaps 10, perhaps 1. Since you're playing the Luftflotte commander rather than Goering (and thank goodness for that, as who wants to play *him*), that makes a certain amount of sense, but it could leave you with very little in the way of choices.

At this point, you decide which of the targets you wish to raid, some of which will entail major raids (up to 16 Gruppen, or counters) or minor (up to 3) based again on strategic importance cross-referenced with target priorities. This is one of the two biggest decisions you'll make during this phase, along with how to sequence them out during the day. There's a planning section at the top of the board where you place the Time markers (they run from 0800 to 1800 in two hour increments), and decide which raids go when. After this, you select aircraft to participate in each raid based on the target area (which determines which Luftflotte they come from), although fighters only get placed in the first three time slots as you'll be able to add them in later depending on which ones come back and which ones you haven't sent out yet. As with the original game, you have to try to select as even a mix of A, B, and C aircraft as possible, but there is no functional difference as this is only for random event unit selection.

That's it. That's all you do, other than the fighter assignment mentioned above for each raid. However, it's really important to do this wisely, as I learned, so you'll want to have some extra information before you start:
  • Stukas are really precious. If you use nothing but Stukas to bomb, it's a good thing for some types of targets (like *not* Radar Stations). However, if they are damaged, they're gone for good, so you'll want a lot of fighter cover. I recommend saving them for minor raids with two ME109s along for the ride.
  • The RAF AI responds based on both the number of aircraft available to intercept, how much warning they get, and how good the intel is (just like in the original). You'll want to take a close look at each card to see how many radar stations are involved, how effective the Observer Corps is, how many sectors can respond depending on the detection level (which combines warning and intel), and how many actual squadrons (counters) are available to respond.
  • Because having more than one raid emanating from the same Luftflotte in the same time slot is a blessing and a curse (but more a curse - you can lose an entire third of the raid if they are too confused to form up correctly), you don't want to throw three major raids at one area in one turn. Instead, send them up one at time slot A, the next at time slot A+0200, and the next at time slot A+0400. Sequence them so that you're taking out the radar stations *first*.
  • Just because you can throw 16 gruppen at a major raid doesn't mean you should. Get to know the RAF Tactics tables to see the cutoff points for various raid sizes.
  • Use lots of fighters. In fact, it's not a terrible idea to make that first of three major raids a sweep with no bombers if you aren't given a radar station to hit. The Brits respond to gruppen, not to types of aircraft.
  • As a corollary, you'll want to know how many of your fighters will end up patrolling the Channel while your bombers head inland. Nothing like running a raid to find out that you don't get *any* fighters for close support or the hunt box. You'll also want to understand the ramifications of how many fighters to throw at close support vs the hunt box, as the number of gruppen you have in the bombing box when the RAF squadrons attack will have a direct effect on the result. A good starting rule of thumb is to have one fighter for each bomber, and in fact you want to completely skip the hunt box if you think there'll be a lot of squadrons there compared to your fighters. In this case, concentration is probably a really good idea to one or the other.
This is just a starting point. I'm sure that I'll learn a lot more as I play the game more.

I mentioned the 2 player game as an online multiplayer game. While I'm just starting to consider this, I think it would be superior to a 2 player ftf game for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that in the latter the German will have almost nothing to do for most of the game other than watch the Brit respond once planning is done. In an online game, you can do the planning, then send it off to the Brit to do all the work, outlining the various fighter assignments before raids start for the first three time periods (after which you get to add the fighters back in as the day goes on). If you gave one sector of the RAF to each player, and one Luftflotte to each German player, you could have an interesting time watching the various sides argue about how best to use those borderline resources to protect someone else's territory (or how best to sequence the various raids and targets). Once there's a VASSAL module out for this, I may think on this further.

Anyway, it's a very interesting game, and I'm unaware of any other game that lets you play the German side in a solitaire effort, and the game is worth buying for that reason alone. The RAF version is, of course, more interactive in terms of how often you make decisions, but they are much smaller decisions as they're per raid, and I suspect most gamers will prefer that. For those like me who enjoy roads less travelled, I enjoyed the Eagle version enough to want to give it another try, just not until I've finished licking my wounds. And there were a lot of them.

Tales of the Arabian Nights Out Of The Box

The other West End Games title to be republished in the past couple of weeks is the classic Tales of the Arabian Nights. I freely admit that I never played the original - I suspect it requires a pretty specific type of player to enjoy it, and when my own gaming renaissance began in 1998 there were too many new games to try out. I'm glad there's a new copy that I hope to play very soon.

First up is the components. Wow, talk about an update. Like RAF, TotAN used perforated cards with black and white clip art on them at best. The map was actually pretty nice for the era, although not mounted in the Avalon Hill sense, with a nice painted feel to it. The Book of Tales was a standard folded/stapled 8.5"x11" rulebook, and the counters were all of the wargame variety (although WEG tended to use an unfinished stock that wore very quickly). In all, it doesn't hold up well to 2009 standards, but the game sells for quite a bit on the 'Bay.

The new game outweighs the old by, oh, a factor of about 5. Maybe 10. It's a very heavy game.

First up is the map, which is mounted on heavy card like most modern FFG games, and has a very slick finish which I could see being an issue in certain lighting conditions (much as poster frames are). The art is of a very high standard, the first company I've seen that is giving FFG a run for their money in terms of finish. The spaces have their numbers in jewels, and there are numerous pieces of art for the various Important Locations as well as for incidental art. It's gorgeous and about 1/3rd the weight you get in the box.

Next up is the chart of response matrixes, the ones where you have to make a decision of how to respond to a given situation. These are on a folding piece of very heavy card that is also very glossy, which is less of a problem than the map. I like glossy for things that will get handled frequently, and this will definitely get handled frequently. Compared to the old "pull out section" of regular paper, this is a vast improvement. The old version requires lamination to survive.

The rules are very streamlined, perhaps to the point where some information is kind of missing. For example, with Quests there is no indication that you can dump a quest voluntarily, although it's alluded to in the two short paragraphs in a sidebar that cover that part of the game. There is also no FAQ on interactions between the various skills and statuses you get over the course of the game, which I could see would be nice. Given the rather open-ended nature of the game as more of an experience, I don't have too much of a problem with this. The original designer's notes are included, but it would have been nice to see what was changed in the game and why for the new edition.

The Book of Tales is now spiral bound, and is another 1/3rd of the weight of the game. This thing is dense. I'm hearing that some of the charts in it make more sense printed out as they're referenced so frequently, and I'm a bit concerned about carpal tunnel syndrome from holding this thing up. I mean, I got a bit of RSI from reading one of Colleen McCullough's Rome books recently. This isn't quite *that* heavy, but it's a lot bigger in the height/width dimensions. Most of the above is in jest, it's clearly an improvement over the older edition.

The cards are, of course, now of heavier stock and have lost the perforations (and are much more colorful). There are four copies of each Status in card form, which you'll want to group together (you get four decks of statuses, each alphabetical, which is OK if you're playing with four people, but not so much with five). There are also cards for Quests, Treasure, and Encounters, all of which are very colorful and have much improved art.

The counters are typical Eurostyle, and nice and glossy. Oddly, there is an entire sheet of markers you use solely to denote what your Story and Destiny point goals are. On my first read through the rules, I couldn't figure out what these were for, as your ongoing totals are kept track of on the board. It would have been better, IMHO, to have simply included six small glossy score boards and a marker, a la Show Manager, rather than throw in what is a somewhat problematic set of counters that it's hard to find storage for with the form in the box. It's a little crazy, and not a terribly workable solution, but if that's the dumbest thing Zev did in developing the game, I'm OK with that.

The other markers are very nice, and fairly large. There are 2" discs that identify your color that go on your play mat, 3" discs to denote time of day, large character figures that have stands, and a sheet of skills that I strongly recommend you keep separated with a standard wargaming counter tray - you'll need about 18 slots or more. The skill markers flip over to denote "master" status in a skill, which is also denoted by a more elaborate background symbol and a different color, so it's easy to see these at a distance.

Game play appears to be pretty close to the original - you secretly spend 20 points between Story and Destiny as your goal for winning, which in my mind is more or less a complete crap shoot unless you're very familiar with the game and know the distribution of points of different types. For those who *have* memorized the Book of Tales (and good luck with that), the system now works a little differently, or so I suspect.

When you get to the Reaction Matrix that gives you a paragraph number, you don't go straight to that specific paragraph. Instead, you first determine if any of the player's skills match up with any of the conditions in the target paragraph as well as the paragraphs above and below it, and if so the player may choose to go straight to that paragraph. If they choose not to, or if there is no match, then the player rolls a die similar to those found in the Fudge RPG system. If they get a +, they get the paragraph below the target, and if a - they get the paragraph above (it's based on numbers, of course, I use "above" and "below" to refer to the position of the paragraph on the page rather than to the numbering system). The reader then tells them the conditions that match up with skills, and assuming one isn't mandatory if the player has that skill, the player can choose which one to experience and the usual stuff happens as in the base game. In all, I expect this will extend the life of the game for those who play frequently, and is almost certainly what accounts for the much larger Book.

To be clear, this game was never for rules lawyers, or for those who need every condition spelled out, or even for those who want to play competitively. The game by it's very nature rejects those premises, and wargamers who *must* have every possible situation spelled out are not going to enjoy this game, nor are nuskool RPGers (I'm thinking 4th Ed D&D here) and CCGers. However, if you like oldskool or indy RPGs where the DM kind of made the game up as you went along using the ruleset as a framework, it's going to be a much more interesting experience.

The rules mention that the two "alternate" rule systems from the original game are not included in the box, you are directed to the website to get them. However, they were not online as I write this. You will want three experienced storytellers to play that particular variant, at least you did if you played the original, and I have no idea how they're going to reproduce the economic element from the Trader version of the game - that had lots of arrow counters and other components to simulate trade routes and supply and demand. Since I can't see what the new alt versions are, I'm unable to comment further.

I should also mention that the box itself is gorgeous. It's very heavy card (think Command and Colors: Ancients) with a largely matte finish except for the three scenic depictions on the cover, which are glossy. It's a very nice effect that's spoiled a bit on the shelf due to shrink wrap, but it will be very handsome if you choose to make it the centerpiece of a gaming display. It's also a very large box, about the size of the recent Age of Conan - halfway between a square Kosmos box and the double-sized Starcraft or Descent box.

I expect to get a game in very soon and will give a report at that time. Even though I feel very strongly about tight rules in wargames and most euros, I do recognize that this isn't that type of game and am ready to just have fun playing instead of being competitive. Should be a hoot.

Monday, July 27, 2009

RAF Out Of The Box

A couple of reprints/reworkings of West End Games titles from the 80s are out, and I'll cover them in the next two posts.

First up is RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940. Originally a solitaire game from John Butterfield (who brought you Ambush! and it's offspring), the new game is a major update in terms of components. Gone are the perforated stock cards that were not only unpleasant to handle, but nearly impossible to shuffle without sleeves. Gone also are the dark counters with dark text and images for the RAF. The original board had it's charms, but it's been updated nicely as well.

Not only that, but the game has three different ways to play, upgraded from you playing the role of the RAF (in the new game as RAF: Lion). Now you can plan the Luftwaffe raids in a solitaire version (RAF: Eagle) and there's even a two-player version, although to be very honest I can't imagine how you'd sit through four hours of this just to play the *short* version. It may make a very nice VASSAL version, but for me the charm of this game was the ability to play it over a long period of time, and Lion vs Eagle probably won't cut it outside of the "play for raid days" version, The Hardest Days.

I should note that I have yet to even read the rules in toto for one of the new versions, but so far I'm impressed with the thoroughness shown. The rules are considerably longer and have a lot more examples, which is good. And when I say "longer" I mean it. There are three different rulebooks, one for each game configuration, and each one is about sixteen pages of fairly dense type. Compared with the original WEG rules, these are about four times as long. However, the game is very sequence driven and you can pick the game up by simply running through the introductory "single day" scenario and following the sequence to familiarize yourself with the game by reading as you go.

Which is not to say that you'll know what the hell to do as the Luftwaffe, if you play the Eagle version. In a nutshell, they tell you to make up some raids and see what happens. I expect the learning curve for this version to be a little steeper than the original RAF, even though you have some limitations as to what you can bomb (or even just sweep with fighters). However, for someone who has been dying to play Burning Blue since I got it and can't seem to find an opponent, this may allow me to run the Luftwaffe at long last. I always did think the Brits were a bit suspect. ;-)

The counter art is very nice, and while it can be hard to distinguish the HE 111's from the JU-88's at first blush, it's much easier to distinguish Luftflotte 2 from Luftflotte 3 in the game as the former have a white stripe over their ID, a welcome improvement. The counters are about what you'd expect from a modern wargame in terms of thickness and quality. I use a counter tray to separate the counters for the different Luftflottes and aircraft types, and recommend it as it will make setup about a billion times quicker.

Reserve cards still have the "R" designation on them, which is very clearly marked, but I also liked that the Blennheim and Stuka aircraft had color differentiation on the aircraft type, as these aircraft will enter or leave based on various events, and it's nice to be able to see them clearly on the map.

The maps (yes, maps) are very nice, with almost all of the info you need to play the game on them as in the original, although for some reason it seems like maybe there's more info than before. There's the original "France at the top of the map" orientation for the Lion/2-player map, and the opposite orientation for the Germans on the Eagle map. The Eagle map also has a clever section at the top of the map for planning your raids, which is broken out onto a separate player aid for the 2-player game. The graphics are clearly updated, too. You'll still spend a lot of time finding certain charts and tables on the new map, as they take up nearly 60% or more on both mapsheets. The stock is nice and heavy, and I have no complaints here.

There are a *lot* of player aid sheets, at least six, only one of which is duplicated for both players (the combat info). I believe this was a four-page pull-out section in the original, so it's nice to have them as heavy cardstock now. No frills, just the tables. There's also one play aid with nothing on it but the expanded sequence of play for all three games.

There is also the now-standard Decision S&T/World at War article reprint that comes with the game. This is a very smart way to educate the players on the conflict at hand, and while those of use who get Decision's game-in-a-magazine publications might chaff a bit at having to essentially buy the same article twice, I've found it's nice to give to friends who show an interest in that part of the conflict - I gave the Market Garden article out of the reprint of Highway to the Reich to my good friend Mike, as he doesn't subscribe.

I've gotten through the raid planning part of a turn, and so far it seems very interesting. I did screw up and not sort the various aircraft/Luftflotte types in their holding boxes by their letter code - each plane has an A, B, or C on it that allows you to differentiate the various planes if, say, one third of them is affected by an event. I recommend you do this in your first game to avoid having to completely redo your raid planning (or, in Lion, which aircraft make up the raids).

The cards are definitely much nicer than before, although they're about the same size. I was able to use Yu-Gi-Oh size sleeves, which barely fit the cards height-wise. Euro sized sleeves are still a little wide, and the ones I have were fairly flimsy and I prefer a stiffer sleeve. The original perforated cards used in the original are gone, thankfully, so you can get by without sleeves for a game or two before you decide to protect them. There are now additional "strategy" cards for the Germans that may help with especially important targets (like taking out radar stations early with major raids).

As for Lion, I don't believe there has been a lot of tweaking of the original design other than the occasional minor change in abilities or deck information. In fact, other than raid planning for the Luftwaffe and the addition of AI for the RAF, playing Eagle will be a very familiar experience. Whether it's as interesting an experience remains to be seen. I did not notice any Frei Jagd missions (where ME 109s would roam at will around Southern England looking for stray RAF planes to attack), although you can turn a mission into a fighter sweep just by throwing four fighters at it instead of bombers. I should also note that in Eagle, while you *do* choose from a subset of missions, how you sequence them, and where they go, you make all bomber assignments for the entire day. Fighters, however, can be assigned as the day goes on. Eagle strikes me as the kind of game that those who like to make elaborate plans will enjoy, then see how they pan out. Lion will be more for players who enjoy reacting to an ever-changing assault.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the game so far is the price - $75 retail. Of course, you get two different games in the box, but the same could be said for Fields of Fire (where you get three if you take each conflict as a different game, and Viet Nam sure feels like a different game). I'm sure that the large number of cards needed, the two maps, the three rulebooks all contributed to the total cost. However, unlike a lot of Decision titles, especially reprints, where the games seem to have been tossed out without a lot of thought, this game feels pretty tight and worth investing in if you want to fight the Battle of Britain but don't want the muss and fuss of an actual living opponent.

I'll give a more thorough review of Eagle once I've gotten through the Hardest Days scenario. For now, though, this looks like a winner in a lot of ways.

Why A Good Game Group Is Like A Good Band

Now that I'm officially in a "gigging" band again, I've been thinking more about why *this* particular band is such a joy to work with, and I'm coming to the conclusion that the reasons are more or less the same as they are for playing games in a good group. Here are a few similarities that have occurred to me over the last few days - see if they apply to the communities in your own lives.
  • Trust. In a band situation, you have to know that your bandmates have your back, that the important thing is the music and not egos or agendas or who gets to go home with the cute groupie (and while it hasn't happened to me, it does become a problem in some bands). In a game group, you have to trust that your opponents aren't cheating (and I've been accused of cheating, even when I wasn't, and had to deal with cheaters. Not fun). A game group is a lot more fun if you trust that you can just be yourself and have a good time instead of trying to live up to a standard you can't or don't care to meet. My mother dropped one of her Bridge groups because she felt she was condemned if she made any mistakes. Good move on her part.
  • It's not what you play, it's who you play with. Do you enjoy the company of who you're playing with, whether it's music or games? If not, unless you've got a serious reason to stick around (financial, only person who plays that game, etc), time to move on. Of all the bands I've worked with, I've learned that if I don't like these people, and find myself thinking that they're complete idiots, or crazy, or whatever, I don't last. In one band, I loaned money to the band leader early on, and he gave the money to me months later when I left, partly because that set a tone that I felt uncomfortable with as time went on. If you're going to spend that much time with people, you need to enjoy being around them.
  • Building Community. Lest you think I expect others to do all the work, I should note that we each need to nurture the communities we care about and continue to build them. While there are distinct phases to the life cycle of a community, and there are times when you at least hope that others pick up the bulk of the burden of nurturing for a while, the truth is that you really never completely stop at any point. You nurture because you care - about the people, about the hobby/vocation, about not only what *you* get out of the experience, but what the other members of that community get out of the experience. When you no longer care to build the community in any way, it may be time to assess it's worth to you and your worth to it.
  • Evangelizing. When you meet people at parties or other social situations, do you talk about the communities you are involved in, at least in passing? While music performance is (ostensibly) a skill, and you aren't trying to get people to take up an instrument necessarily, you *are* seeing if they're interested in the type of music you play, or at least in coming out to see your band perform. With gaming, it's a little more direct, although I've learned to assess if someone is going to be a gamer or not pretty quickly, even if they don't know it themselves. I'm not talking about boring someone with your hobby at a party, I'm talking about whether or not you bring it up at a party and seeing if it engenders interest and/or conversation. In other words, is this such a critical part of your life that you want people who meet you to understand it's part of your life, even if only as one facet of many?
  • Pride of accomplishment. Clearly, being able to not only play an instrument and/or sing (in a manner where people don't leave the room shortly after you begin) but also perform in an entertaining way is a learned skill for the most part. However, being a good gamer is also a skill, as is being a 'splainer and also being able to "speak game". Even learning good sportspersonship is a learned skill. We've all had games with people who didn't have some of these skills, and it's quite the buzzkill. Unless your aim is to be a teacher, it's often best to find a community that is largely at the same level of skill as you, or at least be close enough for government work. As a corollary, it's important to be able to assess your own level of skill, which I call "pride" (in the positive sense rather than the "deadly sin" sense).
I'm sure there are more similarities, but I was struck by how similar the communities were, even if there's very little overlap in terms of ability/interest for the other community - While I have gaming friends who are musicians (and some of them quite good), there is no interest in boardgames on the band side, although I've mentioned it on occasion, usually in an esoteric sense rather than in specifics. Both groups do seem to like good beer, though. ;-)

I guess my point is that the communities you choose (or, in some cases, are forced) to participate in really have quite a bit in common at the human interaction level, even if they are very different activities that each community pursues. I'd definitely be interested in hearing what take others have on the subject. Me, I'm just delighted to have at the very least two such communities in my own life. I think if you can find one you're doing well, so I'm clearly blessed (and I'd include my family as a third delightful community, one that I didn't get to choose). Knowing what to look for in your own communities will help you find the right one. Because when you have the right community to support you when you need them, it's a wonderful thing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Too Old To Rock And Roll? You Decide!

Here's a pic from our first *real* club gig with my new band, Raindriver. Actually, it's pretty much just me with some blurry bits in the background, but I think it's a good picture. The gig went very well, in no small part to all of the good friends and family who came out to see us. We kept the volume down and stopped when we were supposed to (astonishing how difficult that is for so many bands), and as a reward I understand we have some more bookings at this club. Awesome!

Sadly, I'm not certain what song this picture was taken during, but I appear to be having a good time. ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stalingrad CC Campaign, Pt 3

Matt R. and I have had a running CC:Stalingrad campaign game going for three sessions now, and it's a pretty pathetic note that we've been doing it since, oh, February. Maybe longer. We just meet once a month, and we've had to skip the last three months for various reasons, but we finally got back on track tonight. Matt is the Germans, me the Russians, and after each winning a game we're right back where we started, on the Giant Gully Of Doom map.

As the game progresses, the maps get more and more littered with rubble markers, and we were up to 12. However, because many of them were in the valley (this is the Stalingrad pack map that looks like a giant S, with the S being the low ground), it wasn't as bad as it might have seemed. I find this a difficult map to parse LOS on, largely because of the wide valley and lots of small gullies everywhere, and we started out both having our share of surprises from set up. However, we allowed for quite a bit of latitude early.

My forces consisted of my command platoon (at Elite level, as was Matt as we both chose to "up" our own forces in each win) as well as the cheap Gordov SMG group of 5. I also had four reinforcement squads or teams coming in as the game progressed, of which one Elite Guard squad played a big role. Matt had the corresponding German platoon with "the Fonz" Winkler as it's leader, plus a couple of other units. Because I had so many reinforcements coming in (seven VP to Matt's four) he got the support roll and chose to take two more Elite Rifle units setting us up for a Recon scenario. As the only exposed objective was Obj1 for 1 point, that made guessing who was really on the attack and who was really defending a bit of a guessing game. I knew that Obj 5 (also in the no-man's land between us in a recon posture) was worth three points, but didn't know what Matt needed, so I was assuming that Obj 3, on his side of the board (which was in a narrow configuration) was probably his. I had both Obj4 and Obj2 on my side, but he was clearly aiming to both take Obj 5 and Obj 1 with his two main sets of forces, and Vogel was aligned to take Obj1 (and thus aimed to take Obj4).

He took three foxholes to start while I took two. Way too much exposed ground to do otherwise.

The game got off to a bit of quick start, with Winkler's platoon taking Obj 5 on the first play. I had put my SMG platoon over there, and couldn't really build up a lot of firepower, especially with Gordov (equally weak) on that side. I took a chance on running up next to the Obj with my SMG squads, which worked really well, and I had two Recover cards to try to hang onto the open ground while I dug for Advance cards, but no luck. I failed to notice that Vogel's main fire group had a clear line of sight to the space with my leader on it, and it took a lot of fire. The SMG unit in that space hung on very nicely, though, surviving three different fire attacks, although suppressed and broken. However, the SMG surrendered under a Prisoner of War event that I drew, and after Gordov held on for a little while longer, I eventually withdrew him into the valley, and that side of the board was more or less done for the game.

Not *quite* true, as I had brought up my Elite Guard with their ampulomet weapon. In one of our past games, this was an extremely effective weapon when I rolled high doubles against Matt, forcing him out of a key hex. This time, the dice went against me, and I ended up breaking the unit and starting a blaze in that hex (which didn't create any issues for the rest of the game). However, I never did get the unit to recover, and a sniper finally killed it late in the game.

On the opposite side of the board, though, things were more exciting. My Elite Guard that came on at Time 3 as a reinforcement managed to run up the board and challenge the Elite Rifle unit that had taken Obj1. In the one example of the game where I had the right cards at the right time (I failed to knock out broken units in Obj 5 when I failed to draw Fire or Advance cards for about ten turns in a row), I laid down a hail of fire from several points into the Obj1 hex, all of which failed to do much. However, I did manage to draw a sniper that gave me the +4 Urban Sniper modifier, played an Ambush in the space, and won the Melee handily. I also had a +2VP Action card to swing the VP in my favor (at last!) to the 3 space, just enough to counter the 3VP I was going to lose for Obj5, and I had the initiative. I held tight and never gave up that card for the rest of the game.

In the end, I managed to hang onto the space despite some really nasty fire that Vogel's group kept laying down in the space, but a Foxhole from one of Matt's Dig In actions (I had placed a foxhole in the adjacent hex on the same Time! event!) allowed that unit to hang on right to the end, albeit suppressed and broken. When the Sudden Death roll went my way at Time 7, Matt was on the verge of advancing into the space, although I'd brought up another Elite Guard squad as well and it would have been close.

A few turns earlier, I'd remarked that I was very hopeful that Matt had drawn the Obj4 for 4VP objective. He had, and I ended up winning by four points. Had he gotten that advance played and killed both units, that would have been a six point swing giving him the win by two. As it was, a very tight game, but really a game of inches. As it was no one really advanced past the no-man's land in the middle of the board into the opposing territory. Because it was a recon mission, our next session will be in G1, the big flat map but with 16 rubble markers. Also, because this was not a terribly bloody affair (we only lost two squads each), there were a lot of reinforcements for the next round, with me taking 4 (including Gordov as the Russians have such a paucity of leaders, a big problem) and Matt getting three, including a veteran Rifle and another veteran Elite Rifle unit. He also took his hero, who ended up scrounging that ampulomet I managed to misfire the first time out. I ended up gaining a decent regimental draw to gain one more platoon option for the next round, as did Matt, and we're both down to 8 points of Fortifications (I took six foxholes to his three at the start of this scenario).

While this wasn't quite as intense as the game Chuck and I played Saturday, it was still very interesting because we didn't really know who was where. I think that Matt played well, although knowing he had to take Obj4 I probably would have skipped one of the two Rifle units he took from his support roll and taken the offensive to get the artillery. He'd already gotten a medium mortar as a reinforcement from the previous game, but never got the smoke laid down to really take advantage of it as he spent so much time fighting off the SMGs from Obj5 and then trying to root me out of Obj1. In the end, just not enough time for him, although had that first Sudden Death roll gone his way (although I did have the initiative at that point) he would have won by a point.

Not the most exciting game of CC, but still a good one with some nice literary elements and a decent storyline. Things start getting a little more desperate in the next scenario, and after that we start making campaign sudden death rolls, so it may come down to a tactical victory with the most recent scenario winner taking it all.

I'm glad we're doing this over time, though, as I'd start to get a little tired of seeing the same types of units on the same maps over and over, and our games typically take 4+ hours as we have to review the prep portion over and over. I think it's time to make up that checklist so I don't have to go back and forth between the Stalingrad book and the CC:M playbook with the scenario generation routine (one references the other more or less constantly). It was nice to get back to the ETO, too, but unlike Mr. Steadman, I am not tied to either theater from either a historical or system standpoint. Both are fun and have their charms. CC remains my favorite wargaming system for it's brevity, story, incredibly clear ruleset, and tension, not to mention that it makes it to the table more than all other wargames I play combined (in part because of those qualities, which makes it easy to find opponents, some of which play very few other wargames).

Thanks to Matt for coming over. We always have a great time, and I'm already looking forward to August. The only dark cloud is twofold - I will be in a courthouse if my name gets called for jury duty, or at a completely different courthouse (for reasons not directly involving me) if it doesn't on our next scheduled date. Here's hoping I don't end up being sequestered on a Grand Jury (for many reasons)...

Things I've Learned From My First Club Gig In 20 Years

  1. Bring a towel. If you're me, bring two.
  2. Bring an electric fan. Use it.
  3. Bring a plastic bottle you can drink water from. Drink a lot of water.
  4. Pace yourself. You aren't going to get far if you've shot your rock and roll bolt in the first 30 minutes.
  5. #4 isn't as critical if you only play for 30 minutes.
  6. Start building your stamina *before* the gig.
  7. Start shifting your bedtime *before* the gig. Not fun to fall asleep in the third set, less fun for the rest of the band, particularly not fun for the audience.
  8. It's not what you play, it's who you play with.
  9. Thank the people who come to see you.
  10. Tip your waitstaff.
  11. Thank you, and good night!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Take The Hill!

Chuck came over today for some badly needed gaming on both our parts. On the table, a particularly fun game of Combat Commander: Pacific, specifically scenario H, where the Marines take some hill on Iwo Jima. Chuck took the role of the noble Marines, while I was the devious Japanese hiding in my caves.

One thing I discovered pretty quickly was that CC:P is a much different game in a lot of ways compared to it's ETO sibling. There are a ton of rules changes, from how smoke dissipates to how units recover to the much richer asset management rules. I think all of these are for the best, although we did have some points where we forgot a couple of rules (such as units in caves can only fire downslope or checking for arty/air busting fortifications). Note that I'd played the A scenario (Filipino hemp fields! Maybe someone will start a blaze!), but it didn't have the cave rules and they made things very interesting.

The Japanese start out on the four-level hill in the middle of the map, and have six caves and seven wire markers. I placed the wire off to the sides to nudge the Marines to the center of the map where I could shoot at them. Because of the high hill wall, units in caves can shoot at more or less anything that moves for much of the game, and I had three caves on that face. Two more were set forward and one as a bug-out/backstop in case the Yanks got past my main defenses and started running off the board. Our extra objectives (aside from the mandatory Obj5 worth 10 points) were Obj4 worth 1 (yippee, my secret obj) and Chuck's public +1 VP for eliminating units.

I was blessed with no fire cards at all early, and Chuck got his forces moving forward quickly, then was able to lay smoke screens to protect them. However, I was having good success in breaking them but not eliminating them, and at one point I'd broken 9 of 16 units on the board. The whole Revive mechanism adds better control to the game, and players can pick and choose which units recover or have suppression markers removed. Chuck had a terrible time getting these cards early, however, but his smoke from his howitzer kept them from dying too quickly.

Things started going wrong when he managed to start blowing up my caves by having the explosives actions when he rolled doubles against my forward bases, negating my defensive advantage. I did manage to hold out extra long in the first cave he destroyed, and ran from his flamethrowers in the second. Remember that latter unit, as it played a big role later on.

However, my deck moved along *very* slowly, although I often had fire cards handy, and more than a couple of Panji pits. As such, the time marker didn't move very briskly and Chuck was able to root out one of my two medium MG nests along the top of the hill. He also managed to break through in the center and drive on the main objective, which we nicknamed the Mess Hall as it was the only building on the map. Unfortunately, that unit that had run from an early melee in a forward cave couldn't move fast enough to get there before Chuck did, so now *I* had to root *him* out.

Amazingly, I did so. I had to hold an Advance card in hand for about ten turns while I tried to knock out enough of the three units in that space to advance with my lone unit, and I was thinking I had a good chance to win the game if the time triggers would just cooperate. They did not. As we approached the sudden death marker, the game got very close, even with Chuck controlling the Mess Hall, and he got a very large stack adjacent to the last MMG nest, now in a convenient hidden pillbox (I ended up with three of these over the course of the game). He managed to knock out my last leader, and it was all over but the shouting. We agreed that it was one of the most entertaining and fun CC scenarios we'd ever played.

CC:P definitely mixes things up with the Japanese. I had placed one unit hidden with the plan to use it to infiltrate at some point later on, and that actually worked out to some extent. I put the unit far in his backfield, but because the map determines exit points instead of just getting a unit off, I ended up with no points in that department, but was able to bring the unit on to help try to take the Mess Hall back. However, the unit never did really get into the action.

The Japanese deck has some definite oddities. Charge cards are useless unless a specific event happens, but if it did things would have been crazy. There are only 10 Move cards in the whole Japanese deck, but 10 Advance cards. Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to get those cards to use the Caves as much as I'd have liked, although I did neglect to consider that you can use them to advance from one cave to another where your opponent is hiding. This would have been a good choice in a couple of instances and might have made the difference for me, but now I know better. Also, no Command Confusion Orders, although the Charge cards make up for that to some extent, as do Infiltrates and Reconnaissance (especially late when I didn't have any leaders to activate them with).

If you've played CC:E/M, you'll definitely want to start with scenarios that avoid caves, but there's really no way to avoid the really big changes that happen, especially in the Asset Request/Denied Order set, which gives the players a lot more variety of actions. The net result is a very different feel, but a good one. This is still one of my favorite wargames and if you like tactical games and can tolerate more chaos than many other wargames, you'll like it. If you want more control, I'd recommend Conflict of Heroes over this as you are always allowed to do what you want within the context of action points rather than hoping you have the right card. CC:P, however, is a great addition to the CC family and if you liked E/M, you'll love P.

Thanks to Chuck for coming over and gaming. We had a great time as always, which was something I sorely needed, and I'm very fortunate to have him as a friend and opponent (as I am with all of my gaming friends).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Possible The Kaiser's Pirates Fix

Personal insanity in my life currently requires me to distract myself with other activities, and so I'm a little fixated on The Kaiser's Pirates right now. I gave it a terrible review, based largely on the fact that it's too long with too few decisions. However, I may have a fix.

Instead of drawing one card per turn from a common pile and starting with six cards, instead start with four or five (I haven't worked out the details at this point). Also, deal a "personal" draw pile of 20 cards to each player. At the end of your turn, draw back up to four or five cards. When your draw pile runs out, you no longer draw cards. When your hand runs out and there are no cards to draw, your turn is skipped. You *must* play one card during your turn if you have one or more in hand.

The idea is that you can choose how quickly to move through your deck, allowing for more combos, etc. There may be a couple of action cards that would affect this, but in general it seems like you'd move the game along a *lot* faster and have more control over your resources. Clearly, burning through your cards quickly while others held onto them would mean no responses could be played, so there would still be an element of strategy in how quickly you played through things, but it wouldn't punish playing combos as much as the current mechanism does - My estimate is that with a fixed set of 15 turns and 25% of your cards responses that you play defensively, that means you play on average one card per turn, not very interesting.

There is no way, in my estimation, to fix the solitaire game other than to automate the Phantom Player so that the AI is managed by a computer rather than forcing the player to go through that tedium, although you couldn't use my variant with the solitaire game in any case.

Please let me know if you try this and feel it helps. God knows the game needs it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cool Wargaming Site / Article

Seth Owens writes one of my favorite wargaming blogs, Pawnderings. Here is a link to a recent post that I found particularly interesting, especially given my interest in scenario-based wargaming with Combat Commander and Panzer Grenadier.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Kaiser's Pirates - Solitaire Game Impressions

I buy a lot of games. Of those, I also preorder a lot of games. Consider it me helping to keep the game companies I like in business. Sometimes, things don't work out well and I don't really like the game, but in general I figure that I'm doing my part to help the cause.

Sometimes, I have to wonder if rethinking that policy is in order.

The Kaiser's Pirates came in the mail the other day from GMT Games. GMT is one of the good guys in the industry, although in the last several months they seem to have neglected to check the quality of games going out the door (Fields of Fire's rules are a prime example), but in general they are a very good company staffed by friendly and responsive people, and I rarely have an issue with them.

TKP, though, is another example of a game that wasn't quite ready for prime time for a wide variety of reasons. I find this surprising, as the game had been published by StrikeNet Games previously, and Jim Day was the designer for MBT and IDF, two 90's era modern battle games. In retrospect, I believe that this was a large part of the reason it got through the door as it did - it was more or less a finished product, only requiring some polish. In a computer version that would handle most of the solitaire AI chores (about 80% of the solitaire game IMHO) that played in 20 minutes, this would barely be worth my time. At 90 minutes, it should be banned by the Geneva Conventions.

We'll start with the game itself. There seems to be a prejudice in wargaming circles that Euros are light and fluffy to the point of utter randomness and not worth anyone's time. Clearly, that's a foolish attitude to anyone who has played many of the excellent games that the Euro market has produced, from Euphates and Tigris to more recent titles such as Dominion. Yes, they can be very fast playing and sometimes light, but I don't see that as a downside. I suspect the real issue for the grognard is that there is no actual historic tie-in, no actual conflict being simulated in your average Euro. That was one of the knocks against Manouevre (which I consider to be an excellent title), that it was too light for what it was. However, while a very simple wargame with more theme than simulation of a specific historical conflict, there are many decisions to be made and a good player will defeat a novice quite often. TKP feels like a crap shoot from start to finish.

TKP could be about almost anything. Wagon trains on the Oregon Trail, for example. Oh, sure, the various ships represented by cards have accurate art and flavor text that gives information about when they were sunk and by what ship, and the action cards reflect actual tactics and situations, but it wouldn't take long to rejigger the game to reflect types of Conestoga wagons, cavalry units, Amerind and outlaw attackers, and the tactics and situations inherent in travel on the frontier. In that respect, the theme of commerce raiding on the high seas during WWI is about as pasted on as it gets in wargaming. In fact, there is *no* spatial element in the game. None whatsoever. You play both sides, as does everyone else, and there's no sense that you're engaging in any sort of historical conflict, just rolling dice at each other after choosing what cards you'll play. Given that in a game you'll see 20 cards total per round assuming no wackiness, and nearly a third of those you start with, there aren't even many decisions to be made.

In fact, the game feels quite a bit to me in terms of weight and chaos factors like Atlantic Storm, one of Avalon Hill's last gasps before Hasborg assimilated them. That game has been called a Bridge variant, but I wouldn't be that generous. The outcome of the game hinged on whether you could put together a Fate combination of cards that were sunk by the actual sinking vessels, and it went on for far too long for what it was. However, it's popular with wargamers, mostly because of all of the historical flavor. As a game, however, especially compared with a good Euro card game, it's an embarrassment. TKP, sadly, is worse.

During the game, you start with six, count 'em, six action cards in your hand. You can use any or all of them as "intercept" cards, the rest you can use with the printed actions. During each turn, you'll draw one more at the end of your turn. That means twenty actions the entire round. That may not seem like a lot, but when you're constantly rolling dice to see how things turn out, it can take a long time. The designer claims 2-3 hours for a four player game, far too long for something this light. Because deciding what cards to play in what capacities and what ship you attack are the only decision points in the entire game! There are response cards that can be played, but they're a relatively small part of the deck (I'm guessing something like 20%), so when it isn't your turn all you do is roll dice and maybe choose to play a response card if you have one.

You do this until the action deck is depleted, then you do it again. And again. In a four player game, that means everyone will get ten actions, which is less than one hand of bridge. Imagine a hand of Bridge taking an hour. You get the picture.

There is a solitaire version, which actually uses a pretty clever mechanism to simulate the "phantom player" (it's essentially a two-player game in this mode). You never know how much damage the PP will be able to do, and when it's your turn they may have responses back atcha. Unfortunately, given the basic paradigm for the turn (roll dice, take random action, roll dice, take random action, pick cards to play for your turn, roll dice, take random defensive action), it's utterly wasted.

I got through six turns of the solitaire game, and was so uninterested in continuing that I swept the entire game into the box. I can only hope that with more people it's more interesting, but somehow I can't see it being *enough* more interesting. At least you don't have to drive the AI, but even then, there are hardly any decisions to be made at all.

Making things worse is what must be the most poorly written rulebook for this level of complexity I've seen since Titan: the Arena. In fact, the rules even *look* like the rules for T:tA in terms of formatting. There are several concepts that aren't discussed in the rules, assuming that the players have read the explanation for every Action card in the deck, and there are about 30 of those. There is no explanation given for when you'd use the attack dice listed on the ships vs that of the intercept portion of the attack cards, no explanation of what constitutes "British Forces" or why you should care (although it's mentioned twice), and the way the rules are presented has you wondering what the heck is going on in the game right up until you hit the example of play, which is extensive but doesn't bother to tell you *why* anything happens when it does. The use of the word "select" (as in "Player A selects a blue, green, and white die") used throughout the examples implies that the player has a choice to make, but there is none.

The cards themselves (all 200 of them) are of medium weight, and about what you'd expect from a game of this price point. No linen finish (a good thing when there's this much text), and the ship art is perfectly functional. The "coin" idea seems a little precious (all dice rolls are presented with tiny pictures of the dice in front of a coin), and the solitaire deck features pencil/charcoal drawings on the top half that manages to obscure part of the text much of the time, but otherwise things seem pretty clear for the most part. They clearly took the time to make the card text clear (with the exception of figuring out what the British ship icons are for, as well as having both Torpedo and Gun attack coins on the subs), so I have to wonder why the rules are so lacking.

There are extensive optional rules that bring the game more in line with the specific conflict, but I'm extremely unlikely to get that far with this game. If it's this uninteresting in solitaire play, I'm not going to be able to talk anyone else in my group into a multi-player session that lasts even two hours with this few decision points.

What really surprised me is that this game should have come out in a small box, a la T:tA. Instead, it's a heavy box the size and heft of Manouevre's. In my copy, the rules had been pretty smushed thanks to the 100 card Action deck sliding around in the box, something that I hope isn't a problem in general. I understand that I can print the rules out myself if I want to, but other consumers will want a new set of rules and that's going to be an issue for GMT if it's a widespread problem.

So what we have here is a game that is Euro in weight, wargamish in presentation, and junk in terms of interest. I will stress that I have had no multiplayer experience with the game, and didn't even make it through a round of solitaire play, but unless you are the kind of player that liked Atlantic Storm or the more recent Pacific Typhoon, you are almost certain to be disappointed by this game. At least those games cost less and require *some* thought. If this is a good simulation on commerce raiding, no one should ever do a game on it again.

I realize that the rules for GMT's games are posted so that I can read them and see if the game is really what I want to get, and with all of the action cards listed with *long* descriptions in the rules I could have gotten a very good idea of how the game worked. I may need to start doing that, as this is a game I don't even feel comfortable *giving* away. It would frustrate novice gamers, insult eurogamers, and in my circle the wargamers wouldn't be interested. At least Manoeuvre is a good *game* with lots of decisions and that requires a fair amount of skill to play well. TKP? Not even close. I find B-17: Queen of the Skies to have a more compelling narrative and more simulation value.

I don't usually give recommendations with so little time spent with the game, but in this case I see all I need to. If you're considering buying this for solitaire play, don't unless you want to work up software to automate the AI tedium. If you're considering this for group play, think carefully about how much you value decision making. Because this game is pretty close to the level of Monopoly. Almost certainly the worst game I've bought from GMT, and I bought those Prometheus Rising CCG clones from some years back. Sorry, but this is a dud.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Quickie Recap and Why Avalanche is Paranoid

It's been a while since I've posted regularly, sorry about that. A week out of town will do that to you. There's been a little gaming here and there, a two-player game of Through the Ages with Alex at Sunriver that's best left unrecounted (I lost rather badly despite having a seven point culture advantage in the early game).

We also played a four-player game of EVE: Conquests the other night with JD, Matt R, Alex, and myself. 'Splainin' took a while, but we were pretty close to finishing up when Matt got lucky with the political display draws towards the end. It was a short game to points, which I think is a big mistake, but my opinion of the game went up. With four there can be a downtime issue (all you ever really spend time on is your logistics phase, the rest are fairly obvious choices), and I look forward to trying it with three, but otherwise everyone felt that the 'Geek complaints, other than the occasional human factors issues, were non-starters. We're looking forward to giving it a full playing at some point in the future with a medium length game.

Finally, as some of you know I own most of the Panzer Grenadier series, a love-hate relationship made more difficult by Avalanche Press' spot-on imitation of a company run by a guy with a PhD in Military History. Which is less imitation than truth, actually. I subscribe to a Yahoo Group that covers it, and there are the usual flare ups over minutiae. It will come as no surprise to those who have followed me from back in the good old Gathering of Engineers days that every once in a while I really put my foot in it and proceed to walk all over the white carpet.

However, this was not one of those times. This was one of those times when someone else took issue with a side comment I made and it's produced about 300 column inches of pixelated type. Here's what happened:

OP posts a message about Origins, saying that he hardly saw any PG being played in the Wargame Room (insert Dr. Strangelove quote here) and wished he had. I suggested that it might be a good idea when a major national con or a smaller con in your area is on, that you post and look for opponents. I also suggested that with their new digs, perhaps Avalanche Press could do what GMT Games does (a silly idea, as they seem hell bent on doing exactly the opposite as often as possible) and host their own in-house con. I also suggested that since they wouldn't allow us to play their games online via VASSAL or any other method, that perhaps they could at least spring for the pop and chips.

That was when the guy who I shall call Nemesis as he always seems to disagree with whatever it is I say on that forum sent back the following -

"You know, these little digs don't go un-noticed by those of us who don't
agree with you, and I have a solution:

Why don't you develop a proprietary PzG-only game client? Then, you
could give it to APL, they could distribute it, and we could all use it.

For free, of course."

As you can imagine, I took the bait, as did a couple of other people. Nemesis apparently is of the opinion that even allowing others to create VASSAL modules for PG would be giving away the IP of APL on a plate. I've been rather vocal about this, as it's been a major impediment to me playing the game on anything approaching a regular basis.

To be fair, his point is not that he doesn't want to see VASSAL modules or any other sanctioned online play, he simply feels that it's unrealistic to expect them to do so, and that it's not a part of the "license" if you will that you get when you buy the game.

My counter point is that Avalanche is foolish to actively dissuade anyone from online play. Although they seem to still be in business. Sort of. I've suggested in the past that APL follow the Days of Wonder model and create a proprietary online play component that you gain access to by purchasing their games. However, it's clear that after the move and the Cassino debacle (have I mentioned that I'm *still* waiting for a hard copy of the scenario book? And two countersheets that don't have offset issues with 20 or more counters on the back side?) that Avalanche isn't going to be doing anything other than picking up the pieces for a while.

So I came up with another suggestion. This one is pretty simple. I'm willing to guess that Eastern Front Deluxe, the expanded version of the original gameset, is pretty close to saturation in the market, or at least close enough for government work. Certainly compared to most of their products. Almost every expansion they make requires pieces or boards from EFD. Putting out a VASSAL module of EFD seems like a no brainer, and you could even leave out the entire Rumanian army just to give the people who haven't bought the game even more reason to buy it.

APL doesn't even have to create the module, just approve it and distribute it through their website. Track the changes in sales, and you have a good data point on whether or not VASSAL modules hurt sales.

Nemesis has yet to comment on this idea, but then again I did suggest that if he got so upset by my posts that perhaps he shouldn't read them. I also asked that if anyone else had a problem with my position that they could let me know. So far I've heard nothing on the subject, but I expect that most people have tuned it out by now.

One other interesting thing that occurred to me in rehashing this beast yet again: I think I know why APL is so paranoid about their IP. To understand, it helps if you've have some exposure to academia and how you get ahead in that field. Basically, you have to publish or perish, and for anyone working in a field that looks backward (such as music history or literature) they are quite seriously running out of topics to cover in your articles and dissertations. My music advisor told me nearly 15 years ago that I had better find an obscure ancient composer that did even passingly interesting stuff and stake my claim as quickly as possible.

How does that tie in? Simple - Mike Benninghoff, the owner, has a PhD in military history. You don't get a PhD without running into the publish or perish paradigm. Throw in one of the early APL boardgames, Survival of the Witless (a terrible game but from my experience a pretty good satire/simulation of academia), and you start to see some traction in this theory. The game included designer's notes (uncredited, btw - whoever designed it didn't want to burn their bridges, although clearly Mike didn't mind as he was the publisher) that tell the story of an associate professor who got two letters in his mailbox at the end of the school year - one saying that he was the most popular teacher in the department, and a second saying that he was not getting tenure and wouldn't be asked back. This is pretty common - tenured professors don't like the new kids getting more attention than them.

So there you have it. A PhD running a game company who ignores every bit of evidence from other companies that online components (which they have the power to control as much or as little as they wish) are not only good for business, but more or less required by most gamers.

PG is a very interesting little gem, once you wade into the 75 scenarios in EFD and find the ones worth playing. I mean, who believes that all of these scenarios were *really* playtested? Not just run once to make sure one side doesn't die in five seconds, but repeatedly played with different strategies? Given that APL tests in-house and doesn't use outside playtesters, that encourages kind of a myopic view of the system.

And there's another problem. APL's games, for the most part, are in-house designs. In other words, Mike lives or dies on a handful of systems. To my knowledge, it's the only wargaming company that does it that way. Everyone else may have their series, but they accept a lot of outside designs. Cassino was unusual in that it was a PG game from an outside designer, and you see how badly they botched it's development. In other words, they're insular and closed and paranoid about their IP. I have to wonder if they ever look at what other game companies are doing and ask themselves if there isn't a better way. Given my almost constant problems when I've ordered directly from them, I guess it's not a surprise.

Cassino really was the last straw for me. I've got 90% of their SWWaS, GWaS, and PG product at this point, and that's more than enough. Of course, many of you will say that I should have stopped at 5%, but let's not quibble. I like the system quite a bit, but APL has a terrible rep in my group, and there are only really two people who are willing to play these games with me, one a 45 minute drive away and the other with more desire than free time. As such, the game rarely comes out and while I like the systems there's no question that they would all become playable and enjoyable in VASSAL (especially the SWWaS and GWaS games, with their plotting tedium, especially when things change).

I'll point out that I did manage to get the entire SWWaS set for less than the price of the Leyte Gulf box thanks to a snafu in their allowing Gold Club members to buy their seasonal specials packages at half price for two days. I notice they shut that element down not long after I got mine. They did honor the price, I'll give them that. They also took a month to get it to me and repeated pinging. So there's something they're doing right.

So there it is, APL. No more money from me until you pull your brilliant brain out of your collective paranoid ass and let me play the damned games I've paid for online. I'm not asking you to spend a dime, I'm simply asking you (and giving you multiple suggestions for how you could do it without giving away the farm) to *allow* me to play online. Because with any module, the only way to play is for both people to have it, and once I give it to someone it's out of my hands.

Perhaps that's the best way to go about this - make my own VASSAL module as described above, and send it to ten people, then let them send it out to ten more. Perhaps they'd go after me for copyright violation (I'd have to create my own artwork to avoid that particular issue), and I suspect that in the end they'd just be more paranoid. Still, I'd get to play the damned game.

One last swipe before I go because it's been a really bad couple of months for me and I'm feeling peckish...

"these little digs don't go un-noticed by those of us who don't agree with you..."

Who's this "us," Kimosabe?

Sometimes it's good to be smarmy.