Monday, December 10, 2007

Rules Vengeance

This is going to be a relatively short post compared to a lot of the ones I write. I've got a lot going on – hey, it's the holidays and I've got two kids – and there actually isn't a whole lot to say this week.

Back on Monday, Mike and I sat down to the Avalanche Press Red Vengeance title. This is a follow-on to Defiant Russia using essentially the same rules, only with the situation reversed – Russia is on the offensive driving the Germans back into Russia.

As you may recall, Defiant Russia left us with a very favorable impression. Nice little system, and it played very cleanly. It's a basic Igo-Ugo sequence with a buckets'o'dice combat system. (One die per combat strength, 6s hit.)

Red Vengeance does essentially the same thing with one very important difference. The fun was left out of the box. This game left us totally flat and unfulfilled.

First, how did our particular session progress?

We took the setup options as presented in the rules and (minus a couple errors where later-turn reinforcements were accidentally set up at the game start) gave it a run. The Russians are trying to capture cities at the far end of the board. You have to break through the defensive line and make a run for it while keeping your units supplied.

Our game featured some wild swings in die rolls. I had more than a couple occasions where 13-17 dice or so produced zero hits, and even one sequence where successive single die rolls produced hits.

The main result was that I had almost no push for the first three turns. In many sectors, I was at or behind my starting point when the weather started to turn. It became very clear that I was never going to make Warsaw, let alone Berlin. At no point was I able to both punch a hole and exploit it at the same time. Now, some of this may come as from poor setup locations for my armor, but a lot of it is in the setup rules themselves.

When the snow came, I thought I might have an advantage, but due to the restrictions on exploitation, no opportunities arose.

In the end, Mike won this game handily. I never did reach Warsaw, and we called it after 8 of 11 turns.

Mike and I talked about how we'd rate the games after the fact, and I'd probably rate Defiant Russia a 7 or 7.5, and Red Vengeance a 2.5 or 3.

How can two very similar games play and feel so differently yet use nearly the same system?

Two primary reasons come to my mind: counter density and setup restrictions.

In Defiant Russia, you have some real maneuverability in how and where you attack the Russian front line. And the Russians have to make choices in where they defend hardest.

In Red Vengeance, you get very few choices. Setup is along the marked hexes you can see at the top of the map image on BGG. There can be no empty setup hexes after deployment is finished, and you cannot set up anywhere else, including behind this line. (Except for a very small number of other nations' troops which deploy in their respective nations.)

This means there is no effective way to set up a reserve or exploitation force. Everyone is on the front line, and you're packed pretty much two deep everywhere. And given that the setup order is German infantry, Russian Infantry, Russian Armor, German Armor, you can't even effectively plan for attacking a weak spot – that advantage is instead given to the defender.

There is simply little to no choice in how the Russian player approaches this game for at least the first two-three turns. It's a pure dice fest. Yes, you get to choose where you do your exploitation combats, but those are almost non-choices. There's very obvious answers.

The only possible way to create choice (and I haven't tried this) would be to do a massive shuffling of units on the first movement turn of the game. However, as opposed to Defiant Russia, zone-of-control rules are in effect for the first turn, and every unit you have is deployed in a ZOC to start the game. This makes reshuffling difficult, and not something you should even have to do immediately after deployment anyway...

There might be a way to make this game fun. But as I saw it from the Russian player perspective, it is almost devoid of choice. I'd pick Defiant Russia over Red Vengeance every single time unless the initial setup rules were completely redone. It might succeed as a decent simulation of the Russian Drive to Berlin in 1944-45 at that scale, but it certainly seems to fail as an entertaining game. Also, if you do try this title, make sure each player has at least 15 dice, preferably 20. We played for over three hours and still had three turns left. The box says 1-2 hours playtime. While 60 minutes is entirely ludicrous, 2 hours could be done if you played quickly and both players rolled all their dice simultaneously. The first turn alone probably featured 50 combats when every unit starts at full strength. That's on the order of 600 dice being rolled in a single turn.

Now, I've been looking forward to getting They Shall Not Pass on the table. That is the third game in this series based on the WWI battle of Verdun. Given how poorly a high-counter-density game has fared in this series, and given the style of fighting in WWI, I'm now thinking twice about it. TSNP gets good reviews, so I'll at least solo the first turn or two to see if it suffers the same problem, but I'm far more apprehensive about it than before.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Back to the land war

You know how one of the greatest mistakes is never to start a land war in Asia? Well, this week Eric and I played a game on the end results of making just that mistake. At Eric's request we played Red Vengeance, the sister game to Defiant Russia, which we played a few weeks back (Eric's take, my take). We'd both really liked DR, so I was happy to try RV, and it was only fair to allow Eric to take the Soviets, and the opportunity to go on the attack.

Both games are pretty similar rules wise, although RV tidies up a few things. It does away with the railroads, allowing Strategic Movement anywhere at 3 times movement allowance. It still has a few holes, e.g. the rule book didn't cover what happens to Yugoslavian reinforcements when their set up hexes are occupied. Overall, not too bad.

The first turn is the longest in the game, as the Soviet player starts with massive attacks everywhere, and we roll buckets of dice. In this way our game was the same as DR, except with the roles reversed, as I rolled loads of 6s, way over average, and Eric nowhere near his average. However, unlike DR, where the counter density is way less and the few 6s I did roll was enough to leave gaps, RV has enough units to allow the defender to keep a solid defensive line all the way from the north to the south. This continued over several turns, and although he gained localized successes he was never able to effectively exploit them and I was able to retire to the next defensive position successfully.

And so it continued. The dice eventually sorted themselves out, and we were rolling pretty much on average, but by this time the Soviet units had been pretty much bled dry. In fact the Soviets had way more points in the dead pile than the Germans, and hadn't got anywhere near the VP cities. Eric called it a day at the end of turn 9, with two turns left. By this time he hadn't even been able to capture any of the oil fields, and therefore wasn't getting any armor replacements, which meant the Germans were getting more replacements than the Soviets! As it stood it was a 6-0 position in favor of the Germans, and unlikely to change much, if at all.

So, what's the deal? Why was DR so good and RV such a bust? The game system is fine. Clean, simple, I really like it. There were two problems with our game, one inherent and the other our particular playing.

To take the last point first, it all comes down to one word: dice. Or, rather, two words: wacky dice. The first couple of turns saw me roll so many 6s to Eric's few that it was getting embarrassing, not to mention a rather boring game. (I find this rather similar to the issues in Wellington. With so many dice being rolled the likelihood is that they will balance out. However, it also means that the wacky results out at the end of the bell curve are _really_ wacky.)

Secondly (or should that be firstly?), the other problem is that RV has a higher counter density than DR. With so many units on the board there are less opportunities for inventive play. In DR there were gaps to exploit, although I had to work at exploiting them and Eric had to be inventive in his defense. In RV there are so many units that the Soviet player pretty much just keeps driving forward, grinding the German down, the only real options are where to stack units, and hope the dice don't get wacky. (See point one above.)

Another (lesser) issue I have is game length. The box says 60-90 minutes. Yeah, right! We weren't playing slowly, but we called the game after almost 4 hours, with 2 turns left to go. OK, if we had a bucket of dice we could have saved a little time over doing die rolls in groups of 4, but not that much. The estimate was out by a factor of 3-4.

In my view there's nothing really wrong with the game per se. The historical situation was that the Soviets had superiority, and all they needed to do was keep grinding the Germans down, exploiting any weaknesses that potentially developed. In other words it's the game situation that's the problem. There is a reason why there are only a few games on that period of the war - it's not a very entertaining situation to game. The German is so weak that attacks are very few and far between, and the player spends most of the time looking for the next defensive position. Now, that can be an interesting challenge, but having a better balance of defensive and offensive positions make for a more interesting game. Add in the wacky die results and you end up with a less than satisfying gaming experience. Normally after a 6-0 result I'd be all "Dude, you got so p*wned!", but this game just left me flat. I'd just like to know what Eric did to piss off the dice gods so bad.

Overall, I think that at the scale and scope, and wacky die rolls aside, it's a fairly decent simulation of the historical situation. Does that make it a good game? No, sir! With knobs on.

My pick for the next session. With the holidays coming up I've no idea when the next official TSttC session will be (we may get together on another project), but it's my choice again. Hmmm, that's a toughie. I think I'll go for Duel in the Dark, the new Z-Man game on the RAF bombing of Germany.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kiwis against eagles

A whole month between sessions, don't you hate it when real life intervenes into your gaming schedule? Still, the new Combat Commander: Mediterranean had arrived on schedule, so it was the game of choice. I'd had it for a week, but hadn't spent much time with it at all, and in fact was feverishly cutting out the counters in the morning before heading off for work, and after I got home. With nothing else to base a decision on, I picked the first scenario, and drew the British. (Well, the Kiwis really.)

This scenario has the Kiwis attempting to drive through the thin German force and exit the board, gaining double VPs for doing so, with no other objectives in play at start. There is a large hill in the center of the board, a load of brush to my left flank, and a small hill off to my right on the German side of the board, with a river splitting the board as well. I set up first, near J1, with the Germans moving first and holding the Initiative.

So, what did I see as my strengths? The biggest is that Brit mortars can fire smoke. When mucho VPs are available for exiting the board, being able to place a lot of smoke is vital. With 2 mortars and the occasional Smoke Grenades action there was plenty of smoke to hinder his fire. Next, Eric mentioned that I always seemed to have a Recover card in my hand, and that's because the Brits have 10 in their deck, the highest of any nationality. I made sure I always kept one around for when I needed it, and I was fortunate to draw them regularly rather than in clumps.

I start with a neutral set up, as I only have 3 squads, and have to start near J1, although I misunderstood the instructions which allowed me to set up 3 hexes from J1, setting up only 2 away. I put one leader and a mortar with the reinforcements due to arrive with the first Time event. Eric placed a single German squad in the house near the edge of the board, one off in the brush on my left (he reinforced it with one of his hill squads pretty quickly), and the rest up on the hill. However, a couple of them were placed on the reverse slope, such that they were unable to get LoS on a large part of the board. I'm not sure if that was deliberate, but it certainly allowed me more freedom in movement.

I started with a great hand of 2 Artillery Request and 2 Artillery Denied cards, totally useless, so my first action was to discard them, but only after Eric had opened with fire from his sole unit able to see me, breaking my squad in the middle with the mortar. I then drew 3 Command Confusion cards to replace them. 'Great' I was thinking, first turn in, one unit broken (of 3 on the board!) and I still have a hand of crap. Looking pretty much like my usual games of CC! However, most of those Command Confusion cards also have Marksmanship actions, so they're not too bad.

Then the typical CC wackiness started. Eric just played a Rout, which I shrugged off, and in my turn played a Fire into his squad in the woods hex at the base of the hill, drawing a 9/Sniper. Eric decided to use the Initiative card, and the next card was a.... 9/Sniper. Wacky. And the squad broke to boot. Unfortunately I couldn't draw Move/Fire, and after a round of discards Eric Recovered the squad, and again broke my mortar squad. I recovered, but failed my fire, Eric tried again, causing the first Time event and all my reinforcements. In my defensive roll I also drew Time!

Looking at his position, with the hill units unable to get LoS, I put most of the squads on the left, and a couple on the right to keep him honest. I immediately started moving on both flanks, drawing a bunch of wire on the right. on my following play I fire at one of his two squads protecting his right flank, breaking it, but causing another Time. Halfway to the Sudden Death marker and I've barely got anywhere! In the next actions he gets an HMG team reinforcements, and proceeds to fire right down the road through the brush, breaking my squad and leader. Dashed unsporting!

Never mind, I've got a Recover in hand, but the leader fails, preventing me from moving that group forward. Still, I press on with both flanks, drawing mines on the right (pfft!), but getting into contact on the left, with an Advance and an Ambush already in hand. He uses Spray Fire to good effect, breaking 2 squads on my left.

Once more, however, I have a Recover card in hand, and draw a hero to boot! I Advance into both hexes, killing both German units, but lose one of my own to over stacking. I can see the edge of the board! Except for that HMG.... :(

Eric starts moving units across to the edge of the hill to try to prevent me from moving off, and I move the central group forward, Advancing and killing his unit in the woods. They are now around the other side of the hill to threaten VPs from that direction.

Meanwhile, on my left flank with a woods hex between me and the HMG I squeeze up a little, whilst he gets another reinforcement - a freakin' infantry gun!. On its first fire it causes another Time event on the Hit roll, and another on the Effect roll! I really don't want to face a 24 attack and Time, which would force an end of game roll, so use the initiative. The second roll is a 6, and Eric chooses to give the initiative back for a 9 roll, breaking a squad and leader, which I Recover quickly.

The map edge is tantalizingly close, and I have a Move card in hand. Do I go for it and try to Move off the board, risking the HMG, or do I patiently press forward with the group on the other side? Time is ticking away, it's in the 5 box already with Sudden Death check marker in the 6 box. I chicken out and use the Move on the right, and Eric....... discards! Ack, I should have gone for it! Not really, it was the smart move, as both groups are now close to exiting, and I drew an Advance and Move card, which I play next turn, now being right on the map edge on the left, and only a Move away on the right. I draw another set of Advance and Move cards, so I'm looking good for next turn.

However, I've still got to survive Eric's turn, and he turns on the fire, killing one of the squads and leaving the other and the leader broken. And another Time event! Are the fates going to deny me? Not with the Initiative card in hand they're not, and needing to draw a 6 or less to end the game I draw a 7. Phew! I Advance a squad and leader off on the left, and a pair of squads on the right for 16 VPs, swinging the game well to my side, with 11VPs.

After that it's all downhill from there. I decide not to get too cocky and take the simple move to exit the leader for another 4VPs, then start driving through my deck as fast as I can. Eric gets his gun to the top of the hill, but my lone mortar squad makes good use of more Command Confusion/Marksmanship cards to break the team manning it, meanwhile moving my right flank units up, even managing to exit another squad. Eric draws his last card, as do I, and the game is ended with that roll.

As usual, an odd game. The first part of the game sped by, and then slowed down, then took a last minute sprint for the end, then walked across the finish line. The ability of the British deck was very apparent. That extra Recover card really helps them pop up. The mortars firing smoke is also a huge benefit, which I took full advantage of, firing a lot of smoke, which really reduced his fire attacks, allowing me a lot of movement capability. The Command Confusion cards having Marksmanship as their action is also huge, as any Fire suddenly becomes really strong. Yep, the Brits are fun to play with.

In the end, though, I felt I was really lucky in drawing a lot of cards when I needed them, although I was holding the occasional card as I knew I'd need it. With a 6 card hand you have more capability to do that. Winning the melees on the left was big, and drawing Advance cards right at the end solved my issue of Moving in LoS of that HMG. It all contributed to a high VP margin.

I think Eric's set up helped me a fair bit. Starting a third of his squads behind crest lines meant that they took no part in the first phase of the battle. I'm also not sure I'd have given away the Initiative quite as quickly as Eric did. I only used it twice, and got it back immediately both times. i don't think I made too many mistakes, but with the cards I got it was hard to miss the obvious plays.

We made a few mistakes with the rules, getting the artillery rules slightly wrong, and we only used the new smoke counters instead of combining them with the old ones. The Germans don't have a lot of squads to defend with, and need to be careful. I'd really like to try this one again from the other side.

I've also detailed the actual plays, with photos at my own blog.

For our next session Eric has chosen Red Vengeance, the companion game to Defiant Russia that we played a previously, and I've promised to let him be the attackers this time. Bring it on!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Attempting to stall ANZAC advances on Crete

Monday night Mike and I sat down to crack open his new copy of Combat Commander: Mediterranean. Neither of us had played the base game in quite a while and were both eager to see what the new package had to offer. (My copy didn't arrive until the next day, so this was my first look at the contents.)

What you get isn't all that much different than what came in the original box, minus some of the support boards. You get Italians, Brits, and Allied minors, 12 maps with one scenario each, updated rules, and appropriate counters. It's not a standalone package, though – you need the base game. The random scenario rules have been tweaked to handle both boxes combined, so you could see combinations you don't get in either box alone.

Without any information to work with, we decided the first scenario is as good as any. I drew the Germans, and had to deny the 5th New Zealand Brigade taking the high ground on this part of Crete near the Maleme airfield.

In this scenario, victory points for exiting the far side of the map are doubled, making it doubly important to protect your ground. Mike took loads of photos during our play, and I'm hoping he posts most of them. You'll definitely see how things progressed.

This is a tough assignment for the Germans – you have six units to defend the entire baseline broken up by two large hills. Initially you're only facing three units and three leaders but six more units appear after the first time trigger. So, you're quickly outnumbered. Mike had to set up first, and clumped most of his troops towards the middle. I deployed one unit in the buildings near his baseline, and the remainder split between the northern point of the hill and the brush to my right.

As I'm the defender here, I want time to pass quickly. Sudden Death could kick in any time after the 6th time trigger, so I just needed to keep him delayed. The first time trigger came very quickly, bringing on the remainder of the ANZACS. Two of them deployed far to my left, the rest behind his initial units. I eventually collected mines and wire cards and managed to constrict the left side of the board – the road on the left had wire in the A column, mines in the B column, and the river in the C column. Very slow going over there. (It turned out later a blaze appeared down on my side of the A and B column almost locking down that side of the board.) Shutting that side down allowed me to concentrate more on my right and the center. Soon after deploying the wire and mines, I got a Hidden Unit action. I held onto that puppy like gold. Eventually, Mike discarded some cards and I got to go shopping on the German Support Chart. A roll of 10 got me a heavy machine gun and weapon team to man it. I stationed it on my edge of the board pointed right down the road through the brush. This completely changed Mike's plans on that side of the board and likely slowed him down a lot.

We traded fire back and forth for a while and it always seemed like Mike had a Recover action available when he needed it – and I was having trouble synchronizing my plan with my hand. It seemed whenever I needed Move actions, I had Fire and vice versa.

The first four time triggers seemed to come rather quickly, and I was thinking things were going pretty well. As Mike was working his way down the board I was hovering anywhere between 3 and 7 victory points – barely hanging on as each squad he could get off the board was worth 4 points. He was just about to emerge from the brush (after wiping out the two units I had there) when I got a Reinforcements event that brought me the IG33 infantry gun. Woohoo! Now, all I needed were fire actions to be able to use it...

Just as Mike was getting three or four rows from the edge of the board, he started using Advance actions to move his troops so I couldn't get opportunity shots at him. I would fire when I could, but he'd recover back any results and advance again. As he got to the final row on the board, we hit the 6th time trigger and I was at around 4 VPs. If the game ended here, I'd win, but if not it was looking rather bad. Unfortunately, Mike had the initiative, and it's not all that easy to roll under a 6 with two dice twice in a row... Needless to say, the game didn't end at that point.

He was finally able to exit three units and a leader off the board on that side as I simply couldn't respond to what he was doing. That meant the only chance I had was to start killing off units remaining on the board. With the help of Lt. Von Karsties I managed to drag the infantry gun up to the top of the hill. This gave the gun nearly the entire map as visible targets. I commenced firing at every opportunity. I managed a couple kills, but it wasn't enough in the end when the game ended on the 8th time trigger. I think Mike had something like 16 VPs at the end. It got pretty ugly with troops practically streaming off the board.

Great fun as usual. The new volume offers (very) slight tweaks to the system, but we were able to jump right in without any difficulty. The fact that we really didn't have to consult the rules all that much after a couple months away from the game reinforces the game's elegant design. Things just work, and the rules are very clear.

I think I could play this game every week for a very long time if it were logistically feasible. The random scenario rules are the next thing I want to test in this game. The accounts I've read are favorable, and if that bears out they'll give near infinite replayability to the Combat Commander family. This is an absolute Top Shelf game system.

Check Mike's post for photos – he'll give a more detailed game progression than I did, but the great thing about CC is it tells a story in prose. You almost don't need hex and counter data to understand what happened.

Until next time, when Red Vengeance hits the table... Happy gaming!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Barbarossa in a Wide Angle Lens

It was my turn to choose the game this session, and I was very interested in getting Defiant Russia on the table. This is part of Avalanche Press' series of small-box games (their “Quick Play Games” series), and is also part of what they call “The Essential Avalanche,” a handful of games that define the types of games the company produces.

AP doesn't have the greatest reputation in hard-core wargaming circles. Their rep is that they produce underdeveloped, undertested, unattractive games that frequently have major errata and gameplay issues. Some of their recent issues seem to be reversing that trend. Many of the small-box games are getting good responses, and their Panzer Grenadier series (which I like quite a bit) keeps expanding. I'll give them credit for trying different ideas for map art, but sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. (Compare these three maps.)

Anyway, on to the game. Defiant Russia is a high-level treatment of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia in June of 1941. It is designed to be playable in an evening. (Box says 90-120 minutes.) There are seven turns of one month each, 140 counters represent various armies and corps, and each hex is 45 miles. The map is “half size” 17x22 inches, and there are VERY few tables to consult. In fact, the only tables are for terrain effects and random weather determination. The size of the game is reminiscent of the old SPI 120 series games that some of you older than me might remember.

Each unit has a combat strength which determines the number of dice the unit rolls in combat. Roll a six, get a hit. The first hit suffered in a combat must be taken as a step loss by one of the defenders (nearly all units have two steps) but any further losses can be taken as step losses OR retreats unless the number of hits suffered is larger than the total steps available. Then the stack is toast. Terrain and Leaders add or subtract dice, and there are air power points available in varying quantities that can add up to three dice into a specific combat. Yes, this is a “buckets of dice” game. Right up Mike's alley.

Play sequence is standard IGO-UGO, and the sequence is Weather Determination, Organization, Movement, Combat, Exploitation Movement, Exploitation Combat. Then the Soviets repeat all but the first step. After the first couple turns, we were rarely referring to the rulebook except for situations we hadn't yet encountered. That's a good sign. We missed a couple things (I'm specifically thinking of Russian stacking restrictions and Partizans) but that's natural for a first play.

There are 11 VPs available. 2 for controlling Moscow, 1 each for seven other cities, 1 for causing most casualties, and 1 for Stalin surviving or not. It's impossible for there to be a tie.

In the interest of time, we used the historical setup published on Avalanche's website. This eliminated the “how do I best setup Army Group Center?” questions for a game we've never played. (The standard setup allows you to set up each army group or military district however you'd like within certain boundaries.)

So... how did we fare? I took the Russians, which is a bit of a challenge for me as my typical play style is more suited to attack. (Except in chess. Go figure.) Mike attacked hard in the first turn (the Germans really need to push early before the weather worsens) and, as usual, his dice failed him. We had rather equal hits scored, but he probably rolled twice as many dice. The second turn was a little better from his perspective, but now my replacements and reinforcements were to start arriving. Good thing, too, as my northern flank had nearly disappeared.

Turn three brought light mud, making exploitation nearly impossible. That slowed him down a bit. I was able to set up a defensive line in the south on the eastern bank of the Dnieper river. I was going to try to do the same thing on the Dvina in the north, but Mike was able to cross it during turn 3 before I could get reinforcements there.

At this point, Mike was thinking he didn't have a chance. I had loads of new units coming, and he didn't think he was going to have the time to make much headway. Turn 4 being mud didn't help. That cut movement rates in half.

From my perspective, though, I was severely beat down. I had nearly no defense in the north, and my southern flank was intact but thin. Reinforcements were steadily arriving, but it takes time to get them into place, and the weather wasn't helping me either. Mike had taken three VP cities by this point, and was definitely going to win the casualty VP. That meant I could only lose one more city, as a counter attack was unlikely.

Turn 5 (October) brought clear weather, much to my dismay. Mike charged hard. He was fortunate to take Leningrad with his Finns, and he actually even took Moscow. Kharkov was the last VP city he was likely to reach, and it was behind my thin defensive wall in the south. My wall broke during exploitation in turn 5, and Kharkov was looking doomed.

I managed to retake Moscow on my half of turn 5, but Leningrad wasn't coming back. I threw what I could in front of the remaining units charging hard on Moscow and the ones reaching Kharkov. My biggest hope was mud in turn 6. Snow was definite in turn 7, so I needed him slowed now. At this point, I was leading 6-5, but barely hanging on by a thread.

So, what weather do we get in November? Clear. Ugh. Mike took Kharkov with MANY supports, and cut off the rail net isolating Moscow from the south. After looking at the situation in my half of turn 6, there was no realistic way I was going to recover any more VP spaces. It was getting late, as well, so we called the game at this point with a 6-5 German victory. It might have gotten worse if Mike had decided to try to take Moscow instead of isolating it and sealing his position.

I was pleasantly surprised by the game. It isn't more than it pretends to be, but it's very playable. I expect that with experience the play time will settle in around two hours. (we took a little over three, but we both struggled with the number of options available early on.) Effectively playing the Russians requires a good sense of timing. You need to know when to pull back and conserve your troops vs. foolish counter attacks early on. I know I hung on a turn too long in the north and paid for it. The fact that Mike has already emailed me wanting to give it another go after swapping sides says a lot.

It's not a definitive treatment of anything, and the scale intentionally leaves out loads of detail, but for a decent overview of Barbarossa in a $20 package, Defiant Russia is worth a look. I know I'll be looking a little closer at the other games in this series, specifically Red Vengeance. It's the same system, but set in 1944 so the roles are reversed and Russia is attacking trying to drive the Germans out of Russia.

Never start a land war in Asia

This evening's fare (Eric's choice) was the Avalanche Press game, Defiant Russia: 1941. Designed to be played in an evening (the box says two hours) it has 4 maps and 1200 counters, down to the division level. OK, I made that part up. It's really got one half map and 140 counters. Rules are 16 pages, and are pretty clearly written. Each unit has strength and movement factors, although the strength represents the number of dice rolled in combat, generally needing a '6' to cause a step loss or retreat. The first hit must be taken as a step loss, but subsequent hits may be taken as retreats.

I'd heard/read a lot of bad things about AP games, so my expectations were not high for this one. Given the size of the map (16-20 hexes north to south) and the mechanism, I was concerned that there wouldn't be a lot of options for maneuver, and that it would just come down to whoever rolled the best bucket o' dice.

I ended up with the Germans, and proceeded with the standard attacks to the north and south of the Pripet Marshes. The attacks to the north fared better than south. In the north the Finns imploded as Eric rolled 3 '6's in about 8 dice, and the attacks in the far south didn't achieve much. (I rolled 1 hit in about 24 dice in those attacks.) I did a fair job of mauling the Russian units,, causing 20 hits (mostly step losses) in total. However, whilst rolling around half to two thirds of my dice, Eric also managed to score 20 hits. Uh ohh, this is not looking good already.

The second turn saw me face a reconstituted Russian line, defending pretty much in place. The rules allow armor units to move through ZOCs, and infantry as well, but only if both hexes are friendly occupied. In either case ZOC to ZOC movement costs an extra MP, and the unit needs to stop when entering a non-friendly occupied ZOC hex. I was able to leap-frog units through the available gaps, surrounding a large portion of the northern Russian army. I was able to roll well enough to reduce the pockets, but not eliminate them, leaving perfectly placed units to stop my exploitation. Dang! Still, the exploitation combat saw the north almost devoid of Russian units, although south of Pripet still saw me facing some decent Russian forces. The far south had also got moving, the Romanians managing to force the very south to swing around.

The third turn sees the weather come into play (we played with the variable weather option), and anything except a '6' would see clear weather continue. I rolled a '6' - light mud. Sigh. Very limited exploitation. Still I kept pushing in the north, again clearing the area of Russian units, and the road to Moscow was open. South of the marshes I took a risk in pushing armor through, and it paid off as they didn't get killed and a few more Ruskis died for a lack of retreat. The far south saw the Russians cleared out, and there was no activity in the north.

During his turn Eric bugged out, setting up a strong line at the Dnepr river. He'd set up what he could to the north of the marshes, but it was pretty weak, and he had to denude the Leningrad sector to do even that. Then came the weather roll. Another '6'. Mud - movement halved. Double sigh. I looked where I was and the distance to the VP cities, and I was almost ready to call the game. (There are 10 VP city points, Moscow being worth 2, mostly in the middle to east of the map. The player causing the most unit losses also gets a VP.) I kept going, and watched as my units plodded towards his Dnepr line, with an eye on the reinforcements that would also bolster it in the upcoming Russian turn.

Then came the 5th turn, and a glorious thing happened. The weather turned clear, as the die came up a '2'. I took the opportunity and dashed forward, right to the gates of Moscow, hammering on the Dnepr line, and even pushing the Finns to attack Leningrad. And it all worked. The gates of Moscow swung open as I rolled 3 '6's in 9 dice in my exploitation attack. The Dnepr line sprung a leak as I dashed across, and Leningrad fell to the Finns. Well, blast my panzers with a panzerschrek. What a turn-around!

It wasn't all roses and light, however, as Eric also managed to roll 3 '6's in 9 dice to throw me back out of Moscow, and also went on a '6' frenzy, seeming to roll 15 of them in 10 dice, killing 4 armored units. Still, with 2 turns left, there was still a possibility, all I needed was more clear weather. And I got the 50-50 roll, allowing the might of the German army to swing south, surround the entire Russian line in the south and totally eliminate them. Elsewhere, a holding force was placed in front of Moscow, and a couple of strategically placed units split the north from the south to prevent strategic redeployment.

Eric reviewed the position and declared that we might as well call it at that point. With only 2 moves left, almost nothing in the way of forces to counter-attack with, and no way to get them to the places needed, there was just no way he could recover the VP cities. We had 5 city VPs each, but the Russians had a veritable plethora of dead units, giving a 6-5 victory to the Germans.

OK, so I had a slow start, and the weather went against me early on, yet I still pulled out the win. How did that come about, and is the game biased towards the Germans? I think there were three factors to the German success here.

First, and most critical in my view, is that Eric defended too far forward at the start. The Russians have to conserve units, not allowing the Germans to infiltrate and cut off units, especially whole groups of them. It's really hard to set a defensive line when you don't have any units to set with. Of course, this issue tends to spiral downwards pretty quickly, and it could have been even worse if the weather hadn't been grotty in the 3rd & 4th turns.

Second, I think I came to grasp with the movement rules pretty quickly and managed to use them effectively. The German player has to be able to cut off the Russians, blocking lines of supply and retreat effectively, and understanding and arranging the moves to allow the infantry to participate is vital. By themselves the armor can do the job, but not for long as they are very fragile, and need the infantry to soak up those hits.

Third, the weather. Whilst I greeted the turn 3 and 4 rolls like a rather bad smelling panhandler, the later rolls worked in my favor and balanced out. In fact the weather worked out wonderfully, as the bad weather came when we were still toe to toe, and I couldn't have really used clear weather much more effectively than I did mud. (OK, I would have had some exploitation attacks, but I don't think it would have changed much.) Later on, when the board was cleared of Russian units, I was able to do the big sweeping changes with the panzers, switching focus from here to there, eliminating large pockets of Russians.

So, overall, my initial concerns were unfounded. Whilst there is the whole bucket of dice aspect (and we did roll them by the bucket) there is a nice little game in here. The mechanisms work well, there is a decent amount of flavor and chrome, the rules are mostly watertight (we only had one issue that wasn't mentioned in the rules), and it's playable in an evening. Yes, decent game, one that I'll be adding to my buy list.

Our next fully scheduled session won't be until later in November, when the new CC: Mediterranean will be available. Scrummy. I'm hoping to fit in another go with Defiant Russia, this time switching sides, but we'll have to see how that works out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

High finance in the Scottish lowlands

My turn to choose again, and I chose an 18xx game, my third playing of any game in the series. The first was last Christmas (1850?), and the second was a week or two back (18AL), and I wanted to try some more while it was still fresh in my mind. Eric has played quite a bit of 18xx, so I was hoping to give him a reasonable game, and not totally embarrass myself.

This one featured a totally different stock chart to the previous two efforts, and it took me a little while to get comfortable with it. (Here, a stock doesn't go down when sold.) I started fairly decently, but lost ground in the middle game when I spent so much time trying to figure out how and where to get the cash for buying the next train that I hadn't even spotted that Eric had bought it in his turn! I then spent too much time shuffling trains back and fore, wasting a fair bit of operating income for not much end result. I also spent time and operating income trying to block Eric's lines from running with the stations, in the mistaken belief that if the income was less than half the share price it went down a step. (Silly sausage, they only go down if they don't pay out - knowing the rules helps!) Learning the significance of the difference between a certificate for a single share and a certificate for multiple shares was also vitally important.

That last point was the crucial one, as I think that's where Eric made the difference. I was about the same in cash, but he was well ahead in the stock, and was a total of 10% ahead of me. Not too bad I guess, but I certainly played poorly.

18xx continues, for me, to be a game that I have mixed feelings about. An interesting game, for sure, but I'd have to play it consistently (at least once a month, probably more) in order to play semi-decently. So that puts it right in a difficult position (one also occupied by ASL) where I'd have to devote a large portion of my gaming time to do it justice. (Or at least justice where I'm happy that my involvement challenged the other players, and I wasn't just there making up numbers.) Given the large number of games available to be played, does it deserve the focus? Overall, I think the answer is 'Yes', I would like, and be prepared, to devote more time to it to get better at it, as well as investigate many of the different flavors available.

Let's hope that our October 18xx session is only the first of many such regular events.

Eric's choice next time. He's mentioned some wargame that I've never heard of before, so I hope I get a peek at the rules before we play!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Building Rails in Mike's Homeland

Mike wanted to play an 18xx game for his choice this time, but left it to me to pick the game as I know the available choices better than he does.

So, we sat down for a game of 1825 Unit 3. This one is on the simpler end of the scale. It's designed (and hand assembled) by Francis Tresham himself, and is geared towards company operation vs. stock manipulation. The game is in the 1829 tree, which basically means a linear stock market instead of the 2-dimensional market in the 1830 tree. Games in the 1829 tree tend to be a bit friendlier and a bit shorter.

1825 Unit 3 is specifically a 2-player game based in the north of England and Scotland. (Which, even though it's where Mike's from, is not the reason why I chose the game.) There are three privates, three major and three minor companies. All the majors are based in Glasgow. Two of the minors are based in the far north, and one on the south edge of the map.

The game starts out with the two cheaper privates randomly dealt. Not seeing who the 1st player is supposed to be at that point, we randomly chose, and I went first. The 1825 games release company stock in stages based on their par value. Unit 3 provides two companies available at the start – once one of them is fully sold, the 3rd company becomes available. First, however, the expensive private must be bought before the two first majors (The Caledonian and North British) become available. I decided to take the leap and buy the last private. In that same stock round, Mike pulled the same trick he pulled when we played 18AL a couple weeks prior – he started an extra company. In this case, the NBR. Now, I've found in a couple prior plays that the NBR has issues developing its rail line as building north is expensive, and as a result didn't want to start it. (And I warned Mike of this before we played.) Still, that tactic really threw me off.

(At this point – not finding the rule in the poorly organized 1825 rulebook – we played a rule wrong. You can't sell stock in the first stock round. Now, in the end, it probably wouldn't have mattered, but it did change the character of the first couple operating rounds. The starting cash doesn't allow for both starting majors to be floated, one sold out, AND buy just the director's share of the third major in the first operating round.)

I kept buying the Caledonian in order to sell it out to make the Glasgow and Southwestern come available. At that point I sold most of my Caledonian and opened the GSWR. And, that's how the game was structured for a while – Mike ran the CRC and the NBR, and I ran the GSWR.

After a few turns and some judicious investing I was in position to open the Maryport and Carlisle minor at a high enough value to pay for its inherent train. The eventual plan was to buy shares of the M&C to get cash into the system so I could have it buy a second train which would then be bought by the GSWR (which could actually use it.) After that happened, I could sell off some of the shares and open one of the other minors (The Great North of Scotland) to actually generate cash.

And, that's pretty much how it worked out. The M&C bought the only 4 train, and the GSWR then bought it for cheap. I opened the GNSR at a rather high par value a turn later by selling some M&C, and I was off and running.

By the end of the game, one thing became clear – the high share count per certificate for the minors can almost makes them more valuable than the majors. (The certificate limit is 17 – I ended up with two director's certificates in minors which are 4 shares each compared to 2 for the majors. That alone gave me a 4-share advantage over Mike for the same number of certs.) There's only 9 permanent trains in the game for the six railroads, so it's possible a couple of the minors can also run for similar payouts as well.

When the final tally was complete, I had beaten Mike by about 10% (scores were around 7900 to 7200 – he's got the final scoresheet.) Nearly all that difference was in stock value. Our final cash on hand was very close.

This wasn't an effect I remember seeing in my two prior plays of 1825 Unit 3, but the minors really make a difference here. I was able to use them as a means to get trains to my major without having it withhold dividends. (I might have had the GSWR withhold once – can't recall.) As the minors are incrementally funded (meaning they get more cash as you buy their shares from the IPO) you can get cash into the company that way. Then they buy a train at cost, and your major buys the train from them – at a steep discount. That works for the minors that can only run one train. In the case of 1825 Unit 3, that's the M&C and the GNSR. The HR can run two trains as it has two tracks running out of its base. I'm not sure I'd use it in the fashion I used the M&C. The GNSR can get to Glasgow, so it's worth investing in – it was paying out nearly as much as the majors, and as I started it as a high value, it appreciated quite a bit.

Mike, on the other hand, had to withhold a handful of times to get the trains situated the way he wanted – this cost him in the stock market, and would have made the final result much tighter. All that comes with experience, even with a game as (relatively) simple as 1825. That's the thing I love most about the 18xx games – each one provides a radically different experience within the same core rules engine, and the techniques needed to play well are different in each game (there is some amount of carryover, but not always that much.)

One oddity about our game – nobody built to Edinburgh or Newcastle. I was headed to Edinburgh at the end of the game with the GNSR, but realized I didn't have time to get there – so I detoured into Glasgow. The building cost in the mountains is significant, and effectively blocked the eastern edge of the map from play. Compare that to this picture of an endgame. In our game, no tiles were built east of column 11 (the brown “crows foot” city tile with a 40 on it in the 2nd-from-the-bottom row of that image) excepting the tile out of the GNSR's base at the top of the map.

Good fun, and well played. I like playing these games with Mike as he always does something, at some point, that surprises me and causes me to shift tack. And half the time it works.


Our next game is my choice. Right now, I'm leaning towards Defiant Russia, but I need to get a copy of the rulebook to Mike. We'll see if that happens. If not, it'll have to be something we both own, and I'll need to decide that soon.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tribute to Mago

(Jeez - where have the last two weeks gone... I've been sick a bit over that time, but no excuse for being this late.)

Mike and I gave the new Command & Colors: Ancients scenarios as published in C3i #19 a try. They cover Carthaginian General Mago's battles in Europe against the Romans towards the end of the Second Punic War. They specifically cover Orongis, Celtiberia, and Po River - the final three battles before the Romans took the war back to Africa, culminating at Zama.

Mike had Orongis, the first of the three battles, set up when I arrived. We randomly chose sides, and I ended up with Carthage. (BTW, I don't believe this battle has been depicted in any other wargame – hex-n-counter, miniatures, or otherwise – ever. Please point me to a counter example if you can – I'm curious.)

This is a bit of a tough battle for the Carthaginians. You're outnumbered (15-12) and not optimally deployed. The Romans are drawn up in battle lines and ready to go. I started out by taking potshots with my bowmen (the Romans deploy in range) and trying to get my Elephants up into play. I was fortunate in that I was able to take out three or four blocks (but I don't believe an entire unit) by the time the Elephants were eliminated. So they did their job. My Gallic warriors caused a bit of carnage as well, but it turned out to not be enough. Carthage lost this battle 6-3, IIRC.

(Interestingly, it turned out rather historically. Carthage lost, but nearly all the casualties were the Gallic mercenaries – which Mago then conveniently didn't have to pay, and his core army lived to fight another day. Which they do below.)

We swapped sides for the 2nd battle, Celtiberia, and I took the Romans. This battle involves the Romans catching Carthage slightly unaware – almost half their forces are still in camp and the remainder are somewhat scattered. The Romans, however, are arrayed in full battle lines and are ready to go. I was fortunate enough to be dealt a Line Command card at the start so I immediately pressed home and tried to force an outcome before Mike could respond. It turns out that Mike was dealt two Line Commands, so he was able to get his forces arrayed quicker than I'd hoped. Fortunately, I also had a Counter Attack card and used it to copy his Line Command order and kept pressing home.

Mike was never able to bring many of his encamped units into the fray, and one particularly bloody exchange lead to my wiping out two of his units on a single order. I believe the final score in this one was 5-3 for the Romans. Again, this was relatively close to the historical result. Carthage lost badly enough that their counterpunch was delayed a full year.

The third battle was Po River. This is a large battle - 18 units on one side and 17 on the other. I had Carthage again. I was dealt a fair number of Cavalry cards, so I decided to push the issue that way – all the cavalry is on the Carthage right, so off I went. This time, the Elephants went poof without much effect, and all the cavalry eventually disappeared. Fortunately, Mike didn't have much to respond on that flank. The end battle came down to the clash in the center, and I frankly got rather lucky. I eliminated a couple units on a single roll of the dice with my heavy infantry and that tipped the scales in my favor. The end was VERY close, however, as the final score was 7-6. Not historical, however, as this was the battle where Mago received his fatal wound (he actually died sailing back to Africa) and lead to Rome finishing off Carthage at Zama.

Tactical tip: Heavy infantry with adjacent/attached leaders are DEADLY. 5 dice each with a 50/50 shot at a hit. 2.5 hits on average comes close to wiping out units. Particularly those softened up a bit with archers.

Good fun – two of the three battles came close to historical results, and we got all three battles completed in ~2.5 hours. I haven't had a bad experience with this game yet. I always enjoy the challenges it presents.


Mike and I are meeting on Monday for some 2-player 18xx gaming as his choice. Not sure which game yet – we'll have to finalize that over the weekend. (I'm guessing 1889 or 1825, but we'll have to see.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A #16 and a # 38, to go

Eric had the choice this week, and he wanted to get Commands & Colors: Ancients onto the table, using the scenarios from issue #19 of the GMT magazine C3i.

The first scenario saw my Romans take on Eric's Carthaginians at Orongis (212BC), so I got to see this one from the other side of the board from my playing with Doug at our recent wargaming extravaganza. (Report.) There was an initial burst of action on the flanks, which I won decisively, then the middle started up, which I also carried, winning around 6-2.

We swapped sides for the next scenario, Celtiberia (207BC), which sees the Romans catch the Carthaginians asleep in their camp, with only light forces screening the main troop base. I managed to draw not a single 'Left' card in the entire game, so never got my main force into action. As a result my lights got pounded by the advancing Roman line for a big Roman win, which was a very historical result.

Finally we came to Po River (203BC), a really big battle with lots of troops. I spent a lot of time arranging my forces to take maximum advantage of a Line Command card, bringing up my heavy infantry, meanwhile dealing with a skirmish on my left. Unfortunately, although I caused casualties, it wasn't the killer blow I'd hoped for. Eric played a Double Time card, brought up his heavies and then went on a dice rolling spree, rolling 10 hits in 13 dice, including two outright kills of fresh units, for 3 flags, with 1 required. I was unable to get the 2 flags I needed, and Eric provided the coup de grace to take the win 7-6.

Although we played barely 2 days ago the details have already started to fade from my mind, and I had a hard time recalling how the battles actually went. Compare that with my play of Glory III the previous week, where I can still remember the action and how the game turned out. I find the C&C games to be the gaming equivalent of Chinese food - enjoyable at the time but in a short while you're hungry again. That doesn't mean to say that it isn't good, just that it doesn't have lasting value. Then again it doesn't really attempt to anything more than it is, which is why I still like it.

Obviously there is a comparison with last time's game, Clash for a Continent. Both fit into a similar slot, but CfoC offers more control, which is where I like and dislike the differences. I must admit I'm quite fond of the C&C card approach as I can storyboard the effects of the cards, although I liked both games equally.

Next time we're going to try a 2-player 18xx game. We've got a big session planned for next Friday (10/05), so I'll have the base rules fresh in my head to go up against Eric, who's played a lot of 18xx.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bonus Blogging!

Wednesday night, Matt and I got together for a game of Combat Commander. Neither of us had played this in a while, so it was good to get it back on the table.

I let Matt choose the scenario, and we picked sides by looking at how the map was aligned to where we sat down. A heavily scientific process.

We played scenario #6 – a battle between German and American airborne units on a map littered with buildings. Nearly half the hexes on the map are building hexes. My first thought was – I'm gonna need a lot of Advance orders to win this game.

I played the Americans. The Germans start by defending on 80% of the board, control of all five objectives, and set up first. The attacking Americans get the remaining 20% (the top two rows in the provided image) to deploy in, deploy last, go first, and have the initiative card. Pretty much set for finding the weak spot in German deployment and jumping on it before they can really react. The Germans also start only being able to give 1 order, which increases by one at each of the first two time triggers to a max of 3. The Americans get 4 orders. (Which, I might add, I don't think I ever did. I think I maxed out at 3. MAYBE once I gave 4 orders.) The two open objective chits for this scenario say that if anyone controls all the objectives at Sudden Death they win, and all eliminated units count double. Sounds like a lot of bloody fighting from building to building. And that's pretty much what happened.

First off – a caveat. I was pretty damn tired when we played so some of the details below are going to be VERY fuzzy.

Okay, first thing I noticed after Matt's German deployment was that he left Objective #1 (the small building in O5) alone. This building is protected by a wall, is next to the road that bisects the map lengthwise, and has a LONG field of fire right down said road. That was target #1. As most of my forces were squads, they couldn't stack together. That meant spreading out across the bottom of the map and trying to place my leaders in advantageous positions. Matt had only partially occupied the far side of Objective #5 (the large building near the center of the map), so that became my 2nd priority. As Matt had placed most of his forces in the line of wall-protected buildings on the other side of the road, I figured I'd deal with priorities 1 and 2 first, then figure out how to pry him out of the rest.

So – how did it go? I took objective 1 on the first turn. Got a MG in there, and had them positioned to cover the road. The next step was to move in and claim the large building. (some time early on, I pulled a secret objective chit that made every objective worth 3 VPs. That much more incentive to control the center of the board to work from. I pushed on in, and I believe I had taken Objective 5 before the first time trigger hit. Sometime around that same point an event happened that really shaped the course of the game. A blaze started up in F5 (the hex immediately to the German side of Objective 3). Over the course of the game, this blaze would spread to cover fourteen hexes, and all but a single hex of the large Objective 4 building. Obviously, there was no way I was going to take that objective – the effect of this blaze was to cut the usable portion of the map down by over a third. There wasn't much point in trying to work my right flank if the blaze was going to cut things off.

The high percentage of buildings on the map made for a couple interesting trends in our scenario – there were rarely any units that stayed broken for long (it's pretty easy to rally when you get a +3 for being inside a building) and there were rarely any units outside the buildings. This meant many events were no-ops as they rely on units being in a hex with less than 1 cover. We only had a couple snipers that mattered, but an Air Support event hurt me.

After I'd taken Objective 5, I found myself in possession of a number of Advance cards (I think I had three of the four in my hand simultaneously). Since that's really the only way to reliably flush enemies out of buildings, I figured the time had come. I pushed the units that had taken Objective 1 into the line of buildings across the road. I must have moved into the road when Matt was devoid of fire cards, as I saw no resistance. I took out at least two buildings (it might have been three) when I finally lost a melee. That halted my attempt to roll up his line. (Tactical Tip #1 – never bring a weapon into a melee – it can't help you and just disappears if you die.)

I believe by this point I was about three units away from making Matt reach his surrender level. The time track was advancing, however, and we were either at 4 or 5. (Game could end on any time trigger 6 or higher.)

Around this time I decided I needed to go for surrender. I was behind on points (it was -7 or something close to that) and time was ticking. I abandoned Objective #3 (the two-hex building on my right flank across the road from Objective #4 – one of the hexes was on fire) and pulled that force into the central building that had become my base of operations. (And they got caught in the space between buildings. It wasn't pretty.) After some ineffectual fire across the gulf that is the main road I finally pulled the Advance order I'd been looking for.

As I moved next to the rightmost single-hex building along the road (under cover of some smoke) Matt shuffled his units around in a way I didn't expect. That left my only melee opponent to be much stronger than I was expecting. Not seeing much of a choice, I went for it, anyway. We ended up in a draw. This killed all involved units and finally hit his surrender trigger. Just in time, too, as we had already hit 7 on the time track and his deck was running low. I doubt I could have lasted much longer.

This game went right down to the wire. Matt was likely to win at the next time trigger, but I broke him just in time. The blaze cut the effective size of the board almost in half which helped me – my troops in this scenario are much better, but I'm forced to take the battle to him – shrinking the board let me concentrate matters a bit. We were both a bit rusty as it had been a while since we'd played but we were still done in 2.5 hours or so. Every time I play, the fact that CC is the best bit of wargaming fun you can have in 3 hours or less keeps getting driven home. Can't wait for the next two releases in this series.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Boy, I'm rusty. I wonder if I can still write these things...

After too long a break, finally the wargames are starting to hit the table again. Mike (welcome to the blog, Mike!) and I got together to play Clash for a Continent at his request. He had been curious about the game since seeing Tim and my reports a while back.

I picked the Saratoga scenario as a starting point. The combination of terrain, asymmetrical VP objectives and differing forces make for an interesting battle. The two forces have main battle lines in the center just out of musket range – the Americans in the woods and the British in front of another set of woods. Each side has a two VP objective hexes to protect on their left flank. The British need 6 VPs (either eliminating units or taking the objective hexes) to win. The Americans also need 6 VPs to win, but win if neither gets 6.

I took the British in the first game and proceeded to make a number of tactical gaffes. The British have a command liability in this scenario (The Americans will average one more action point per turn) and need to be efficient in their actions. Particularly since that clock is ticking and they have to force the action to win. I got a little too aggressive and charged my main battle line forward instead of concentrating on taking the VP objective. Early on I lost a leader, exacerbating the command difference and my charge in the middle faded disastrously. This one went to the Americans 6-0.

We swapped sides and tried again. Mike had a good idea of what not to do, and went after the objective. I did the same as the Americans, and shuffled some units over to protect the objective on my left flank. Each of us made slow progress. Mike actually took one of the objectives briefly, but I was able to recover it. We each had a chance for outright victory on the final turn, but neither of us could pull it off and the game ended 4-4 with a win for the Americans on the tie. Mike had a rather amazing run of bad command rolls in this game. Fully 1/3 of his command die rolls were 1s, and I believe six straight at one point.

As those two games took us less than 90 minutes combined, we pulled out another scenario that I'd been very curious about. Bushy Run from the French & Indian War. In this scenario, the British are protecting a wagon train traveling through the woods, and a contingent of Indians are raiding it. Indians are interesting to play in this game – they move twice as far as nearly anyone else, can move through woods without stopping, and can either move and fire or fire and move in the same turn. Indian losses don't matter in this scenario – the way the Indians win is by taking 5 VPs in 16 turns. The British win if they don't.

The initial setup for this scenario has the British in the middle of the board and the Indians sprinkled all around. The British mindset in this scenario is very much “where are they coming from?” and the job of the Indians is to feint, cause a reaction and attack a weakness. I had the Indians first, and decided I'd try to cut off the British escape and attack the front of the wagon train while screening off support. For the most part, this was a very successful strategy. I steadily wore down the British while losing a little less than half my forces. I won this scenario in about 12 or 13 turns.

We swapped sides and went at it again. While Mike took a mobile defense approach with the British, I tried to stay static and set up a reactionary defense that would strike back at the Indians when they tried to hit me. Mike took a slightly different approach with the Indians than I did – he used the “move and fire” action a lot. The side effect was that this left his units next to mine allowing me to close-combat them in response. This was a high risk/high reward strategy that paid off for him. He won the game in 9 or 10 turns, but was down to only three units at the end. Had my last unit not fallen, he would have had a hard time finishing me off.

One thing that helped the Indians in these two games is that the combat die rolls for the Indians seemed rather high both times.

At this point, we'd been going for close to three hours and called it a night. My gut feeling on the game improved after this evening's worth of games. Bushy Run, in particular, was quite fun to play and provided some very interesting tactical decisions. The basics haven't changed – it's still a very light wargame and a bit of a roller-coaster with the rises and dips determined by your die rolls. Fortunately, it doesn't try to be more than that. Games are 45 minutes or less, making it very easy to either swap and try again or try different approaches to the same scenario. The game definitely shines with increased terrain and asymmetrical situations. It's just a pity that the conflicts involved don't have a large variance in troop types.

The natural tendency is to compare Clash for a Continent to the Command and Colors system. It definitely falls more towards the Battle Cry/Memoir '44 end of the spectrum vs. the C&C: Ancients/BattleLore end. Given the ability to focus your efforts where needed, I'd definitely choose this game over Battle Cry, but it's a tossup vs. Memoir '44.

It's looking to be three weeks until our next game due to a variety of conflicts, so hopefully this will tide you over until then. No idea what it'll be at this point, but that's better than nothing!

Thanks for hanging around and reading – it's good to be back.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A new beginning

One of the blogs that I regularly checked, and looked forward to new posts, was Two Sides to the Coin, so I was saddened to read that Tim was moving south and that it was to go on hiatus. Months passed and I thought I'd at least give Eric the chance to get some gaming in, and at the same time offered to post reports here. He accepted both offers, and so here I am.

When Eric and I were discussing getting TSttC restarted, I specifically requested that we start with CfaC. After reading Tim and Eric's previous report on it, I was very interested in trying it myself. I'm a big fan of the Commands & Colors series (although I generally suck at them) so it will come as no great surprise that I can report that I really liked CfaC.

There really are very few differences between the two games (well, game and series, I suppose would be more accurate). That main difference is in activation of units. In C&C you play a card which allows activation of a number of units in a particular area of the board. In CfaC you still get a number of actions, this time decided by a die roll, but you may use them to active whichever units you wish. Neat. You still have the desire to do more than your activations allow, but at least you're not constrained by your card draws.

The rules are very straight forward, so we jumped right in and started off with the Saratoga scenario, with myself as the Rebels to Eric's British. I started by bringing up my rear troops to form a more solid line, and Eric began a general advance with his right and center, obviously hoping to achieve the VP markers in my left flank corner of the board. This did not go well for him when I managed to kill his leader in an early fire combat, which requires a 1 in the fire, then a subsequent 1 in a second roll. This really hampered his ability to activate for the rest of the game, and swung it decidedly in my favor.

With me firing from the woods (-1 on the die for his attacks) into the open, I was quickly able to gain the center. Eric's units on my left were not well supported, having had to advance from deep on his flank, so I was quickly able to bring superiority to bear, and put him to flight. The game was quickly over, with the Americans winning a 6-0 victory. (Or 6-very little, in any case.)

This had taken only 20-25 minutes to complete, so we turned it around. This time the game went right down to the wire, lasting the full 24 turns. Learning from the previous game, I slowly maneuvered the British right wing into position, while my left flank fought to a virtual standstill. The critical factor in the game was the use of 'slowly' in that previous sentence, as I managed to roll 6 1s in a row for my activations, giving me the minimum possible. This meant that the British ran out of time, not quite being able to take the last couple of VP locations, on the last turn. Of course, that last turn required that I needed to roll a 6 to lose one of the VP locations, which I, of course, proceeded to do, just to make it that little bit harder. (For those not familiar with my own gaming blog, Thoughts of Chairman Mike, I have a continuous hate-hate relationship with dice.) Still, that left me with an outside chance of getting the 2 VPs required, but the Colonials refused to budge from the hilltop VP hexes, and I couldn't even manage to score the single hit required to eliminate one of them. This left the score tied at 4-4, meaning a win for the Americans. Of note was that despite rolling lots of 1s in his combats involving my leaders, Eric could never get that second snake eye to show itself for the kill, despite having around a dozen+ attempts.

A very entertaining scenario that could have gone either way, and one that I'd be more than happy to try again.

It was still not quite 9pm, and Eric wanted to try the scenario with his Native Americans (as is the correct term these days) attacking my British wagon train. In this scenario the fragile NA units have to get 5VPs, either by killing British units or capturing and making off with the units representing the train. The British have to avoid the NAs winning, by not dying and not letting the train be captured. This proved hard to do as first I and then Eric lost as the British. Eric's NAs seemed to be armed with sniper rifles as he picked off my units from long range. I tried to rush the train off the board, but Eric did a good job of circling his units round and getting kill opportunities.

In the second version, Eric focused more energy on taking out the fragile NA units, making no real attempt to escape with the train intact. This didn't work either, as I was able to pick him off by dashing multiple units forward using their capability to do a double activation move/fire. So although this game ended more quickly than the first (9 turns rather than 12/13) I had only 3 units left at the end. There were two amusing moments in this game. First, I managed to take out his leader by rolling another snake eyes in my single attempt. Second, in one fire attack I managed to roll 3 1s, then stated that my other unit would also fire, and that I was due some 6s. I proceeded to roll box cars and removed his unit! (Perhaps that's what I need to do - I need to be firmer with telling the dice what to do.....)

I really think this is a hard scenario for the British to win. Losses don't matter to the NA player, other than reducing his ability to attack, so they don't worry too much about it. I'd try it again, but I'd rather go for a more 'regular' scenario like Saratoga.

OK, so this is not a heavy, serious game. In fact it's so far at the beer and pretzels end of the gaming spectrum that it's offering to get the next round of drinks. But that's OK, because it doesn't pretend to be anything else. It's a knock 'em down, drag 'em out, and set 'em all up again type of game, the gaming equivalent of a night out with the boys. Just sit back, relax and throw some dice. You're there to go along for the ride, laugh at the dice rolls that go in your favor, wince at the ones that don't, and holler and slap your thighs when the inevitable wacky combinations pop up. I don't want to play serious, thinking games all the time, and this fits the gap nicely. It very much fits into the same grouping as the Command & Colors games, which are great games as long as you don't try to take them seriously. It may yet get added to my collection, although I don't think I'd use it often enough to justify the cost.

A most thoroughly enjoyable start to my involvement with TSttC, long may it continue! As is the tradition on TSttC, it's up to Eric to pick the next game, although it's going to be a few weeks before we can get back together.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

We're BAAAaaack.

I'm a little leery of jinxing things, but it looks like Mike Deans (otherwise known as Chairman Mike) will be picking up the mantle as my semi-regular wargaming opponent. Current plan is we play every other week. So, the reports won't be as frequent, but some is better than none, eh?

First game is tomorrow night - we're getting Clash for a Continent on the table. Hopefully, blog entries follow along shortly.

Thanks to those that commented in the past on the blog - those comments kept me interested in restarting, and now there's a fresh perspective to boot.

Game on!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Yes, it's been quiet around here.

Tim and I did get a game of 1860 in before Memorial Day, but a variety of personal life issues have kept me from finishing my report on it.

It was quite a good game, though. You'll have to trust me on that until the report is posted.

There's a bigger issue with the blog, though. Tim has moved away from the Great Northwest back to Texas. It's a tad difficult to play two-player games and get differing perspectives on them when you don't have an opponent. I've put out a call for Tim's replacement, but those are big shoes to fill. More news will appear here as appropriate.

Tim and I plan to get some PBEM games under way once he's settled in. It may be a while until that happens, however, so this blog will likely be quiet for a period of time. I do have every intent to keep it running, however, with some other sucker, er, opponent providing their views on our games.

Thanks for reading, guys, and hopefully things will ramp back up here soon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

1889 - Too Close to Call!

We got in another 18xx game this past week - 1889, set in Shikoku, Japan (see mine and Eric's notes from our earlier playing for more detail). The rule-set is essentially 1830, with a few minor tweaks, and as we found last time it worked very well as a 2-player game of 18xx. While the game wasn't about horse-racing, it might as well have been, as the finish was every bit as close as the Preakness hose racing event this past weekend.

I started the game out with the thought of trying to get decent privates, and going from there - I managed this by getting the two largest privates, as well as the first private (the "speed-bump" in the initial stock auction). The downside to this is it meant I was not able to start a public company initially - so when Eric started the Kotoden Railroad (KO), based in Takamatsu in the northeastern part of the island (near Kotohira, which we both learned last time is the city that grows the largest), I bought in as much as I could with my limited funds. The upside of this was that I was able to dump the KO when I started my first railroad, the Iyo Railroad starting in Matsuyama. I had a private that I could exchange for a share of this company, which I ended up never using as Eric bought into the company as I floated it - in the mid-game, I thought it was a mistake to not have utilized the power of this particular private, but on the whole I believe the turn-by-turn revenue from the company that I held until the 5-trains arrived more than made up for this. Fairly early, I used my only token to put a station in Nuhama to ensure access to Kotohira when it grew later in the game.

At this point, counting privates, I was only a share or so behind Eric in number of shares - so from this point onward, I was working under the impression that I was under the gun and needed to do some shenanigans to catch up. This resulted in my moving in and out of several of Eric's companies - including, at one point, two that I thought were ripe targets of a strip-and-dump (and Eric had the priority at that point as well). I turned out to be overly paranoid (I think), as Eric was pretty focused on bringing the railways back to working order - but it worked out well, as I was able to move my holdings to the companies that he had started that had a better capital situation. This resulted in my holding my three companies, all of which had 5-trains or better (permanents), and two of Eric's companies, both of which also had permanents, whereas the companies I had dumped had 4-trains - not quite permanents, as if either of us were able to get the diesels out the 4's would rust.

The major late-game decision for me was to decide whether to go ahead and purchase a 6-train I knew I could afford, right then, or withhold a couple of turns in the hopes of being able to get a diesel. Getting a diesel would have seriously dinged Eric, as he had two companies that would have been left without trains, but my calculation was that withholding would hurt me more than getting the diesel would help me, so I chose to go with the 6-train (I believe it was in the Iyo, which at the end was running a 6-train AND a 4-train, for very nice dividends).

We entered what we thought would be the final set of ORs (Operating Rounds) - I was getting quite a bit better dividends than Eric, as my companies had larger trains, and the companies he had that were running for good amounts I held strong minority stakes in (including a 50% stake in the Sanuki Railroad, which was Eric's strongest railway, if my memory is correct). By this point, we had both gotten to the certificate limit (which is quite generous in this game), and had shuffled our holdings to what we thought would be the most valuable - either in stock value, dividend payouts, or both.

I new I was making a strong showing at the end, but I also thought I was a bit behind at that point, so I didn't expect to be able to pull out the win . . . but after the final 3 operating rounds, when we calculated our final net worths, mine was greater than Eric's by $14. Both of our total worths were in the $7000 (ok, probably Yen, but I'm not sure how to make a Yen symbol here), so the difference was very small in the scale we were talking about. Just to be certain, Eric re-calculated the scores using Excel - he'd done it by had initially - but with the same result! $14 separating 1st and 2nd in a two player game, with s cores in the $7000 range, is definitely too close to call - it's essentially a tie, or a rounding error.

I suspect that the major factor in allowing me to catch up was my decisions as to which of Eric's railroads to hold, and also my decision to go with purchasing the 6-train early, rather than trying to save enough to be able to buy a diesel (although it would definitely be interesting to see what would have happened had I made that decision instead). I do think Eric could have done a few things to slow me down - I pointed out after our game that he had a couple of tokens that could have put a serious damper on the Iyo Railroads payouts - but on the whole, I think we both played very solid games, with the result being that end result was, really, too close to call.

I'm not yet certain I'll be able to play this week - we're in the midst of packing up our house prior to a move back to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas . . . obviously, this may put a damper in the near term on our opportunities to play games, although we may investigate PBEM, Vassal and other things of that sort. If we manage to get a game in this week, I may be a bit late on getting my post up, as my computer will be packed and in transit most of next week . . .

No matter what, though, I just want to say that I've really enjoyed these evening games with Eric, and the opportunity to spout off about the games here.

So, as usual, happy gaming!

Revisiting Shikoku Railways

Last week, Tim and I got together for another game of 1889. It's the second time we've played, and knowing the map and game flow makes for a big difference in 18xx games.

I'll provide a bit of overview here, and I'll eventually write about the experience in much more detail on my personal blog. I took notes of the result of every turn (except for tile lays) so I think I can recreate the game in pretty good shape.

The game started off in my favor as I ended up with two privates (the 2nd and 3rd most expensive ones out of five. This gave me the ability to lay a port tile (which ended up not helping me all THAT much) and a free city upgrade. Tim had privates A, D, and E. This left him with insufficient cash to open his own company. So, he piggybacked on me for a bit. I opened the Kotohira (which starts in the NE corner of the board near two of the three highest valued cities) at 65. It wasn't until the 4th Stock Round that Tim had enough cash to sell off three of the four shares he'd purchased and opened up the Iyo. (Private E can be exchanged for a share of this.) After Operating Round 4 was over, Tim had six shares and $53, I had 7 shares and $89. I had the lead at this point.

It wasn't until our 7th turn when the 3 trains came out. During this turn, I had opened the Uwajima (financed by selling off my Iyo.)

Tim was doing a good job in keeping up, but I was always running one more company than him. I didn't keep track of exactly when the privates were sold, but I believe they all were before the 5 trains came out obsoleting them.

The critical part of the game came late. The first operating round of turn 10 saw the 6th and 7th companies opened. It also saw all the 5 trains AND the first 6 train purchased. We had successfully dodged being stuck without a train when the 3s disappeared (when the 6 was bought) but we were both figuring out if we were going to try to buy a Diesel. This would rust the 4s, and whomever could control when it happened was probably in the best position to win. After the 2nd 6 was bought (middle of the 2nd OR in turn 10) we both sat there really thinking it over. Tim had five trains strewn among his three companies and very little cash in their combined treasuries. He'd have to work to get enough to buy a diesel. (even with the 300 discount for trading in a train.) I only had four trains among my four companies. Two of these were 4 trains. I'd have to have enough on hand to buy two diesels, and I simply didn't see that happening. So we sort of reached a detente where neither of us wanted to go through the necessary pain to get a diesel onto the table.

The game only lasted one more turn. (we went from the first 4 being bought to the last 6 being bought in the span of 3 operating rounds.) I miscalculated a bit in the last stock round. In the end, I should have sold one of my Tosa and bought an Iyo. It had two trains and ended up paying the highest dividend. It would have ended up being $91 more in my pocket.

When we tallied up the final scores, neither of us really knew where we stood. First, we counted cash on hand. That was 2362 for Tim, and 2317 for me. Very close. Dividends in the final turn was 993 for Tim and 914 for me. I thought I had him for stock though. Turns out I did. My final stock value was 4715 to Tim's 4605. Net result?

Tim won 7960 to 7946. Fourteen dollars (okay, Yen) difference. That's a 0.18% win. Chris Brooks has referred to this as smaller than a rounding error. But the score's the score and Tim squeaked one out.

While in any game that close, you can point to a number of things you did wrong that changed the outcome, my non-purchase of the final Iyo share was probably the difference. I probably could have done some more optimal track lays, but it takes a few plays of a particular game to iron out those paths.

This game was great fun. We didn't take THAT long (just over 2.5 hours, IIRC) and we definitely had times where we really had to think about our decisions. This is a great 2-player 18xx game, and there really aren't very many of those. The system lends itself better to more players (4-5 seems best for most games) but there's always exceptions.

As usual, the company makes a huge difference, but I really enjoy 1889. I'm glad to have it in my collection and highly recommend it to any budding (or experienced) 18xx fan that's looking for a smaller game for their collection. It would likely make a good learning game, as well, as there really aren't any tricky bits. The rules are essentially exactly like 1830. It plays quick, but the map can be a bit unforgiving. There are a lot of expensive building paths, and the order in which companies come out can make a huge difference.


It's my pick this week, and I'm leaning towards either 1860 or a DIY scenario from Combat Commander. Still haven't chosen.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Railroads, Wiener Style

Eric's pick last week was a bit of a surprise for me - a pleasant one, but certainly not a game I anticipated him selecting. We played a 2-player Age of Steam expansion map set in Austria, and specifically designed as a 2-player game (with associated rules tweaks). Given my interest in 18xx games, this was right up my alley, for the most part.

The most important rules-tweak from my perspective was the total removal of the ability to issue shares - in the Austria game, each player started with 15 marks, and had to build from there.

My major gripe with the AoS system is the shares decision being so huge - and potentially ruinous to make a mistake on - that it frequently leads to a massive case of analysis paralysis. One can't really blame people for spending time on a decision that may well have such a massive impact on their success for the rest of the game, but I don't have to like it! Railroad Tycoon's allowing of share issue at any time during a turn largely solved this particular issue, but seemed to simplify the game just a bit too much. I'm hopeful the next release for this game hits the sweet spot of elegance that I think both AoS itself and Railroad Tycoon just miss.

That being said, I really enjoyed the Austria map - it worked quite well as a 2-player game, and we managed to get in two playings in the course of about 2-2.5 hours or so. The Austria map is interesting - lots of impassable terrain (as one might expect for a country in mountains). Building is constrained - links must be completed on the single build - unfinished track is not allowed - and the fact that urbanization is only allowable on the edges of the map makes this interesting.

The actions most chosen in our game were Urbanize (in order to select an appropriate new city where it will do you the most good), Locomotive (bumping your train distance) and probably the Move First action. I've not played enough regular AoS to have a good feel for how this compares to the main game.

In our first game, our rail networks developed quite differently - Eric was able to get the main east-west corridor going (from Wien to Salzburg, mainly, but including the spur to Innsbruck). My network was primarily north-south, from Klagenfurt to Wien, but including a connection to either Linz or Salzburg (I don't recall which). This first game turned out to be a pretty close fought affair, with the final scores being just a few Marks apart.

Our second game we probably should have aborted and reset, as very early Eric got himself in cash flow trouble - and the lack of shares limited his options to dig out of this hole. By the time he had a decent amount of cash, I had been able to lock up most of the major routes, including the east-west run from Wien-Salzburg-Innsbruck, but also including connections down to Klagenfurt and the foreign market beyond. I don't recall the exact scores here, but the end result was not really in doubt from early in the game. So - we really should have hit the reset button and started over.

So, with all that, what did I think of the game? Given that I'm not super familiar with Age of Steam, I found it quite fun. The first game especially was enjoyable - I actually thought I was running a bit behind, as it seemed Eric's routes were more flexible - but somehow I managed to squeak by in the end. The second game was . . . well, it's fun to win, but it's not so much fun to win by such a margin that toward the end, it seems like there aren't really any big decisions to be made.

I guess what this all boils down to is this warning - make sure you spend your initial 15 marks wisely, and in such a way that you are able to generate immediate income (otherwise, don't spend would be my advice). Getting into a spiral of . . . debt isn't the right word, since you can't issue any, but lack of revenue . . . puts you behind the eight-ball from the start, and you'll be hard pressed to get out of the spot unless your opponent stumbles enough for you to take advantage of it, and the Austria game is so quick that you may not have enough time to take advantage of any such mistakes.

Age of Steam can be an enjoyable game, and I found the Austria map to be quite good as a 2-player game. Especially given the company, and the fact that we were able to get in two games in three hours!

It's my choice this week, but I've not yet made my choice. I hope to be able to post a comment tomorrow with it . . .

Until next week - happy gaming!

Moving Goods in Austria

This week, I decided to break off the wargamey path we'd been trodding for a while and chose the Austria expansion for Age of Steam as our game of the week. This is a 2-player only expansion, and as such tweaks the basic Age of Steam rules a bit to make it work for only two players.

Age of Steam is a game I don't get to play nearly enough. It's not popular in our gaming group as it's a bit too much of a thinker for most people to suggest on a weeknight, and it's not long enough to pull out on a weekend. It's right in the middle. Perfect for Tim and I.

We both needed a refresher as it had been a while since either of us had played Age of Steam. The Austria changes made the refresher a tad more complex. Here's what Austria does to the basic game:
  1. There's no auction for player order. Instead, over the eight turns you to what I call a “long switchback.” First player in each turn goes ABABBABA.
  2. There's no shares. You start with $15, and cannot raise more capital. All income is purely from operations.
  3. You pay $4/tile. In every case, unless we got the rule wrong.
  4. Towns cannot be urbanized. Instead, there's 10 or so spaces external to the map where you can urbanize. These can be built to as normal.
  5. You cannot build incomplete links.
  6. Production is slightly tweaked in that Vienna always gets two more cubes every turn, and each of the other cities is both a black and white city. Graz, in fact, produces on both 5s and 6s.
  7. Cash at the end of the game is worth 1 VP for each $20.
The results of these changes tend to restrict building early as you're short on cash, and restrict building late as you're pretty much out of places to build. This is probably good, as it's a very small map.

We stumbled through our first couple turns as things started clicking. Tim had a little bit of a lead on me in income, but I was building more track. It was pretty tough to determine who was going to come out ahead, though. I was building mostly across the north edge of the map, and Tim was building from the south into the middle. I eventually caught Tim in income, and it was even more unclear who was going to win. The final score was 153-152. Tim pulled it out by a single point. If I remember correctly, it was due to final cash on hand.

One pattern emerged – in almost every case, the player going first chose Urbanization and built to the new city.

The game took just over an hour to play, so we gave it another go.

This time, however, I completely botched my read of the opening board. I ended up making my first build in such a way that I had nothing to deliver on the 2nd turn. This put me in a huge hole and I never really recovered. The drawback to this in the 2-player game is that Tim was able to build pretty much wherever he wanted and receive all the benefits of my slow start. In a multi-player game, this likely would have been split among the other players, reducing my deficit. In the end, Tim nearly doubled my score. Every now and then, you lay a clunker, and that's certainly what I did here.

So, in the end, what did I think?

I love Age of Steam – it's an unforgiving game that rewards planning. I may not play it often, but I've greatly enjoyed it nearly every time. The Austria expansion, though, left me a little underwhelmed. The two-player rules are a good change, but I think the map led to some automatic decisions. In particular, it seemed nearly automatic to choose Urbanization if you were the first player. Other than the first turn of each game and once when my financial distress in the second game caused me to make another choice, Urbanization was chosen (I think) every time by the first player. On the first turns, Locomotive was chosen instead. The only angst in action selection was when you were the second player and was deciding whether you felt you needed to move or build first.

Perhaps it would get better with more plays, and some subtleties would reveal themselves, but I don't see that happening any time soon. As it is, I'll probably have to rank Austria at the bottom of the expansions I've played. Disappointing, as I was looking forward to this two-player version. Perhaps another two-player expansion will appear in the future.


It's Tim's choice this week, and he was completely undecided when he left my place. So I have no idea what I'm in for this week.