Monday, February 22, 2010

Mosby's Raiders

As part of my annual Wargame Goals I am trying to play a solitaire wargame every month. Some of these are longer term affairs (like RAF) and some are a little shorter (like Field Commander Rommel, January's game). I have a pretty busy schedule for the first three or four months of 2010, so I'm frontloading the schedule with the quicker games. February's game is Mosby's Raiders, an old Victory Games title. The American Civil War is *not* my first choice of era for gaming, and in fact my interests pretty much die out right around the 30 Year's War and don't pick up again until WW1, so it's odd that this would be something I'd buy, or even play.

The subject matter is about Confederate raids led by the aforementioned Mosby into Union lines in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. You take on the role of Mosby, and you run around the map trying kill off Union combat units, blow up rail lines, bridges, and depots, and even have some opportunity to kidnap a couple of Union leaders. All the while, you try not to let Mosby die (which requires two wounds and is easier than you think), try to keep his Notoriety up (which goes up for kidnapping, blowing up stuff, or winning battles), and hit the magic Notoriety number at the end of the game.

For those of you familiar with Victory Games Ambush! titles, there will be some similar concepts, although not nearly at the level of complexity as that other excellent game series. The main similarity is that you use Operations to control Mosby right up until a Union combat force gets activated, and then you go to Rounds, wherein the Union gets to do stuff as well, usually chasing Mosby around. At some point, Mosby disbands his units, or loses a battle, or dies, all of which end the turn. If your Notoriety isn't at the same or higher level as the current game turn, you lose (or if Mosby dies, of course).

As the game goes on, Mosby has a higher and higher notoriety, which means that there's a higher Union Awareness that he's out there raiding, and so it gets harder and harder to slip by Union forces on your way to nuking a bridge. However, at the same time Mosby tends to have larger raider forces and more Action cards that give him random special mutant powers. I get the impression that later on the turns become shorter and shorter as Mosby has less and less ability to penetrate through the Union lines, so I think it's wise to go after those deep targets early and save the closer ones for later in the game. However, there will be times where you are offered up a juicy depot or leader to kidnap close to the Union lines and you'd be a fool not to go for it.

Making the game very replayable are the random events, the number of which appear each turn are equally random. Some are very helpful, some will have you gnashing your teeth, and some will have no effect whatsoever. Also, at various points in the game you run out of status markers and the Union lines "reset", meaning that all of those areas that you know where the Union forces are suddenly are just as unknown as they were early. Also, as your Notoriety rises, more and more units get added to the pool, so a better chance of drawing combat units as opposed to couriers, pickets, supply wagons, and blanks (which means nothing at all).

Those of you who remember my screaming about the vague and difficult to parse rules for Fields of Fire won't be surprised to learn that I had to spend quite a bit of time figuring out some of the base concepts for this game, which are unfortunately scattered throughout the rules. Two paragraphs describing what the various spaces were and how they interacted would have helped immensely, but instead you have to figure out how Large Union Forces spaces differ from spaces inside Union lines, and also how the space status markers play into everything by reading eight or nine different paragraphs spread around the rules, largely unmarked. There is an example, but if you're trying to learn as you go you'll beat your head against a wall repeatedly.

To illustrate my point, let's look at how Mosby probes a space. The rules for probing say that you only probe if there's a unit there, but the game starts with no units on the map, so you'd wonder why you'd ever probe. However, the rule is that if there is an "unrevealed" space inside Union lines it is *assumed* to have a unit in it. Further, if it's a Large Union Forces space, then you don't ever put an revealed status marker on it. Even the use of the revealed status markers was a bit murky.

That said, once the various pieces come together, the game is extremely easy to play with minimal rules look ups, and it plays *fast* too. I got through half of the game (after making a few other errors in earlier tries) in less than two hours, although I have to admit that things went my way in the early turns.

If you do get a copy of the game, I strongly recommend you read this first:

In this game, you will raid as Mosby behind Union lines. All of the round spaces at or behind those lines are considered to be in one of two states: Revealed, or Unrevealed. Unrevealed spaces are considered to have one implicit unit in each, and you will typically Probe into such spaces to see if you want to risk slipping by those forces or instead find a less dangerous place to raid. Once a space is revealed and has a marker in it, the implicit unit that started in that space is now on the board in some form or other, either "Active" and face up, or "inactive" and with it's Union flag side showing.

You will check to see what those units are through performing Activation Checks. Each action that Mosby undertakes during his turn (either during Operations, before the Union Combat Units activate, or during Rounds) will generate Activation Checks in some set of spaces. For example, a Probe will cause an Activation Check in the space being probed, but no others. When you go into Rounds, on the other hand, often as the result of an Activation Check, you will perform an AC on every unrevealed space adjacent to an active unit, as well as for those revealed spaces with inactive Union units. It is possible for an inactive unit to be in an unrevealed space, so this concept is important to understand.

Finally, you need to understand that the hexagonal spaces on the map (and those spaces that are later designated as such) are Large Union Forces spaces. They are like the other spaces behind the lines, but instead of putting a Revealed marker, they are an unlimited source of Union units. Think of them as popping out a new unit every time a check is done and/or successful, depending on the reason for the check. They also prevent certain actions from being used in those spaces, and sometimes will generate large numbers of Union forces through random events. As such, they are never considered Revealed but always Unrevealed.

Those three paragraphs would have saved me literally two hours of banging my head against this game. I hope that if you ever get the chance to play, they will help you avoid my fate.

So how does the game play? Actually, it's pretty fun and fast. Most die rolls are against a given number, such as ACs rolled against the current Union Awareness Level, which goes up and down based on what sort of mischief Mosby gets up to. A kidnapping, for example, raises it by two points, so you go from a 16% chance of activation when the level is at it's minimum of 1 to a 50% chance before you even start rolling for activation checks. And if you were in Operations before, there will be another round of ACs once you've determined who goes first during Rounds!

Combat is also very quick. You figure out who the attacker is, compute a simple odds ratio, decide if Mosby will "skeedaddle" (disperse in the face of combat) or not, figure a quick DRM, and roll the die. There is very little in this game that requires more than 30 seconds to complete taken as individual actions, and it makes the game much more enjoyable.

That said, this is a wargame and there are several things that you have to remember, such as always making a Mosby Casualty Check (where he is wounded on a 1-2) when you roll a 1 in combat, regardless of who wins. As such, when Mosby gets wounded, and he will, you run a huge risk of doing nearly anything for the rest of that turn and into the next. However, since you more or less *have* to keep the pressure on because of the Sudden Death victory conditions, there's a good amount of tension in the game.

There's no question that the game is a bit of a love letter to Mosby by the designer (who apparently had his likeness painted on the cover as one of Mosby's compatriots), and the excellent Commentary section that outlines Mosby's career is occasionally fanboi material in spots. As a Damned Yankee, I find this sort of thing a little annoying, largely because the core reason for the war was whether or not traffiking in human slaves could be exported to new territories or states, and it's hard to really get behind the South as a result. Yes, I'm aware that there were "other" reasons for Secession, but the basic reality remains - without slavery, there would have been no ACW.

That said, I don't know that I'd have quite as much of a problem playing a very specific German leader performing similar activities during WW2. Mosby isn't committing atrocities in this game, although I can't really say whether or not he did so historically. An upcoming game from GMT will focus on the Gross Deutchland Division (also the focus of three TCS games from MMP), and there has been some small controversy about whether or not this particular formation should be glorified or not. Heck, even the title Conflict of Heroes drew flak for using the word "Heroes" in the title when most Americans in this era would consider both Nazis and Communists short of being what we might call a Hero.

In the end, this is a game about a man whose home state has been occupied by what he considers to be foreign invaders, and he is trying to disrupt their activites, what Ronald Reagan would have called a Freedom Fighter. How history judges such people is largely a function of how they carried out their mission and who won, although the ACW has the distinction of being perhaps the single conflict where the losers got to define history, at least wherever they could, and still do so to this day. After all, it's still called the War of Northern Aggression in many parts of the South, even though the war was precipitated because of Secession, and there are still people pissed off that they lost 150 years after the fact.

Oh well. If this is the most controversial solitaire game I play this year, then I guess that will be a good thing.

BTW, I am about halfway into my "official" playthrough for the purposes of meeting my goal for the month. I expect my next solitaire game will be something equally shortish, probably London's Burning or similar, mostly due to a lot of work preparing for and executing GameStorm in late March. I also hope to get my first "dusty" game up, The Legend Begins, although I was dismayed to discover that two of the Italian arty units (there are only three in the game) are missing. I'm almost all of the way through those rules, and should have the long-term wargame tables freed up by late March.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

PSA - 2001-2003 RAV4 ECM Problems

My wife and I have owned a RAV4 from the first year they were built (1996) until the present day, and in general they have been good vehicles. However, this week we learned that our current model from 2002 has a design flaw that Toyota has avoided publicizing that will almost certainly affect every RAV4 from that vintage (2001-2003). I did a huge amount of research on this, and I thought I'd pass on what I'd learned to those who read this blog in the hopes that I'll save you some time and money and trouble down the road. Ha ha.

The problem starts when the car starts to have a "rough" or "harsh" shift. In our case, it was one "thunk" in the morning followed by no problems for the rest of the day, then another thunk or two the next day. If you continue to drive the car under these conditions, you are asking to have your transmission replaced or rebuilt, which if replaced can cost up to $5000 or more.

When you take it to a dealer or a shop, they will be very confused, as the diagnostics may not indicate any problem at all, or perhaps a transmission issue. The thing is, this isn't specifically a tranny issue, it has to do with the Engine Control Module, or ECM, the computer that controls the shift points in your automatic transmission. I should note here that manual transmissions do not have this problem. From my research, it appears that the problem has to do with electrolytic capacitors in the ECM that can't stand up to heat over time, and the ECM is placed within the car (behind your glove box) so that they will eventually fail.

Toyota issued a Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB, in 2006 on this issue, TC002-06, wherein they are authorized to replace the ECM in your car so long as it is within the "emissions" warranty period, which is 8 years or 80,000 miles from the initial date of purchase. Unfortunately, our car was five days out of this period, although we are under 80k miles by quite a bit. If you need to replace the ECM out of warranty, Toyota will charge you about $1700. There are sites online that sell the ECM for about half of that cost, and your mechanic should be able to replace it very easily (or you, if you are so inclined).

However, my research showed that this works some of the time. Toyota did issue a recall to "reflash" these ECMs (which was done to our car back in 2007, although I have no recollection of them doing it or telling us about it), but since the problem is in the hardware rather than the software, this is unlikely to do much more than fix the problem long enough so that your car will be out of warranty when it *does* happen. To make matters worse, Toyota won't replace the ECM unless your car exhibits the problem, so no preventative solution there unless you have a spare $1700 laying around.

Interestingly, the solution that I've chosen to go with initially is to pull the ECM and send it off to a garage in Brooklyn ( that has studied the problem and has a fix - replace the caps. In fact, if you ship it overnight and they get it by noon the next day, they will express ship it back to you for receipt the day after that. The cost - $250 plus your initial shipping cost. While $250 is still a pretty penny for many in this economic climate, it's much cheaper than even the $800 for a brand new ECM that may or may not have the problem fixed. I also plan to have the tranny fluid flushed and replaced on the off chance that some loose metal might be rattling around in there, and I'm paying the mechanic we've gone to for years to remove and reinstall the ECM so that they're happy - they spent considerable time on the phone with me, much of it saying that they were "positive" that it was the transmission. Not surprisingly, almost everyone who has had this problem reports a similar experience with their mechanic, as the diagnostics to measure the problem are also faulty.

They are pulling the ECM as we speak, and we should know if the fix worked or not when we get it back on Monday or Tuesday. Total cost for this "experiment" will be about $370 once the fluid is flushed.

This is a very dangerous situation even if you haven't had the problem yet but own one of these cars. Like hard drive failure, it will happen but it's only a matter of when. People are reporting sudden acceleration when the car suddenly downshifts, or the tranny stalling out on the freeway. That Toyota hasn't addressed this issue *despite* an article in the New York Times as well as a couple of class action lawsuits in various states (great for the lawyers, mediocre at best for the consumers, terrible for Toyota).  Had I been aware of the issue and my car was out of warranty, I'd have considered doing this (and avoided the tranny flush), but Toyota has kept it as a "secret" warranty for four years. Given their ongoing quality issues, I have a sinking feeling that this is a brand that, if it survives, will take a good decade to get back to the level of consumer perception it had even two years ago, if ever.

A couple of notes: I have no connection whatsoever with the company doing the fixes, and while I have not had time yet to see if it works as well as the dozens of people in various RAV4 forums say, I consider this a logical first step if you are out of warranty. Also, there are apparently a few other mechanics around the country who are also doing work, but I keep seeing posts from people who have gone to them and *not* seen the problem fixed, which I don't see about the Brooklyn folks. Finally, their website lists the fix as a $400 job, which is an old price. I spoke with them this morning and they charge $250, which includes return express postage.

While I haven't had a positive ending to this story just yet, I felt that this was something that should be mentioned on the off chance that it would save someone money. One of the folks in my game group had this happen three weeks ago and paid for the ECM replacement from Toyota. I suspect he'd have done what I'm doing in the hope that it would be a better fix at a better price.

My opinion of the Toyota brand has dropped considerably. I do know that if this fix does *not* work, that I will be looking to have Toyota fix it, and if they are unwilling to do so under warranty, especially after reflashing the ECM to push out the problem past the warranty date, I will get the cars fixed, sell both the RAV and my Lexus, and never purchase Toyota or rebadged Toyotas ever again, much less buy from their dealers. I am not naive enough to think that other companies don't do the same thing, but the important thing is that they haven't done it to *me*. Toyota has, and I'll think three or four times before I buy from them again even if they do honor the warranty.

We now return you to gaming related posts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Time To Thin The Herd

My game room has gotten out of control recently, to the point where I'm running out of good places to keep games. It's bad enough that the only real choice I'd have is to start putting games in bins and storing them in the (unheated/uncooled) attic. As such, I've had to make yet another hard decision and get rid of some games.

So how to go about this? It's a bit of a tough call in some instances. I *really* hate to get rid of the vast majority of my wargames - they tend to hold value well, and most of them are things that I'd love to get on the table at some point (as seen by my efforts this year to get the "dusty" games out). As such, with a few exceptions (such as The Kaiser's Pirates, which shouldn't even qualify as a wargame) I am going to hang onto the ones I have. That may change at some time, but not this pass.

That leaves a lot of Euros. In fact, part of what is spurring this effort is that games have taken over my "long" tables under the window in my game room. Any long-term game I'm playing will have to be set up there, which means the dusty games. The reason most of them are dusty, btw, is because they have multiple maps and really need a place they can stay set up for more than a month or so. One mappers can go in the poster frames and then in the art slots, but the bigger games need the tables. As such, my first pass is to clear up enough space on the shelves.

Which I did today, putting the "going away" games on the table for now for organizing. And I was brutal with these games. My friend Mike recently went through a similar process with a similar result, selling tons of games that my group simply doesn't play. I took a slightly different tack - I kept games that I thought my granddaughter or great nieces/nephews might be interested in as time goes on (and I tend to give them my copy if they really liked it, with the caveat that they give it to another cousin when they get bored of it). A lot of games that didn't get a fair shake are going into the pile, including Vino, Hacienda, and Tower of Babel (a game I never did "get").

So how to get these games off my shelves/tables and into the greater world? Money isn't a huge factor for me, although some of the games that seem to draw large amounts will go onto either BGG's or ConSimWorld's marketplaces, such as Atlantic Storm. The cutoff line here will be if it seems to draw $50 or more then I'll sell it.

Tonight, since my birthday is coming up, I decided to try to draw people from my group out to the Deep South of Wilsonville by "reverse gifting" some of the games. Only three people showed up, but they walked off with six games that I no longer need to worry about, and were all thrilled to do so. I think I will also offer to do the same with my game-store owning friend. The rest I will offer to the Rip City Gamer population at fairly low prices, perhaps 50% of going rate.

Once this particular population has gotten a chance to thin this particular herd, then I'll have some hard decisions. One is to participate in one of the local game "auctions" which seem to be drying up. In fact, the big one in the area is now associated with a convention I have little interest in attending, and the last one was truly a buyer's market. A second option is to gift some of the games to GameStorm as volunteer swag, which has the possible benefit of being tax deductible, although that would net me around 40 cents on the dollar and require a lot of work. I could also gift them to Goodwill or some similar charitable organization, although I suspect most of these won't really go to good homes. However, that would be a very *quick* option, and one that might be the easiest to do if I tire of these games sitting on my shelf.

Let's say that I *do* get rid of all of these games. The problem is that I am *still* at capacity if I want to keep the tables cleared off. That's a Bad Thing, as new wargames are coming in all the time - two are being shipped by a single company in the next week or so! And the wargames aren't leaving anytime soon. The result is that I'm pretty much back where I started and I'll need to think carefully about what new euros I buy in the future. Sadly, there are a *lot* of new Euros I'm interested in, although so far I've chosen not to buy RuneWars (which will help some).

Perhaps a good choice is to put the games that will be popular (maybe) with the younger generation in my family into storage for now. This means games like Sphinx, Luxor, WoW the Adventure Game, things like that. I may also need to decide if I really need three editions of History of the World or Cosmic Encounters or two editions of Formula De when all I really wanted from the recent reprint was the dashboards. The party games may all go out to the family vacation house as well, as they are very rarely played at my house (partly because we live in The Bushes, something that will change in the relatively near future).

Like I say, some tough calls to make. Considering that the *tops* of my bookshelves are full, not just the shelves themselves, and I've preordered what will probably be something like 20-30 new wargames coming out *just* this year, perhaps I need to really examine what's important and what's not. Because storage is an option that just means I have a bunch of games that I don't play sitting in boxes somewhere, and there's really no point in that. Games are supposed to be played, and my main goal is to get these games to good homes where they will be appreciated.

As always, I welcome suggestions. Aside from the obvious "give them all to me". ;-)

I have far too many expensive hobbies.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Running A Conflict Of Heroes Event At GameStorm

I am running a Conflict of Heroes event at the annual GameStorm con, held in the Portland, OR metro area (actually just across the river in Vancouver, WA). I've been putting a lot of thought into how to run such an event, which is not supposed to be a tournament per se but instead an "event". By that, I mean that a bunch of people play the game without there being so much a "winner" and "loser" but instead use the game to tell a story.

To do this for a variable number of players, I have to think carefully about how to do this. At first, I was thinking that I'd have two rounds of preplanned scenarios, but I'm starting to move away from this to a more flexible concept. I'm still nailing things down, but here is the basic idea of what I'd like to do. If you have comments or suggestions, please make them.

Players will divide into two teams, with odd numbers going over to the "attacker" side of things. Both sides would have players of varying skill or familiarity levels if there are such. The game is played out over a broad front, with several "sectors" each consisting of some number of maps. The central sectors will be larger, with smaller maps as you get to the flanks. The event is played over two rounds, with the results of the first round directly affecting the second. One team is the attacker, the other the defender, but if the attacker does poorly enough the defender may be counter-attacking in the second round!

Rather than have a given set up for each sector, each side gets an Order of Battle that corresponds to a number of organizations (I am afraid I don't have enough knowledge of such things to know exactly what size that is - platoon, battalion, or company) that will scale depending upon the number of players that are involved. For example, if there were six players on the attacking side, then there might be (say) 15 companies attacking, from tank units to strictly infantry. If there were eight players, there would be an additional 4 companies. The defending forces are based on the number of *attacking* players for balance. These numbers are for illustration only - I have no idea what the makeup of given formations will be.

Next, players will elect a Commander who will organize the various units. The goal is to break through the center of the front (or to prevent such a thing happening for the defender), so obviously the armored formations will be massed there with some infantry support, with solely infantry on the smaller flank sectors. This not only imitates actual doctrine in the field, but also allows less experienced players to have a good time while learning the game and enjoying the event. Some units can be held back as reserves if there is a breakthrough or counter-attack. The defender will have to decide where the main thrust will occur  and try to assign their companies accordingly. It will be possible to have multiple players controlling units for one side in a single sector.

Depending upon how the first round goes, commanders will be able to adjust their forces to some degree based on success, although some units may be pulled back entirely if they have enough losses. At this point, reserves can be committed, forces can be transferred between sectors, but the idea is that the original sub-commanders for each sector will remain the same, barring loss of players (or gain) between rounds.

I will need to come up with specific maps for specific sectors, probably with extras being inserted between the flanks and the center on each side to adjust for more people to give a good range of complexity for the entire front. The best plan is to "rank" the sector maps (which will need three layers per sector - initial front, area on attacker side, and area on defender side), and take them out in order according to the number of players.

Victory should be fairly obvious, but there will be bonus points awarded for not committing reserves and for units that haven't been wiped out (representing cadres that can be used to rebuild those units). I will not award prizes based on winning or losing, but for things like Worst Luck, Bravest Soviet Hero, Bravest German Hero, that sort of thing.

What I need to do is figure out exactly what level of organization I need to work with, build the formations accordingly, figure out the maps used in each sector, etc. I'm expecting something around a maximum of six sectors for this event, which means probably something like six games (preferably using both the Bear and Kursk box sets for the central areas with some slack on the flanks). I will definitely need to have six sets of cards as well. The hardest part will be creating the OoBs for both sides.

The plan is to use the battle of Kursk as a model, and there should be some good material on this that I can use, although I don't feel I will need to be completely historical. Instead, the object is to provide an "only at a con" experience, expose new players to the game, and see if this framework is worthwhile to use for other conventions by other GMs.

Like I say, I'm very interested in comments and suggestions. The con will be held in late March, with the event itself running for four hours from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday the 27th. If you're planning to attend, I will be registering the event in the next few days on the GameStorm site (

Thanks for your help, and may your tanks never brew up.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Eugene Games Gala 2010

Alex and I went down to the Eugene Games Gala, Lorna's awesome mini-con held Super Bowl Weekend. We were only two of the three people from Portland who attended, and in some ways that was a blessing as it forced me to play with people I didn't know before. A really great crowd!

I'll be brief on the various games we played, but here is a list:

  • Wings of War - Famous Aces - A quick game with Alex and Roger. My Spad went down in seconds after two hits prevented it from moving to either side! A simple game, but it piqued my interest as I have a WW2 version that I'm interested in trying out now.
  • Agricola - Four player game with rules as published. I stand by my earlier assessment that the game is potentially broken without a draft for the occupations and minor improvements. I also think that it should be played with three at the most. I'm aware I'm in the minority.
  • Showmanager - After grabbing dinner, we had two more people who wanted to play a game with us, and there were few six player games. I finally noticed Showmanager, which was a great choice. Everyone was very enthusiastic about the game, although there was no grease pencil and we made do with paper scraps. 
  • Alea Iacta Est - Roger bailed and the rest of us played this newly released (in English) dice game. We screwed up by not giving out reroll tokens for unused dice, but otherwise I really like this game. Very light, but lots of interesting options and fairly brisk play.
  • Steam Barons, Stock Variant, N England map - Six player game using the stock variant, which I'm unlikely to do again. It is nearly impossible to build up a long run in five turns, so half of the payout table is useless (we had one person gain a CEO bonus the entire game). It felt like it hadn't been playtested, as there was no way to generate more money other than to onesey-twosey stock sales for a $1 profit. Very disappointing, and I'm hoping I've missed something, but otherwise this is the worst game Wallace has produced. 
  • Pocket Battles: Celts vs Romans - This game has gotten a lot of good buzz, but I'm not sure why. Yet. We played two games (the first a learning game) with 60 point armies, and they were over in 15 minutes after spending 20 minutes assembling an army. Perhaps it will work better with a larger army - less chance of having your units wiped out fast. Having "starter" armies and setup would have helped immensely.
  • Factory Manager - I taught and played in this five player game where I felt like I'd learned a lot from my first two games earlier in the year. However, I decided to go last in the final turn and as such wasn't able to get the necessary upgrades to get over an income of 110, and Aaron's 130 income edged past me for the win. I like this, but the Power Grid name on the box is flat out misleading and it loses points on that basis. 
  • Monty Python Fluxx - Filler while waiting to do the gift exchange. Requires more alcohol than we had in our systems (which was none). However, I did manage to get a decent trade for my copy of Tide of Iron by taking Gloria Mundi, plus Conquest of Pangea which looks to be a mess.
  • Homesteaders - Civ building game set during the time of American Manifest Destiny. Interesting but the theme loses me, and this is a game that requires multiple plays to figure out the best way to manipulate your resources. Won't go on my to-buy list, I'm afraid, but I'd play again.
  • Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus - My first time playing the variant. I found it all pretty worthwhile other than we rarely used the Pegasus locations and the Cylon Leader win requirements are all pretty easy to figure out early. We made it to New Caprica within two (!) jumps, aided by a Crisis card that gave us one jump for "free". We blasted off from NC with three characters in Detention and five civvie ships still on the planet, plus a boatload of Cylon raiders knocking on the door of the five ships that had made it off planet. Population wasn't hurt too much, and our morale ended up at 1, but enough for the Humans to win. A fun game, but I'm not sure the Cylon Leader part of the expansion lives up to the very high quality experience of the base game.
  • We The People - A teaching game with Alex, who is interested in learning wargames. Unfortunately, he took the British (as I thought that keeping Washington safe would be the critical issue), but in both games the Declaration came out in the first turn and the British drew very few Ops cards or things that would give him PC markers. And, stupid me, I forgot that you don't check for victory at the end of a turn, but when the British government failed. Obviously the lack of sleep had taken it's toll by then. Oh well. 
All in all, a very good experience. As always, it's who you play with, and I'm looking forward to reinforcing some of these new friendships when people are at GameStorm in March. 

Many many thanks to Lorna for her time and energy in putting this together. Putting on my Sunriver retreats is hard enough work, having a hotel in the mix seems like it would be even more work. 

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Off To EGG

A friend in Eugene (the second largest city in Oregon, about 2 hours down I-5 from Portland) holds a "Eugene Games Gala" the first weekend in February, which both coincides with the Super Bowl (a game I haven't watched in years as even the commercials are bad now) and her birthday. This year will be interesting as I don't believe many people from our group who normally attend will be there. In fact, I know only that Alex and myself are going. Obviously, there are a lot more people from the southern Willamette Valley who will be there, but in the past it's been mostly people I know who I've played with.

I'm expecting to get in some introductory wargaming with Alex (possibly Bravery In The Sand) and also a longer game on Friday with my friend Doug B from the area. Past that, I'm not quite sure what to take. Unfortunately, I've had a very busy week and thus almost no time to prep anything, so any new games I'll be playing straight out of the rulebook. I was hoping to get a game Mechanisburg in, Rise of Empires, Le Havre, and probably some new stuff. Maybe even Agricola: FotM as I haven't played that yet. Also, A Brief History of the World.

As I mentioned in my last post, I will probably blog after the con is over but I intend to take good notes.

See you Monday.

A Shorter Empire

Just a quick update on my post regarding Rise of Empires. Chris, Mike, and myself got in a three player game on Tuesday, so I have a better sense of how long the game takes with three. The answer: about two and a half hours with one player new to the game (although Chris does extremely well in absorbing rules for games, especially Wallace titles). I would venture so far to say that you could play in two hours with three players if you were motivated and experienced (in this case, knowing what the progression tiles do and the city schedule).

Play definitely felt like you had more control, although I found myself having to take "useless" actions in the third era because there were no territory tiles remaining (you ditch any leftover tiles at the end of each turn, unlike the 4-5 player version), in one case having three (!) Trade actions of which I was able to use exactly one to my benefit.

I found that I was able to change strategies to a certain extent in mid-game, which was reassuring. At the start of the second era, I decided that there was too much competition for the Empire tiles and map placement, and made a conscious decision to limit my involvement on the map to one late-turn placement (something that would have been a lot harder with four or five, as we never ran out of Empire tiles, just global actions, six per turn with three players). Instead, I took steam pumps, went heavy on prairie territories, and also bought as many cities as I could. This strategy paid off, as I was scoring in the mid-30's in Era 3, 20 of it with cities (and TV) alone. By focusing on specific spaces on the board, I was able to generate another 15 or so VP per turn. In the end, I managed to keep ahead of Chris those last two turns while Mike stalled out after not keeping his cities around.

I don't know that this strategy would work as well in a game with more players, especially grabbing those last second board areas. Competition for cities would be more difficult as well - I got the sense that people weren't thinking in terms of cities, although that will change. Cities may cost you more in food or resources (and cubes at the end of eras), but no one can steal them from you and you can mitigate the food problem through Prairies. It was a good strategy, and generates resources (if you have steam pumps) that you can use to get gold or more VP. I'm looking forward to trying more strategies out.

BTW, I bought the game, ending my long boycott of Phalanx. That said, I will still avoid their games as impulse buys, and definitely won't purchase one unless I've gotten a chance to play the game and look through the rules as I play. However, this game is a definite step up for them in terms of rules clarity, and I hope that this was a conscious decision on their part.

I expect that I'll get in a four player game over the long weekend in Eugene at EGG. I'll keep notes on the weekend and will blog on Sunday or Monday. Wish me luck!