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.

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