Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WBC West 2011, Day 2 PM

So far, the wargaming retreat had gone well, although only for about 24 hours. Now people started to arrive, with Tex and Mimi around noon, Eric right behind them, and Alex, Matt, and Dan coming in in the mid-evening. Tex and Chuck went off to play Clash of Giants II, the Race to the Sea scenario, which I'm fairly sure Chuck won as the Allies. 

Meanwhile, Mike and Eric and I played Maria, which is almost more of a Euro than a wargame, but it definitely blurs the line. A follow-on game to Friedrich, Maria covers the Austrian War of Succession, with one player taking Austria (Eric), one taking the French and Bavarians (me), and one player taking the Prussians (who were allied with the French) and the Pragmatic Army (who were allied with Austria!) on the other, as well as the Saxons, who may well switch sides at some point (Mike). The map is also a bit schizophrenic, taking up two separate parts of Europe joined along the southern part of the east/west bifurcation. The two parts of the map aren't even oriented in the same direction (there's a picture on the back of the map that shows how the two halves fit in Europe), but it is possible for the Austrians and French to move between the two. 

There are two huge keys to playing Maria well, one being managing your hand of cards that are used for both combat as well as for playing a political game that can result in nerfs and buffs to various powers and in one case change the loyalty of Saxony. When you fight a battle, you play cards that are in the same suit as the area of the map where your army is. As such, there are some good strategies to pin an enemy army in a Spaces space (for example) while your armies come at them from two directions, possibly using different suits, with the idea being to wipe the enemy's hand of his defensive suit. Seeing as each country has it's own hand of cards, getting that kind of synergy is desirable, if sometimes difficult. The result, however, definitely feels more Euro than War, with you choosing areas to defend on a map based on what suits are in your hand. I suppose you could generate a gratuitous explanation for why this is so, but really it's intended to make an interesting game rather than something that actually feels historical, at least in terms of combat. 

The other key is managing your supply trains. The major powers have two, the minors one, but Prussia has to conquer Silesia and then make a short peace with Austria to gain it (and a VP). Being in enemy territory without supply will end your offensive pretty fast, and managing where your supply train is requires more strategy than I was able to put to bear. For the Austrians, losing one of their trains, especially on the border with France (basically the Low Countries in today's world, back then partly controlled by Austria) means that they'll just sit and guard their fortresses because none of them are Major forts (required to bring a train back in). 

There's quite a bit more to the game, but that should give you enough of an idea of how it works to appreciate our game. 

One of the things you try to do as France is control four of the Electorates on the west map to gain a VP, and also to control enough electorates on both maps to get the French contender for the Austrian throne to win, while Austria tries to do the same. I started by going after these aggressively, and in fact I was able to score two VP for those two things, although eventually I lost the western Electorates before the game ended. However, I was not using my supply train well, and was trying to do two things with one train in enemy territory when I should have been guarding my frontiers. At the same time, the Bavarians and French were doing fairly well in western Austria, and I came within a couple of chips of winning the game about halfway through. 

Meanwhile, Mike had been struggling as the Prussian, although he did manage to conquer Silesia and declare peace with Austria for a turn and a half. After doing so, Mike started to complain about the card distribution, that he was getting small denominations and managed to lose his train for the Pragmatic Army, forcing them to withdraw back to Holland. Eric took the opportunity to make a good run on the French in the east, destroying my supply train *and* both French armies, at which point I decided to use the French Limits War Objectives rule, so it was quite historical, but Eric looked like he was going to pull out the win. Protip: keep your enemies close, and your supply trains closer. About this time, the only thing that stopped Eric was the destruction of his own supply train in the west. 

At this point, Mike's Prussians declared war on Austria again, and Eric had been pretty beat up in his victories over the French, and he rolled all over the eastern portion of Austria. So well that he ended up winning the game after being so unhappy about his card draws. There's a lesson here, I think. 

Maria is a strange duck. You need to understand how best to utilize your supply trains and manage your cards (and your armies' positions on the map) to play well, and while all of us had a shot at winning at some point, I felt that I made huge mistakes in play that ended up costing me the game, such as neglecting Eric's use of Hussars to screw with my supply. There's no question that the game is in many ways superior to Friedrich, partly because there are no random exits of major powers that can make it difficult for some players to buy into a multiplayer game, seeing as you might be done in a turn or two. As such, it's probably best as a two, possibly three player game. No problem like that in Maria. 

In the end, though, the game succeeds as a heavy Euro, perhaps too heavy, but too light as a wargame since the combat is *so* abstracted. There are a dearth of games that fit three players this well in this complexity level and length, but I think that perhaps maybe there is a reason why there's a dearth. In the end, Maria was a bit of a letdown after such a fun game of Here I Stand. As such, I will gladly play in the future, but it will almost certainly be a WBC West or Euro Retreat game rather than something we gather to play on a weekend afternoon, and I won't be adding it to my library. 

On to the evening! Ken came by at a couple of points (he's out here relaxing a bit, but also doing some work during the day, so he plays at night at best), and was there for us to play the Resident Evil Deckbuilding Game. I continue to be amazed that a game with possibly the worst documentation and rules I've ever seen (the first version's rules were so bad that there were major typesetting errors that were fixed in the v1.1 rules, but the information is still a mess) can be so much fun to play. Ken, Alex, Eric, and I had a ball, getting into the spirit of the game in a big way. In the end, I managed to win the game despite Eric taking down the big bad (after drawing the Gatling Gun and Rocket Launcher early). That meant no "see who gets the boss at the same time as getting a lot of good cards" problem that so many other's see. I like the game quite a bit, but don't recommend it if you need a game that's well-produced in terms of clarity and errors (fortunately none I'm aware of in the cards themselves). It's also a little strange in that you don't randomize the set, but instead either use one of the many they suggest or make up your own, but no randomizer cards at all. Nevertheless, we had a ball. 

And that was the end of Day 2, with a record breaking nine people present on the second day, eight of them gamers. 

1 comment:

Mike said...

Prussia won without ever losing a single battle or strength point, and only having to play a few cards from hand in the few battles it did fight. With a very slow start, by not drawing the suits it needed to take spaces in Silesia, Austria moved all the generals south to fight the French. Prussia stepped into the vacuum, capturing almost the whole of Silesia in one play. Austria was still of fighting France, and had been beaten down, and Prussia came back from the peace to take the few spaces needed for a win.

In the meantime, all the spaces that Saxony need to take were in an area requiring diamonds to be drawn. They didn't see a diamond in the 9 cards drawn.

The Pragmatic Army, in the meantime, drew >50% hearts, the one suit that they couldn't use. They fought one battle with the French, and found that France had drawn pretty much all the '10' value cards in the battle suit, and were crushed.

My verdict on this series remains the same: too dependent on the suits and values drawn. At least it doesn't have the wacky cards of fate that Friedrich has.