Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hurry up and wait . . .

Well, real life has reared it's ugly head, and hence there won't be a session this week.

However, I've settled on C&C: Ancients for next week - I'm leaving the scenario selection to Eric, with the provisio that I want to play one with Oliphants. Having recently played War of the Ring, that spelling seems apropos.

So - until next week, happy gaming!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Clash for a Continent

Last Wednesday, I was happy to get out of the house, as my wife was holding a meeting with the women's club she is a part of - unfortunately, Eric was having a difficult day as well (with a sick child), but we did manage to get in two different scenarios of Worthington Games Clash for a Continent. This is a game set in the American Revolutionary War, and we played two scenarios, Camden and Saratoga. In both scenarios, Eric took the Colonial forces while I played the British red-coats (red-blocks in this game).

This game is similar in spirit and weight to the Command & Colors line (Battle Cry, Memoir '44, C&C: Ancients and BattleLore), although rather than using cards to determine what a commander can do, each player rolls a single die and adds it to a scenario-defined value, and gets that many action points. Most things (moving, fire combat) cost a single action point, but close combat (which is quite deadly, and can be used to force units out of strong positions) requires two. Victory is similar to the C&C games, in that a player who gains a certain number of VP wins the game, although in both scenarios we had there was also the added element of a time component - if the British weren't able to win before a certain number of turns, they lost. After a quick review of the basics, we dived right in, starting with Camden.

The first scenario, Camden, has a force of British Regulars attacking a larger but less well trained force of Colonial Militia. The terrain for this battle was largely a flat plain - there was some impassable swamp land on either side of the map, but other wise there were no real terrain effects on this battle. Both sides start with two artillery pieces, and in this playing both Eric and I focused on an artillery duel, which didn't last long as relatively quickly I managed to silence both of the Colonial batteries with well placed shots from the British cannon. After this, other than a reckless charge by the British Dragoons (which came to an unfortunate end), both sides settled down into formation and fired volley after volley at the enemy lines - and, as one might expect, the better trained British forces came out victorious, although it was certainly not a crushing defeat. IIRC, the final result was 6 units to 4 (or possibly 5), so it was a tight match, even with the Colonial artillery out ofcommission early.

The entire playing of the Camden scenario took about 15 minutes - after which both Eric and I looked across the table at each other with the same questions. "Is that it?". The Camden scenario didn't seem to give a lot of opportunity for clevermaneuver - and largely seemed to come down to who rolled the better dice (both on getting actions, and on combat rolls). Figuring that it couldn't be that simple, and wanting to get in at least another 45 minutes or so of gaming, we opted to try another scenario with more terrain, in the hopes that this made for a more interesting game. Scanning the scenario book, Eric suggested we try Saratoga, which has a lot of woods and some hills between the forces initial positions, as well as each side having VP units which count as a unit defeated if the opposing side is able to get a unit into the same space.

Thankfully, the more complex geography did have the result of making the Saratoga scenario significantly more interesting. Units situated in the woods are very difficult to attack (woods make it more difficult to score a hit - if a unit normally hits on a 5 or 6, against a unit in the woods it would need a 6). We also added the rule making artillery fire into woods even worse (a +2 modifier), which made clearing the woods very difficult. Also, each side had a pair of VP units in the lower left corner - so both sides were going for disjoint victory objectives.

I made the mistake of advancing my forces on the side of the map opposite the VP counters - my thought was to occupy some high ground between myself and the Colonial units, and make it more difficult for them to infiltrate my lines and score the VP units. In retrospect, I should have left the defensive units there alone (or perhaps moved them into the woods, but not worried about the hill), and focused on moving my units on the other side of the map forward en-masse. My failure to do this, and a prolonged duel between one of my artillery units and two of the Colonial militia (I got both down to one hit left, but had a hell of a time landing the killing blow), led to a Colonial victory outright, through defeating my Redcoats.

The second scenario, Saratoga, definitely made the game more interesting - Camden seemed to lack many difficult decisions, while the Saratoga scenario presented them frequently. On the whole, though, I was a bit disappointed with Clash for a Continent - the terrain effects made the game more interesting, certainly, but I'm not sure that it was enough to bring this into the list of games I'd be clamoring to play. While I won't refuse a game, I doubt that I'll be using any of my choices to play this one again.

I've not yet made my choice for this week - I'll post a short note later today or tomorrow once I've done so, but until next week, happy gaming!

"So you say you want a revolution..."

I'll say it up front: This week's gaming session was rather strange.

It was also very short. Partly because my daughter was ill, and partly because the game we played was MUCH shorter than expected.

Recently, after listening to the Point 2 Point podcast featuring and interview with the braintrust behind Worthington Games, I decided to pick up Clash for a Continent. It's a hex-n-counter wargame, but it's on the far simpler end of the spectrum.

The game covers 5 battles of the French and Indian War and 10 battles of the American War for Independence. It is played on a 13x9 hex grid (coincidentally the same size as the Command and Colors series) and the counters are actually stickers placed on thin 1” wood squares. I'd say the blocks are probably 1/3 the thickness of your typical Columbia block game.

As the game is played with the pieces flat on the board, there's no actual fog of war involved, so it's not a block game in that sense. Combat is reminiscent of the Command and Colors system as well, though it uses normal dice instead of the custom ones in Richard Borg's series. The game is screaming to be done up in miniatures, and there are a few pictures in the game's entry on the geek showing someone doing just that.

Scenarios typically last between 20 and 30 turns. You're usually fighting to score a certain number of VPs through killing units (one VP each) or capturing VP “units” on the board. One side is then trying to deny victory to the other.

A turn consists of both sides in turn rolling for action points then spending those points. You roll a d3 (½ a normal die rounded up) and add that to a fixed number that is scenario dependent. Usually that fixed number is 2 or 3. Moving or firing units costs 1 AP, and close combat costs 2. There are a couple other things you can do, but those are the primary ones. Movement and firing actions can be done in any order. Only dragoons and Indians can move and fire in the same turn.

Combat is simply rolling three dice looking for a particular target number. In close combat, that's usually a 4 or higher, and ranged combat depends on the attacking unit type and the range to the target. The target number is then modified by terrain. More often than not, you're going to need 6s to hit. Units can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hits (depending on unit type) before being eliminated. Hits are indicated by either rotating or flipping the block so that the appropriate number of remaining hits is facing you. There's a handful of other things, but that's basically it.

I picked the Camden scenario to start as there wasn't any terrain in the center of the battlefield to get us confused – I wanted something simple so we could learn the core of the system without getting lost.

I took the Americans, and Tim had the British. We started out with a little artillery barrage and counter-battery fire, resulting in me losing both my artillery units early on. He pushed forward on his right into my militia and took out one or two. I advanced on my right, and was strongly repulsed. After about 8 turns, I had lost 6 units to Tim's 3, and the game was over.

It took all of about 20 minutes from the time we set up the board, went through the rules, and finished the game. We both sat there going “is this it? Did we miss something?”

After glancing through the rulebook to see if we did, in fact miss something (which I don't think we did) we decided to pick something with a slightly more interesting terrain situation. We picked Saratoga, and kept the same sides.

This one went much better. The Americans are trying to take a hill in the far right corner of the map while defending a hill in the near left corner. You have to decide if you're going to attack in force, or defend what you have. Both sides have a sizable force in the middle, both parked in the woods, if I remember it correctly. Just out of range of the others.

Both of us took the offensive at first, trying to pick out a weak point and focus on it. Early on, Tim took out Benedict Arnold, giving him 2 VP. However, I was managing to force back his attack with him taking some losses. He finally advanced his center to reinforce his left flank, and I attacked a gap he left between his left and center. This tipped the balance my way as I was able to concentrate fire on one unit at a time finally wearing him down. I won that battle with a 6-4 score. Neither of us managed to take the other hill, but I won through attrition. This battle took us around 40-45 minutes. We had to call it a night at that point, as I had to help my wife out with the kids.


This is a very light wargame. People have compared it to the Command and Colors system due to the board size and the way combat is run and losses are taken. Those are really the only similarities, however. As you aren't dependent on cards telling you where you must focus your actions, you are more likely to be able to do the important stuff when it's important. You just don't know how much of it you'll be able to do. I would say, though, that the game is probably closest to Battle Cry in complexity and feel. I have not looked at any other Worthington games to know how Clash for a Continent compares to their other offerings.

One thing that didn't help was that the rulebook is very wordy. In the hands of a good editor, the eight page rulebook could probably be brought down to five or six. Explanations of the terrain and unit types takes up the first three pages, the actual rules are the next four pages, and the last page is advanced/optional rules and a brief campaign system. The latter is merely a list of scenarios to play that are linked together according to the historical campaigns in which they belong with VPs totaled at the end. There's no reference card, so I ended up creating my own which distilled the rules onto a two-sided sheet. Of course, the game is simple enough that we didn't really need the reference after a few turns. (There are a number of reference sheets available on the 'Geek - I just hadn't looked.)

I was a bit underwhelmed by the game. I'm not going to call it a “bad” game, but it just seemed to be lacking something and I can't put my finger on it. There are a number of optional rules that we'll likely throw in if this game hits the table again. It is possible that there are scenarios included that are far more interesting than Camden. And, for that matter, it's possible that Camden is more interesting than we found when we had no experience with the game.


Tim's the game chooser this week, and I have no clue what he's thinking. I have a couple ideas for the week after, and they may stray from the directions we've gone to this point.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dietel, Hero of the Reich

First, apologies for being late with my post - real-life intervened, in this case work and non-work events conspiring to make me later than I had hoped (I should have it posted on the right DAY at least)!

Eric and I played Combat Commander: Europe last Thursday - it had been a month or two since our last outing, and initially the rustiness showed. However, the rules were easy to consult, and each time seemed to have anticipated just the question we were asking. Which is definitely a strong endorsement of the rules writing (and, I suspect, editing) in Combat Commander! As usual, I enjoyed our playing - I think Eric did too. It was a close fought battle throughout, and while there is definitely skill involved, there is certainly a random element that is not insignificant. The random factor doesn't bother me - especially on nights I'm on the good side of things, as I was this time - in this game, although it might were it longer.

While I picked the game, Eric had been wanting to try Scenario 7, Bessarabian Nights. This is an interesting scenario that puts very different problems before each of the sides. The Russians, in this game Eric, start out spread all over the map - each unit starts play in a random hex. After the Russian deployment, the Germans can set up anywhere on the map they like - but all their units must be in a continuous chain of units. So the Germans start out concentrated, and the Russians start out scattered. To balance this, the Russians (in this scenario, really partisans) can move much easier - no matter the terrain, it costs a Russian unit 1 movement per hex. However, the Russians can only do a single action each turn, which limits their options quite a bit.

Additionally, the objectives up the ante - neither player can gain points by leaving the map, and elimination points are doubled, and there is an open objective that if either side controls all 5 objectives when sudden death occurs, the win immediately. Each side also has a secret objective - in this game, objective 5, right in the center on the railway, was worth an extra 2 points (I don't recall Erics, but I suspect it was the cross-roads on the far "east" side of the map. The feel of the scenario is definitely a German squad stumbling into a partisan encampment, with both sides scrambling to make the most of the occurrence.

After Eric's scattering, I chose to set up my German Volksgrenadiers in the large clearing to the center north of the map, with my units spread in a line along the path, near but not in sight of any of Eric's units. This turned out to be a good move on my part, as I had a hard time coming up with Fire orders in the early part of the game. On the downside, the Russians start with a "hidden unit" card, and on my first discard Eric revealed a weapons team with a Heavy Machine Gun (HMG), with a line of sight on a few of my units in their initial position. The early portion of the game consisted largely of my units taking largely ineffective shots at the Russian HMG, and the Russian HMG taking shots at German units, also to little effect (due largely to my having relatively easy access to Recover cards).

The major turning point in the game came in one of my rolls (I don't recall if it was an attack or defense roll) caused an event - a Hero! Dietel, Hero of the Reich came into play, and over the course of the game he had a huge effect on how things turned out. Dietel joined with one of the Volksgrenadier to start a melee with a Russian Militia unit that had managed to infiltrate close to the German units - I gambled on this attack, as I went into the melee without an Ambush, but I figured if Eric had one or two I could soak them up with Dietel with little ill effect (losing a hero does not give any VPs to the opponent). Luckily, Eric did not have any Ambush cards, and the melee was successful.

After this initial contact, the Volksgrenadier moved back into contact with the German line, while Dietel infiltrated into a clearing behind the Russian heavy weapons units (the earlier mentioned HMG, and a weapons team with a German mortar). Dietel then proceeded to charge the Russian machine gun nest single-handedly, and managed to achieve the element of surprise due to attacking from the rear (I had drawn an Ambush card, which weakened the team manning the HMG) - and again won the melee, destroying the Russian unit and the HMG. My other units then concentrated fire on the mortar crew, who were eventually finished off by another event (I believe it was a KIA event - drawn by Eric - forcing him to eliminate the only broken unit on the board . . . his own mortar crew).

Dietel then proceeded to run up and down the rail line, claiming objective points (in particular objective 5, which I knew was worth 2 extra vp at the end of the game). In the process, the rest of my units continued to take opportunistic shots at Russian units that presented themselves. We had seen several Time! events (and at least one of us made it through our deck, triggering another Time! event), but the score was still pretty close to even due to a few events that allowed the Russians to whittle down the German lead. At one point, I believe the point total was only 1 or 2 points in favor of the Germans, after having been as high as 8 points.

However, from this point on, the game went all the Germans way - Time! events continued to occur regularly, and I used the German ability to issue 3 orders a turn to good effect, shooting at units to break them, and then using Rout cards to force them to leave the entrenched positions they were occupying. Eric continued to concentrate his units, and managed to make a strong assault into the center clearing, but this assault stalled due to concentrated fire from the defending Germans. We had a couple of Sudden Deaths that failed to end the game, but on the third or so, the roll came up under the total and the game ended - with a final tally around 10 or so in favor of the Germans (including the extra points for holding objective 5).

While the final result was a bit lopsided, the game itself felt close and tense throughout - I know I was scrambling to keep the Russians at bay, and it certainly felt as though Eric had the unenviable task of choosing one from any three critical actions at a time. The rules modifications - the easier Russian movement, but limited to a single order each turn - really make the Russian position an interesting one, in that they must spend time concentrating their forces, but while doing so the Germans are given opportunities to maneuver into advantageous positions. One interesting thing we noted is that, as the Germans, I moved very little - the majority of my forces stayed in the woods where they started, the only united that moved much on the map was Dietel, Hero of the Reich. This was in stark contrast to the Russian units, who moved frequently to try and form enough concentrated firepower to drive my German units out of the woods and foxholes they'd occupied.

I am looking forward to trying this scenario again, but with the sides flipped - I think the Russians challenges pose an interesting puzzle for the Russian commander, and choosing a single order a turn certainly seemed to provide for some painful (but enjoyable, I hope) decision points!

Next time, for Eric's choice, I believe we are playing Worthington Games Clash for a Continent, which I'm looking forward to!

Until then, happy gaming!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dietel, Bane of Mother Russia

Game: Combat Commander, Scenario #7, Bessarabian Nights
Germans: Tim
Russians: Eric

Tim hadn't fully decided on something to play last week, and mentioned a couple choices. I said “if I can influence you, I'd like to play the Russians in the Bessarabia scenario of Combat Commander.”

So, that was the choice. This scenario is very different than anything else in the game in that the Russians have 12 units of partisans (plus two leaders) that are randomly placed on the board. You draw a card for each unit and place that unit in or adjacent to the hex listed on the card. Then, you've got 4 satchel charges and 4 light machine guns to portion out. You also start the game with the hidden units action card – I used that to place a weapons team with an HMG. You get one big benefit – the partisans are very familiar with the surrounding terrain, so they pay no terrain penalties in moving. You also get one big drawback – you can only play one order per turn.

The Germans in this scenario have to place in adjacent hexes somewhere on the board – and they get to do it after the Russians deploy, so they can try to avoid the worst of things.

The game starts at Time 0, and Sudden Death is Time 5. Starting objectives are that elimination points are doubled (every unit killed counts doubled) and if you control all five objectives when a SD roll is made, you win. There's also a secret objective for each side. Also, there are no victory points for moving units off the board – you have to fight it out.

I was able to deploy on three of the five objectives. (#s 3, 4, and 5 – all along the railroad.) Tim ended up deploying his group in the woods on top of objective one. As the game progressed, he never really moved very far – I took the game to him.

One of the techniques in defeating units in Combat Commander is to break them with a fire group, then either fire on them again or rout them away. That requires two orders – when you can only play one order on a turn, it takes a different mode of thought.

In return, however, Tim didn't have a concrete thing to fight against – I was spread out all over the map, so he really did have to defend from all angles.

After some fire was exchanged, the incessant harassment from the partisans produced something the Russian partisans really didn't want to see: Dietel, Hero of the Reich. Over the course of the game, Dietel did the following (at a minimum): Took out the weapons team with the HMG, eliminated a militia squad, and claimed three objectives. The thing with heroes in Combat Commander is you can't control when they appear, and they don't hurt you if they're killed. This leads to some pretty daring feats – exactly as you'd expect to see from a hero.

While Dietel was running around causing havoc, an intense battle was raging around objective 1. I was slowly getting my units into place from elsewhere on the map, and pulling them into the fray. I briefly got the VP counter onto my side, around 2 or so, but for nearly the entirety of the game, the VP counter was hovering between 2 and 6 on the German side. Given that eliminating a unit was worth 4 Vps in this scenario, it was anyone's game.

We had one rather hilarious moment sometime around when the Time counter had reached the sudden death marker. Tim had advanced into melee, and I beat him on the die roll. He had the initiative card, so he passed it my way to get me to reroll. I failed, and passed it back. (IIRC, I only needed a 7 or higher on two dice to succeed on this roll.) We proceeded to pass the initiative card back and forth around seven times until I finally managed to pass the roll while I held the initiative card. We joked about that one quite a bit.

After the time counter reached 7, Tim had managed to pull out to a 10 point lead, mostly through Dietel's antics. This included a “Battlefield Integrity” event where Tim got 1 VP for each objective he controlled. That was 4 points right there as I only held on to #2. The game ended when the Time counter hit 8. We revealed our hidden objectives and these gave a net of one point to Tim. (I got a point for objective 2, Tim got 2 for objective 5.) So the Germans fend off the Partisan attack with a final score of 11.

Did I learn anything here? Certainly.

First, don't attack piecemeal. I was pushing Tim before marshaling my forces, and it meant I had nothing around to exploit any openings that I may have opened up.

Second, put the satchel charges with faster units. I was using them to shore up my Green units (movement of 3), but that meant I had a harder time getting the charges where I needed them. I ended up only using one of them, and it didn't have any effect I remember.

Third, attack an opponents weakness quickly rather than waiting to build strength. This kind of goes in the face of the first lesson, but there were a couple times during the game that I could have gone after a weak point and decided to build up strength first. The fact that Tim could make three times the orders I could meant the opening was gone before I had another chance.

Net? I love this game. I specifically chose what's likely the biggest challenge of any of the 28 positions in the official scenarios, lost, and still had a blast. The story that was created by Dietel's antics was full of the stuff that feeds all the histories. Hollywood likely would have changed Dietel to American then done at least two movies about it.

We were a little rusty in that neither of us had played for a while, but every question we had was answered right there in black and white. We went three triggers past the targeted end of game, and still finished in two hours. This game is going to be hitting the table for me for a long time. It's really hard to beat the amount of decision making, fun, and challenge packed into two to three hours.


Next week's game will be Clash for a Continent. I haven't chosen the scenario yet, but it will be one of the Revolutionary War ones, not one of the French & Indian War battles.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Thunder on the Plains

(Well, a thumping, not really Thunder.)

Tim and I pulled out Command and Colors: Ancients last week. The timing on this was good – with BattleLore on the table the week before, we were both looking forward to comparing the two games.

Tim wanted a scenario that didn't involve all that many "extras." A handful of troops, limited terrain, and no elephants. We settled on Great Plains, the precursor to Zama. This scenario wasn't in the original release – it was added into the 2nd edition. GMT has thankfully posted the PDFs with this scenario on their website, as I have the 1st edition of the game.

I'm going to spare the details on the game. Tim thumped me both times. I think the final scores were 6-2 and 6-3. I could never manage to get cards to pull vulnerable units out of the way, and the dice certainly weren't my friends.

That said, I made some tactical errors with my heavy units in particular, exposing them to double attacks – this usually means you're going to lose the unit that turn. This, of course, usually happened to me.

The important bit, to me, was playing this game so soon after BattleLore. And it reinforced my feeling that C&C:A is simply the better game. Why? Glad you asked. And no, theme really doesn't have all that much to do with it.

1: Leaders. Rumors are some future expansion to BL will include leaders. I hope so – they certainly add to the technical nuances of the game. Our BL contests ended up with units all over creation. In C&C:A, partly due to the Leadership cards and the leaders they require, you end up with more coherent battle lines. It makes the game feel more like a battle, not a WWE-style free-for-all.

2: Evade. The defending side has some choices to make. Do you give up the chance to damage the attacker in order to (hopefully) protect yourself at the expense of giving ground? It's an easier decision when you're facing cavalry and their bonus attack (which is negated by evasion), but what about when it's infantry? Choices, choices...

3: Increased battle back rules. Pretty much anyone can battle back when they don't vacate the defended hex. Not only when "bold" as in BL. It makes attacking much more of a decision, particularly on the flanks where BL units are likely not supported and "bold."

4: Lore. Much of the depth and variance of BL comes from the Lore cards. I certainly agree that Lore adds a lot to the game. However, much of what it adds is in the form of mild "wackiness." Things like units teleporting across the board and such. It doesn't improve your tactical planning as much as put you into a more reactionary mode. It's not a bad thing – I just don't think it makes for a better game.

5: Scenarios. C&C:A 2nd edition has 15 official scenarios, all using the full ruleset. BL comes with 10, no more than half using all the rules. (less than that, really.) Add to this the 21 scenarios in the 1st expansion (+ 3 more if you preordered), the 5 Truceless War scenarios on GMT's website, and the 3 published so far in C3i Magazine, you're looking at 47 officially published scenarios using all the rules. At this point, BattleLore has 22 official scenarios, 5 being Epic battles. This number will grow, of course, and BL has the hundreds of unofficial fan-created scenarios online.

Part of the focus for BL is the DIY aspect – the upcoming Call to Arms epansion certainly brings this to the fore. In comparison, there is the unofficial "Scenario X" rules that allow you to construct battles using 68 different historical armies. Not unlike what DBA does for miniatures.

In the end, it's how the games feel on the table. BattleLore is a very good game, don't get me wrong, but C&C:A just feels more like a battle. It's also more challenging to play well. The Lore cards tweak things around enough in BL that it just doesn't feel "right" at times. It also provides more opportunity for your plans to fail through no fault of your own.

These last two weeks confirmed my ratings on BGG. I have C&C:A as a 9, BL as an 8. And I think they'll stay that way for a while.


No game this week. Tim's off to that invitational-only gaming thing back East. (Which is also why his post appeared so early.) Maybe someday I'll get to go. Of course, it'll probably be some year when I can't.

Tim's choice is next, and as I haven't read his post, I have no idea what it'll be. Plus, whatever he may have decided on will likely change after the Gathering, in any case.