Friday, June 24, 2011

Heading To Sunriver

Once again it's "summer" in Oregon and my family is gathering for our annual "summer" vacation in Sunriver in Central Oregon. Last year saw my mother's fall the second day of the vacation that turned everything into a nightmare - somehow "monitoring a senior with a brain injury who absolutely shouldn't be walking on her own but will if you look away for 20 seconds" and "vacation" don't really mix all that well. So I guess there's some trepidation about whether we can shake off last year's disaster even though my mother will not be there (and I am sure that the high altitude, nearly 4000 ft, had much to do with the seriousness of her problems last year).

We go this time of year because of some sporting events that are going on, but this year in Oregon we are still waiting for summer to begin in earnest. Over the next week we are looking at an occasional bump over 70 for both Portland and Sunriver, and my wife has started to take on that "I know it's not your fault but I'm blaming you anyway because I married you" tone when she checks the forecast every half hour. Me, I could stand for it to rain for the whole week, because that means my nephew Alex and I can just game the entire time.

Now that I've completely converted Alex over to the dark side of wargaming, I'm delighted that he's *requesting* that I bring a good set of games. Here's a list of what I'm hoping we'll get a chance to play while we're there:

  • A Victory Lost - Alex played this against Chuck at WBC West, so he's probably a little more attuned to the game than I am. Still, this is perhaps my favorite "old-school" wargame (although it's a recent design with some nice twists) and it will be the feature of the week since we'll probably be playing it an hour a day for the entire long week. 
  • Lord of the Rings LCG - I'm looking forward to getting in some minor deck-building for this game, as that's a skill I've never really developed. I think that because you generally focus on one or two spheres, I should be able to give this a go as the choices will be relatively limited. Slightly disappointed that there is no Hunt For Gollum expansion pack out yet, at least not one that I own, but since I've only played the game sporadically, there is enough there to keep my attention for our purposes. I've purchased an additional core set so we'll have plenty of cards to work with.
  • Dominion - From Seaside on, I have barely played this game - perhaps six or seven games total. That's a lot of game that I haven't fiddled with and since my entire set fits in one box now (I have not bought Cornucopia, I'm considering it an expansion too far) this seems like a good game to take. If others are interested, it's easy to get them involved and the game will take them easily, and it also works admirably for two. Easy call. Only concern - game is unsleeved, and with something like 3000 cards there's no way I'm sleeving it with the premium sleeves I prefer. 
  • 7 Wonders - Looking forward to trying the two player variant. Mostly taking because it will fit in the LotR box easily and because it will play many people if necessary.
  • ASLSK - Ken will be out at his place in Sunriver as well, at least for the first weekend, so we're going to try to squeeze in a scenario if we can. Hopefully it won't involve guns or tanks, I'm just not quite ready for that level yet, still need to internalize the infantry rules.
  • Card games - I'm also taking Gosu, Frank's Zoo, Circus Flocahti, Sticheln, and Red November (which is sort of a card game). These will also fit in the LotR box.
  • Party games - Dixit, which my family hasn't played, also Time's Up! Deluxe and Backseat Drawing, which is essentially Pictionary in reverse. Trivia games tend to not work as well with my family so these are all good choices. 
  • Nightfighter - I am dying to give this game, the latest from Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, a shot. He usually does games that are almost more sim than game and tend to be very involved (very cool, but not something you pick up quickly). This one is a lot more streamlined, and the games tend to be playable in an hour. Also, the return of Programmed Instruction, where you learn a rule or two and then play a scenario. There are a ton of scenarios in the box, which are grouped by both the development of nightfighting tech and doctrine which coincides with the rules, and also a campaign that I'm hopeful we can get to assuming the game is entertaining enough. I tried out one of the Scenario 3 scenarios (each scenario has variants which are really completely different scenarios that use the same rule set - unfortunately, they are hard to scan easily because of formatting in the scenario book, but at least there's a ton of variety in the box), and while it was interesting as a solo exercise, it's pretty clear that the game system evolves as the tech does and I'm sure that later scenarios will have a little more meat. I expect to be the umpire (who has a few choices but generally just runs the game) and let Alex play the nightfighter as there are considerably less rules for him to understand so we can just jump in and play. My alternate choice was PQ-17, which I decided against because it was going to be more difficult for me to teach and the game times are much longer. NF fits better with the "play in the cracks" model that I'm expecting will be how the week works. I hope it was a good choice. 
And that's that. We'll see how this all ends up, both in terms of gaming and in terms of fitting in with the other demands that will be made on me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fighting Formations Replay - Scenario 7

I got together with new wargaming buddy Tripp to teach him Fighting Formations. At long last I think I'm starting to figure this game out, or at the very least I'm starting to see what I do wrong.

Scenario 7 is the companion to Scenario 6, which Eric and I played at WBC West a month ago. Both cover the same action on the same day, just different flanks. Scenario 5 puts the entire situation together on two maps, but we didn't have the time to play that out. These are pretty good learning scenarios for the experienced wargamer, especially those who are familiar with tactical games set during WW2 (Combat Commander, Conflict of Heroes, ASL) - not too many units, a good mix of guns, men, and tanks, some fortifications and sighting markers (which are roadblocks and hidden units), and not too much crazy terrain. As such, 7 is slightly better than 6 because there are no elevation changes, which always make my head hurt.

The situation is interesting. As in S6, the Germans need to take objectives and the Soviets need to kill Germans. The map features a river with swampy banks and a large forest mass in the center of the map extending up from the south like a tombstone, channelling where vehicles can go into two real axes - the road running between the forest and the river to the east, and through a small town and across rough terrain to the west. Tripp chose to defend with his two T-34 tanks to the west (although I missed that he had set up in some illegal terrain with one of the tanks - no woods for you!), and put his AT gun and AP MG (which was not really an effective weapon against tanks) to the east. In the center, at the northernmost apex of the forest "tombstone" was the only bridge in the area, and the road was literally the *only* way you could get vehicles to the SE corner of the map.

To take on these two sets of objectives, I set up my own large MG42 so that it was just out of range of his big MG in the east, but that required that the MG was set up so that I could only attack a very few of his units and not his AT gun at all. Meanwhile, I set up three groups of Grenadiers to cross the swampy river (which required lots of Advance actions) to penetrate the tombstone forest, from the bridge area down to near where the road emerged from the forest in the SE. On the western flank, I put the four tank platoons each with a grenadier platoon to carry them into the town fight. Once they had gotten into town and I'd wiped out his T-34s, the plan was to wheel two of the platoons to the east and proceed down the road once I'd taken the bridge.

I began with a Medium barrage in the SE to try to soften up his big MG post, which had a nice fire lane going straight down the river, but failed to do more than inflict a single weak hit. I followed up with an attempt at laying smoke via a light barrage, but it fell too far south to be useful. Stuka attacks to the west were less than useful as well. In fact, by the end of the first turn, I had not only barely advanced in the west, I'd done almost nothing in the center and east, and Tripp had found a rather nice place to situate one of his T-34's so that I was going to have relatively little chance to shoot at it. With his superior armor (but weaker guns) he was going to be able to hang out and make my life difficult.

Turn two went better for me, and I was able to get several grenadiers across the river and into the tombstone woods. I quickly realized that getting to the back objectives was going to be nearly impossible traveling through the woods as I'd be limited to three hexes per activation, so once I figured out that all Tripp had in the center objective was some wire, I left one grenadier there and sent the rest east, which was the correct choice as he had a lot of sighting markers near the objective where the road leaves the forest. They would scout that area for hidden units in anticipation of the tanks moving in that direction.

Meanwhile, in the west I realized that the best way to penetrate the town was to get the infantry there via the small woods to the west of the town. In fact, that would have been a very good idea from the start - use the tanks to get the infantry there where they could bypass the town and take the westernmost objective, then flank the T-34's with the heavy ATR I'd gotten as my initial random card or create close combat with the tank in the town hex. Tripp, however, pulled his townie tank back so that wasn't going to work. He brought a rifle platoon up into the woods to guard that flank and we started to get a lot of firepower going which finally forced the issue there. I managed to take the west objective and knock out both tanks (after losing three of my own) and his KV-1's were crossing the stream to the south.

At this point, I'd gotten my three single tanks (why I did not muster them into a single tank platoon I do not know) and we were getting pretty close to the point where I was going to need to take one more objective to get the VP's to 0, which would be a win for the Germans as Tripp had given up the Fate card to save a tank earlier (successfully). For reasons that will elude me until my dying day, I moved both a single tank *and* an infantry platoon into the space, which Tripp then chopped into mincemeat with all of his HE attacks, giving him an additional 3VP. He would have had two shots at the tank, one poor odds and one effectively impossible odds, and I would have won had the SD roll gone my way. Which it did.

At this point, even though it lost me the game, I accepted the roll as my own personal time limit had run out.

I learned several things from playing this game, and I am *starting* to feel like there is a chance I could play competently in the future. Here's what I learned:

  • Put a unit in an entrenchment in every objective hex on the map. At the very least put some wire there so that units have to use the right type of order to enter it. I took all three objective hexes with no more than wire in my way. Much better to force your opponent to fight for the important hexes, as those tanks can *fly* across the battlefield. 
  • Use the terrain. I was both really smart and really dumb about the use of the forest for infantry to move through to get close to objectives. The tombstone was smart, the western small forest took too many turns to figure out it's best use. I think Tripp would have been better served putting hidden units (and false sightings) on the periphery of the forest to keep me guessing. I think the roadblock would have been better served blocking the east-west road as it was the *only* path for the panzers to get east. While a demolition asset would have allowed me to break it up, that would have ended up forcing me to dig for that card and using up a lot of initiative in the process. 
  • I think the first turn is almost better spent in this scenario for the Germans building up assets. You start with some good ones, but you really need APCR to take out the T-34's effectively. Without question, you don't have much time as the Germans so more effective shots are critical.Limit use of your command early on and then make the first big push on turn 2. At that point you'll get better shots when you take them rather than hoping to get a lucky break on a six point differential between the Pz AP rating and the T-34 armor. Use light barrages for smoke to allow your units to advance across the river (which they'll need to do - swamp costs 6MP for leg and rivers are a +3, so you can only get across many of them through an advance action). 
  • Mass your fire. I finally knocked out his tanks when I was able to take multiple shots at them, although it took quite a while to finally get them. While the game doesn't have group fire, having a bunch of shots, especially with APCR ammo, will take out a unit very quickly.
  • That bridge is key. It needs defending to allow you to make a better decision about where to bring in your reinforcements as the Soviets. 
  • Think about what moving into a given space will do in terms of victory points. Not considering this carefully cost me the game. 
  • Snipers are something that you have to take into account more or less constantly, although in our game they were ineffective in terms of actually hobbling command. They do drive behavior, though, and you don't want to be caught with all of your command on the board when your opponent gets the die. At one point I had four command on the board when Tripp made a roll, which fortunately missed, but could have hurt a bit. 
This was Tripp's first game, and I think he had a good time playing it. I sure did. Thanks for being a great host!

One other note: we used the Random Event optional rule to mix things up a bit. I think we each got one small buff as a result, but most of the events were not of any serious effect. I recommend these if you like a battlefield that is changing on you, or if you want to make more of a game of who has initiative (not just who get's last ups) at the very end of the turn, as often that player gets the benefit (not always, though). The results are wacky, so if you want more of a chess-board experience stay away from them. 

I am now extremely interested in giving Scenario 5, the one that covers both S6 and S7, a try in the relatively near future. It would make for a very cool multiplayer gamer as well, with each player responsible for a particular part of the battlefield and one player the overall commander to make the choice of orders. Could be a lot of fun...

Happy Father's Day

In the full understanding that I am making a sexist assumption that only men play wargames, I wish a very happy Father's Day (in the US, no idea if this is a holiday anywhere else) to the wargamers out there balancing family and gaming. While I am not what anyone would term a "traditional" father, I am in some very real senses a father and understand what a tightrope men in the US walk when it comes to raising children "right". You have my respect, my thanks, and my sympathies. Have a great day, guys.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Martha! The Herd Needs a'Thinnin'!

When I started playing wargames around the age of 11, I was just starting to realize my acquisitive tendencies. I was certainly interested in buying every wargame out there, although since my local store had so many of the old SPI flat/plastic boxes I just didn't go there (and plus my first experience with one of them went so badly - missing a major component combined with plotted movement, never a good choice for me) and stuck with the Avalon Hill catalog.

As I've written here in the meantime, the collection has taken on a bit of a life of it's own. When we moved to Wilsonville in 2007, I got my very own game room, which has been awesome, but it's also given me a very clear sense that the collection is more than I want to move in the future. And we *will* move at some point in the future when the market springs back to a certain extent.

What I've had trouble letting go of in the past is wargames. I've done it before on at least one occasion when I finished my undergrad degree and moved to an apartment in Seattle in the mid-80's. I regretted getting rid of a couple of those games, and it's been a struggle to let wargames go ever since. However, after nearly doubling the size of my collection after moving to Wilsonville over the past four years, I've decided that the wargames are not nearly as sacrosanct as I would like.

So what's going out the door? There are several things that I own multiple editions of (Successors, We the People/Washington's War, Gulf Strike, RAF, etc) that I've been hanging on to for various reasons, and of these only WtP will stay because it's so much different than the follow-on game because of the battle cards. Those are the obvious first choices.

It took Fighting Formations for me to realize that my Panzer Grenadier collection, which is not complete but close enough for most gamers, is not going to get played. I've tried to solitaire exactly one scenario in the four or five years since I picked up Eastern Front, and perhaps two or three more in ftf play. In large part, a lot of these purchases were because of particularly good sales where I'd spend around $100 for several games. The biggest flaw in the PG system (aside from an Assault subsystem that I'm pretty sure no one plays "correctly") is that for every 100 scenarios there are perhaps a dozen worth actually playing. Honestly, how could you have a game with 40 scenarios and all of them are effectively playtested?

Along with PG, pretty much everything published by Avalanche Press is going out the door. That means all of the Great War at Sea/Second World War at Sea games go, again largely picked up through sales. I've tried a couple of these as well, but trying to figure out the correct rules (GWaS in particular has some strange damage distribution rules) as well as having to manage sheets and sheets of record sheets killed the system for me. Also out the door are Rob Markham's Soldier series (Kings, Emperor, Raj).

That alone is quite a bit of stuff, but I also have decided, after quite a bit of agonizing, that GMT's Great Battles of History are going as well. This was painful on more than one level - I own two editions of Alex, two of SPQR, all of the various scenarios from all of the C3i issues, the SPQR Player's Guide, all of the boxes with the exception of Lion of the North (and who owns that?) and every expansion. Plus the countersheet from the Simple GBoH Battle Manual, which duplicates many of the C3i counters. Putting them up for sale means making sure they all have the correct counters in the correct boxes. I've been at *that* task for about 15 hours so far, and the main thing I've discovered is that I have very old eyes. I have about ten issues of C3i to go through with the scenarios, and so far only two counters seem to be missing, which I consider to be a minor miracle. I think they're in the Alex box...

But that wasn't the hardest thing to get rid of. That honor goes to my AH/Smithsonian line, of which I'm getting rid of several - the two PTO games (Midway, Guad), and the two ETO games (Bulge, D-Day). Of these, I've only really played D-Day, which felt half-baked when using the advanced rules (one of which, the requirement that the Allies lose a unit completely, is impossible to pull off because the Allies can rebuild pretty much everything). A big box means too much shelf space devoted to a game I am not going to play. Also going from the same line is New World and Princess Ryan's Star Marines. Yeah, there was a time when I'd buy pretty much anything.

And even then. No, the hardest thing for me to get rid of, despite both of them being designed by the Walker/Fox team that just can't quite get it right no matter how hard they try, are The Thirty Year's War and The Halls of Montezuma. I love CDGs, although I realize many of them have their flaws. TYW has a strong following, but there are just too much minor country chrome and the lack of interceptions means that you just chase each other around the board. HoM failed it's test when there were no rules for what happened when one force moved into a zone with another force and no one could effectively explain how that was supposed to work.

Also going are most of my non-block ancients games. Alexander the Conqueror, Rise of Rome/Carthage, Pax Romana (the world's most complicated non-historical historical game), AmRev (Saratoga through Monmouth), Musket and Pike, I'm sure there are several more. I decided earlier in the year to limit preorders to 20th Century and on conflicts, so pretty much WW1 on, as well as the occasional strategic level game. No more ETO monsters that try to cover the diplomatic situations in a host of countries that always seem to add more weight than they produce fun. That isn't to say I won't pick up monsters, just not grand strategic such as ETO or PTO scale. I will be getting Proud Monster, for example, and I'm hopeful that the preorder I made through my FLGS of Where Eagles Dare is going to actually happen.

Quite a few euros and strategy games are going out the door as well. Panzer General's Russian and Allied Assault games are going, which are fun on the X-Box but unwieldy and with impenetrable rules in the boardgame format. The introductory solitaire scenario in Russian Assault, for example, can't be played as listed in the rules because the victory conditions are unattainable. Combat requires so many steps that it's just not worth the effort. I love novel combat systems, but too many light games confuse heavy combat sequences with "fun," probably because there just isn't enough there to make a game out of to start with. Much better in the console version.

One of the side benefits of doing this, aside from the large amount of time spent making sure the expansions have been separated out correctly, is that I am reclaiming lots of counter trays and card sleeves. As I buy really nice card sleeves, I managed to recover about $50 worth, which I promptly used to resleeve all of the CDGs I own that were originally sleeved with colored sleeves. As my good friend Jesse told me once, "If they're going to put that nice card art on the back, maybe we should see it through the sleeve!" Of course, older games with beat up components (Hannibal, I'm looking at you) need colored sleeves to mask the dog-ears, but in general I'll use clear sleeves in the future. I pulled out 20 counter trays too, which is worth close to $50 as well. I'm making money already.

Because of a long family vacation coming up at the end of the month, I'm not planning to put anything up for sale just yet other than point games that people come to me about. When I do, it will go to the members of my game group, Rip City Gamers, first (although I'm not expecting many things to go to them, they're all in the same boat I am). Then I will try selling locally, and finally I will go to the BGG marketplace although the idea of regular trips to the post office is not something I'm relishing.

There is a handful of games that I believe will do well on eBay, such as Atlantic Storm, Triumph and Glory, and Plan Orange, perhaps a few more OOP modules that you can no longer get.

While it's nice to be purging, at the same time the new games are coming in. Yesterday, Case Yellow and Nightfighter arrived, and I picked up Spectral Rails and the new Junta-themed game recently. I'm just not quite at the point where I will sell a game before I can buy a game, so apparently I'm going to be following the binge/purge cycle for a little longer. Haven't *quite* hit bottom yet. That will probably happen the next time I move...