Sunday, May 30, 2010
Does it count if I only got through two turns?
Struggle (and what a good name that is for this game) posits sort of a reverse-Star Wars kind of situation - you are the Galactic Overlord and your job is to keep your empire together. Making you earn your paycheck are the forces of "Chaos" which really means anyone who is making you earn your paycheck. None of these forces are organized at any level other than the occasional "independent" empire that pops up. Otherwise, they're all on their own, and your job is to clean them up without letting the "Chaos Level" go to 11. Or, in this case, 100.
And there's a lot of Chaos out there. Usurpers, Aliens, Rebels, and those pesky Independent Empires popping up in several different permutations. Yet all of them look pretty much the same. In fact, their systems (really vast conglomerations of systems) all look just like your systems but with a different background. Same for the ships. And the Chaos markers that you pull from a cup to determine which chaos is coming at you at this particular moment look *exactly* like your forces.
Like most solitaire games, you have relatively few choices. In this game, it's about moving your forces, deciding what to attack, and deciding what to buy (or, if you are cash-strapped, what to keep). And, since the forces of Chaos are, of course, random, there's no telling where they'll appear next or in what form they'll be, so it's hard to plan long term other than to try to keep your military forces and morpogenetic (really, that's the word they use) forces straight. The only difference between the two is that the former kills units and the latter converts them.
Combat is particularly random. Since you're using a single d10 roll to determine outcomes based on combat differentials with some drms tossed in for flavor, it's a flat curve, which means that if you roll a lot of 0's you suck and if you roll a lot of 9's you win. Even if you have a big differential.
I could spend a lot more time going over this game, but really? It's not worth it. The designer spends considerable time in his design notes trying to make it sound like this game is different because the tech is based on nano and bio tech, and that the currency is bodies instead of bucks, but there's no differentiation when you get to the mechanics, even with the (correct) assumptions that these things would be more important on a galactic scale.
The randomization is tedious as well. You have to draw something like 24 (really) chaos chits in the first turn of the first scenario, then read up on how to place every single one of them. When you choose random sectors and there's no system there (really? in a space of thousands of systems, there's *nothing*?), sometimes you move up, sometimes you move down. You have to find the right rule in the right place in the rules every time. And Decision doesn't provide a Living Ruleset for reasons that I actually find to be pretty obvious - this game is terrible.
I got through two turns out of ten, with crappy rolls throughout for my forces and great rolls for the forces of Chaos. I felt like my friend Mike. I understand that most solitaire games rely heavily on randomness to create the illusion of excitement. I understand that you're trying to fix things that come up and see what happens. But there's nothing there to keep me.
There's no sense of story. There's no sense of theme. There's no sense of this being a giant Alien Robot (certainly not from the incredibly lame graphics on the Chaos counters), or the Mutant (really the Mule from the Foundation series), or really anything at all. Invaders from another galaxy? Look pretty much like everything else. Throw randomness for the sake of having something to do on top, and these games are worthy of being burned.
Two turns of hitting my head against the wall of this game was all I needed to convince me that this game was going to be *given* away. I wouldn't charge anyone for it. Perhaps someone less fussy, who likes sci-fi games and who hasn't played a lot of really good wargames might like it.
I'm counting this as my game for May just because I was so insulted by the design. I think the designer did it in high school and pulled it out because there was a hole in Decision's production queue. I really have no idea why else anyone would have considered this worth publishing.
So what did I do after putting this monstrosity back in the box (and taking back my counter tray and good baggies)? I pulled out another solitaire design by the same guy, Coral Sea Solitaire, published in World at War magazine, published by the same company, only to realize that the Dummy counters that are supposed to be used for the IJN units don't have ship silhouettes on the backs. Looking on the 'Geek, apparently they had a *lot* of counters that needed replacing, as well as forgetting to include three or four tables. Decision, to their credit, put out replacement counters and will send them to you, but it turns out that those markers have *different* ship symbols on the back than the ones you mix them with. Among other things. Not to mention several rules holes.
And that, my friends, is it for me for anything from Decision Games. And, for that matter, Joe Miranda, the designer. I was strongly considering resubbing for World At War, but no more. These games make Fields of Fire look like a textbook example of how to develop games. And I think you all know how well I think *that* went.
Utter crap. Avoid both at all costs.
Too bad. Decision looked like they had finally gotten their act together with the repub of RAF and D-Day at Omaha Beach (which *are* good solitaire games). Looks like that was more because of the designer of those games than anything else.
I only hope that I can save some other poor schmuck from spending a few hours of precious gaming time (not to mention more than a few bucks) only to find that the trees are calling and they want their paper pulp back.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
I used the iPad in a couple of ways, at least I planned to. First was to use the device as a wargame ruleset aid, allowing me to have the most recent copy of rulesets, playbooks, and errata/FAQs. In this sense, with one notable exception of The Burning Blue (which looked like Latin for some reason in PDF, perhaps due to the font used in the original rulebook), it was a huge success, but only after I had created extensive bookmarks for each rulebook.
For this task, I used GoodReader for several reasons - it was easy to get the rulesets into the iPad without any other device (other than getting 'Net access through WiFi - my iPad doesn't do 3G). I could organize the rulesets in folders, make changes to the file names, and other basic management tasks. The program also had a "soft" rotation hold feature so that I could turn the iPad and not have the text do gymnastics, although I had to do this every time I turned it on. I could zoom either by tapping (which I turned off after the 50th time I did this inadvertently) or by the standard pinch/expand method that you use on the iPhone.
The text was very clear, search was pretty useful (it would move forward *or* backward with a touch), and once I had useful bookmarks in place it helped considerably, and I found myself finding rules much faster than if I was using hardcopy, especially on larger rulesets such as Battle for Normandy. Of course, I also had something like 40 bookmarks! Organizing the bookmarks was also possible, if a bit time consuming - you drag them into place, but the software only displays around 12 or so at a time so I had to stage them if Artillery was at the bottom of the list. On the other hand, inserting them required me to go to a page, decide what bookmarks I wanted, then type them in.
For wargame rules access, it was an unmitigated success with the caveat that some prep was required, which I find to be perfectly acceptable. I missed it dearly in the last game of the week I played, and I hope to figure out why those rules were easily printable on my home Mac but not viewable on the iPad. And yes, I did try zooming in with no luck.
If I could change one thing, it would be to allow me to go to the next page via either touching the sides of the existing page vs the top/bottom, which is the default. The Kindle reader I use touches the sides, as does the iBooks reader, and I constantly had to remember that with GoodReader it was the top/bottom instead. That should be something that the dev team can add easily, and I plan to pass it on to them.
The other thing I hoped to do was to blog as I played. This turned out not to work well at all. I tried using a piece of software called Mover Lite to transfer photos from the iPhone to the iPad, but it worked about 20% of the time, and the rest of the time it just disconnected the iPad from the WiFi system (despite me being about 15 feet from the router with no intervening media other than air). I resorted to emailing the photo, but then Blogger wouldn't allow me to type data in - the keyboard wouldn't come up, and I couldn't even select the text body field. I resorted to using the built-in Notepad feature rather than fuss with Pages, which required me to first select the text I wanted to include and copy it to the clipboard, then go to the Photo app, select the photos I wanted to include, send them to the Mail app, then paste in the text into the email body, then send it off to Blogger. This worked, but photos always appeared at the top of the entry and formatting was occasionally lost.
I abandoned that idea after my third game and chose to blog once I got home to a desktop system instead. To be honest, trying to keep track of every turn was a lot of work, and while I thought it was effective (especially with A Most Dangerous Time), it was more work than I was willing to do in a week already filled with a lot of brain activity.
For blogging, especially if you want to make use of photos, right now it's a fail. Fortunately, this is really the only situation that I see it as something I'd want to use the iPad for, mostly because it takes up so much less room on the game table than a laptop.
I ended up using the iPad in a way I had not actually expected to for gaming. Near the end of the week, Chuck, Matt, Eric, and Dave were playing Rise of Empires using a copy that was missing the board that holds all of the various tiles. In and of itself, that's not a big deal, except that the Trade option chart is on that board, and you need it to play the game. Someone had drawn a hasty scrawl on a piece of paper, but I had another idea. Grabbing the iPad from their room to the sarcastic cries of "The iPad will save us!", I went on the 'Geek and downloaded a photo of the board in question, zoomed in to the relevant section, and lo and behold they used it for the rest of the game. Only problem - the screen time out, which I could have turned off for them had they asked.
Here's a shot of what they used:
- Pre-paragraph look up tasks (through the Encounter Matrix) for Tales of the Arabian Nights;
- Step Loss, Air Point, Combat Supply Point, and other record keeping in BfN;
- Luftwaffe Raid Planning in The Burning Blue;
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I am continuing my attempt to play one solitaire wargame per month, which doesn't give me a lot of time in May. However, my first priority is to try to get in a game of Struggle For The Galactic Empire. It's fairly rules light and while it may bleed over into June I hope to get it at least learned and started in earnest this week. I am also continuing with my participation in Steve Dixon's B-29 online campaign, which has been surprisingly satisfying.
Of the games we played at WBC West, I'm particularly interested in getting A Most Dangerous Time, Stalin's War, and Battle for Normandy back on the table. The latter is really the only one I can solitaire effectively, and I plan to do the Gold-Juno-Sword scenario (even with the invasions) just to see if I can get a sense of the problems Mike had with the game's mandatory assault requirements and see if I can make more efficient use of engineers for blowing bridges. Not to mention nailing the rules down in my head. As for AMDT and SW, I figure opportunities will come up somewhere along the line. I also intend to try The Burning Blue via VASSAL, although I think my game generated enough interest that I'll be able to find an opponent for face-to-face play.
I need to make a decision about whether I'm going to get the various "dust" games I've already mentioned on the table this year. After a closer look, I'm learning exactly *why* these games have never gotten set up and played - the maps are problematic. Of them, only June 6 and The Legend Begins will fit on my side table, while Victory In The West and Ukraine '43 will require my main table for however long I play them. I'm not sure I can make that kind of table commitment. Even now, I have a record player and a stereo amp sitting on top of TLB maps which are taped down to my side table, and I'll need to run through those rules yet again before playing. That said, I'm even more excited about trying out June 6 after playing BfN, and if anything ends up being played, that will be it.
I'll continue to attend our regular Tuesday euro/strategy gaming sessions (one tonight, amazingly).
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Here are some thoughts on the entire process more or less in chronological order:
Driving Attendance: We started discussing WBC in mid-January, believe it or not. The idea is to nail down the date, reserve the house (it's a family vacation home that we don't rent out, but it gets a lot of use), and start getting commitments for attendance. I'm delighted that there's enough interest that there's a four month lead time to start getting excited about the event.
Who's Playing What With Who?: After the initial discussions and establishing who will be there, we start discussing games and pairings starting in early March. There's some risk that we'll have drop outs, but a month of prep time is usually enough to nail these things down. In my case, every game I intended to play was established by this time with one exception: Stalin's War, and that was Dave's choice to switch over from Ukraine '43. Especially risky as the game was due to be published in "late April" which means early May at best, and late August with a high degree of probability. Amazingly, SW was indeed at my door by May 8th, and I had already spent time learning the game from the pre-pub rules. Knowing when people planned to arrive was also important during this step, obviously.
Game Prep and Final Prep: Pairings and games are established (mostly) by the beginning of April, giving us about six months to get everything learned to a point where we can more or less jump into the game. While I felt I was doing a bit of last minute cramming to fit everything in that last week (especially with running two separate "learn the game" sessions with players for BfN, Sword of Rome, and A Victory Lost), at the same time, I did no prep work other than packing on the Saturday before we left, and that only took about an hour for games, clothes, and everything. I would have spent more time on BfN in hindsight, but otherwise I felt this part went very well for me.
We also had the usual material sent out to establish who was cooking which night, information for new attendees, etc.
Thanks to Dave for codifying this process and driving it. The pre-event planning is almost as much fun as the event itself, and it's kind of become the major gaming event of the year for me, even above GameStorm and the Euro retreats in the fall and winter, and EGG in Eugene in early February. Part of that is the sheer amount of prep time that's involved to play between three and eight wargames that a large portion of the population would struggle mightily with, but there's no question that we all get more than a little excited about both the event and the lead-up.
Everything In It's Right Place: All that prep would be for naught if the event itself fell apart. This year, it seemed like everything went like it was supposed to, with everyone playing exactly the games they thought they'd be playing during the day with one exception (Dave had left the 1805 map in a poster frame at home, sadly). No one got called away to court duty or dropped at the last minute, and while I still consider that a corner case and that things will go wrong in that regard in the future, it was really nice to have it all come together like it was supposed to.
The other nice thing is that we have enough people who have been out to the house that it feels more like the group's house than like my family's house. Unless you think of the group as an extension of family, which I tend to do. And, of course, with my nephew Alex there, it *is* family. Everyone knows that drinks go down in the garage fridge. Everyone knows how to close up. Everyone knows where almost everything is in the kitchen, where the extra TP is, what booze in the cupboard is my sisters that they shouldn't drink. It makes for a much more relaxing experience for me and for everyone else. While I love being the Den Mother, at the same time it's exhausting when combined with the high-level gaming we do, and anything that spreads that load around without having a negative effect on the other participants is awesome.
The Nits: Just a few, and they're mostly things that affect me specifically. As I mentioned before, I'm not going to explain any more day games like I did Sword of Rome (which I ended up doing twice to the detriment of the game). I guess I also had to explain Successors, but everyone had played that game before and had some experience with other CDGs. Sword took a lot of time and had it been earlier in the week it would have been more of a problem. Dave commented earlier that he didn't want a rule that affected everyone at the event, and that's not what I'm looking for. I'm simply saying that *I* am not going to explain rules, nor ask to have them explained to me *at the event*. This year proved that I can play largely new games and enjoy myself.
The only other real issue this year was space. At the peak, we had nine gamers playing up to four games at a time, taking up to four games worth of table space (although we only ever had three games going at once, though one was BfN). More than that is really that with ten people in a house of that size you tend to be constantly going around a corner and running into people. For three days, it's doable. If we had that many for the entire week, we're gonna need another house. That means we either rely on people who have houses out there we can borrow, or we need to rent a nearby place at a cost of about $20/night for everyone who attends (to spread out the costs). That turns a week that costs about $50 per person when you take food, beverages, and cleaning into account into a $200 per person event. I'm not sure that's going to fly quite as well, and it makes drop outs even more of a problem - we'd need to have people guarantee that they'd still pitch in their money even if they had to drop at the last moment.
For now, we seem to be doing pretty well in terms of numbers and when they show up, but we are on the edge of what we can accommodate at this price point. Asking people to give up a week of vacation and two 3.5 hour drives (out and back) seems like a small price to the guy who retired before he was 40, but for everyone else we need to be careful in how we progress.
Despite those small nits, there is no question that we have managed, somehow, to create a week-long wargaming vacation that not only runs smoothly and is a huge amount of fun, but that people start getting excited about three or four months ahead of time. The time of year is still a bit problematic (this year we actually had two Sundays between Mother's and Memorial Day, which won't happen again for six years), but there's no question that we don't have a heat problem like we did in late August.
And, of course, so much of what makes this a great experience is the people. While what you play is important, it's nothing compared to who you play with. We had an awesome time this year, and a big part of that is because of who was there. A huge Thank You to everyone who attended and made 2010 the Best WBC West Evah!
I will discuss the iPad and it's effectiveness as a gaming aid in a separate blog, probably closer to the weekend.
2010 was a bit different because we didn't really plan any specific evening games, just brought a ton of stuff figuring we'd find things to play. I think that worked to a point, and that point may be good enough as I like having some more flexibility in the schedule given that so much is scripted.
Here's the list of what got played each night by me. I'm not completely sure of what others played, so I'll let those who blog those events cover them.
Monday: A Brief History
Tuesday: Leaping Lemmings
I may be the only person in the group who enjoyed this game. We played six-player with Mike, Eric, Mimi, Chuck (who had to take a business call for most of the game, we moved him by committee and he won!), myself, and Tex. There is very little chance for strategy or (on occasion) even much in the way of tactics. That said I found it to be an utter hoot, even with six (as you move every player turn and there's little downtime). You may not do *much*, but you do *something! Would it be better with wooden cubes instead of cardboard punch-outs for the lemmings and eagles? Maybe. I just know that there's a pretty fun and wacky screw the other player game here that still requires a little bit of thought. Recommended with the strong caveat that you should almost certainly try to get a play in before making a purchase, as so many people in our group "tolerated" it at best.
Wednesday: Battle For Normandy Set-Up
Spent this evening getting BfN set up for the next couple of days, and got through the para drops and the first two of three invasion phases for June 6 AM. As I've said in the BfN specific post, I could just as easily spent this time setting up for the scenario that starts on June 6 PM and played a different game.
Thursday: Race for the Galaxy, Big Deck
A quick before-bed game after playing Battle for Normandy until around 10:30pm, against Matt and Alex, who had arrived that day. Both were very punchy and that made for a particularly entertaining game. I went with whatever original world it is that gets Brown worlds cheap. I was able nab most of the bonus points, with close to half my points coming from them. I was never able to find a good 6 point development, though, and Alex squeaked by me for the win. I've been playing the solitaire AI version recently and really like it, although I almost never win. I'm definitely getting to know the deck, though! My first time with the RvI expansion, I've only used Gathering Storm before and then only a couple of times.
Friday: Tales of the Arabian Nights, Aliens
Let's be clear - Tales is not the kind of game that can really even be considered a game other than at the end someone wins, which is really more about putting an end condition on what is more of an experience than a game. That said, we had a ball. I seem to be a magnet for every crazy condition or status you can get - in this one, I was Insane, Wounded (briefly), Grief-Stricken, and Incontinent. Or something. Matt cruised to the win in our five player game, which featured Tex, Mimi, Alex, and myself as well. Protip - be sure to print out the "early" tables in the front that you use before going to the Matrix, then let one player look that up, another player look up the matrix, and another player read the paragraph.
Huge advantage to this game - you can teach it on the fly, which makes for not only a better experience for the group, but also for the teacher.
Roger had brought a copy of Aliens, which I owned once but was so turned off by the perforated sheet cards and low production values that I never played it after one quick play through. Like Tales, this is much more of an experience game than anything else, if more coop, and really requires several players in the right mood to work well. Two glasses of wine and four beers is, apparently, the right amount of alcohol to put it over the top. I'm pretty sure we didn't win, but I'm also pretty sure we didn't completely lose. BTW, for those who are familiar with the game, we played the reactor room scenario. I almost wish I hadn't sold my copy now...
Saturday: Battlestar Galactica!
The big question: would Mike be a Cylon again? Because he's been a Cylon in almost every game I've played against him. He complained about that and then picked Baltar, because he gets and extra card and apparently Mike really likes being a toaster. Frak.
This was the first game for Roger and Dave, not sure about Matt. I did the usual "this is your Loyalty card, don't spend a lot of time looking closely at it," then covered the skill check mechanism. We had a pretty busy first half, capped by a massive Cylon assault that took out about half of our civvie ships, leaving us in a precarious position wrt population. However, we got out in more or less one piece with the sense that no one had drawn a cylon Loyalty card yet, although I was very suspicious of Dave.
The second half saw a relatively quiet period, although as Admiral I used Saul's power to take the Presidency from Matt as I knew *I* wasn't a Cylon. Matt eventually managed to get it back, but by that point I was pretty sure he was a Cylon. Meanwhile, Mike was pretty sure Roger was a Cylon, and sure enough he revealed shortly thereafter, claiming that he was a terrible bluffer. Somewhat hilariously, he was able to look at one of Matt's cards, and pronounced him not a Cylon, so when he revealed it was pretty clear that it was Matt. I took the Presidency back again via the Quorum card that lets you take that office away, and then Matt revealed.
At that point, Roger threw a huge Cylon assault at us. We'd been missing jump cards for a bit since the turn around point, and it had taken a while for us to get to the first jump, which only gave us one distance (both cards sucked). We had nearly every raider on the board, and then even more showed up. With most of our vipers in the damaged box and all but two civvie ships on board, we went down in flames with the Population marker dropping immediately.
It turned out that no one *had* been a Cylon the first half of the game. I think that's one of the things I love about the game - it starts out as more or less a coop, then at the turn it becomes a massive paranoia game, which eventually turns into a survival/destruction game. Dave did not like the downtime or the samey-samey nature of the various skill checks, but I think that while there is a certain amount of downtime in terms of getting to take a turn, there is no downtime in kibitzing and protestations of loyalty. That's the heart of the game, "Fun With Paranoia," and while Dave felt the game was too close to Shadows Over Camelot, I feel that it's much more of a natural evolution that improved that system by leaps and bounds, the skill check mechanism is brilliant in allowing players to avoid showing who is disloyal (unlike SoC), and the Gut Check in midgame brings it on home. I still prefer the basic set over Pegasus, but there's really no reason to include it if you don't want to. The game is still huge fun - the fact that it was pretty much the only group game Mike played (aside from Successors, which he did *not* like) and enjoyed speaks volumes to me.
I enjoyed all of my evening activities, with the possible exception of the invasion turns of BfN, which was fine. We did what we needed to do and I still got in a fun game that evening. I was mildly disappointed not to get in Arkham Horror (although that's a hard sell for most of this group, mostly just Dave, Chuck, me, and possibly Alex and Matt), and very disappointed not to get in Manifest Destiny, which has been an evening staple for a while at both WBC West and our Euro retreats in the fall. Still, I have no real room for complaints - the company was excellent, the games were fun, and I got repeated chances to rest my brain after spending the days playing games for essentially the first time. The idea of the lighter evening fare was a brilliant idea, whoever had it, and it's made the week better because of it.
Monday, May 24, 2010
You are a good man, Chuck.
On to Burning Blue. I have been wanting to try this game for years now, after an initial aversion because of complexity and a lack of solitaire options (I'm aware of the spreadsheet stuff, but that seems to be a) limited, b) complicated, and c) involved). It was a game I listed as a wargaming goal in 2009 that didn't happen (along with the monster game), and was also one of the biggest disappointments of that year as a result.
But now it's 2010, and the newest participant in WBC West, Roger, was also anxious to try it out for the same reasons I had.
The result was that he studied up on the RAF, I studied up on the Luftwaffe, and we had ourselves a pretty fun little game. Total play time was almost exactly four hours, although we more or less ignored any unit that was either aborted, done bombing, or pancaked. I also believe that Roger stopped worrying much about the rearming process for RAF units about halfway in, figuring that they wouldn't have much chance to get back into the fight in time, and he was right.
I drew two raids using Scenario 2, where the Luftwaffe stops channel raids and started going after airbases and infrastructure inland, but before the bombings on London began. Almost all of the raids are historical, with a few that were flown but turned back for various reasons, some of which had nothing to do with the RAF. One raid required bombing runs on Rochester and Eastchurch along the Thames estuary, while the other was a big raid on the sector airfield at Biggin Hill. The latter I split up into two bombing raids, with two Do17s and two Me109's as top cover hitting Eastchurch, one of each bombing Rochester, and two Me109s acting as Freie Jagd to clear the way. The Biggen Hill raid went as one large raid of three He111 bomber staffeln and two Me109 as top cover.
The raids flew at dusk (I recommend this heartily for your first game, or if time is an issue, as all of your raids must form up within a half hour of game start as opposed to 90 minutes), with the Freie Jagd mission forming up at 6:10, the Eastchurch raid at 6:15, the Rochester raid at 6:20, and the big Biggen Hill raid at 6:30 just to give Roger a scare (and it did).
We started early with my Freie Jagd aircraft taking out three different RAF squadrons with taking few plane losses, then finally disrupting to a level where they had to head for home. Disruption is actually the primary goal in this game - the RAF wants to disrupt bombers before they drop bombs, the Luftwaffe wants to force the RAF to pancake before they can get to the bombers). As the RAF have to be careful how strongly they respond to the raid (they are guaranteed no penalty if there are 8 squadrons that go up, and the number of Luftwaffe raids determines how much higher that limit is, in our case 10), every squadron that two Staffeln mission shot down was like VP in the bank. I also got luck with a Random Event that allowed one Channel Patrol Staffeln to take out one more squadron, meaning that Roger only had six squadrons to put up against three raids.
And, in fact, my initial raid into Eastchurch made it unimpeded and scored 40 VP, two thirds of my initial total. Considering that this was a simple two bomber raid with limited top cover, I was very happy about this. The CP random event was what allowed for this, as you get a huge benefit if your raid hasn't been intercepted ("raid-matched" in the rules). The Rochester raid, in comparison, did 7VP of damage, and the final Biggen Hill raid managed another 20 total. Only a single bomber Staffeln was forced to abort prior to their mission, and only a couple of bombers were shot down. The final total was 65 points, and I needed 46 to win. Had Eastchurch been intercepted, that number would have been a *lot* closer, possibly a win for Roger.
The tension in this game is simply incredible, especially for the RAF player, and I think Roger had a great time. As the Luftwaffe player, I got to see how my plans worked out, and to be honest, while I had very few decisions during the game it was a lot of fun and a game I'm going to want to play again in the future. Too many of those, I'm afraid.
Here are a few suggestions from both Roger and myself to learn the game:
1) Start with a Scenario 2 game with a start time of dusk. Scenario 1 is good if you have only a couple of hours to play, or if you are going to try to figure the game out on your own (small target range, short play time). S2 will provide relatively close targets as well as more than one, and there is no real added complexity with multiple targets.
2) Ignore aircraft that are pancaking, aborting, or returning home from target. This will speed the later portions of the game up considerably, reduce situational complexity, and allow you to largely ignore recovery rules for both sides.
3) Use the play aids on the game site, which you can access via the GMT Games website at gmtgames.com. Of particular use was a primer on playing the Luftwaffe, which will also take you through the process of getting through what is a fairly scattered set of rules. I've already been harsh about the rules for Battle for Normandy, and I think this game suffers from the same problem. However, the difference is that a) the primer on the designer's site is quite good, and b) there is an example of play that helps get you through the initial learning stages. I also recommend quite strongly that you use colored pens to map raid routes as well as an enlarged map (11"x17" sheets are available and useful). I found my maps to be very hard to read and cluttered in a very small area, resulting in at least one raid that ended up somewhere it wasn't supposed to (if only one hex off, but that can be a big difference).
4) You can more or less ignore the rules that pertain to the other side for your first game. The Luftwaffe will eventually need to understand how the Tally Board (Tote Board?) works for the RAF, but not in your first game, anymore than the RAF player will need to know the details of how the Luftwaffe plans raids (other than that a path might have a couple of waypoints and thus won't point straight for a target all the time).
5) Definitely give the example of play a good hard readthrough, and you might also consider studying the raid examples in the book. I would strongly suggest that the Luftwaffe player not use either of these raids in an actual game, as the walkthrough will get you where you need to be when you need to be there and you'll feel more involved in the game when you play it. If you use a prepackaged raid set, you won't be as emotionally invested in the game and it won't be as enjoyable of an experience. Plan a raid, you won't regret it and it's really not all that difficult.
I got a lot of questions at the house as to how this game compared with Downtown, which I've also dabbled in. Obviously, it's a different designer and the mechanisms are largely different (you use hexsides for movement as well as hexes in DT, but not in TBB, as a big example), and at that point in history 30 years of aviation warfare advances were simply incredible for such a short time. The NVA player in DT will need to do much more planning than either side in either game, mostly because the SAM/AA network is the critical element in that game as opposed to their air force. However, DT also has a large number of scenarios (not randomly generated, as in TBB) which facilitate learning the game gradually. TBB more or less throws you in with the whole shooting match, short of things like Jabos (fighter bombers), RAF Wings, the Italian AF, and a few other goodies like London Haze.
Of the two, I found TBB to be easier to learn when using the techniques outlined above, and a bit more satisfying (largely because we were playing a full scenario instead of bits and pieces right away), but I liked both games. However, I am fully aware that most of my wargaming buddies are less interested in this game when alternatives such as RAF will now do more or less the same thing on a more abstract scale, so I may be limited to VASSAL games. However, I'm good with that - this game would work really well with VASSAL, especially if you can plan the raid in the VASSAL system. Something to look into.
Regardless, this was a great way to finish off the week, it was great to play a one-on-one game with Roger, and really nice to not have to drop out of gaming for the morning so that the house could get closed up and the laundry done.
I'll cover the evening gaming, overall thoughts, and how well the iPad worked as a gaming tool during the week in future blog entries, but that's enough for today.
And then Wray Ferrell ruined it by adding a 5th player expansion in the form of Carthage.
Let's be clear - we apparently played quite a bit wrong in our game. For one thing, I neglected to swap out the cards in other player's decks for the 5 player variant, and did not realize that suddenly Carthage could go anywhere and anyone could go to Carthage. Leaving aside the ludicrous ahistorical reality that would entail (Etruscans in Carthage? Really? Carthaginians in Gaul? Really?), it would take this game from acceptably wacky to unacceptably wacky.
But we didn't do that. We played that Carthage was limited to the islands and Africa (no Italy), that Bomilcar was stuck in Africa, and that you could only go to Africa as a non-Carthaginian power as the Greeks and then only with the necessary cards. What a disaster that was.
For one thing, that means the Carthaginians *at best* can only gain two VP per turn, ruling out an AV win almost from the start (or guaranteeing it if they wipe the floor with the Greeks in Sicily, but then they really won't be able to hold anything for long as all of their VP spaces are ports).
It also means that aside from Sicily, there was nothing for the Carthaginians to do. Given that Dave's Samnites and Estruscans were tearing it up on the mainland (we spent the first four turns barely stopping him from AV wins on every turn) and I could do *nothing* to help other than form an alliance with Greece so they could concentrate on Dave, which then meant I had nothing to do but keep the Numideans in line (which was exactly two die rolls in the game), it was pretty damned boring.
This was also the only game the entire week that I needed to explain rules for. Next year there will be a no explaining rules rule - if you don't have a basic understanding of the game coming in, you will play it without me or play it while you read the rules during your down time. Every other game I was in (evening games aside) we went to the trouble of teaching games ahead of time and it worked pretty well, but having to take an hour to explain a game I'd already explained 10 days earlier was tedious and far more work that I could handle at that point in the week. Won't happen again.
Of course, most of my complaints are because *I* didn't read the 5th player rules carefully enough, although in my defense most of the really critical stuff was in an *introduction* paragraph, which by convention should have no functional rules whatsoever in it. Introductions establish setting and basic philosophy of the game, not actual rules. In this case, it referenced the back of the Unrest card having information on which cards to swap out. It also said to ignore all references to a non-player Carthage. Which, as far as I could tell, may or may not have included *every* special rule in the four-player book involving not only Carthage, but also Africa and the Rome/Carthage alliance. It would have been much better to have simply edited the 4-player book to include Carthage as a player power rather than to make us guess whether Bomilcar can leave Africa or whether making the African ports "normal" meant that anyone could go there.
I'm not selling my expansion, but I'm not going to be playing it in the future either. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that Alex's second CDG experience (his first was We the People with me having a massive brain fart and forgetting that you only figured out if the colony count determined victory at game end instead of instantly) has killed the genre for him forever. He did like A Victory Lost, however, although I think that they also forgot to take the halving of units attacking across rivers into account early on.
I will not make a direct recommendation against the five player expansion for SoR, as I still have not played it correctly. However, I have no intention of giving it another shot - too much ahistorical wackiness added to a game that is perfectly interesting without the fifth player. In fact, I would have been just as happy playing this four-player, but our numbers dictated that I be involved, so I was. This was the only game I regretted signing on for the entire week, and that includes Leaping Lemmings.
The Battle for Normandy was going to not only be the first multiplayer monster wargame I'd played (with multiple players), but also the fifth "new" game for me during the week. I have to say that I was extremely happy that I'd boned up on every other game I'd played to that point. There were still frequent rules look-ups, but nothing that was killing me.
Until BfN. Where we discover the problem of having the designer be his own developer.
I have nothing but praise for Danny Holte in general. He answered two questions I posed on BGG within minutes at 9pm PDT on a Thursday evening, one of which had a major effect on our game. His support has been tireless, and I think a good thing as I like this game.
I will also state early in this post that I like this game, and while I am not yet familiar enough with it to recommend it, I liked the combination of forcing divisional integrity, lines of communication, the use of combat supply (our allies burned through about 3/4ths of their supply in four days game time, not boding well for them long term) and the relative accessibility of the core system. That said, there is an amazing amount of chrome to handle the necessities of the operation and it seems to be very difficult for the Germans to blow or repair bridges - you have a handful of engineers and they need to be in very specific locations at a very specific time. Compared with my other favorite Normandy game, Breakout: Normandy, where you get to try to blow virtually every bridge on the map in the first turn if you are granted the impulses, I blew exactly three. I can't even find where you'd blow a bridge that would make attacking Bayeaux early (as is commonly done in the first German impulse in BK:N) by the Brits much harder. Perhaps BK:N is the one with the historical inaccuracies, but this is quite a difference. Perhaps it should have been abstracted more in BfN, I can't say.
However, I want to leave you with the right impression of my opinion of the game - I like it, and I like it enough that I'll be playing the Gold-Juno-Sword scenario to completion in the very near future (solitaire) to see if the problems we ran into were simply the result of not fully understanding the system and how things worked together, or whether it was the result of systemic issues. I'd like to believe it was the former.
For longtime readers of my ramblings, it will come as no surprise that I have a problem with poorly organized rules. And BfN has a rulebook that makes me cringe. I think pretty much everything is in there, but when four experienced wargamers were unable to find exactly what timeframe you were limited to three attached units to a division are, there's a problem. When the rules for attachments are in six different parts of the rulebook, there's a problem. When you're perusing the rules using an iPad and even search capability and 30 (count 'em, 30) bookmarks that you've added in aren't helping, there's a problem.
A game with this much complexity (and, invasion turn rules aside, it's not all that complex from a rules standpoint) requires rules that allow you to quickly find the information you need. Eight years ago or so I recommend to Mark Simonitch that the rules for 2nd ed Successors would benefit mightily from a reorg, as they filled 30+ pages and had the same problems as the current rules for BfN. The idea, which Chad Jensen used in the gold standard of wargame rules, Combat Commander, was to state rules once, have a single point in the rules where you knew to go to find the basic rule and any cross references, and have clear and well-defined (and well-used) language. A hypothetical example:
10.1 Combat Supply
4.3 Zones of Control Effects
22.1 June 6 Night and AM turns
24.0 Static Artillery
This is not exhaustive by any measure, but the idea is to give the rules that are specific only to supply in this section, then give crossreferences and exceptions to other sections *without repeating the rules*. If the idea is to find material quickly, then this is what wargame rules require. Repeating the same rule multiple times in different sections leads to incomplete discussions in each section, changes that get made in some sections but not others, and vastly increased rule look-up time.
It's also a really bad idea to have a designer also be the developer (or, in the case of Fields of Fire, have an incompetent or uninvolved developer) as the designer is too close to the rules. Unless you have blind rulestesting (can someone completely uninvolved with the game figure it out from the ruleset and find rules easily), this won't happen. I have no idea what the situation was in the case of BfN, but I get the sense that at best Danny added things in as he went along. The result was a lot like my Dad's soup - it was great the first day, and as he added things in over the next several days it got progressively less edible.
That said, we really only had the one question that we couldn't answer from the rules about attachments to division - how long did those three corps/other division attachments last? Given that the designer was constantly saying that they were "on the fly" in the various CSW and BGG forums, which was really no help at all as otherwise why would there be a limit for attachments, we had three people in my group saying it was at the time you "checked" supply, which made no sense at all. Checking and assigning are two very different things. In truth, they were in the rules as well. You made assignments in a given phase (such as Allied Combat) that lasted solely for that phase.
The other point of confusion was regarding static artillery - if it was in combat supply but isolated, could you fire a unit not on a coast hex (or bluff overlooking beach) at a ship without a spotter, and did that then mean that you needed to not be isolated so you could be in contact with said spotter, and did that count against your attachment limit?
You get the idea.
That said, I loved the game. I was playing the German side that opposed the US beaches, which meant that I was mostly involved in the Cotentin Peninsula and the western flank of the Omaha Beach front (the US forces there went east to invest in Bayeaux rather than west to hook up with the Utah Beach forces, which never came close to happening in four game days, or was even really threatened). My US opponent felt the same way.
On the other hand, the two guys playing the CW and eastern German forces ended up with an incredible amount of counter density (the Brits/Canucks wiped the beaches clean by the second landing segment, and the 6th AB landed almost completely intact, as well as taking Pegasus on the landing), as well as having issues thematically with the Mandatory Assault rules.
In a nutshell, the MA rules say that if you are in certain types of terrain (clear, swamp, farmland) you are required to attack in some way every adjacent unit with someone, which is also the case if you use a unit to attack another unit. Good enough, you can use arty to cover the extra units and it forces you to use the terrain historically, and you aren't required to attack across streams and rivers. The problem was that a) on the east side of the board there is really nothing *but* farmland, and b) if a unit was in such a position that it wouldn't be able to retreat without entering an unnegated ZoC it didn't have to attack. That meant that a hedgehog defense was fairly effective for the Germans. Mike felt rather strongly that this meant it was a complete waste of time to encircle units, as then you had to root them out. Better to put them in a bad situation where they could retreat, as then they'd have to attack on their turn. His point was that this was not only counter-intuitive, it made for a fairly gamey situation.
I was not involved on that side of the board, so I am really unable to judge. I can see a couple of reasons for the design choice, mostly having to do with bocage and "point of interest" terrain - it would have been easy (and was done) by the Germans to hole up and use a hedgehog defense that required the Allies to have to come in and root them out. Mike felt that this might be true for a few days, but that over the scope of the game it was possible for a group to hold out for several weeks or even months. I think that's an unlikely situation, but Mike has a point. Perhaps this was design for effect, although at the battalion level I have to wonder if that works quite as well.
Or maybe I have the rule wrong. There are a lot of tiny exceptions in these rules that make your first game difficult, but I think that's true of most highly-detailed games (OCS, EFS, GTS). I'll also note that the first edition of OCS, a game that Mike and Eric love (and that I would like to get to know better) was a freakin' mess, but now is as smooth a system at that scope and scale as exists. If you don't mind spending quite a bit of time figuring out how much supply you need to do what you want to do, which is my main obstacle to investing my time in the game (I've already invested the money). Compared with that system, BfN's supply rules are pretty accessible.
If anything, the biggest problem I will have is tracking REM steps (every time you lose a step, you bump a marker on a track) and Combat Supply Points (every time you use arty/air/naval and/or initiate combat from multiple hexes). I could see me missing this on a regular basis, I gave up on the VG title Carrier as I could never remember to advance the phase marker and keep track of the incredibly involved sequence of play. Maybe the iPad would help...
As with most complex games, I considered the first playing of BfN to be a learning game, and seeing as we didn't even try to figure out the supply rules until the June 7 PM turn (which would have a big effect on consolidating the various Cotentin Peninsula German forces, which are spread out all over the place), it wasn't particularly important who won, although that would have been the Allies on June 9 with exactly 5 VP, taking one hex of Bayeaux on their last turn, and the Germans unable to take it back.
I'd also really like to see the campaign game VP spaces displayed on the map, as I had absolutely no idea of what the objectives were other than that I was tasked with keeping the Utah Beach and airborne forces bottled up (mission accomplished) and the same with the Omaha Beach forces (although that's a little harder to do, but they still were less than seven or so hexes off of the beach by the 9th). Chuck was faced with a very effective British invasion, and he was able to hold Caen and form a line only because I think we got some reinforcements a bit early. We used the three-map campaign game, and exactly when the units that start on the submap come on is a little fuzzy. In fact, the placement of the units is not included with the scenario information (it's an online add-on), and I had to find the ConSimWorld entry that listed them in order to place them. Otherwise, I liked that version quite a bit, although the Allies kept forgetting it was there to bomb a couple of bridges and slow the incoming troops down, which would have helped them a *lot*.
I also have to say that while I appreciate that Danny designed what is essentially a parallel game to cover the invasion, I find it to be mostly devoid of meaningful decisions other than in what sequence to land non-infantry units on the beaches, and the vast majority of those will be on the third wave. I'd be much happier simply starting from the June 6 PM turn and playing the game with the base rules - too much of the invasion game is essentially a random setup generation system rather than a study in how to invade. Given the amount of set up work for the Allies (several dozen companies all sitting in off-board holding boxes because otherwise the counter density is absurd), and the time required to execute it (about two to three hours), it's really not worth the time in my estimation. I'll note that I voiced this opinion before WBC West and was told that without the invasion it wasn't worth it to one player. Not sure if he's changed his mind since then, but then again his part went pretty well. ;-) I don't mind those kinds of games if they don't take a lot of time or if I don't mind a particularly skewed result (especially solitaire), but otherwise I'd skip it in the future.
I'll write more on the game once I've gotten through the G-J-S scenario.
I'll also note that the three-map campaign and G-J-S are both scenarios that aren't in the box. You can find them at BGG and CSW, although you'll need to dig through the game-specific thread on CSW to find setup info for the 3-map D and E units, and I can't help you with their movement rules on the June 6 PM turn.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Dave and I tried out Stalin's War, the GMT Games title that got to my house about a week before WBC West on pre-order. Dave has been doing some reading on the Great Patriotic War and was very interested in playing a game that covered the entire conflict, so Stalin's War it was.
Dave is free to correct me, but I'm pretty sure that he hasn't played many Eastern Front campaign games, and certainly not Mr. Raicer's previous effort in the arena, Barbarossa to Berlin (arguably an East Front game with sub games in Western Europe and the Med). I'm not terribly sure that having played that earlier title would have given Dave a better idea of the specifics of the theater, but there's no question that either game is a good way to game that particular conflict at a very accessible complexity level.
Our game was a learning game, and as such we were both making lots of mistakes. I'm coming to the conclusion that I simply shouldn't worry too much about not playing a perfect game, and just try stuff to see what happens. In the end, Dave conceded, but a big part of that concession had to do with me wiping out a German stack that was OoS, but that was also in Cancel Retreat terrain that he could have held onto. Oh well, it was getting close to dinner time anyway, and if nothing else it did a magnificent job of showing how important the transition from offense to defense is for the Germans.
There are a ton of articles out there about the differences between SW and BtB, the same for the ruleset, so I will concentrate on my impressions of the game, what you need to be extremely aware of, and whether or not I liked it enough to make the effort to bring it to the table more often. That's a really big question, because I've already played two games that were new to me this week that I liked quite a bit, A Most Dangerous Time and A Victory Denied. Will SW make the cut for future sessions?
First off is the production work. In general, everything is pretty nice, from the counters to the rulebook. In fact, the rules are pretty good, with only a few things that are a bit on the vague side. The cards seem to have been well proofed, with only a few cards in the German deck that should say Total War but instead say Blitzkrieg. No effect on the game once you know this, although it was a surprise to me when Tex and Eric played the game yesterday and I learned about it. The rules in particular are very concise, have good use of graphics and whitespace, and are pretty clearly marked (other than the usual "where the hell do we switch over to Total War" part). I am using a PDF version of the rules on my iPad using GoodReader, which allows me to insert bookmarks. Take the time to do this if you are doing the same thing, it makes rules lookups extremely fast if you have good bookmarks for every relevant section (and also for those rules you always forget).
Then there's the map. Actually, the map itself is fine, if a little bit tight - it's difficult to see terrain, and the offensive side can get a little heavy on the counter density, but otherwise it's great. I'm happy that the map includes Baku and the Urals, and don't mind the loss of Finland. The problem is that the map takes up about half of the sheet, oversized boxes for tracking activation round types, and a surprising array of CRTs and TECs (two!) that are all repeated on the separate play aid sheets. Certainly we've all seen enough war-games that we can figure out that we only need these things in one place. Even dumber when they could have put things like OoS effects, Winter '42 effects, etc. Given how well the rules were laid out and the information on the counters is so effective (single step, no ZoC, setup info, all very useful, although I'd still like to see reinforcement card numbers on the counters as well).
But I'm niggling about the board layout. It just seems so counter-intuitive that so much useful information is left off in favor of so much repeated information. How about the game itself?
The first thing that strikes me, especially as the Soviets, is how critical map position is for every unit you have. Because of the way German armor exploits using the Blitz mechanism (which relies on attacking into clear, desert, or town terrain), it's very important to defend in depth, but also important to try to defend in non-blitz-able terrain, such as forest, swamp, and cities (or behind the major rivers). The Germans can't burn steps like the Soviets can, a staple of most EF war-games, so they need to avoid losing steps whenever possible, and that means surrounding the Soviets instead of taking them on directly.
The second huge factor is that you can move any unit that isn't in a ZoC without spending OPs, but at the same time you can't move them unless you have selected an OPs action. Whereas in most CDGs you have to actually spend OPs on a space in order to move or fight with them, in this game you can move a lot of things. However, the rule that allows you to let one unit hold the line and any extra units in the space can move freely shows extremely clearly the doctrinal differences between the early Soviets and Germans. The Soviets, because they have so few units, are almost always the only unit in their hex, while the Germans can afford to stack and allow their ZoCs to create a line since the Soviets can blitz until they get tank units. BtB does the same thing (as well as coordinated attacks) because they don't get mech units until later in the game. The trick for the Germans, as mentioned above, is how to change up from an offensive formation to defensive, as blitzing tanks will take them down just as fast as they will with the Russians early.
Another big change is the leap from Loss Factors to Steps as the unit of attrition. The CRTs look much different than they do in PoG or BtB, with a max of three steps lost at the higher LCU levels. There are also results that only affect SCUs, mostly on the SCU table. LCUs are limited to one unit involved in a combat per side, as well as one per hex. Three Panzers (not Sov armor) in a hex are treated as an LCU, as all are SCUs in this game. In fact, SCUs are much more effective on a defensive basis than in the earlier games, although a huge number of the Soviet SCUs at the game start can't be replaced. Combat definitely works differently in practice than in BtB, and a good understanding of that is critical. Add in that there are no SCU reserves (once the LCU loses it's last step, the unit isn't replaced, aside from the four step German armies). That's a little jarring for the Soviets early on, watching all these units evaporate but none go to the Eliminated Unit box and nothing in reserve.
Like BtB, the Soviets don't win just by keeping the Germans from winning. They need to take the Germans down by the end of the game. However, there are a lot of ways for the Russians to get victory points, especially in the second half of the game. That simple idea was a big part of what made BtB a winner for me, and it's here as well. Sadly, we didn't get that far, but from playing the Soviets in 1941 I can only imagine that the Germans have a very similar experience in 1944/5.
Finally, there are many reinforcements for the Soviets in Total War that require existing units on the board that you replace, and in some cases (like upgrading Soviet infantry armies to mech Guard units) you want to be really sure that you've got those units on the board to take full advantage. You'll also want to remember that you can replace reduced old units with full strength new units, which just increases the already sizeable Russian replacement advantage.
I found there was a lot to think about, especially my first time out, so we played pretty slowly and had quite a bit of rules lookups. That said, it was a very interesting game, made very manageable by the scale and unit density (and ruleset). I would say that there is actually more chrome in SW than in BtB, especially if you ignore the Invasion mechanism in the latter. Things like German Mobile Defense, a slew of special rules for the first couple of turns, supply lines that run to rail systems, units that don't always exert ZoCs, and the dangers of getting Blitzed in a bad way, all require a lot of remembering. Fortunately, Chad Jensen posted a set of cards that list the various rules for each turn, and they help a lot. I recommend them for your first few games.
The game should play pretty quickly once you've gotten the rules down, as there are only five rounds per turn, and about 18 turns, so 36 fewer activations than, say, PoG. However, since every OPs turn involves more than just 2-5 spaces being activated, and placement being such a crucial part of the game, I found the OPs turns to take quite a bit longer, at least for me in at the point where I don't know the map as well as I need to.
While this is not the first hex-based CDG (Empire of the Sun did that, but it's a *much* more involved and complex game from a rules standpoint, if not from a execution standpoint), it is the first game that does it in a land-based game and does it well. I would expect to see a lot more of this style coming out over the next few years, and it's a nice refresh on the genre. However, like many CDGs that have come out over the last few years, many will be less than stellar designs and I suspect that Stalin's War will remain a classic, just as Paths of Glory has. Will it have the same "scripting" issues that so many find uninteresting in BtB? I suspect there are a lot of events that need to be played in a timely fashion, but at this point only time will tell.
As for SW, though, I expect it will be a game that generates a lot of good tension and a lot of games will come down to the wire. I'm looking forward to getting that far in the game in the future, hopefully sooner than later.
Sent from my iPad
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Our first real evening game, at least for Dave, Eric, Tex, and myself, was A Brief History of the World. I've posted on this in the past, here's a real session report. A brief one!
Of the four of us, only Eric had never played any version of the game before, but the rules didn't take long to explain. With so many changes to the system, it was worth a full refresh of the rules before we played.
One of the problems I've had with History in it's earlier incarnations is that a) it's a bit long for what it is, and b) there tends to be a lot of downtime. ABHotW didn't seem to have that problem - we finished in about 2 hours not including 'splainin'. There was very little downtime, other than waiting for Dave to finish watching Kobe in the NBA playoffs and drifting away from the game. ;-)
The other problem is that earlier versions more or less required six players. I would say that the game really requires five or six, and six is better. I think that three hours for six is perfectly acceptable in terms of play time, although there will obviously be more downtime. Whether that's an acceptable tradeoff is a good question, only a six-player game will tell.
In our game, I was in last place for the first two turns, which allowed me to pull the Romans. Unlike earlier versions, the last place player gets to choose from X empires, where X is the number of players. Rome was there, and I went crazy. In fact, I went so crazy, and there was so little beating down of my empire for a couple of turns that I ended up staying in first for the last four turns, gaining 12 bonus points along the way.
That said, there was considerable beating down in the last epoch, when I ended up with Japan. However, the other empires (other than Britain) weren't that great. As we moved through that last Epoch, Tex started fairly weakly with Russia, then Eric got a lot of points with Britain, and Dave actually one-pointed him after playing the US. I had almost no choices, but I had pulled a Diplomacy event card that allowed me to score a few extra points. We ended up with about a ten point spread between all four players, with Dave in second (I think he got bonuses every turn, although most were one or two points instead of three) and Eric in third.
HotW requires a certain amount of understanding of what's important - beat on the leader, although often the leader is not who he appears to be. If you don't take board position into account, often the leader will just get further ahead. That was definitely the case for me, and I had a good 20 point lead going into the fifth and sixth epochs. Even with Eric getting close to fifty points in his last turn (and Dave doing about the same), I was able to hold them off.
I still think that if I've got six players, five hours, and good players, I'll take the original AH edition every time. The strength/VP point system makes your empire choices all that much more important. That said, Brief is a very good game if you like HotW but don't have the time or skilled players. The main reason skill isn't quite as important is that there are considerably fewer areas on the board, and thus fewer places to "hide". Understanding board position compared to VP total is still important, but with four there's a lot greater chance that wackiness will ensue as a result of a wider set of possible empire pulls is present and you can't assume the Romans will be the Khmer in the next turn.
That may be my only win of the week, I certainly haven't won anything else...
Mike and Chuck played the new Treefrog title Gettysburg from Martin Wallace. They were very impressed, but I don't know much more than that.
I'll also note that we had five games going during the day today (Day 3) - Eric and Tex played Stalin's War, and Eric demonstrated how not to play the Soviets. Once they were done, they played 1825 Unit 3, with Tex winning. Dave and Chuck played Flying Colors, the Sadras scenario from the Ship of the Line module, with Dave winning. They are in the middle of playing a two-player game of Maria, the follow-up to Friedrich.
Not sure what's on the docket for this evening, but I suspect I'll be showing Dave how to play D-Day at Omaha Beach or RAF or both while everyone else plays other games.
Turn 17 -
Oda: I start by setting fire to the Enryaku-Ji temple, removing it from the game. Araki takes on the Takeda units in Takato, forcing Mike to have to consider whether or not to pull Shingen back or not.
Ikko-Ikki: Mike moves units around, going after Shoru-Ji. He also inadvertently shows that he has a Betrayal card that would screw me royally in Kyo.
Takeda: Mike moves a stack into Iida that puts Araki OOS, but also leaves Shingen with a smaller stack that I might exploit.
Mori: Mike rolls a 1, and can only advance Takagawa forward one space into a transit point.
Shingen: Mike advances the exploiting units into Toki. However, they are very vulnerable, although Mike now has a bunch of cards he's taken this turn.
Uesugi: Mike advances into Oyama, assaults the space, but no joy for either side in terms of creating losses.
Kenshin: Kenshin isn't able to take Oyama, but does take Daisho-Ji, and is now poised to come after Nobunaga.
Nobunaga: I take the last unit in Miki, and then run Tokugawa against Shingen. Sadly, Tokugawa is wiped out to the last man, and the Daimyo won't be back for a couple of turns. Mike will have two turns to take Hamamatsu to take Tokugawa out, which may be the shootin' match. I also Move Niwa over to Kyo to prevent too much damage.
Anti-Oda: Mike has Tsutsui betray (fooled me into thinking it was in Kyo), gets another card. He also brings the remainder of his "exiled" units across the Bay of Kawachi over to Noda.
End Turn: No deaths. I get card #58, which I'm very unlikely to use in the near future, although I can sneak in to Ishiyama that would be *sweet*. My regroup is in the north to hold off Takeda.
Turn 18 -
Takeda: Now I pray that Tokugawa can hold out for at least one turn. Thank goodness the conversion attempt fails. He also rolls a six, so that's bad. My forces hold out for the impulse.
Kenshin: Movement roll is 3. They advance into Asakaga space with a small number of units. I will need to kick some Asakaga ass soon if I want to take on the Uesugi. Assault on Daisho-Ji is successful, and Mike has a direct line to my lines.
Uesugi: Movement roll of two, which is a huge problem because now he has two alliances sitting in Kanagasaki. Kind of wish I'd gone after Asakaga instead of Shingen...
Oda: I go after both Mori and the Ikko-Ikki besieging Shoryu-Ji. The former fails with me losing three to one units, but I get away. The latter does better, but at high cost: 3:4 losses.
Shingen: Tokugawa Falls! Crap.
Anti-Oda Minors: Bad to worse. Mike converts Araki and I'm officially in serious trouble. He also moves Ashikaga into Kyo to press the issue against Nwa. Nwa gets initiative in the first round but can't get more than one loss, then loses his entire force and is lightly wounded. Kyo for the Anti-Oda faction.
Askura: Yoshikage goes after Nobunaga in Odani, but Nobu hangs on (barely) and will need to retreat back to his home areas. A Pyhrric victory by any standard for me.
Nobunaga: Regroup in force with pretty much everyone who can move back to Sawayama. Nobunaga will be playing a very delicate game at this point, but victory is not completely out of the question. Just almost out of the question.
Mori: Mike does some damage to Takigawa, but not enough and he escapes with a unit to Miyazu.
End Turn: I do get five units to regroup with, but no more card. Things will be grim for a couple of turns, I'm afraid.
Turn 19 -
End of Turn: I think I'm happy about this, it allows me to reinforce Oda, while Mike doesn't have nearly as many units to regroup. No one dies. Dang.
Turn 20 -
End Turn: See last turn!
Turn 21 -
Kenshin: Kenshin takes the speed bump at Odani out, Nobunaga is all that stands between him and victory!
Ikko-Ikki: The warrior monks run amok over the southern area around Kyo.
Takeda: Move roll of 5. I am missing that Kyo bonus right about now. Shingen moves down the eastern coast and sieges Okasaki.
Uesugi: Grim, grim, grim. At least Kenshin didn't take Nobunaga out. Yet.
Shingen: Shingen converts the unit in Okazaki, who dies at the hands of his former Samurai. He then assaults the castle, and it falls without further losses to Takeda.
End Turn: Time keeps ticking. On the plus side, most of my units are on the board. Just no leaders.
Turn 22 -
Oda: Only two movement allows me to move Nobunaga back, where he can start thinking about taking out the Anti-Oda forces one piece at a time, but it will be a struggle.
End Turn: A miracle - Kenshin dies! That means one less Uesugi activation, which isn't huge but could be.
Turn 23 -
Ikko-Ikki: Mike ninja's my Hosokawa Betrayal card, which means that minor Oda clan will go over to his side as soon as he can get Anti-Oda Minors. The Ikko-Ikki take over a very large chunk of the board and start picking at my units, the first ones in Ise Kameyama.
Asakura: Yoshikage starts moving on the isolated units at Mt. Hiei.
Mori: One unit in Izushi is converted, and in the ensuing castle battle my unit is killed. Mori also converts another Minor Neutral in the east.
Nobunaga: Move roll of 1, I pull Hosokawa back a space to make his betrayal that much more difficult.
End Turn: Shingen lives. My entire force is now on the board, but I don't think it will help much. Without mobility most of my units can't do much of anything, and a 1-2 doesn't get Nobunaga even vaguely close to taking out my enemies piecemeal.
Turn 24 -
Anti-Oda Minors: More cards from Mike. Sakuma converts in Mt. Hiei. Such fond memories of the fire at the temple, too.
Oda: I am out of options, so with a roll of 3 I can get to Uesugi's stack, but only with eight units. Mike pulls out Massed Gunnery and I go down like a Einsteinium duck. Nobunaga is killed, and I concede the game.
Post Game Commentary:
First off, what a great game. While I had my share of unfortunate luck, and one really dumb move with allowing Ashikaga to steal a stack of units that he shouldn't have been able to get, I felt my play was not too bad, although not aggressive enough in some cases. Had I been able to finish off Shingen after Nobunaga nearly wiped him out, that would have helped as Tokugawa would have been a very valuable ally as a Daimyo. I certainly would have gained some cycles and Mike would have lost some.
We found the Good Fortune chit to be a non-starter. I used it once (we modified it so that you could repull a chit and the opposing player didn't get it's use until the following turn regardless), so it wasn't much of a factor. Mike held it the remainder of the game, in fact. I would simply avoid using it.
I have heard that Oda is a hard side to play and win with, and I think that's true. Most of the Betrayal cards affect their Samurai, and even with those cards in your hand every time you step up to the plate for a battle you are risking a lot. The key is extremely aggressive play early to take out as many enemy clans as possible, not only to limit your opponent's options, but to increase your regroup rate. Like Napoleon centuries later, Nobunaga's best bet it to take the other clans out piecemeal and trust that you will get enough regroup units to mitigate your losses.
One really critical tactic in the game is to pin enemy units with a threat in concept so that they can't move or else risk going out of supply. Of course, there are times when you have improved chances of getting a double move, but it is *never* guaranteed unless you use the Good Fortune chit or the Brilliant Manuever card. Good reasons to hang onto that card.
Mike's strategy of going after the minor Oda clans in the mid-east section of the board was wise, although I think he probably sat on the Anti-Oda Minors once Mysagi had been exiled off Honshu for several turns. It would have been better to drag those units over to the mainland every chance he could. Otherwise, well played on his part.
Chaos is most definitely a huge factor in the game. There are a *lot* of die rolls, and how they come out will play a large part in any victory (or loss). That said, the chaos of the cards and the chances of going in with a small force and decisively beating a much larger force makes for great story as well as being very historical. The game should be played with honor, which to my mind means in the spirit of the era, and the game has that in spades.
Congratulations to Mike for a well-earned win.
Turn 9 -
Nobunaga: My luck has shifted the opposite direction, and Mike's has gone south. I use three of my four movement points to move Nobunaga and Akari into Iwamura to fight Shingen. We match initiative, Mike inflicts three hits on me, I inflict four on Mike and a lone Shingen escapes but in a precarious position.
Anti-Oda Minors: Mike does nothing.
Ikko-Ikki: One movement point, he assaults in Noda again. I kill one II, he wipes me out and the space reverts to Myoshi.
Shingen: Mike takes Shingen and his lone unit back to his home castle in Kofu.
Oda: A very good turn: Tokugawa attacks into Kakegawa and wipes out the entire force, killing Yamagata and displacing Baba for a turn. Takeda is on the ropes, and I need to finish him off.
Azai/Asakura: Mike rolls a 5 and he can do some things. Yoshikage sieges at Obama, loses one unit and is unsuccessful. Another four go to the transit point adjacent to Mt. Hiei.
End Turn: I draw card 34, place four Oda units (mostly in Kyo), and Tokugawa gets his unit back in Yoshida.
Turn 10 -
Oda: Tokugawa starts trying to conquer Takeda, putting Mt. Kuno under siege, but no losses in the assault. Nobunaga heads to Azai to put Odani under siege.
Nobunaga: Nobunaga and Hashiba put Odani under siege to try to eliminate the Azai. Odani is a really tough nut to crack, not sure this will work out. I do take out one unit, but at a cost of four of my own. Meanwhile, Tokugawa takes Mt. Kuno.
Anti-Oda Minors: No activity.
Ikko-Ikki: The force in Mt. Shigi moves to Yamatokoriyama and puts Tsutsui under siege. No units lost in the assault.
Azai/Asakura: Mike rolls a 2, assaults Obama but only loses a unit.
Shingen and Takeda: Not enough to do much but cower in Kofu.
End Turn: I draw card 5, which doesn't do much for me but keeps the samurai safe. Reinforce near Oani and Tanba to prevent Ashikaga from going Daimyo.
Turn 11 -
Anti-Oda Minors: Pass
Shingen: Brings a unit from Takato to Kofu. Shingen is building up, but he and Tokugawa are at a Mexican Standoff.
Nobunaga: I bring up more units to assault Odani. I do manage to steal one of those units via negotiation, as well as another minor in Izushi.
Oda: Relieving the siege at Yamato fails miserably, losing three units. Nobunaga's siege at Odani also loses two more units, but we're getting close...
End Turn: I draw #54, another useless card for me. Again, I set up for taking odani and protecting Kyo. Mike continues to bulk Shingen up, and he lives another turn.
Turn 12 -
Shingen: Mike rolls poorly for movement, passes.
Takeda: Movement roll is a 4. Mike moves a unit into Kofu.
Oda: Nobunaga finally takes Odani, but not through negotiation. I also move up a unit to help bulk up Tokugawa.
Ikko-Ikki: Mike rolls well for movement, a six. They siege at Yamato, but lose one more unit.
Asakura: Mike rolls a 4 for movement. The Azai are fallen now. He advances into Odani to take on Nobunaga, but his Surprise card is countered by my Ambush and I win the first initiative and kill half of his force.
End Turn: I get #16 from the draw. Most units go near Kyo to beef that area up after my fiasco in Yamoto.
Turn 13 -
Oda: Very little I do, moving one unit up with Togugawa.
Nobunaga: I advance Takigawa into Yagami to assault the Hatano. Nothing happens.
Anti-Oda Minors: We finally figure out that Mike can convert Ashikaga to a Daimyo then play the betrayal card on Shbata. Five units go with him. I feel like an idiot for a) not noticing before and b) losing one of my big stacks.
Shingen: Finally, Shingen comes out to play with Tokugawa, who has set up an ambush for him for the last few turns. I roll like a demon, taking out five units, while losing two. Shingen gets away.
End Turn: Mori come in this turn, so almost all of my four regroup units come in on that border. I draw another Betrayal card I can't use.
Turn 14 -
Anti-Oda Minors: Mike builds up in Ibaraki.
Ikko-Ikki: Mike moves to threaten Takigawa in Yagimi, loses a unit in an assault on Yamato.
Nobunaga: I successfully take the Hatano unit in Yagimi, but fail to take the space. Mori has entered, so that's bad. Tokugawa goes in and dies against Shingen, but at least escapes the battle:
End Turn: Only two units to get back on the board. I draw 13, yet another useless card.
Turn 15 - Halfway point!
Nobunaga: Takigawa takes Yagami finally, Tokugawa heads back to Hamamatsu to rebuild.
End Turn: Lucky for me! Only one Tokugawa unit to place, I do so Sunpu to prevent Shingen from getting a strat move on the highway (I forget that he can't strat move on . I also draw Samurai becomes Daimyo, which I immediately place on Tokugawa, making him my most important leader. Shingen is still alive.
Turn 16 -
Asakura: Mike passes.
Takeda: Mike rolls a six, starts back on his way to Tokugawa. He runs right over the speed bump in Sunpu, but at least he didn't steal the unit.
Kenshin: Uesugi makes an appearance before Mori even gets a turn. They assault in Toyama and take the castle.
Shingen: Mike rolls a 2, brings Shingen into Kakegawa.
End Turn: Mike considers using Good Fortune to continue, but decides to end the turn. I draw #28, which is timely.
I am taking Oda, Mike takes Anti-Oda.
Turn 1 -
Nobunaga: My negotiation rolls go nowhere. Standard opening, but a terrible movement roll (1). I move Sakuma to Mt. Hiei in prep for the Enryaku Ji's appearance next turn. Takigawa moves to the transit spot with the idea of Negotiating with the adjacent minor next activation. A bit risky, but not too much I can do with a roll of 3.
Anti-Oda Minors: Myoshi moves into Ibaraki to besiege Shibata.
End Turn: No regroup, and I get a card, #43. Not terribly useful yet.
Turn 2 -
Nobunaga: Up first again. No more restriction against going into Azai spaces! Again no luck with negotiations. I roll a 2 for movement, goes up to 4. I move Hashiba with three units into Sawayama, where the two Azai units are besieged. Niwa does the same in Mitsukuri. I assault in Mitsukuri against the Rokakku, but loses a unit to no gain. I don't assault in Hashiba, figuring I'll get negotiation chances against them.
Anti-Oda Minors: Mike makes no moves, only assaults Shibata in Ibaraki, loses a unit for his trouble.
End Turn: Deja vu! We each have units to regroup., my single Oda unit goes to Araki who is in Kannon-ji, Mike's to Noda. I also notice that the monks put Nobunaga out of communication, so I'll need to do something about that.
Turn 3 -
Oda: This is starting to feel like a broken record. This time I am able to negotiate Obama, but that's just one more unit to get out of Dodge. I move Nobunaga and his eight units down to Mt. Hiei. No combat this turn.
Nobunaga: Negotiations all fail. Time for new diplomats. Better movement roll, a total of 7. I move Nobunaga to Ibariki to lift the siege. I also move Takigawa with three units to near Miyazu to continue converting minors, and a couple of units from Otsu to Minakuchi to help Nwa against the Rokokku.
Azai/Asakura: Mike rolls a one, takes back Kanagaski.
Anti-Oda Minors: Mike chooses to leave his units in place.
Ikko-Ikki: We notice that the Ikko-Ikki chit was not in the cup. Whoops. We give Mike the activation automatically. He rolls three, moves units to Mt. Shigi to attack Matsunaga, we trade units in the assault.
End Turn: Mike gets some units back, not so much for me. I now have three cards, 62, 43, 31.
Turn 4 -
I draw Turn End immediately, use the Good Fortune (we are using modified rules for this) to redraw because I got things to do as Oda.
Anti-Oda Minors: No activity.
End Turn: Crap, didn't need that. Mike regroups his Myoshi, nothing else to do. I draw card 53, utterly useless to me.
Turn 5 -
End Turn: F*ck me. I draw card #32, which *is* useful.
Turn 6 -
I use the Brilliant Maneuver card to draw Nobunaga.
Nobunaga: I convert the minor in Kakegawa, but no joy anywhere else. I move two more units into Mitsukuri to assault, but just lose them for my trouble. As Takeda comes in next turn, I choose to move Araki and two units to Gifu to cover my home castles.
End Turn: Holy Crap. Takeda comes in, i take card 33. Some of these are starting to look useful. I regroup the two killed units into Kiyosu and Ibaraki.
Turn 7 -
Ikko-Ikki: Mike assaults Mt. Shigi and takes the space with one loss to himself. Matsunaga falls and goes over to the Anti-Oda faction and is placed in the Ikko-Ikki box.
Shingen: Shingen and three units advance into Iwamura to assault my castle. Yamagata assaults and takes the betrayed unit in Kakegawa. Iwamura holds out but fails to take any units. He's better off trying to negotiate anyway.
I use Master of Tactics to take back the Brilliant Maneuver, then use it to play Nobunaga.
Nobunaga: I convert Futamata and Tanba Kameyama. I convert Araki to a Daimyo, then add two through Forced March to my movement. I leave skeleton forces in Gifu and Kiyosu, move the remaining force to Iwamura to relieve the units there. I also move Nobunaga to Noda to try to alleve some of the pressure in the south. Nobunaga wipes out Myoshi but the clan is intact as their home castle is hard to get to. At Iwamura, Araki blows a very good chance at an upset, but Shingen gets the initiative and wipes out a good portion of Araki's force. However, Araki gets out with one unit, saving the two units in the space from being converted.
End Turn: I reinforce at Kyo, Ibaraki, Kiyosu, and Kuwana. Mike gets a few II units and one Myoshi.
Turn 8 -
Anti-Oda Minors: Nothing for Mike to do.
Takeda: Rolls 2 for movement. He advances into Toki to assault, loses two units for his trouble.
Nobunaga: Negotiations all fail. I move Nobunaga to Kuwana to try to take on Shingen.
Oda: Yay! Plus, I finally convert one of the units in Sawayama. It and the remaining unit fight in the castle and eliminate each other, so I take the space. I roll well for my movement, and Nobunaga runs all the way out to Toki to relieve Araki, which is successful as Shingen retreats with two units. I also move Hashiba up into Yokohama to press the Azai, hopefully to kill them off.
Shingen: Mike brings up one unit to reinforce Shingen.
Ikko-Ikki: Mike brings up forces to try to take back Noda Fukushima. In the assault, I take out one II unit, and Mike whiffs.
End Turn: Whew. I place my three units in Kyo, Ibakari, and Mike gets a couple of II and Myoshi units. More important is the two Takeda units he gets back. I draw 48 to go with 47 last turn.
Next up: Turns 9-16...
Monday, May 17, 2010
So what did I learn from this game? First, you need to very carefully think about what chits to put in the cup, made more so because you can't coordinate infantry with your panzers as the Germans. Second, be aware in the early game of how you can use Minsk Pocket units to add 9th Army chits to the cup, well worth the points. Third, just because Soviet units are out of command and not a threat, be sure that they aren't blocking critical road areas - I was unable to move my 3rd Pz infantry units up (only four units) as a result, when I should have used a 3rd Pz chit in turn 3 instead of putting in a 9th Army, as I'd forgotten I could have gotten the chit just by pulling another HQ from Minsk (although that would have shorted me in the following turn). I think that perhaps it's a good idea to get two HQs out in the first turn so that you can get the two extra activations in that turn as well.
Like A Victory Lost, this game is surprisingly deep for such a light ruleset. BTW, the rules are all right there, with almost nothing confusing (at least, we found nothing confusing). The only thing that I think we probably didn't check as carefully as we could was retreating units closer to a supply source, even over moving through ZOCs, although I'm not terribly sure about this without checking the rules closely.
The good news is that, much like after playing AVL for the first time, that I feel like I would play significantly better the next time out, and there will be a next time. Great game, and congrats to Chuck for his excellent play.
I'm not quite sure what the evening games will be (I know that Mike lost Friedrich as the Prussians to Eric and Dave). Tex has asked for A Brief History, we'll see if there's a quorum.