Thursday, February 26, 2009

UKC meets DSDF

Eric's choice again, and he wanted to revisit Unhappy King Charles (BGG entry). Once more I had Parliament and he had the Royalists, but this was a totally different game to the previous one (his take, my take). Essentially, he had a great start, I came back a little in the middle, then the dice and cards conspired against me in the last few turns to make it a walkover.

The great start for the Royalists mostly revolved around three things. First he drew and played Hotham's Plot in the first turn. This takes two cards from the Parliament hand, which means two things. First, obviously, I got fewer cards to play that turn. Secondly, and more importantly, it meant that I couldn't keep a card 'in the hole', where he could, reducing my operational flexibility.

The second thing, and driving on from the last point, he drew the Major Campaign card in the first (perhaps second?) turn, and was able to put it 'in the hole' until he had a good time to use it. While I did draw the Minor Campaign card early, with no ability to save it, I had to play it that turn.

The third thing was the early die rolls went Eric's way at the critical moments. I missed a 50/50 evasion, then rolled low to his high in the resulting battle, giving him the Major Victory, so I lost my entire force, and he gained yet another card.

After the first couple of turns, the South was on the edge of tipping to the Royalists, the North was already a Royalist bastion with Lord Fairfax holding on by his fingertips. The middle part of the game saw me recover the South and make some inroads into moving north. However, in this time the Royalists totally controlled the North and most of the Midlands, even pushing into the East. Even so, I didn't think the game was totally out of reach. The Scots Covenanters were due to arrive and they would start to put pressure on from the north.

The final part of the game saw my position totally disintegrate as I missed battle roll, after evasion roll, after interception roll, drew a whole bunch of 1 Ops cards and saw Eric draw all 3 of the Alt-Hist cards that came out, including the card that removed all the Scots from the game, drawing it the turn after they arrived. In the meantime, his battles went well, Prince Maurice made all 4 50/50 evasion rolls in a row to avoid the Lord General and the far superior New Model Army, converting spaces all the way. We quit prior to going into the last turn, as it was clear there was no way I was going to pull back the position with only 4 brigades (strength 7) on the map to his 7-8 (strength ~13).

However, whilst all that was somewhat (OK, a lot) frustrating (especially Eric making the 4 evasions, while I missed my 2 50/50 rolls) I don't think I played all that well. Too often I saw better plays after I'd done something, or options too late to do anything about it. Not seeing the consequences of plays or game situations. None of that is any fault of the game, all my own work.

I still really like UKC, and want to play more. The presentation is fabby. The rules are tight (although we did manage to find 1 situation that wasn't covered). The game-play feels like a good simulation of the ECW. Lots of choices to make, bags of replayability. Yep, I definitely want to play this some more, and I have a long way to go before I can say I've learned the game and could consider myself even a mediocre player.

The same goes for the rest of the CDG-style (and I'll ignore the distinction as to exactly whether UKC is a CDG) - I enjoy playing them, I just really, really suck at them. But I want to get better, so I'll keep playing.

My choice for the next week, and after some thought I'm going to settle on Shifting Sands, another CDG, and one I've been interested in for a while. Let's get a-punchin' and a-clippin'!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A neat little toy

Through other means, I was recently introduced to a neat little website: Wordle.

I thought it would be rather cool to point it at this here humble blog and see what it thought. I rather like the result. Gives a good feel for what we talk about around here.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

The bitterest of ends

My choice again, and this time it was a bigger game, Compass Games' Bitter End (BGG entry). This has been on my peripheral radar for a little while as it's been getting some good press, and I eventually decided to pull the trigger and get a copy from Boards and Bits.

Eric's already given a good description of the main differences from 'regular' wargames, so I'll just give my take. I really like the presentation: nice big counters; big hexes; good charts and play aids; clear (if unexciting) counters; attractive map, very wintry; clear rules. Overall, a game that makes you want to play it.

The game mechanisms are all mostly familiar: supply-move-fight-exploit; hard ZoCs (i.e. stop on entry, cannot move ZoC-ZoC); hard stacking limits (i.e. cannot exceed at any time). The main difference, and one that takes some getting used to, is the combat result mechanism. Each combat produces a number, the attack level, from which the defender's terrain defense level is subtracted, to give a combat result. If the result is negative, then the attacker suffers a loss/retreat; positive, and the defender suffers a loss/retreat; equal, and there's same-hex combat. Each step loss reduces the result by 1, and any retreats are measured in MPs. Now, there are other games that use a similar system (although I can't, off-hand, remember where I've seen it before), but where BE differs (at least, in my recollection of those games that I can't remember!) is that retreating units cannot use roads, and if the retreating unit does not have enough retreat MPs to enter a hex then it loses a step and enters that hex.

And it's that last point that is the one that's difficult to handle. The easiest point to note is that it now becomes critical to ensure that your units have good retreat paths. Defending in the middle of a clump of Rough/Wooded hexes (defense level 4, 4MPs to enter) now becomes a dangerous proposition, as any combat result less than 4 means that you're going to lose a step in retreat. In some cases the retreat hex terrain is of more consideration than the defense hex terrain. In a couple of cases I found myself deliberately choosing weaker defense terrain rather than better, expecting to create a higher combat result which would allow a safe retreat. The other angle is that, as attacker, you don't want your attack to be too successful, as that might give the defender enough MPs to retreat into that nasty terrain behind it.

Now this just all seems rather counter-intuitive, and it was hard to get a handle on it. However, by the end of the game we were both getting more of a grip on how to use the mechanism. Don't defend in the middle of that clump of Rough/Wooded hexes (as you would in other games), but right at the back edge of it so you can retreat into the clear hex behind. Now, I don't have any real-world military experience, but that just doesn't strike me as right.

Anyway, back to our play of the game. We played the 6-turn scenario, the first turns of the full 26-turn campaign game, with me as the Russians. For initial deployments I pretty much just dumped units in a line, not knowing what to expect from the game. This allowed Eric's initial attacks to put a lot of my units out of supply. As OoS units can't use one-hex minimum movement, and remembering that units can't move ZoC-ZoC, a large part of my force was eliminated or stuck. Next time my deployment would be way different.

Eric pushed on five main axes: Székesfehérvár in the south; Mór-Czákberény in the center; from Tata south-east towards Tatabanya; from Tata east along the south side of the Danube; east along the north side of the Danube. For the first, he pushed a little too far and I was able to cut off his panzer spearhead, and push the supporting units back. In the second he gained some initial success, but I strongly reinforced (too strongly, really) and pushed him back, again cutting off his lead units. The Tatabanya axis almost gained as far as Biscke, one of the victory condition hexes, but, again, I was able to blunt his offensive by aggressively advancing with units from a cavalry division in his flank, cutting his supply.

This last move was aided strongly by the resolute defense of Tata by a couple of units, which sucked in a lot of potentially dangerous German SS units. (In other words, Eric rolled like crap in his attacks to remove the defenders from his back field.) These were originally heading east of Tata, but he was never able to develop this axis of attack. In fact the Tata defenders were able to retreat across the river, where they were able to contribute to the move to place the whole Tatabanya axis out of supply.

North of the Danube is where Eric had the most success. He forced me back, and then used his Sturmboot to cross the river, taking Esztergom, the other of the mandatory victory condition cities. This was the most scary of the five axes, but Eric missed the eastern approach and I was able to run an armored unit around and into Esztergom, also putting everyone out of supply. It was also here that we made our biggest (only?) rules gaffe, as motorized units are not allowed to use the Sturmboot to cross the river. Anyway, I pressed into his ZoCs, so the only units he could free up to attack Esztergom gave him a fairly weak attack, which failed. Elsewhere, his attacks to free up his supplied units also went badly, and with only one turn for him left to capture the other mandatory victory condition city of Biscke, plus two of the three others, he called it a day. With it being my turn, lots of reinforcements coming in, and a few units freed up to push him back around Biscke, it was clear that the Germans weren't going to get near to winning.

After the first evening's play I was a bit 'hmmmm' about BE. Now it's just 'hm'. The whole combat system still doesn't sit quite right, but I can work with it, However, once you figure out how to deal with it, it's not too hard in play terms. The game was certainly tense, and I was very concerned that I'd made a mistake by reinforcing the southern area too much, and neglecting the main victory condition axes. As it turned, Eric was the one who had an evening of rolling less than average dice, while I was ahead of the curve.

One thing that I would like to try at some point is the whole campaign game. It has a totally different set of victory conditions to the scenario, being based around how well the Germans do in getting close to liberating Budapest, holding towns at the end of the game, etc. With all those Russian replacements and reinforcements it's going to be a real hard game for the Germans. However, it's estimated at ~25 hours, so unlikely to be done any time soon, but I can see us having another go at the scenario.

Overall, a thumbs up to Compass Games for Bitter End.

Bitter at first, but with a nice aftertaste

Mike and I finished off our Bitter End game this week. We had both left the table the prior week with an “eh” feeling, but were curious how things would continue flowing.

The one rule I didn't go into last week was same-hex combat. When your final combat result number is a zero, the attacker has the opportunity to advance into the same hex with the defender. If he chooses to, the defender can then either retreat one hex or fight back, this time as the attacker. You keep going back and forth until only one side has forces left in the hex. The kicker on this mode of combat is that while normal retreat rules apply (i.e. each unit loses a step if they retreat into an enemy ZOC) the ZOCs of the units that moved into the combat hex do not count. Both of us managed to squeeze units through the lines with this rule, though Mike's effort had a larger effect on the game.

In the past, when a game has initially given me a “meh” first impression, continued play has not improved things much. I've come to rely on my first impressions a lot and they've steered me well.

I'm happy to admit that this time, I was wrong.

The more we played, the issues I detailed last week just seemed to hit the back burner. We were getting into the flow of the game, and weren't being surprised by things as much. There's still some oddities in this game, but in the end they mostly work. It is nice to see different approaches to things, instead of just another generic hex-n-counter game. Yet, it's mostly familiar enough that it doesn't take a completely different approach when playing.

I certainly made some first-time errors during play. I underestimated how far many of his troops could move, and on three separate occasions left holes for him to get through that cut supply. Experience with the game would certainly curtail those mistakes. We called the game after 4.5 turns when it was very obvious I wasn't going to fulfill the German victory conditions by the end of the 6th turn. Particularly since the Russians were getting a stack of reinforcements in turn 5 that would be coming in north of the Danube – the hammer onto the anvil.

Here's the final situation looking at things from the Russian Left around to the Russian Right.

The red cities are mandatory for German victory, and two of the three blue ones must be taken as well. (One of the cities is circled in two of the photos.) I'm obviously not getting there in two more turns.

Now, I'd use the short scenario included in the game to learn it. First playing, assume six hours or so. (depending on how long it takes you to think through your turns) I'm very curious how this would play in a full campaign situation. Particularly since the victory conditions are completely different. Instead of a “capture two cities and two more out of these three” style victory, it's VP based with various cites worth differing points for each side. Also, Budapest is no longer the sideshow it is in the short scenario. Just a matter of when. It's probably a full-weekend game to play the entire scenario.

The relief of Budapest is about as under-gamed as any situation on the eastern front you can find. Probably for no small matter that it happened at the same time as the Battle of the Bulge. While we were playing, I noticed the game had a definite “bulge-ish” feel to it. Germans conduct a surprise attack, it fizzles out, and they try to hold on to whatever they can. The difference, of course, is the garrison of Budapest being the target of the offensive instead of it being an attempt to split the Allied forces. The terrain is also nasty to fight through – there's loads of defensible spots, and the ZOC rules make it difficult to exploit small holes – they've got to be pretty big.

I'd recommend trying this one out – there are some odd bits in the rules that may chafe the wrong way, but I discovered they really do work out over time. Just give it more than one shot, as you'll likely be thinking “oh, I should have done that a lot differently” and the German side, in particular has not one extra unit to lose.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Beginning of the Bitter End

Mike had something different for us to try this time out. Instead of a new game, we've started Compass Games' 2005 release Bitter End. This game covers the (failed) German attempt to relieve the siege of Budapest starting on New Years Day 1945. It re-implements the 1983 release of a similar name from Hobby Japan. We knew going in this was going to be a two-session game (they estimate the scenario we're playing at 5 hours which means 7 or 8 on a first-time playing) so this post is a look into my first impressions after getting through two turns.

Bitter End is a moderately attractive game. It's on two 34x22 maps, and the terrain looks relatively good. There's a bit of difficulty in parsing some of the different types of wooded terrain, but nothing too bad. The counters are nothing spectacular (standard NATO symbols or vehicle silhouettes) but the colors work well.

In my mind, there's two things making Bitter End stand out. The way the CRT is used, and the turn sequence. Other than that, it's a relatively standard hex-n-counter game. Let's look at the second item first.

A turn (and there's 25 in the full campaign, I believe) flows like this:

  1. Weather Phase
  2. Supply Phase
  3. Movement Phase
  4. Combat Phase
    1. Roll for air support
    2. Conduct combats
  5. Exploitation Phase
    1. Optional combats if adjacent
    2. Non-fighters can move
  6. Russian player does steps 2-5
  7. End of turn.

There's a handful of things to note, here. First off, everyone is eligible for exploitation. This effectively means units can either fight twice and move once or fight once and move twice each turn. Second, if you think about the flow from turn-to-turn, one side gets two move/fight cycles after the other is done moving and before it checks supply. As we discovered, this means the Russian player must be very careful with his initial deployment or he can find a good chunk of units out of supply before he ever gets to move.

Supply, btw, is relatively simple. Trace on the road net back to your side of the board, with one section of up to 5MP of non-road movement. However, as the front lines are 5MP or more away from the road in some locations, supply can be rather tricky early on. (Which, in my experience, is the reverse of many games. Usually supply is something you don't have to worry much about early, but more later. Here, it's in your face from the start.) Now, that said supply isn't THAT crippling. Attack and movement rates are halved, and OOS units cannot use one-hex-movement to always move a single hex. No further effects. (Yes, this means OOS units in the middle of bad going are pretty much stuck there. And as defensive strength isn't compromised they won't go away quickly.)

Okay, let's get on to the meat of the matter. How combat is handled. The game uses a ratio-based CRT. Odds range from 1:3 to 9:1. Attacks below 1:3 odds are treated as two step losses for the attacker and a one-hex retreat. Not where you want to be. One (weak) criticism the game's received is it doesn't have a perceptible advantage in reaching 3:1 odds. This is old wargame lore that 3:1 is a magical place to be. What this game does have is the removal of any possible negative effects to the attacker in clear terrain at 3:1. That's good enough for me. How the CRT is used is the kicker.

First, compute your ratio, rounding in favor of the defender. Then, roll a die and include a few modifiers to the roll. (There are no column shifts in the game that I've found.) You end up with a modified die result between 1 and 6. This gives you a number between 0 and 7 as a result. You then subtract the terrain value of the defenders' hex from that number. This gives you a final result that can range from -4 to 6. Negative results indicate the attacker losing the battle. The loser must apply that number in step losses and/or MPs spent in retreat. Note, this isn't hexes in retreat, but movement points, and you can't use road movement.

And that last sentence is what makes this game strange.

There's a few other things to note that solidify the situation: If a unit gets a final result that's higher than its movement rate, it loses a step before attempting to apply the result. Also, if you must spend more MPs in retreat than you have left, you lose a step.

The net effect of this is the true result of an attack is as much determined by the terrain surrounding the losing unit as the terrain it occupies. And, it creates strange anomalies. For instance, if a unit is in and surrounded by rough ground (2 MPs, defensive value 3) , it's actually better to score a slight victory against it than a big one. As if you manage a “5” result on the CRT, that will be reduced to a “2” and allow it to retreat one hex. However, if you score a “4” on the CRT, that's reduced to a “1” and results in a step loss as the unit must spend more MPs in retreat than it has available from the combat result.

Now, there's some design for effect going on here, obviously, as defending units will mostly need to receive combat results in increments of the MP value of the terrain behind them to survive, thus dying off faster. And I can definitely see that a unit forced to retreat into nasty terrain might be completely broken up and lose any combat effectiveness. But, it seems very odd that scoring better won't help as much. And it seems VERY odd that the final result of a combat is seemingly more dependent on what's behind you than what you're in.

This is particularly noticeable as the best result on the 3:1 column of the CRT happens to be a “5”. The actual results on the 3:1 line of the CRT are (from die rolls 1-6) 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1. Loading up on “-1” modifiers such as armor vs. infantry, divisional integrity, etc. actually accentuate the problem as suddenly you're looking at a 1/2 or 2/3 shot at receiving that “5” as your result vs. the one result that will force a step-loss on a unit in rough ground: the 4. (A final result of zero leads to a “same hex” combat situation that allows some give and take, but I'll talk about that next week.) It seems very odd to me that adding on to your advantages, while decreasing any possible negative effect, does not make it any easier to actually eliminate the opposing unit.

Okay, enough for now. This post just covers my first impressions of the game after two turns. We'll be trying to finish out the scenario this week, so hopefully we'll get some better ideas of game flow over time. For now, though, it's a definite “huh.”

Friday, February 6, 2009

Along the Beaches of Butaritari

Mike's turn this week, and he wanted to get back to the sunny South Pacific. So, Combat Commander: Pacific hit the table again, this time Scenario E – an advance by US Marines along the beaches of Butaritari. This scenario's got Sighting markers and the Sengoku Hei sniper counter. Two of the new tweaks for CC:P.

Mike asked me which side I'd rather have, and as I'd been curious about using the sniper, I took the Japanese. This had the unintended side-effect of having put me in defensive posture for both our CC:P games despite having played both sides.

(In this report, I'm going to assume you know the basics of how Combat Commander works. If not there are myriads of places to get a summary – just a friendly warning.)

The (partial) map for the scenario can be found on the geek. The portion shown is the Japanese deployment zone for the scenario, and the US forces are attacking from the left. The sighting markers are placed in the 8 jungle hexes in the center of the map, and the open ground is strewn with a line of foxholes and wire. In the center of the line is a bunker with an infantry gun inside. The sniper must be deployed in a palm hex, and half the starting Japanese units must be placed in infiltration boxes.

The way the sighting/infiltration rules work is this: The Japanese player can play an Infiltration Order (which specifies box A, B, C, or some combination) and you can do one of two things: If there's nobody in the listed box, you roll on the support table, choose an appropriate unit, and put it in the box. If there's somebody already there, you instead take the units in the box and place them in a hex with a sighting marker, and remove the sighting marker from play.

Sighting markers move whenever a random hex is determined for any reason. After resolving the reason for the random hex, you then move one of the existing sighting markers onto that hex. This leads to some interesting decisions late in a scenario as you're trying to maximize the potential threats.

I got a little aggressive in my deployment. I placed a medium MG in the objective jungle hex at the bottom-right of the map with a leader. I also placed a light MG in the other objective jungle hex just above it. These are worth 4 and 2 points each according to the open objectives. I then put the sniper forward in the palm tree hex on the hill closest to the US forces. My thought was to maximize the amount of damage he could do right off and the elevated LOS would allow him to see the entire US deployment zone.

My plan, for the most part, worked. There was this matter of the sniper sucking wind, though. He got two shots off before being wiped out in a melee and failed miserably. The way the sniper works is that he's treated as ordnance. You have to successfully make a targeting roll first, and if you do, his FP of 3 is added to the product of the dice rolled, not the sum. This makes his shot a potential 39 points. And, given that doubling the defender kills him outright, you can see where this guy has the chance for serious damage. At least it's mitigated by him only being able to target a single unit, no matter how many units are in a particular hex. He managed to roll a 4 and a 5 on his two damage rolls, though. Pretty poor. (Average is 12.25)

That being what it was, everything else was going pretty well. The medium MG was slowing Mike down severely on my left, and a couple infiltrations slowed him down on my right. Some quick time triggers left us with one time triggers left before sudden death rolls kicked in and me with somewhere around 12 or 13 VPs. One thing that helped mightily was acquiring a 150mm OBA gun early on. I never killed anything with it, but it really slowed him down. Mike did get a hero in play, but he didn't do much early on.

About here things changed. Both of us were near the tops of our respective card decks, so there was likely a lot of game until the next time trigger. Right about here was when Mike disabled the light MG that was in the jungle hex near the beach. He realized there was a gap around the wire that he could get units through once the guns were down. Some fortunate Asset Denied orders (and my lack of Asset Request orders) shut down the guns, and opened up a channel for him to exit the map. His having drawn bonus exit points as his objective chit didn't hurt his cause, either. I was desperately trying to get over there and do something (or just kill what I could otherwise) but never managed to have any luck. Mike took the objective near the beach, started getting guys off the map, and got the benefit of one extra time trigger past sudden death. (I don't know that it made a difference, though, as I had little left with which to fight.)

Final score was either 19 or 20 in Mike's favor at the end. At one point just before the tide started to shift, Mike commented that it didn't matter a whole lot what he did as his position was lost. I've come to believe that that's almost never the case in Combat Commander... This game can see massive shifts in fortune. All it takes is one break (in this case the loss of MGs opening that exit gap), and some time to exploit the break, and it can all swing the other way. As it did this time.

That might have been the most enjoyable game of CC I've ever had. The story written during play is one that would fit into any history of the Pacific Theatre. (The Marines were nearly stopped trying to advance into a prepared enemy position – shots coming from everywhere, Japanese units appearing out of nowhere, snipers in the trees. It looked bad, but heroism emerged. The guns were disabled, sniper found, crews taken out, and the Marines managed to break through the position just in time.)

Oh, and Doug – Mike did have his own wonderful DSDF moment as you mentioned in the comments to last weeks' post. There was a pretty important shot Mike was taking (can't remember the details) and he rolled a four. That wasn't going to cut it, so he passed over the initiative, rerolled, and got a 2 with a time trigger. Worst possible result given the game at the time. EXACTLY the situation you predicted.

I really believe CC:P may be the best CC to date. The rules are absolutely rock solid. (Every time we had a question – which isn't much lately – the answer was right there in crystal clear language. A couple times it was even as its own single-sentence paragraph. Obviously the odd cases were thought through.) The scenario design is fantastic. While Scenario C (The Ilu River scenario we played a couple weeks ago) didn't seem particularly “pacific-ish” it was certainly well-designed.

I haven't played the cave rules yet, but that's next, I'm sure. And I've never had a chance to venture into the Random Scenario Generator yet for any of the games released to date. (A system that the game was originally designed around.) An absolute gaming treat, and it only took 2.5 hours to play.

Then again, I've yet to play Stalingrad. Could it get better? CC:Pacific sets a VERY high standard.

CC:Pacific - take 2

I totally spaced getting the rules for our next game to Eric before the weekend, so we had to change our plans and I chose to go back to Combat Commander: Pacific for a second play. This time we chose scenario 'E', which has the US (me) attacking a dug-in Japanese defender (Eric). (Well, I did start to set up 'D', but started reading 'E' when sorting out the counters, and then couldn't figure out how to place the Sogeki Hei unit in palm trees, when there were no palm trees on the map...) This scenario makes use of the new infiltration rules, and the Sogeki Hei unit, so lots of Pacific goodness.

I balanced my forces left and right, with the strong '2' leader in the middle. Eric's set-up was mostly dictated by the scenario, with most of his units set up for infiltration, but he set up the SH unit well forward, obviously hoping to create some quick damage.

I started the game in the normal manner, discarding my hand, a couple of times in a search for a Move card. I finally got going, and was immediately under some long range MG fire. I also was able to rush the SH unit, who apart from one '5-4' draw for a 23 FP attack, was unable to hurt me, and I didn't lose any units before I was able to melee and kill the SH unit. I'd also played an Asset Request, only to be denied, but Eric got a module of 150mm, which was to be real scary throughout the game.

After that Eric played an Infiltration and dumped a unit right on top of me, where the Sighting marker occupied an objective hex. In the ensuing melee I drew '4', used the initiative, then drew '2'. However, the objective hex was right next to my right flank force, and I was able to pour fire into the hex until Eric didn't have a Revive card and I removed his unit.

I started progressing up the left flank, again taking fire from the MG, and also his gun, but time was progressing, especially when I drew a '2', shuffled, then immediately drew another one. Eric played another Infiltrate card, placing units right in the midst of my left flank force, and things were starting to look bleak, with a lot of broken units and only two turns until Sudden Death.

However, things weren't all bad. I finally remembered that Asset Denied cards could be used against the opponent, and had silenced both his weapons, leaving just the radio. Pity I'd discarded a few of them right at the start of the game. I was able to form a large fire group on the left and remove the threat there, along with a timely Sniper event. I'd also Advanced into another melee with another unit that had Infiltrated, but Eric had two Ambush actions in hand, drawing one into hand immediately before the melee. The biggest thing, however, was that Eric's drawing had mostly gone stone cold dead, and mine picked up considerably. I found lots of Revive cards to recover all my units, Fired effectively, removing his force defending the one objective, and marched my Hero into it. He didn't draw any Asset Requests to use his 150mm, and pretty soon was down to a single squad and leader. With me finally realizing that the way to win was to get off the board, I drew lots of Move and Advance cards to allow me to build a decent lead, and was finally able to get the Time trigger I wanted and rolled the end of the game, to win at 20VPs.

The Infiltration works well, and I was never sure where units were going to pop up next. Having Infiltrate and Ambush cards are a very strong combination when Allied units are occupying Sighting hexes, and I was getting very wary of doing so. The melee structure, moving it to the start of the Allied turn, allows the Japanese player to pick his fights. The US player (don't know about the other Allies) certainly has lots of firepower, and needs to bring that to bear.

So far I'm really enjoying CC:P, but I wonder how much of that is due to our two games being fairly wackiness-free. Sure there's been the odd wacky moment, but nothing of the game ruining sort. (Like taking out the German's HMG in the first turn, when it's their main defensive armament in the whole scenario.) If we'd had the same low level of wackiness in the other games, would they be on the same level as CC:P? Then again, CC:P does feel tight, and the specific rules for the Pacific theater work well. (With a caveat for the Banzai Charge, but I'd need to play a few more times.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stalingrad, redux style

One of the things that Eric wants to do over the next few sessions is to go back and retry some of the games we've played over our time here. This is something I'm all for, as with a new game every week, and other gaming commitments, it's been a bit of a struggle to keep up, what with reading (sometimes almost indecipherable) rules, punching and clipping counters, etc. Fun, but a bit of work. So, when Eric suggested Storm Over Stalingrad (BGG link) I was more than happy to give it another go after our previous effort (Eric's take, my take), where we spaced a few rules.

Once again my bid was low, bidding 2 to Eric's 3, and I had the Germans, which was fine, as I was interested in trying them out again, to see if I could do any better than last time. I started with a decent hand, having 3 of the '10' value artillery cards, and with the SS troops only being around for the first three turns I wanted to use them as much as possible, so decided to start there. Once more, however, the dice refused to cooperate, as I rolled 2,3,3,4 and 6 for my first 5 attacks, averaging under 4.5 for the whole turn, while Eric responded with 7,9,9,11, and averaged around 8+ for the turn, leaving me with grabbing just the one area with the SS.

And it didn't get much better in future turns. Twice I made attacks with large groups, with strengths equal to the total defense of the area, but rolled 2 and 4. I did have a couple of good rolls, removing 2-3 units, but too often my killer stacks rolled weak, and the high rolls were on low strength attacks that consequently had little impact. All rolls are not equal.

However, I was able to drive my armor units to the river, to take one VP area, but I was totally unable to do anything else to expand that breakthrough, despite pouring all the reinforcements into that area. Time after time I saw Eric's 11 and 12 rolls force me back, and it was only in the fifth turn that I achieved parity on losses, having lost more units than he for most of the game, a situation that any German player in an East Front game cannot have happen and hope to have any chance of a win.

So it was that I came into turn 5, having gained control of only 2 of the 5 required VP areas, and after another 2 wasted artillery cards to low rolls, that 2 on the 12 strength attack, and an Overrun card that was met by Eric playing Mines to counter it, I quit banging my head on the wall, and resigned, something I was almost tempted to suggest after the first turn.

SoS is a great game, and I'm sure that it will prove to be a totally tense, nail biting affair, if we can ever get past the vagaries of the dice. And there are only 2 in the box, so it's not like I picked the 2 bad ones. We played through turn 5 in around 2 hours, so 3 hours, tops, for the whole game, a very decent length. I think this one will see a lot of table time in the future.

Returning to Stalingrad

Last week, Mike and I got Storm over Stalingrad back to the table as my choice. If you'll recall, we had played this area-impulse game a few months ago, and got three specific rules wrong:

We allowed Russian units to fire from the ferry terminals
We applied the terrain modifier to defense against units in the same area
We eliminated units retreating into full areas instead of retreating them further

We both wanted to try this one again played correctly. I bid 3 to Mike's 2, and got the Russians. That meant I had to control three of the seven VP areas at the end of the game. (If you remember, the game is 6 turns long.)

This time, we got all the rules right. We just forgot to not use Mike's dice.

The opening turn of this game is very critical for the Germans – they must make significant progress quickly, specifically on the Russian left, as the SS units are removed from play after turn 3. With all the reinforcements the Russians can bring in, the Germans must have strong positions from which to cover the SS removal or it's simply not going to happen for them.

So, what happens in our game? 1st turn, Mike averages a 4 on his attack rolls. This is on two dice. I averaged around a 9 in my counter attacks, and actually eliminated more units than Mike. In fact, I was able to stay ahead of the dead-unit count until mid-way through turn 5. Anyone even remotely familiar with East Front games knows that if the Russian units aren't dying in at least a 3:2 ratio over German units, they're not going to win and might even lose in epic fashion.

Midway through the game (turn 3 or so) Mike maneuvered down and took the 3rd-from-right VP area along the river. This gave him a point at which he could bring in reinforcements, and I believe every reinforcement he received the rest of the game was placed here.

In the end, though, it didn't matter. I held the two rightmost VP areas, and the entire left excepting the far left area. 5 of the 7. At best, Mike was going to be able to take one in the final turn, so we called it late in turn 5. Russia defends the city.

If you recall how combat works, you add up the firepower of all attacking units, add the roll of two dice, then subtract the highest defender rating added to the terrain value (if applicable). The way the numbers fall out, it's common to need 7s or 8s on two dice to start doing any sort of damage. Now, there's likely some selective memory at work here, but it seemed every time Mike needed only 4s or 5s, he'd roll a 6 or less. If he needed 8s or 9s, he'd roll 9s or higher. Rarely did it seem that he'd roll high when he needed low. (And, I specifically recall twice pulling three units off at once – the fact I remember it means significant damage wasn't happening often.) Meanwhile, I usually seemed to have enough to either stall his attack, or kill his units outright. All you need to do as the defender.

This is two weeks in a row where atrocious luck has severely damaged Mike's game. I'm going to be watching for when it happens to me.

Dice aside, this is an excellent game. You've got loads of decisions to make, and it's very simple to play. We were done in around 2 hours, and it wouldn't have been more than 2.5 had we played to conclusion. The bidding-for-sides mechanism at the start of the game addresses any balance issues a particular play style may reveal. Not aggressive enough with the Germans? Bid higher for the Russians, and suddenly the Germans don't need to take as much ground. Successful on the attack? You'll be bidding lower to play the Russians and the Germans will have to do more.

I haven't played Turning Point: Stalingrad yet (It's on my list, Jackson. Really.) but it will be very interesting to compare a more detailed game on the same subject using the same basic framework.