Thursday, April 01, 2010

GameStorm 12, Day 3

Looking back, I think that most of the anxiety I had about GameStorm had very little to do with the job of scheduling the con, but instead with me deciding to run a Conflict of Heroes event. Worse, I'd decided to come up with the system myself, which I've discussed earlier. I think the ideas are sound, but it was a lot to take on at a time when I already had taken a lot on. Fortunately, Uwe Eickert, the game's designer, came through with a campaign game that had most of the things I was looking for (interaction between boards, a variety of complexity levels, and a two-hour play time). What it didn't have was multiple rounds or more control over the situation. I still plan to develop this with the idea of it being a DYI system, but GS12 was a terrible time to be doing it. In hindsight, this was something I think I knew from the beginning and was the cause of much of the background stress I was feeling leading up to the con itself.

The good news is that I was smart enough not to book my time before the event, but instead to take the time to get the games set up (which required four sets, mostly for the decks of cards, not to mention the extra damage markers - I needed three of both foot and vehicle markers for the four boards). I also was a bit leery of teaching a game that I'd really only played basic scenarios of, certainly nothing that took everything into account. And this official campaign made sure to do that - there were mortars, trucks, APCs, hills, balkas, villages, tanks, even off-board artillery. I suspect it's intended more as a demo tool than anything else, but as it was only three of us had any real experience with the game so it did what it was supposed to do. 

We had an interesting mix of players, from one guy who had bought the game for his father as (I surmise) a way for them to connect, but they got bogged down in the rules. To be fair, these were the original Awakening The Bear rules, and he got one of the rulesets that was ordered incorrectly. I told him to contact Uwe for a replacement and in the meantime to print out the much-improved online ruleset for that set. At the other end was an experienced wargamer, but one that hadn't seen the Storm of Steel ruleset. 

I spent about an hour explaining the system and drew quite a crowd, much larger than I expected. I sort of thought that I'd see maybe five or six people, but we got over ten at times. Thanks to Walt for being there to remind me of rules I'd forgotten. If I were to do it again, I'd start with the concepts of terrain and LOS before getting into the units and what they do, which seems like the right way to do it, but is hard to cover the idea of an attack if the players don't understand LOS, which tends to be in relatively few wargames and almost no strategy or euro games. 

We then split into groups. Chris B had wanted to play, but was in the middle of something else. However, he offered to come play if we needed an eighth player, and we did indeed have exactly seven. The alternative was me sitting out, and I would have been a little disappointed if that had been the case as we wouldn't have done all four boards. As it was, Dave played the guy who had bought the game for his dad on the "infantry only" board out on one flank, and by the end of the game he felt like he had gotten a much better feel for the game. Dave lost the hill he had his arty spotter on in the second turn, and ended up losing by 10-2 and setting back the Soviet cause. 

On the other flank was Walt and Andy playing a tank-only game. Andy's Soviets mowed right over Walt's small but staunch force of a Panther, two Tiger Ie's and a couple of StuGs. Next in from there were Rowan and Matt (not one of the ones I play with regularly), who had the Marder and APC force against Russian guns. After a long battle, Rowan and Andy managed to negate Dave's loss, leaving my game with Chris (with me as the Soviets) as the one that would decide the fate of the Free World. Or something.

Poor Chris. I think that he must have rubbed up against my good friend Mike earlier in the day, and he seemed to roll one pip short of getting a hit while I made my numbers a good chunk of the time. He did one-shot one of my SMG squads, but when he started running out of units it was all but over and the Soviets took the prize. I believe that this game is all about managing your actions, and I like to think I do it pretty well most of the time, and I think that even with a streak of decent rolls (in the 7-9 range for about six straight attack rolls) that this was the difference for me. It's also difficult to make the jump across a street in an urban setting as we were in, and it requires some patience and setting up, although the scenario only gives you five turns to get it done.

The tank battle and the APCs vs Guns battle both wanted to give the game another try, this time with the Germans winning in both cases. I was very happy to see this, as it demonstrated that the gamers were enjoying the system and they were spending precious con time wanting to see what would happen if they did things differently. That's the mark of a great wargame, to me, although shorter games like CoH will always allow for multiple plays more so than the longer games. 

CoH is a bloody game, but strangely the later turns of a scenario take just as long as the early ones, mostly because by that time you have very specific goals for every unit and you want to do it right in order to win. At the same time, when it becomes obvious that you've lost the game, it's very clear. Both this game and Combat Commander have that feeling of every action counting early, but counting even more later on, which adds a nice and slow increase in tension as the game moves along. I still think that it's a great entry game, but trying to understand the action point system requires at least one playthrough. I'm glad I ran the tournament, even gladder that Uwe was able to come to my "rescue" with a campaign that was ready to go, and really glad that the game seemed to attract so much attention as well as generate a couple of reruns of the scenarios. 

Now it was 5pm, and I'd spent exactly two hours gaming, but all of my primary responsibilities had been disposed of and I could relax a bit before the Race for the Galaxy tournament. After learning that the first hour of the tournament was going to be to teach the game, I decided to take an hour to rest up in my room. Finally, the ice machine had been working earlier, and so I'd put a couple more bottles of the IPA on ice and enjoyed one while I read some wargame rules and relaxed. I am a strange man, I suspect, to most of the world, who would consider studying a ruleset and relaxation to be mutually exclusive. 

Then it was down to the tournament. It's been a while since we played this game in the group, and I was not well served to be at a table with people who played *really* fast in my first game. I was less than 50% of the total of the leader, Peter, a very nice "kid" who works for Google in NYC and was able to finagle coming out here for business to get to the con along with a couple of work friends. I think. He won rather handily. At this point, I was thinking that I'd be out of the tournament pretty fast. 

Then I won my next two games, one by a measly two points over Matt R, who scored a third of his points in his last play. I also won my third game handily as everything I needed just showed up. Note that we were playing all of the games with The Coming Storm, the first expansion set, which mostly consisted of a set of bonus point tiles that you got for either doing something first, or for doing it the most. I liked these points a lot, although there is no question that to some extent there is a fair amount of luck in who will get what. 

Finally, on to the fourth game, where I got to play the other two NYCers, and the cute-as-a-button Chinese girl (oh God, I hope she was actually Chinese and not Korean), Pei-Hsun, kicked all of our asses in as fast a fashion as her friend Peter. Where the cards had come to me in my earlier game, now they stayed away just as determinedly, and I found myself with two points. Surprisingly, this was enough for me to get into the semi-finals, but it was just after 10pm and I had signed up to play in Dave's late night Catan Express game. I was also a bit uncomfortable playing in a prize tournament as a staff member, so I excused myself and moved on to a bit of running trains around Catan.

While I've only played the Great Race and Catan Express scenarios from the Das Buch collection, there is no question in my mind that this is almost certainly the best set of games for Settlers out there. The book is in German, so the strategy and design articles are not accessible if you aren't a German reader, but the scenarios are completely accessible and generally very clever. Catan Express is no exception, although I'd forgotten I'd played it many years ago at a game night at my house. On the other hand, I've only played the Great Race once as well, and that was very memorable. 

We ended up playing with six people, which I have so far studiously avoided doing with *any* Catan game. While I enjoyed our game, there was no question that it wouldn't have taken two and a half hours, even with Dave encouraging people to keep the play brisk (you have to ask everyone if they want to build after each player's turn). As it was, the game was still fun, especially watching Melissa change who she was going to "get" the next chance she got. Made all the more entertaining as she had hair that was dyed several colors that I'm pretty sure aren't listed on a driver's license and about five feet tall in heels. 

The thing I really liked about Catan Express is that they managed to take a core mechanism from another game (in this case, Linie 1, or Streetcar as it was retitled for it's US release), where you spend half the game building a route and the other half operating a rail car on said route. In the case of CE, you use everyone's routes, although you have to pay a resource to use someone else's. We ended with a tie for first between Craig and Dave, with Craig winning as he was able to get the fifth station and thus the tiebreaker. Paul was right behind with 17 (and had blown a die roll that would have won him the game), me at 15, Melissa right in the ballpark, and Kelly back around 10. I think she just never got started, mostly because we rolled *two*, count 'em, *two* 8's in 150 minutes of play. 

And with that, it was time for bed. I played only three titles all day, although four of one of them (and, frankly, four games of RftG in a row is enough for me, thank you very much), but it was almost certainly the most rewarding day of the con so far. 


Uwe Eickert said...

Thanks for doing this and it looks like the tournament was successful! :) Congrats.
But who won overall?! The Soviets or the Germans.
I wish you a great Easter weekend.

Dug said...

Did I not put that in? I will get right back to it! The Soviets won when Chris conceded. I believe I won by two or three points, but don't remember exactly as it was going to come down to whoever won that game and the exact point count didn't seem important.