Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WBC West 2011 - Day 6

Friday, Friday, Friday. Friday has traditionally been a bittersweet day at WBC West for me, as it means we are getting close to the end. This year, I made a conscious decision to take a different approach to the week, looking at it as coming closer to completing the cycle and having experienced such great games and generated such great memories. It was a successful paradigm shift for me, and I enjoyed the second half of the week much more overall than in past years. After all, while the point of the journey is not to arrive, at the same time when you do that arrival should be a source of joy rather than of regret that the journey is over. Because there will be more journeys - at least if you're doing it right.

Friday was my day with Chris S, who I have surprisingly little experience playing games with. Despite us working together as part of the Board Game Triumvirate for GameStorm in 2010 (along with Chris B), I can't think of a time when we'd played a game together up to that point. Chris likes 18xx games and Die Macher, which I am not as excited about, so while we've seen each other at cons and Chris has started to show up to occasional Rip City Gamers sessions, this was our very first one-on-one session.

First up was Labyrinth, a game that I've played more solitaire than two-player. The game is a different beast with two, and I take the chance to play the Jihadist when I can, which I did in this game, as I did when Chuck and I played some time ago. I've blogged on the game repeatedly, so I won't go into any details about how it works here.

Chris started out by making lots of War of Ideas rolls which were very successful in general. He managed to get the Gulf States to Good in no time at all, then did a great job of moving his troops around to good effect. I, on the other hand, had trouble doing anything that involved rolling dice, failing in all three attempts to get Central Asian/Russian WMDs in all three attempts in the first deck, the first time I've seen that happen. I also had half of my Major Jihads fail in a big way, which of course slowed me down tremendously. By the end of the game I started to remember that the dice had been similarly uncooperative for the Jihadists in my previous game (and cooperative for the US with their tan die) and I think that these dice are a bad lot and am going to replace them in the future. I have had similar problems with the dice in Barbarossa to Berlin, so it does happen.

My play, otherwise, was competent but not stellar. I came within a couple of ideal rolls of winning the game when there was an Oil Price Spike, but in general it was hard to win when most countries tested
Fair, when Chris made the majority of his War of Ideas rolls (helped tremendously by the quick success of the Gulf States, which in retrospect I should have made a focus early instead of Pakistan), and my inability to roll better than 30% of my recruitment rolls, even in Poor countries. At least my funding was mostly in very good shape. We got through about a third of the second deck before Chris won. I had a very good time, and Chris was a superior player and should have won, but it's hard to get full enjoyment when the dice are clearly a problem over multiple games. Even so, I like this game much more than I like Twilight Struggle with it's scoring card and precarious balance issues.

Next up for us was Warriors of God,  a game that tends to generate a certain amount of controversy in our group because of it's unique use of chaos, specifically in that you can lose a lot of leaders because of a bad set of rolls and severely hamper your capabilities. And, while I had some major issues with that on the second turn, which more or less eliminated all but two of my leaders with almost no troops at all, my downfall was self-inflicted. I made two major errors, the first being that I forgot that leaders count as troops and thus there is absolutely no reason to "kill" a leader if there are any troops remaining to him (or to other leaders in the same space). My other mistake was to forget that a two star leader in jail was going to be a problem if he lasted a few turns. And so, I happily handed a two-star leader to Chris for incarceration who sat in jail for four turns and me with no way to get him out because I controlled almost nothing on the map.

The result was me trying desperately to regain board and troop position for the rest of the game. There was some bad luck, including the loss of leaders on the second turn (which only exacerbated the prisoner situation), and a long series of turns where I had the Initiative, so Chris got to pick his independent leaders first for a while, and in the end we were looking at the final turn with me down 15 VP, having finally staunched the tide around turn 5. Losing Ile-de-France for most of the game did not help, and therein was my third major error - forgetting that you can hide in the castle and accept siege, which would probably have provided another six points over the course of the game, very close to where we ended up. Unfortunate, especially when it's your own lack of experience with a game that is the source of your downfall, but that's the price those of us who like a lot of variety in the wargaming hobby have to pay from time to time. WofG is a pretty simple game at it's core from a mechanism standpoint, but it is not an easy game to play because there *is* so much chaos. As I've said before, however, wargames encourage you to hope for the best and plan for the worst, and in WofG there is a lot of worst to plan for.

And how do you plan in a game where your military position can evaporate overnight? The biggest trick is to understand what leaders will be joining you at the end of the turn and arranging so that the areas you control are going to concentrate troops so that you can place the leader there instead of in his home area, but hopefully close by so that you can move him there to take it at the end of the next turn if you don't have it already. There are other tricks too, but my point is that this is demonstrably not Candyland, as one person at the retreat called the game. On the contrary, my experience with so many "naval" and air games over the weekend showed me that they are equally chaotic due to the nature of searching for your enemy. Look right, and you find them, look left and you miss them. Given the chaotic nature of the conflict (we played the Lion in Winter scenario so we could get Robin Hood, who was an exciting character, working for both sides and a real game changer), I think it's perfectly acceptable and historical to have leaders who are there one minute and gone the next, especially in a game of this length.

Regardless, this is a game I'll continue to pull out in the future, and it's complexity level (now that I've refreshed on when to accept siege) is good for less-experienced gamers as well. It's a damned shame that the developer is more interested in being cute that providing helpful info on the counters, but that's my own thing.

For our evening game, we played Mansions of Madness, with Chris taking the role of the Keeper, while Matt, Mimi, Dan, and myself tried to get through the mansion. I admit that while I was very interested in playing the game, it was very clear to me on every turn what it was that my character needed to do and so when it came to my turn it took about 10 seconds to resolve, leaving a whole lot of downtime. I lost interest pretty quickly, which was not helped by one too many glasses of wine and a newly released version of Ticket to Ride on the iPad, and as such I spent about 30 minutes total on what ended up being about a four or five hour game that went far too late into the night. Kind of funny, as I was the character that found all of the important keys and clues that got us to the endgame, and I nearly got the goal item to the front door, only to get sucked back down the ladder to the lower levels, then went mad, then died irrevocably. The rest of the party followed fairly quickly and Chris' forces of evil won the day.

Chris felt that the game had too much downtime as well, and felt that perhaps it was best with three, although he also said that this was as close to winning as he'd seen any group go.

When it comes down to it, I think that my problem with this game, as with most semi-coop games where there is one person against several, that I much prefer being the one against a thousand. I like turning people into monkeys when they try to open a chest. I like springing surprises on people. I like knowing where everything is when no one else does. As such, this is a game I'm glad I have (it feels much more thematic than Descent, and that's saying something), but I don't know that I enjoy playing as one of the "mundanes" at all.

And that was Friday.

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