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'!


Dug said...

UKC is getting a bit of a reputation as being at the mercy of a handful of combat die rolls. Given that it's closest ancestor, We the People, didn't use dice for combat at all but Battle Cards, it will take some time before we see just how much this particular luck factor will damn (or not) this game.

As Mike says, the problem is with close battles where one side rolls high and the other low, with no way to really mitigate the statistical outliers other than to simply avoid battle, which in many cases is impractical for whoever isn't winning. As with WtP, the game is really about maneuver (both in terms of placing control markers as well as where your armies are), but to have all of that work go to waste because of a low odds die roll is disgruntling.

That said, I have high hopes for this game, but I think that perhaps the choice to use differential combat results was a poor one, although battle cards would have added about $10 to the cost of the game and a lot of grognards would have whined mightily.

I've played a lot of CDGs, and you need to keep two things in mind when playing:

1) How do the events line up with other events in the deck, such as prerequisites for play? I don't think that this is such a big issue in UKC, as the deck doesn't cycle and you don't really have much in the way of choices of whether to play a card in a certain way, but in the majority of games it's a key factor.

2) How do I sequence my cards in this turn to achieve my goals, both long and short term, and what are my backup plans if my opponent doesn't cooperate?

Shifting Sands will, for the most part, focus more on 2) than 1) above, as because of the number of cards in the deck you'll need to get as many events played and out of the game as possible from the very first turn, so choosing what to play and what to keep aren't as critical (although you do need to understand which cards you *must* play as events early on).

The other big thing in Shifting Sands specifically is that for the Allies, the game is about shutting down the various sideshows (the Levant and East Africa) so that you can press in Libya, and later in French North Africa. It's exactly the opposite for the Germans, who need to keep the Allies distracted in those other theaters (and make enough hay while they can to maximize Allied cycles in those theaters) in order to build up their forces enough in Egypt to try to push for Alexandria.

My experience has been that little happens in the traditional theater in this game, as the British have little need to press early unless the Axis are doing so well that they have to to avoid an automatic victory. However, the Italians are so useless in general (tip: play Balbo as an event to minimize this) that the British have several turns where they don't need to press at all, and in fact don't really have the unit count to do so effectively and still prevent an Egyptian Uprising.

I strongly recommend that you go through the cards in both decks (one period at a time) to get a better sense of what the possibilities are for sideshows. I also put up a cheat sheet on the various exceptions for the different theaters on the 'Geek some time ago, as they tend to be scattered throughout the rulebook and difficult to find. The designer corrected what mistakes I'd made at the time.

Steve said...

I'm looking forward to hearing your take on Shifting Sands. The reviews and comments on BGG are highly polarized, and I'm still sitting on the fence myself.