Thursday, January 17, 2008

Captain's log: supplemental

After some more thought, I did, in fact, trade away Duel in the Dark. The more I considered our playing, the more I realized that there just wasn't a tremendous amount of game there for the time spent.

For me, here was the telling point: after playing the two missions, we preferred to do something different. If the game had been more engaging we would have played another pair of missions, but we didn't. Compare that to C&C:A from a few sessions previously. Or even Clash for a Continent, our first session. In both those cases we played a pair of games, then turned it around and went again. i.e. at the same point that we stopped DitD we continued to play the others. I think that speaks volumes.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Two Sides Two Fer

Now that the holidays and all it's myriad vacations are over, Mike and I sat down to restart regular Two Sides sessions. We're intending to do this every other Monday for the foreseeable future.

Of course, I missed the BCS title game for this, but the game ended up being almost exactly what I expected, so that wasn't much of a loss.

Mike wanted to get Duel in the Dark, the new Fantasy Flight game on British bombing raids of Germany during WWII on the table. I'd heard a few good things about it, so I was pretty curious to see how it would play out.

When I was reading through the rules, I had the hardest time getting the idea that this was about the Battle of Britain out of my head – that lead to some confusing re-reads as I kept expecting the Brits to be on the defensive during the battle, not initiating things.

We decided to play a single night's raid then switch sides. As each night is supposed to take around a half hour to an hour we figured that would be a safe choice for my first play and Mike's second.

For those that don't know the game (and I expect that's most of you) here's a quick rundown.

The board has a rather large hexgrid superimposed on top of it, and you move on that grid. (There's something like 45 different spaces – I think the hexes are about 2.5-3” across.) The map has England on one edge and Eastern Germany on the other edge. North/south is roughly the south edge of Scandinavia down to the Alps. There's about a dozen possible target cities scattered around the map, and most hexes also have airbases.

The British have a Mosquito fighter squadron and a Bomber squadron. The Germans have four fighter squadrons (one having a longer range – I don't recall the aircraft types.) A night's raid has six phases:

  1. Determine the weather. This involves drawing a card and placing clouds, fog, and/or lightning as appropriate. The wind is also set at this point.
  2. Germans place their fighter squadrons. One per hex unless a fuel asset is placed there.
  3. And,
  4. (these are done sort of simultaneously.) The British player chooses starting airfields for his fighter and bomber and a target city. He then pre-programs the entire flight of the bomber squadron from take off point to target back to a landing location back in England. This route can be no more than 14 steps in length. While he's doing this, the German player decides where they're going to place 40 different defense assets. These are things like AA gun emplacements, fuel trucks, citizen bunkers, fire trucks, radar, etc. With the exception of the Rail Gun (a mini-expansion Mike has) these are immobile once placed. After the British player says he's done with his planning, the German player places his assets.
  5. The British player now places the Mosquito and Bomber on the board.
  6. The actual play begins in the following sequence (performed until all planes land at the end of the bomber run):
  • British player moves the Mosquito up to two hexes bombing assets or tagging the target city as desired
  • German player moves his fighters, spending fuel to do so
  • British player flips over a preprogrammed card and moves the Bomber accordingly.

So, things to note – Brits must plan their route after knowing the weather, but before the ground assets are seen. Germans have to guess where the Brits are going given the weather.

Combat is highly abstract. You simply get VPs for the opponent moving into spaces where you are. The VPs are modified by a variety of factors including weather, altitude, ground defenses, etc. For example, if the Brits can cause the Germans to move a fighter into the same hex as their Mosquito, they get 1 VP for the first two fighters moving into that hex, plus 1 for it being a full moon, minus 1 if clouds are in that hex, etc.

The primary source of VPs is the city you choose as a target – they score you anywhere from 13 to 30 depending on difficulty. Ground assets frequently score points for the Germans as the bomber moves into those hexes. Some ground assets help against the Mosquito as well.

In our session, the weather and Mike's initial fighter placement left an opening at the far southern end of the map, so I headed for Munich (which was in cloud cover, costing me 5 VPs). I had to travel over one heavily defended hex along the way as well. The tactics between the Mosquito/Bomber and fighters is certainly rather interesting, added to by the fuel expenditure of the fighters. (they have 8 points to spend, and it costs 2 per hex of movement, 1 for downwind, and 3 for upwind. Then they have to land and refuel.)

After various levels of give and take, we finally made it with me scoring a net 11 points. We swapped sides and did the whole exercise again. Mike chose a far northern route which, in combination with my defense placement and the air direction (heading due west) made it a bit more difficult for me to hurt him on the way to his target. I did a little bit of damage on the way back, but had to call things off so my planes could land before running out of fuel. I think Mike ended up with about 22 points or so.

My initial impression was that it's a clever little game. It certainly gives a bit of the feel of the “flying into the unknown” nature of those bombing raids in a VERY simple form. You can play multiple raids per side if you wish, and the weather and all defenses but bunkers are changed. There are also advanced rules for changing the wind/weather, but we didn't play with those. It certainly would change the planning phase if you knew the weather could completely change on you.

There are apparently a number of mini-expansions planned. (Mike and I almost completely forgot about moving our rail gun, btw.) The game has some promise, and is certainly fun to play and looks good, but I don't think it's one I'll be getting. When I sat down to think about what I was going to write, I just got this overall impression that something was lacking. I don't know if it's the anticlimactic nature of the “combat” or the fact that the planning stages take nearly as long as the actual play. I think I had a similar reaction to it that Mike initially had to Command and Colors: Ancients. It's the gaming equivalent of Chinese food. Satisfies you in the short term, but an hour later you're left looking for more.

Speaking of looking for more, by the time we finished, it was only about 9:15, so we pulled out the new Expansion #2 for Commands and Colors: Ancients. We randomly chose what turned out to be the first scenario: Clusium. I played first as Rome, Mike had the Gauls, then we swapped sides and played again. In this one, the Romans are trying to sack the Gallic camp guarded only by cavalry while trying to hold off a larger force. I don't remember a whole lot of details on these games, but I know that neither of us successfully took the camp. The Gauls have 15 units to 12 for the Romans, and in both games the numbers were telling. Rome lost both games. First, I lost 6-5, then Mike lost 6-2 (though I had a number of units down to a single block.)

I was a little too brash in my attack (probably fueled by the fact I started with a Line Command card in my opening hand and nearly the entire Roman force is in a single line) and Mike was very effective in his counter attacks. On Mike's turn with the Romans, his initial attack was more measured, but he ended up running out of cards on his left flank where I was weakest, and I was able to push back on the other side to end up scoring the victory. Both of us had entirely ineffective cavalry in this one.

Great fun as always, though. I've never had a session of C&C:A where I was disappointed in the game. (It's those dice, I tell you...)

In two weeks, we'll be back with Tide of Iron on the table. After that, it wouldn't surprise me if we get into something much bigger, but it'll be Mike's choice then.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Duel in the Ancients

Back from the holiday break, and just soooooo ready for some gaming. As mentioned in the last post, it was my choice of game this time, and I wanted to give Duel in the Dark a longer go.

This is the recent Z-Man game on the WWII bombing of Germany. One player controls the British, choosing the target, route taken by the bombers, and controlling the Mosquito fighters. The other player controls the German forces, deciding the layout of the defenses and controlling the fighters. I’d played once, and Eric had read the rules, so after a brief recap, we dived straight in, with the bombers going to Eric.

With some cloud to north and south, I spread my defenses around, but focusing in the more populated areas to the north. Eric had plotted his bombers to come in to bomb the southern city of München, and with a north easterly wind getting my fighters down there took a lot of aviation fuel. Barely a couple of turns into the night and some of my guys are already landing to refuel. However, I’m managing to get in a few licks, as I get most of the guesses correct as to where the bombers are headed, despite the Mosquito trying to persuade me otherwise.

The same happens on the bombers’ run back home, as I pull back from the big total he’d achieved after his bombing run, and the final score ends up at 11 for the British.

We swap sides and have another go. This time I fake going for the middle, but head north, fly along the coast of Holland then cut inland to bomb Lübeck. I use the Mosquito to cause confusion on where the route home will go, bombing a flak unit to help, and Eric spreads out his fighters to cover the options. Perfect! It all means they have to spend fuel to catch up, with one not even being able to vector in. In the end he has to give up the pursuit as, with a westerly wind, he won’t have enough fuel to get back to his airbases, and dropping in the drink would give me mucho VPs. I’d managed to confuse him enough that the Brits scored over 20VPs this time.

I really like the theme, the cat and mouse play of trying to figure out where the bombers are likely to target, and then determining their flight path. Combat is very simplistic, which is perfect for the depth of game. The actual mission execution is interesting, taking about 15-20 minutes to play.

On the downside, is that the play isn't terribly engaging. The British player only has the Mosquito to do stuff with, and the German player has 4 fighters to move, and often the moves are obvious, and no real decisions need to be made. That cat and mouse thing is just too short. Another issue is the setup time for each mission, which has the British player plot his bomber route there and back, which can take a few minutes. Then the German player has to set up all his defense toys, which takes another few minutes. During each of these parts of the game the other player has little to do but watch. So, around 10 minutes of setup for 20 minutes of play, only 5 or so minutes of any real tension, not a great ratio.

OK, so it’s still just 9pm. Too early to call it a night, too late to start some combat Commander. Perfect for some C&C: Ancients, breaking the TSttC tradition of playing a single game in the evening. With the new expansions on the shelf, they were just screaming to get pulled down, so we had the Romans fighting the Gauls at the battle of Clusium, me being the Gauls first time through. This sees a Gallic camp in the middle of the board, with the Romans threatening to capture it. The Gauls get first turn, however, not enough to protect it, but enough to threaten.

Eric started with a Line command, advancing and killing 2 of the 3 cavalry units defending the camp. Only my second turn and I’m already 2-0 down in flags. Not looking good. However, things turned around, and despite losing a unit and leader, I managed to pressure his center and left flank into submission, winning a close one 6-5.

We turned it around, and started again. Once again the Romans opened with a Line command, with pretty much the same result as before. This time Eric wasn’t in a position to push me back off the camps, and they both were removed. I had 2 Mounted Charge cards, so spent a little time adjusting my line, trying to learn from the previous game not to be too impetuous.

I felt things were shaping up nicely. I was maintaining a good line, I’d just used one Mounted Charge to cause serious damage to a couple of units (but no kills), and had a good chance to hit a unit with leader with the other Mounted Charge card. And then it all went pear shaped. With 8 dice I managed a single hit, while with his returning 7 he scored 5 and a double flag (he did have a leader, which helped him), effectively wiping out my cavalry. My defensive position atop the hill crumbled despite a dice superiority, and I was forced back everywhere. I managed to get the heavies up, but even with their dice I couldn’t hit the wide side of a barn door and went down 6-2. It didn’t help that Eric took out another leader!

C&C:A is just superb, every game is fun. So, given that, why would I ever bring out DitD over it? A good question, and not one I have a ready answer to. Both have set-up time issues, but at least both are setting up at the same time in C&C:A. They both provide tension over what will your opponent do, just more so in C&C:A. In fact I can foresee that, given the choice, I’d pick C&C:A over DitD almost every time. Unless I really, really wanted to fly British bombers over Germany. Hmmm, I just might put DitD on the trade pile. Well, maybe I did have a ready answer after all.