Friday, February 23, 2007

Tune in next week . . .

As Eric mentioned, we didn't meet this week due to my having family in town.

He also mentioned that I wasn't sure what our next game would be - I actually have made a decision, and am going to go for a rematch of last weeks Twilight Struggle. I find that if I play the same game a couple of times, I internalize the rules much better than if I play it once, put it away, and then come back to it weeks or months later.

So - a rematch of Twilight Struggle (likely with me as the Russians again, although that part Eric and I still need to discuss).

Look for our comments next week!

See you then!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sessionius Interruptus

No game this week, so no session reports.

I'll be gaming all weekend (well, late Friday through Sunday morning) at Chris Brooks' family beach house and reporting my experiences on my personal blog. Games I know I'll be playing are 18TN, Combat Commander, and the Storm of Swords expansion to Game of Thrones.

As far as I know, Tim's still cogitating on his next selection, and we'll be playing that one on Wednesday the 28th.

After that, we should be back on the normal Thursday schedule for a while.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Eagle and The Bear

Had a chance to give GMT's Twilight Struggle a try - my first playing, despite this having been out for a bit over a year (long enough to have gotten a reprint with new cards, at least). I was the USSR, Eric the US, and it was on.

The rules to Twilight Struggle are not overly complex, but as is the case in most Card-Driven Games (CDG), the complexity is in the cards - how they interact, and what they do (often one of several options). Also, the scoring rules, while again not complex, are difficult to parse in real time - in other words, it was tough for me to quickly assess where my actions would have the most beneficial effect. Distinctions between Control, Domination and Presence of geopolitical regions are, while not complicated, difficult to quickly see on the board. As a result, I was going into this game with a bit of a handicap, as Eric has played several times previously - which is why he played the US, who definitely have a tougher path to victory, especially in the early portion of the game.

So, what did I think? I enjoyed the game, for the most part, but it's definitely a game that will require multiple plays to fully form an opinion of - our game went the full 10 turns, and was, I think, a fairly close fought thing, the score track was around -16 (negative numbers being in the Soviets favor), but I ended up losing as a result of losing control of Europe, which is an automatic victory for whoever HAS control (in this case Eric as the US). I ended up having to play the Europe scoring card that ended the game (on my last card play of the 10th turn, after trying to take just ONE battleground country back from Eric - and failing repeatedly), but I would have lost in the final scoring anyway, as the same result would have occurred when we did the final scoring of all regions. This end result was somewhat anti-climatic, but probably was more a result of my not having a good feel for the arc of the game, as well as not being familiar with the cards - losing control of Europe was result of a three turn effort on Eric's part to take control, and he had some Late War cards that helped immensely - in particular, Chernobyl (which prevented the Soviets from doing ANYTHING in Europe for an entire turn) and Tear Down This Wall which took what had felt like pretty solid Soviet control of East Germany and threw it to the US. Knowing the effect of these cards, I may have done more to solidify my positions in Europe - of course, this would have resulted in weaker positions on the rest of the board, so it may have had a similar effect.

One interesting thing about the game, that isn't really related to how it plays, but more to the feel of the game, is it really does remind you of the feeling of the time - at least for me, as I can remember many of the events in the game (mostly the later Mid-War and Late War cards), but even the ones that happened before I was around remind one of famous events in the Cold War. Most things you can think of are there - there's the Space Race, Khruschev's "We Will Bury You", Reagan's "Evil Empire", Iran-Contra, Allende, etc. Most of the major events of the Cold War seem to be encapsulated into a card in the game - and that is very interesting. Also, the logic of the game FEELS like what the cold war felt like - the "domino" theory of geopolitics is definitely in the game, as to expand, you need to have at least a presence in a country, but once a country is controlled by your opponent, it's much more difficult to gain a foothold in the normal course of play - events change this, but even those tend to depend on having a presence (not always though - and those are powerful events).

Another interesting element is how the card play works - each card has an operations value, and an event, and the event is either a Soviet event, a US event, or both. If you have a card with an event for your side (or one that is playable by both sides), you have a tough decision to make, whether to use the point value of the card to perform operations on the map (expanding influence, staging coups or pushing for re-alignments), or use the event for it's effect. On the other hand, if you have an event for your opponents side, you can play it for operations on the map, but the event occurs anyway! So sometimes, you'd just as soon have one of your events in your opponents hand - but this is mixed blessing, as they then control when it occurs, as well as choosing whether the event happens first, or their operations happen first. So, there is definitely a fair amount of turn-angst as you try and figure out the "best" way to play your cards - and "best" often means "least bad".

On the whole, Twilight Struggle was quite interesting (not least because the time-frame for the game is what it is), but I'm withholding judgement on what I think of the game as a whole until after I have a few more plays under my belt.

Speaking of which, we're on hiatus next week as I am entertaining my parents and sister next week - but we'll be on the following week. Not certain what I'll pick to play then, but right now I'm about evenly split between BattleLore and a rematch of Twilight Struggle.

You can't fight here! It's the War Room!

This week's game was Twilight Struggle, a card-driven wargame (CDG) centered around the Cold War. This is a highly-rated game released just over a year ago. Tim hadn't played yet, and I've played four or five times, so I took the US. Twilight Struggle results tend to favor the Russians (between 3/5 and 2/3 of games are Russian wins), and Russian play is much more forgiving, so giving the less experienced player the Russians usually makes for a rather even game. I own the 1st edition of the game, but bought a 2nd edition card deck as there were some small changes made between the two editions. We also played with the updated, 2nd edition rules available on GMT's website.

Quick Twilight Struggle Rundown

Twilight Struggle is a relatively simple CDG. A game lasts 10 turns, and is broken up into three segments – Early War (turns 1-3), Middle War (turns 4-7), and Late War (turns 8-10). Your hand is dealt up to 9 cards (only 8 in the Early War) and you can play a Headline card and 7 more cards in a turn (6 cards in the Early War). Each game segment has its own deck of cards that's shuffled into the draw pile when that segment starts.

The board is split into seven geographical regions: Europe (East and West), Asia (and SE Asia), Africa, South America, and Central America. Each region consists of a number of countries which you try to control. Every country is given a stability rating from 1 to 5, and to control a country you must have a surplus of influence over your opponent in a country at least equal to its stability rating. So, to control Italy (SR=2), having 4 influence to 2 will control it. Some of these countries are deemed “battleground” countries, and attempting Coups there will degrade DEFCON.

When a region is scored, you can have three levels of involvement. Presence (you control at least one country), Domination (you control more countries AND more battleground countries), or Control (you control more countries and ALL battleground countries.)

The cards have three parts. An OPS rating, assignment, and an event. If you play a card assigned to your opponent, you get the OPS to spend, and your opponent gets to implement the event. If you play a card assigned to you, or to both, you get either the OPS or the event, but not both. Many cards are removed from play after the event is implemented. You can spend the OPS on Coups, realignments, or placing influence in countries you're already in, or any country adjascent to those.

In addition, there's scoring cards that trigger the scoring of individual regions. These can't be held from one turn to the next, so chances are if you draw a scoring card, you're playing it that turn. This is the primary way in which points are scored throughout the game.

There are four ways to win Twilight Struggle: An immediate victory if you reach 20 points (or -20 as the Russians – the scoring track runs from -20 to 20), an immediate victory if your opponent plays a card that ends up causing DEFCON 1, controlling Europe when Europe is scored, or having the most points after final scoring following turn 10. Most games end via an immediate victory at -20 points, or the US winning in final scoring. There's occasional DEFCON mishaps and European control.

TS is unique within this genre of wargames in that there aren't any armies, only influence towards communism or democracy. I believe this is also the only CDG that has a common deck split into three parts. Other games that split the decks also have separate decks for each side. (I could be wrong on this – please correct me if so.) The wars of the era (Korea, Vietnam, Arab/Israeli, Indo/Pakistani, etc.) are abstracted out via card events that happen throughout the game. The net result functions more like an area control game than a wargame. It's also playable in 3 hours. Short for a CDG.

Our Play

So... how did it actually go?

After getting set up we dealt out the starting hands and placed our initial influence. I can't exactly remember where Tim placed his optional influence, but I placed 4 in West Germany, 2 in Italy, and 1 in France.

In the early war, only Europe, Asia, and the Middle East scoring cards are in the deck. Tim miscalculated how scoring works and made a suboptimal play on Europe early on. He was thumping me pretty well in Asia, though, and the Middle East was going back and forth. He wasn't pulling too far ahead, though, so I was feeling pretty good about things. Prevailing wisdom on TS is that if the score is better than -10 when entering the Middle War, the US has a pretty good chance. The events tend to favor the US more and more as time wears on.

When we entered the Middle War, the score stood at -5. I was thinking things were going pretty well. I actually don't remember many of the details of what happened in the Middle War, but I created a strong position in South America (I think I was controlling it when it was scored) Tim had nearly shut me out of Central America, and Africa was bouncing back and forth. I think the only scoring card I was dealt the remainder of the game was South America during the Middle War. As a result, I was unable to effectively set up regions for scoring leaving me in somewhat of a reactionary mode through nearly the entire Middle War.

This changed with turn 8, the start of the Late War. I believe I had the China Card, and I was only dealt one Russian event – Aldritch Ames. Ames is painless if you can manage to play it last, at that point it becomes nearly a free 4 Ops card. Every other card in my hand helped, plus I had Chernobyl – this lets you shut down a region to the USSR placing influence. I decided I wanted to hold onto Chernobyl until I could get things set up, then play it as the headline event of turn 9. I spent all of turn 8 working on Europe. The score at this point was somewhere around -12 and given the board position I didn't think I could make that deficit up in final scoring. My best chance was to try to control Europe. DEFCON was high enough that neither of us could attempt Coups or Realignments in Europe, and if I shut it down to Tim via Chernobyl, he simply couldn't respond.

In nearly any other situation, my turn 9 hand would have been painful. I think I was dealt 6 USSR events, all of which where pretty nasty, but they were nasty outside of Europe. However, I was also dealt Tear Down This Wall. I headlined Chernobyl shutting Tim out of doing anything in Europe. TDTW not only places 3 US influence in East Germany, it allows you to either coup or realign in Europe regardless of DEFCON status. I think I played that first in the turn and spent all my ops the remainder of the turn trying to wrest control of Europe. I really didn't care what happened on the rest of the board. Europe was my only hope.

By the end of turn 9, I was one influence point in Poland short of controlling Europe. I nearly made it, and was really hoping to be dealt the European scoring card. Didn't happen. I did manage to gain control early in turn 10, and just tried to hang on until the end of the game where I hoped I'd win. It got dicey, though, as the score inched closer to -20, peaking at -17 at one point. I had two very painful USSR cards in my hand (The Reformer, and Pershing II Deployed), and I was intending to use the China card and the Space Race to avoid having to play either of them. Tim swiped the China card from me via a card effect, and I was almost forced to play one of the two cards which would likely have broken my control position in Europe. However, on Tim's last play he was forced to play Europe Scoring, giving me the game on literally the last action round of the last turn.

Our game took just about 3 full hours, about the max I've seen, and not unreasonable given that it was Tim's first play and we effectively played a full game.

Tim said the ending was a bit anti-climactic, and looking at it from his position, I can definitely understand that feeling. Without the auto-win condition for controlling Europe he would have soundly defeated me in what might be the rarest of results – a USSR win after final scoring. Beating me over 2/3 of the board yet still losing seems wrong until you realize the importance fully controlling Europe would have had on the situation in real life.

This is the first time I'd played Twilight Struggle in a few months, and it matched the good experience I'd had in the past. It provides a bit of a different mindset while playing – you're trying to mitigate the damage to your position as much (or more) as you're trying to improve it. And all the while your opponent is doing the same thing. As with any CDG, there are combinations to watch for, and certain things you shouldn't do when you don't know the locations of particular cards. A skill that only practice can bring. Fortunately, the game is short enough where it's actually feasible to develop the skill.


No game next week – Tim's got family in town and will be booked all week. Tim's choice is up next, and he hinted that he might want to give Twilight Struggle another go, but I haven't heard for sure. I'm not sure what I want to try next. Maybe Crusader Rex.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Racing Against Time

Combat Commander: Europe, scenario #3: Bonfire of the NKVD.

Germans: Eric
Russians: Tim
Beer consumed: Sam Adams
Music: XM's Fine Tuning stream via DirecTV. (except for a ½ hour window when my wife watched Family Guy.)

This week's game was a different Combat Commander: Europe scenario, Bonfire of the NKVD, #3. In this scenario, the Russians are retreating, but are attempting to destroy papers/maps/stuff in the building they had been using as the local HQ. The Germans are trying to get there before they can destroy everything of value.

In similar fashion to the scenario we played last time, the attacker is trying to get to and control a building in the back half of the map within a certain amount of time. Two things make this scenario a LOT different than the Belgian Chateau scenario we played two weeks ago: This is a real “quality vs. quantity” matchup – the Germans have a small handful of squads while the Russians have nearly a dozen militia and green units. Also, this scenario is played along the long axis of a woods heavy map. (for reference, here's the map. From this perspective, the Germans are attacking left to right – west to east if you prefer, trying to control the small building in the middle of the right edge of the map.)

Deployment is also a bit interesting. Defenders set up first, then attackers, then the defender can deploy 12 wire counters. Tim decided to place these in what amounted to a line just west of the road from the north down. (Again, referring to the map image as north on top.) All objectives are open in this scenario – the HQ at N5 is worth 16 VPs, and the other objectives are worth 1VP each. Time counter starts at 0 and the Sudden Death marker is at 7. Another interesting tidbit of deployment is that objective #3 straddles the deployment zones – the Germans deploy in the western 3 columns, the Russians over the rest of the board.

My basic plan after seeing Tim's setup (he effectively abandoned the west half of the map) was to move forward in the forest, taking objectives as possible, marshall my strength and then assault the HQ. I fully intended to ignore objective #4 (the two-hex building in the southeast quadrant) other than harassing the occupants enough to keep them bottled inside.

My opening hand would prove to be a theme throughout the entire battle – I had severe problems getting Move orders. I only had more than 1 in my hand one time, and even then, I only had two. Obviously, my troops weren't to eager to follow through on my plan.

Early turns involved a slow advance on my part to within a couple hexes of the wire. I took objective #3, and was firing a few potshots into objective #4. Tim hit a Time trigger halfway through his deck, and by the time I had worked through my deck, we were facing off in the woods. The only melee that happened in the woods ended up a tie – all units die. Since that was one of his and two of mine, Tim was pretty happy with that exchange. Eventually, I was able to break and rout away most of the remaining units he had in the woods – after which I claimed objectives #1 and 2. Up to this point, I had four events that gave me somewhere around 8 or 9 victory points (for either controlled objectives or destroyed enemy units). Before I had even closed on the HQ, I had whittled Tim's VP count down to 6 or 7. (He started at 20.)

It was about here that things started to go pear shaped. I was routing some of his units off the board, but he had parked a good leader, team, and squad in the HQ, and I was going to need everything I had to assault it. I finally pulled the pieces together, but managed to botch it by not being able to include my leader – we both played a couple ambush cards and the result was a 9 strength force for Tim while mine was only 4. (It would have been 10 if I had managed to include the leader.) With the odds stacked against me, and Tim in possession of the initiative, the inevitable happened and my assault was repulsed.

That pretty much broke any chance I had at forcing Tim out of the HQ, and the VP counter was inching its way back his direction. The killing blow came with the incredible speed in which the game ended. The Time counter was at 4 when I managed to pull a Time trigger on the last card of my deck. This advances the Time counter twice. NOT what I needed. On the very next turn, Tim exhausted his deck, advancing the Time counter again, and rolled under the Sudden Death number. As he had the initiative and the lead, he obviously let the result stay and claimed his first CC:E victory. I believe the final score was about 13 in Tim's favor.

We played this scenario in almost exactly two hours, and again had a wonderful time. This truly is one of the best < 3 hr wargaming experiences available.

Noted items

  • Assaulting buildings is tough. They're interesting puzzles to crack, and I did a poor job of assaulting the HQ in this session. I'll have to toy around with various combinations to see what works best. Leaders are obviously critical here as they add their command rating to every unit in the hex, AND add their own firepower. Assaulting a hex containing a leader without one of your own is likely to fail.
  • The defender has won both scenarios where we've had an attacker/defender setup. Granted, Tim was a lot closer to winning as attacker last time than I was this time. However, I think it means we really haven't grasped what it takes to win as the attacker yet.
  • For whatever reason, I completely forgot about the VPs available for running off Tim's side of the map. In the end, they wouldn't have mattered in this case. I would only have scored 6 or 7 VPs, and I never had enough Move orders to get those guys back into play where they could have mattered. I wouldn't have had a prayer of taking the HQ had I run off the board.
  • I'm reaching the point of 2nd level thought on when to use the initiative. It's not just a matter of “do I really want this roll to succeed” anymore. Now I'm starting to think about whether I'm going to need the initiative in the near future. For example, had I managed to keep the initiative before assaulting the HQ, the result could have been very different. Tim rolled a 10 on his melee attack, IIRC, and I obviously would have had that rerolled.


Next week's game is my choice, and we're going to give Twilight Struggle a run. I've played four or five times now, and Tim has yet to play. So, he'll get the Russians. I've got the 2nd edition rules and cards, and there's only a couple minor errata on the 1st edition map, so this should be fun. Not that there were THAT many changes in 2nd edition, but I haven't had the chance to play the new version yet.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Combat Commander: Europe - Scenario 3 (Bonfire of the NKVD)

Dateline June 24, 1941, outside Brest-Litovsk: A Russian outpost is being pulled back from an overwhelming German advance, but the documents and communications equipment of the outposts Command Post (CP), including details about the defenses of Brest-Litovsk, need to be destroyed before falling into the hands of the advancing German army. The only force able to intercede between the Germans and the CP is a unit of the Russian Militia, with very light weapon support (a single heavy MG, and a single light MG). The Russians begin in place, while the Germans advance and attempt take the Russian Outpost CP before the key documents and comm. gear is destroyed.

Scenario 3 Map

Game Details: As the Russian player, I set up first (with the exception of a large quantity of wire counters, which I set up after the Germans). Captain Egorov was required to set up in the CP (obviously, he's the one doing the burning of papers and such), but otherwise I was free to position my teams on most of the map - all but the last three hexes, where the Germans enter. The CP is the small building near the road on the far end of the map, the Germans enter on the opposite side (lengthwise). Since I was the defender, and my primary objective was simply to keep the HQ from falling to the Germans - it was worth a total of 16 VPs all by itself, for a total swing of 32 points if it was lost (I'd lose 16, Eric would gain 16) - I felt no need to be overly aggressive for the most part. The Captain and a weapons team manning the Heavy MG went into the HQ building, two militia squads with a Corporal went into the other major building, and a large force of infantry, including the Light MG, went into the woods along the road. Eric Deployed the bulk of his forces on the far side of the clearing, with some weapon squads coming in amongst the buildings on the other side of the map. At this point, I deployed my wire - since my main goal was simply to slow his team down (and, if possible, channel his units into lines of fire from the rest of my units), I used it mostly on the edge of the forest in the hope of both slowing him down, and making him easier to hit with my stationary fire teams (in CC:E, wire has two effects - a unit entering it must stop moving, and they have a -1 penalty to all of their stats while in the wire).

Eric's Germans went first, and he moved his squads up, taking a couple of pot-shots at my units in the farmhouse on the left flank, and moving the mass of his force through the clearing, and up onto (but not yet into) the wire, while I churned cards a couple of times looking for a better set of cards. One important card I ended up pulling ended up being quite important - an Ambush, going well with an Advance already in my hand. Eric then moved into the wire - one group in particular looked threatening, as he had a full squad PLUS a weapons team and his Heavy MG. The Militia squad guarding that section of the wire advanced, used an Ambush to weaken the Germans further, and the resulting Melee ended in a tie - eliminating my militia along with both his squad, his weapons team, and probably most importantly his Heavy MG. That seemed like a pretty good trade to me, as the Russians have numerical superiority in this scenario, while the Germans units and weapons are quite a bit superior. As it turned out, neither of us were able to use our Heavy MGs much, as mine ended up breaking shortly thereafter as a result of doubles rolled while using Sustained Fire, and eventually being eliminated (the weapons team obviously was unable to repair the damage).

At this point, the Germans managed to use the Demolitions card they started with (a special rule for this scenario, to make up for the large quantity of wire the Russians start with) to remove one of the wire tokens on the right flank, and started pouring his units through - this resulted in a fairly prolonged firefight in the woods and along the road, with the Germans coming out on the better end of it. The one major thing Eric was unable to do was eliminate Sgt. Maisky who had been in charge of guarding that part of the wire - he was able to retreat back behind a low wall and take command of a fresh militia squad that provided some protective fire on the left flank of the HQ building. I managed to consolidate my forces, mainly be retreating a militia unit into the HQ (the stacking limit of 7 allows one leader, one squad, and one team to occupy a single hex, and buildings provide strong cover which make them difficult to attack at range).

Eric was using his MGs and a seemingly endless collection of Rout cards to drive several of my weakened squads off the map - at one point, I was down below 10 VPs, after having started with 20, due to losses suffered either directly or as a result of my Routed units running off my end of the map. Eric continued his advance through the forest on the right flank, protected by a good amount of brush between my units and his (and by forest, in some cases). He also had a Walking Wounded event bring back one of his previously eliminated units (broken), appearing right behind my HQ - but luckily for me he ended up not having the Moves (to move it off the board for VPs) nor the Recovers to make it more of a threat, before I was able to eliminate it with the squad Sgt. Maisky had taken charge of.

At this point, things were looking a bit grim for the Russian defenders (or, at least, it felt that way), as the Germans were able to move a sizable force (2 squads, plus a light MG) forward to threaten the HQ building. I expected him to advance into the HQ and start a melee, so I discarded and managed to get a second Ambush card. Sure enough Eric advanced both squads into the HQ, and he ALSO had 2 ambush cards - I broke my team and my squad (after verifying that Command still applied in melee - the cost of breaking my squad was a reduction in FP of 3, while breaking Cpt. Egorov cost 4 FP, 2 each for the team and the squad), and ended up with a significant numerical advantage over Eric's broken forces (IIRC, it was on the order of 10 FP to 4 FP), and I managed to roll fairly well, eliminating two German squads (and a LMG), and maintaining control of the key objective. The Germans still had enough forces to be a threat, but managed to maneuver behind the copse of trees right outside of the HQ building. I was able to use recover to un-break the squad and team guarding the HQ, and was able to fire (with a decent attack value) on his units hiding in the field on the edge of the map. At this point, luck took a strange turn - Eric's defense roll was both the last card of his deck, AND a Time! trigger, resulting in TWO time triggers at once. This brought the VP total back from the brink (by 2), and also put us one Time! trigger away from Sudden Death (with me controlling the initiative).

On his next turn, Eric moved his units closer, and I took the chance to take some opportunity fire, my attack roll resulting in yet another Time! trigger . . . at first, I grabbed the top card, which was higher than the Sudden Death (SD) value, but we checked the Time Advance sequence, and I was supposed to reshuffle my deck first . . . on a recheck, my roll was significantly below the SD value, ending the game. Since I held the initiative, Eric had no option to force a re-roll.

For those keeping track at home, that was THREE Time! triggers right in a row . . . with a Sudden Death roll to end the game capping it all off.

On the whole, after having eliminated the units assaulting the Russian HQ, I felt like I had things well in hand (for the first time since the Germans had swarmed over the wire, to be honest), so I'm not sure the result would have been terribly different if the game had gone on longer. Additionally, the HQ building was, in fact, worth another 2 VP (due to a hidden objective drawn as an event), making it worth a total of 18 VP, for a total swing of 36 points if it changed hands. As it was, the game ended abruptly (and in my imagination, the surviving Russian militia, along with Captain Egorov, retreated to the relative safety of the Brest-Litovsk fortress, with many vodkas drunk to their brave comrades who had made the ultimate sacrifice holding off the advancing Germans).

This was my fourth game of Combat Commander: Europe, and my first victory (which was pretty exciting from my perspective). I'm still enjoying CC:E quite a bit, but I'm likely to be aiming for something a bit different for my next choice - I have a while to think of what I want to try, though, as it's Eric's turn to pick this week, when I will likely be taking the Russian perspective once again, facing off against the U.S. in Twilight Struggle.

Monday, February 5, 2007

1889 - Railroads in Japan

I’m going to briefly cover the specific game of 1889 Eric and I played last Thursday, but I plan to spend most of my post today talking about how 1889 compares to other 18xx games I have played, and give you my thoughts on how it worked as a 2-player game.

First, duration – we started just about 8pm (possibly a bit after, but not too much), and pretty much dived right in after discussion what rules differences there were, and covering the private companies and their special abilities. We finished up right at 11, for a total duration of 3 hours - I suspect this will be a bit shorter, but not much, for future plays.

In the initial auction, I ended up picking up the company that provided a free mountain track builds (once owned by a public company), and another private who either didn’t have a special ability, or it was a special ability I don’t recall and/or didn’t use! I then opened up the Uwajima Railway, and Eric was able to open up the Iyo (mainly because he had the private that could be turned into a share – otherwise he would not have had enough money to start a public company). Initially, I was producing better dividends than Eric, but that brief advantage didn’t last long, as his company was near Kotohira – which ends up being the biggest city on the map, and doesn’t take long to ramp up – as well as a couple of the strong off-map areas. From this point on, I was behind the eight-ball the rest of the game – the one chance I might have had is if I had been able to get to having enough cash to buy a Diesel fast enough to actually hurt Eric’s railroads . . . but that was not to be, as I had to do a lot of shuffling to get trains that would survive the arrival of the Diesel (which made 4-trains obsolete) in my other railroads. As it turned out, Eric ended up picking up the Diesel just before I could – I believe it was in the same operating round, but he operated before the company that had the cash in it did – and all in all, I suspect it worked out to Eric’s advantage.

The final result was: Eric 12,377, Tim 11,259. Despite having two of the three top valued shares as my companies, this advantage was muted by Eric having 4 shares in each of them, and my NOT having participated in much of the run-up of his highest valued company (the Iyo) due to having dumped it earlier in the game in order to start up another railway, and never having had the free-cash and/or certificate slots to pick it up – in retrospect, I should have forgone some other shares in order to buy into it, as the appreciation on the high-end of the stock market is significantly stronger than the lower valued areas.

1889 is a descendent of 1830. Apparently, the original rules were just a list of differences from the 1830 rules – they’ve been re-written to be complete and stand-alone, but that gives you an idea of the development of the game. Major differences are the size of the map (much smaller than 1830), the duration of the game (much shorter – we finished our two player game in right at 3 hours), and some details of the privates, although in effect they are fairly similar to those in 1830. As in 1830, one city on the map needs to be the focus of development (Kotohira), as it develops into by far the most valuable city.

The other element of the game is how tight initial cash is – it’s been awhile since I’ve played 1830, but I think this is pretty similar, if not slightly more tight. In a two player game, it requires serious management of resources in the initial auction to insure having enough funds to start up a public company. In general, I like this element, although it certainly does make this a game that will take a play or two to get a good feel for.

The map is also interesting – there are two separate areas that are relatively easy to develop in, separated by mountainous terrain (which is expensive to build in). As already mentioned, I believe the rail and companies around Kotohira need to be hotly contested (in our game, they weren’t – Eric ended up with all of the companies in that area under his majority control), but I don’t feel TOO bad about it, because that wasn’t obvious from the initial set up. It might have been had I looked at the tiles more closely, but so it goes!

This game definitely was a good two-player 18xx – I suspect it would work well (although be tight) for three or four, but I don’t think I would want to go higher than that in player count, as I suspect that the money constraints and the smaller map wouldn’t handle a larger player count very well.

All-in-all, I enjoyed it, and am definitely open to trying it again – I suspect our next game will be different, as we both now have a better feel for both the geography and the private companies (and their abilities), and which public companies have the strongest prospects. I'm very excited by the 18xx games that Deep Thought has produced - the production quality is quite high, and the games they have published have been consistently interesting (including this one, IMHO).

Our next game (this Thursday) will be another game of Combat Commander: Europe - we've not yet picked a scenario, but I'm thinking of either a rematch of scenario 4 (with the sides swapped), or giving Scenario 2 a try (bocage country just after D-day). Not sure what Eric's thoughts are as to Scenario, but one thing I do know is that we'll both be posting our thoughts after that game next Monday - see you then!

Building Railways in Shikoku

This week's gaming session saw us pulling out 1889, a newer entry in the 18xx series set on the Shikoku island of Japan. This has been listed as a shorter 18xx game, and some have commented that it's very good for two players.

(For a full review of the game, head to the bottom half of this article. No pictures this week, sorry. Forgot to bring the camera downstairs. If you need an introduction to the 18xx game family, I recommend Stuart Dagger's description. It's outdated, but still relevant.)

The rules to 1889 are nearly exactly the rules to 1830. There are very few, if any differences. That made it easy for Tim and I to dig right in. (When I refer to stocks opening below, I'll also mention their starting hex as you can deduce from the map.)

The first thing I pointed out, and Tim had surmised the same, was that opening money is very tight with 2 players. There is a total of 840¥ available at the start, and the initial private companies have a minimum cost of 200¥. That leaves a max of 640¥ left for us to each try to start a company. Minimum starting share price is 65¥, and 10 shares have to be bought for two companies to float. At first blush it looks like you'll come up short, but fortunately one of the privates can be exchanged for a share of the Iyo Railroad.

The initial stock round left me as President of the Iyo (E2) and owning the cheapest two privates and Tim with the other two privates and Uwajima (B7) as his initial company. I had IPO'd at 75¥ and Tim at 65¥ (as I had to buy one fewer shares) so the Iyo went first in the initial stock round.

I started building across the top of the map to the right while Tim was building out the bottom left. After a couple SR/OR cycles, with each of us owning 6 of our own company and 4 of the other, Tim decided to sell out of the Iyo and open the Tosaden (F9). This company has a lot of synergy with the Uwajima. It was starting to shape up like a “you have your half, I have mine” game, and for the most part this was true.

Tim's decision to sell out of the Iyo and open the Tosaden had a couple repercussions that really dictated the course of the game. First, the Iyo (which by this point had four trains, three 2s and a 3) was putting a fair amount of money into its treasury through the dividends it was collecting via the shares in the open market. A long-term side effect of this was that I was able to avoid withholding dividends except for one situation late in the game. I was always able to get money transferred around where I needed it. The other effect Tim's decision had was to ensure he'd end up running four companies to my three.

So, things slowly progressed with Tim focusing on the left and bottom sides of the map while I focused on the top and right sides. I opened the Kotoden (K4) as my 2nd company, and Tim opened the Awa (K8) as his third – this was the first time he ventured onto the right side of the board. I was noticing around this time that I was consistently going into stock rounds with more cash than Tim. We weren't logging the state at the end of every turn, but it seemed like most times I either had equal or more shares, and nearly always more cash. Now, stock prices can make up for this, but I was pretty sure I was leading after the first third of the game or so.

The last two companies to open were the Kuroshio (C10) and the Sanuki (I2). The Kuroshio only gets its initial token – no more. This makes it a very difficult company to build out to any size – you nearly have to have help from another railroad you own. This meant there was no way I was going to open it. Tim, on the other hand, owned two other railroads operating in that corner. I'd leave it to him. I eventually opened the Sanuki. This was about the time the 4s and 5s were out, and there was a bit of a train rush triggered by the appearance of these two new companies. Nothing unmanageable, though.

I had ended up in a situation where the Kotoden was generating cash, and the Iyo was appreciating a lot. My goal with the Sanuki was to have it run a single train for a decent amount (Kotohira, the city in I4, is the city that provides the highest income on the board.) I started the Sanuki just as the 5s were coming out, allowing Kotohira to be upgraded to a brown tile – this is the only real way to hook the Sanuki into that city as the earlier Kotohira tiles don't have enough access.

By this time, we were down to only two tokens remaining to be placed – the Awa and the Sanuki. We made a deal to not token each other out of passing through Kotohira. I suspect after a few more plays of 1889, this deal might not be made :)

There are 15 cities on the 1889 map. By the time brown tiles are out, there's space for around 30-33 tokens. However, the 7 companies only have 15 tokens total between them. This leaves a lot of open cities. As it turned out, not a single meaningful city was fully tokened out. This allowed for a lot of open train running.

The toughest decision making came after the first 6 train appeared. This rusted the 3s and made the Diesels available for purchase. Those Diesels are great, but they're pricey. (1100¥, but you can trade in a train for a 300¥ discount. The first Diesel purchase also rusts the 4s.) Both Tim and I were doing some serious train shuffling in order to ensure we didn't end up with a company with no train, little cash, and having to buy a Diesel. This was exacerbated by his withholding earnings on the Awa at one point. This forced my hand as he now had enough cash on hand to buy a Diesel and put me into a world of hurt.

I managed, thankfully, to shuffle all my company cash into the Kotoden by buying its two trains. This left it with about 900¥ or so, and no train going into a stock round. The Iyo had a 4 and a 6, and the Sanuki had a 5. I managed to get the running order such that the Iyo was first (as it had been most of the game) and the Kotoden second. This allowed me to run the Iyo with both trains, have the Kotoden buy the 4 off the Iyo and trade it in for a Diesel. By this point, however, Tim had also maneuvered his trains such that the only one left without a train was the Awa, and it had enough cash to buy a train outright. So, we both dodged a big bullet, but it took a lot of planning to pull it off. It also happened that each company had exactly one train.

One more set of ORs with the Diesels running twice put us to the brink of breaking the bank. A quick stock round to position ourselves and it was into the final set of ORs done on paper.

The companies ended up in the following situation (President, Final Share Price, Final Dividend)

Iyo, Eric, 315, 32
Tosaden, Tim, 255, 28
Uwajima, Tim, 255, 33
Kotoden, Eric, 225, 63 (can you tell this was a Diesel?)
Awa, Tim, 140, 63
Kuroshio, Tim, 125, 28
Sanuki, Eric, 125, 28

Final scores ended up Eric 12,377 and Tim 11,259. I believe this was the first time I'd beaten Tim in a 2-player 18xx game. We finished up in right about 3 hours. This probably would go faster next time, as we were both pretty unfamiliar with the map and the implications derived from it. I'll call it a 2.5 hour 2-player game.


1889 is a recent (2005) 18xx game published by Deep Thought Games. It was previously available as a DIY kit from Wild Heaven in Japan. It was designed by Yasutaka Ikeda.

This is a smaller 18xx game set on the Shikoku island of Japan (the smallest of the four main islands). It's estimated at 3-4 hours, and supports 2-6 players. The rules are nearly identical to 1830. Very few (if any) chromy bits or oddities to differentiate itself from other 18xx games.

The map is dominated by a large mountain range in the center. This can make building expensive, but a private company is available that allows free builds on mountain spaces to the company that owns it. After a couple playings of this (one solo mocking four players, and one two-player game) a small number of items pop out for this title in particular:
  1. There is heavy competition for tiles. By design, the tile selection is very tight. You will occasionally run out of gentle bends or yellow city tiles. There are extra tiles included for a “beginner game” that lessens this somewhat, should you be feeling friendly that day.
  2. The token density is very light. You have to work to token out sections of the board. There are around 30 possible token locations by end of game, but only 15 tokens to place and 15 cities on the board. This makes free running for Diesels a probability.
  3. The share limits are high. It likely won't be until very late in the game when you actually have to make decisions about swapping ownership in one company for another. (There are 7 companies in the game – 63 total certificates.) The total ownership limit per number of players is 2-50, 3-57, 4-56, 5-60, 6-66.
  4. The game seems very balanced. I don't see any massively under or over priced privates, but you do have to watch the number of tokens each company gets when making your decision which company to open. My opinion on this might change after repeated play, but nothing seemed glaring.
  5. This would be a difficult game for 5-6 players. Somebody is likely going to end up running the Kuroshio (which only has a single token in a fixed location) without running another company. They are likely to lose. Opening the Kuroshio without also controlling either the Uwajima or the Tosaden is a dubious strategy.
Overall, this game is worthy of a place in any 18xx player's collection. It plays very well for two, and should scale well to four players. I would hesitate to recommend it for more than four players. Many tough decisions are provided in a game lasting under 4 hours without being overly brutal. It should also prove to be a good introductory 18xx game as there aren't any odd rules that don't apply to other games. I also expect it will have good replayability as there aren't many scripted build situations as in other smaller games such as 18FL.

As usual, the Deep Thought Games production quality is top notch. All the visual cues we've come to expect from John Tamplin's work are here. His games take a while to reach you as they're built by hand to order, but they're always worth the wait.


I believe next week's game will be Combat Commander again, but Tim hadn't picked a scenario last I'd heard. I'm still debating about my next selection, but I'm expecting it will be one of Richard Borg's Command and Colors games.