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.

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