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!