Friday, September 18, 2009

Conflict returns to the table

After our Red Star Rising (BGG entry, Eric's review, take, my take) wrap up, we had a single session before Eric was off entertaining his mom, so a perfect night for something short, and I proposed a return to Conflict of Heroes (BGG entry, Eric's take, my take) as we'd both enjoyed it when we first tried it, and I was curious to see how the game progressed. This time the aim was to get through scenarios 3 and 4, which sees the whole rule book introduced, as well as vehicles.

In scenario 3 Eric ended up with the Germans, on the attack, to my Russians. I set up an MMG and the mortar on the leading ridge, and the other MMG on the east-most hill. My squads went into protecting the approaches, one to the west (in the heavy woods), one on the choke-point at the road, and the other in the light woods at the end of the wall, just below the hill. All my units were hidden.

Eric came up the road, and around the east side of the hill on the edge of the two boards with most of his squads, with a squad and a mortar to the west, on Hill 342. He made short work of my mortar, and I didn't get much from my artillery, just hitting a single unit all game. However, my lead MMG did some fair damage before succumbing. Eric managed to get two units onto board 4, and getting close to the headquarters. However, I managed to use my squads to fire on and then melee his squads to remove the threat. Eric was left with a couple of pot-shots at my HQ with a mortar with only an outside chance of success, but to no avail, leaving the Soviets with the win.

Onto scenario 4, which sees the introduction of fixed defenses and tanks, and, once more, Eric drew the attacking Germans. I set up my AT gun in the Hasty Defense in the heavy woods to the north of Hill 53, protecting the road, and with a decent field of fire. The MMG went in the bunker, a squad on each of the control hexes, and the spare in the light woods near his entry, hoping to grab back the control/VP hexes when they got captured. One T26 set up on Hill 53, the other on the other hill.

Eric came in strong, and rolled well to quickly remove both squads and one of the T-26s with a Vehicle Destroyed chit draw. One of his tanks ran around to my right and captured the control point, removing the squad there, and then took out the other T-26. At this point I was 5-1 down in units and it was looking bleak. However, the AT gun managed to remove a couple of tanks and disable another. It was this last one that was critical as it was the main unit for taking on the bunker. And so it was that Eric was unable to dent the bunker, and I was able to hold on for a win.

Over both games I was very careful of my CAP expenditure, trying to hold onto CAP for when I really needed it, and also passing a lot, trying to force Eric to use up his units and CAP. As defender, this is often easier than as attacker, especially where if he tries the same passing tactic it leads to the end of the turn, and the game has a limited turn length. This did back-fire on me once, as I ended the turn with 5 CAPs still on the track. What a maroon!

Both games fit into our 3-hour slot and played very quickly once we got back into the swing, which didn't take too long at all. The vehicle extensions work well, and it has a decent feel. There's a decent amount of tension, and there should be good variation and replayability. I'm looking forward to going deeper into the scenario list, especially the bigger ones. And the new versions that are coming out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Return of the Heroes

(No, not the fantasy-exploration game...)

Short post this week, as this is primarily a refinement of thoughts posted earlier.

A couple weeks ago, Mike and I got Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear back to the table. Neither of us had played past the first two scenarios, so we were looking at some of the advanced features for the first time.

The rules and scenarios in Conflict of Heroes are set up for programmed learning. Each of the first five or so scenarios introduces new rules or new unit types. The first two, being the only ones we'd played, introduce the basics plus group actions. That's all well and good, but a bit bland.

The third scenario introduced artillery, indirect fire, hidden units, and hills. (Not unlike ASL Starter Kit #2: Guns!). Our play of this scenario came down to the wire, and I made a tactical error in how I spent my APs in attempting to take the bunker objective on the last turn.

The fourth scenario introduced tanks (again, not unlike ASL Starter Kit #3: Tanks!) and, again, came down to the wire.

When looking at the more involved rules, no real anomalies stood out. All the new rules made sense in the game's framework, and we didn't really have any major questions. Nor was it difficult to get back into the swing of things after months away from the game.

The programmed instruction approach worked well here. Having a couple plays under my belt, I was ready for the increased options presented by the more advanced rules. I think there's only a couple things left for scenario 5, then it's just various takes on the full rules from here.

These two plays solidified my thoughts on the CoH system. It is a very good, light, tactical wargame. It's competing with Memoir '44 and Tide of Iron in this space, and while it doesn't have the plastic figures included in the other two, it's still a quite attractive game while in play. I probably rank it tied with Memoir among those three as it seems to be a slightly deeper game but doesn't have the wealth of options and scenarios available to it yet as Memoir does. Tide would probably be my last choice of the three, in large part because of the physically fiddly nature of the bases. (Using based figures while making figure removal a feature of the rules is a design flaw in my eyes.)

The thing about CoH is that it's only going to be as good as its scenarios. So far, every scenario has been five turns long. I think this is going to be a problem over time, as while you can make amazing variety in tactical situations, the “gotta do X within five turns” nature will get old. It keeps play time down, but it does so in what can be perceived as an artificial manner. The Command and Colors system, to which Memoir belongs, keeps play time down in a more natural fashion. In fact, I can't think of any other scenario-based game that keeps every scenario to the same number of turns. Hopefully the Kursk edition that just came out (or some future edition) will address this.

Regardless of the scenario length question, for me CoH is a gateway game. It's not a destination but part of the journey. The game is fun to play, but that's about all. I see this as a stepping stone to either Panzer Grenadier (if wanting to stay on the simpler side), Combat Commander, or ASL(SK). For whatever reason, I don't see Memoir or Tide of Iron in that same light – could it be that Conflict of Heroes uses counters, while the others don't and therefore I see progressions and advancement being more natural? Not sure. I just know that while I'll be getting each entry in the series as they appear, I see it primarily being used as an introductory game – not the end in itself.