Thursday, December 30, 2010

Washington wins his war - again

As promised last week, on the table this time was Washington's War (BGG entry) from GMT, a remake of the old Avalon Hill game, We The People (BGG entry). I'd never played the original before, but had played WW once with Chris B, but it was far enough back that I don't recall a huge deal about it. I think I played the Americans, and I recorded that Chris won, but that's about it.

Looking at the game itself first, like C&C:Nappy from last week, it's a great production. A sumptuous hard board worthy of any Euro game, a good deck of cards and some colorful pieces. There are two sets of counters provided for the generals - large ones that fit in the provided stands, and smaller ones like more traditional war-game counters. More pieces for the combat strength points (CUs) and double sided Political Control (PC) markers. There are also some area control markers, some of which were printed with the same nationality on both sides of the counter, which means that you can't correctly mark control of the areas if one side gets more than 8 areas. Replacement counters were provided in their magazine, C3i, but they're of the smaller 1/2" size. OK, that's a minor issue, but still a trifle annoying. All well and good so far, then, but how does it play?

Let's start with a brief overview of the basic mechanisms for those of you unfamiliar with this CDG. The map features 14 Areas (the 13 Colonies plus Canada), with each area containing a number of Spaces. These Spaces are connected by lines which allow movement between the Spaces. There are three types of cards; Event cards; Battle cards; and Operation Cards (Ops), which have a number from 1-3. Each player is dealt a hand of 7 at the start of each game turn, and they take turns to play an Ops or Event card, with the American player deciding who plays first (unless the British player has a Campaign Event card, and chooses to reveal it). In CDG terms it's closer to Unhappy King Charles (BGG entry) than WW2: Barbarossa to Berlin (BGG entry), where the cards have both Ops and Events, and you choose to use one or the other.

An Event card allows the player to take a special action as detailed on the cards, which may allow the placement or removal of one or more Political Control (PC) markers, or other special event to occur, including activating multiple generals in a play (Campaign). These are separated by nationality, and getting a hand of your opponent's event cards is not good as they can only be used for very limited actions.

An Ops card allows you to do one of several things; place PC markers; take reinforcements; or move a general/army. The first are used to take control of Spaces, with each of the 13 Colonies (plus Canada) having a varying number of Spaces. The player with the most controlled Spaces has control of the Colony. What's interesting here is that the placement rules are asymmetrical, with the British player needing to place PC markers adjacent to an existing PC, but the American player can place them in any empty Space. Both players may place a PC marker in a Space occupied by a friendly army, removing any opposing PC marker.

Reinforcements are also asymmetrical. The British player gets a varying number of CUs by game turn (listed on the game turn track, e.g. 3 in GT1, 8 in GT2, 1 in GT3), but they are placed in a Reinforcement box, and once during the game turn may move any number of CUs from the box to a port, along with a general. Do do this, however, the player must play an Ops card of any value. The American player, however, can receive reinforcements up to twice per turn, again paying an Ops card to do so, but receives CUs to the value of the Ops card each time, and they can be placed in any single space not containing a British playing piece. A general may also be placed at the same time.

Finally, the Ops card may be used to activate a general, but the Ops card value must be equal to or higher than the general's Strategy Rating. Most of the American generals have a value of 1, so any Ops card can be used, but most of the British generals have a 3 rating so they are harder to get moving.

Battles are fairly abstracted, and occur when an army moves into the Space occupied by an opposing army. The Americans may attempt to intercept a British army moving into an adjacent Space, as well as evade combat, at the cost of retreating and giving up the Space. If a battle does occur, each side calculates their strength - the number of CUs, plus modifiers for control of the Colony (militia), if it's a port Space (for the British player - British Navy intervention), British regulars, and play of a Battle card - which gives a +2. There is also a modifier for the Battle Rating of the general (which are from 1-6), but the actual rating may be either full or half, depending on a die roll for that battle (1-3 = half; 4-6=full), but may never be more than the number of CUs in the army. To this total is added a d6 die roll for each side, and the player with the higher grand total wins the battle. The loser of the battle has to retreat one space, and loses a variable number of CUs (1-3=1; 4-5=2; 6=3), and the winner may lose a CU based on the Agility Rating of the opposing general and a die roll (AR3:1-4; AR2:1-3; AR1:1-2). Battles are the biggest change from the original version of the game, which used battle cards in the same manner as Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage (BGG entry).

The end of each turn has a supply/attrition phase, where isolated PC markers are removed, each British army north of the wintering line loses half its CUs if not in a wintering space, and all American armies lose a CU (except for any army with Washington). The French may also come in on the side of the Americans.

The game ends at the end of the ninth turn (1783), unless a special Event card is played, which makes the game end earlier, representing the fall of the British government. There are 5 such cards in the game, and they have to be played as events, they may not be discarded, and they cause the game to end either in 1779, 1780, 1781, 1782, or 1783, i.e the game may be as short as 5 turns or run as long as the full 9 turns. Having a majority of the spaces in a Colony gives the player control of the Colony, and the winner is the player with control of the most Colonies.

In our game my opening hand consisted of 2 2Ops cards, a 1Ops card, a British Event card, 2 American Event cards, and an American Battle card. Not exactly a great starting hand. Eric opened by using Washington to attack my single general on the map, Howe. With both armies having 5CUs, he gained the advantage with a full Battle Rating to my half, and the die rolls gave him the battle win. To exacerbate the result, my roll caused 2CU losses, but despite facing Howe's 3 Agility Rating he did not suffer any CU losses.

This gave me 3 problems; Howe is now in a non-wintering space, so will suffer attrition in the winter; as Howe has a Strategy Rating of 3, I have no Ops cards to activate him with; and I'm at risk from Washington attacking again and totally eliminating Howe. If I reinforce Howe with my 3CUs available in the reinforcement box I'll probably persuade Washington not to attack, but I'm going to lose half of them to winter attrition. In the end I choose to place PC markers in the south, taking away the American control. We jockey back and fore for control for the rest of the turn, and I use the 1Ops card to bring in an army in the south, and I lose 1CU from Howe from attrition in the wintering phase.

The second turn sees the British get 8CUs in reinforcements, and with a pair of 3Ops cards in hand I use my one reinforcement action to boost Howe with a 1Ops card. I then try to hunt down an American army, but he successfully evades (required 1-4 on d6). At this point I make a really stupid mistake, using my other 3Ops card to place PC markers, forgetting that Howe is still on a non-wintering space, so he loses another 2CUs to attrition at the end of the turn.

In the third turn Eric chooses to move first before I can get Howe out of harm's way, and pounds him good. I place a new army in New York Colony to try to cause a diversion, but Eric isn't falling for it, and over the two actions Howe's lost his army and is removed from the board. He then moves to block my army I just placed, while I can to little but place PC markers and actually gain control of a couple more Colonies. We'd missed placing the extra cards (the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin) into the deck on the second turn so shuffled them at the start of this turn, and Eric immediately draws both of them. The former allows him to place a PC marker in each Colony, swinging the balance to him. (I think that put it at 7-6 Colonies in his favor.), and the latter moves the French intervention marker 4 spaces up the track. (There are 10 spaces on the track, and it moves forward for each battle won by the Americans.) With all the battles I'd lost this was enough to have French intervention at the end of the turn.

However, I also had drawn one of the Special Event cards that indicates the fall of the British government in 1780, which shortens the game by 3 turns. Even worse, Eric had drawn the card that ends the game in 1779, meaning that the game will end in the earliest possible turn and there are only 2 more turns to play, unless another Special Event card is drawn.

The fourth turn sees me draw another four American Event Cards, a 3Ops, a 2Ops, and a 1Ops card, and I know the game is over for me, barring some sort of miracle. That ain't happening as Eric draws a full hand of Ops cards, and his armies go a-hunting. With the board almost full of PC markers, and with the limitations on the placement of PC markers for the British, the Event cards are useless to me, and I have to watch as Eric takes control of Colony after Colony. Indeed, even my last 2Ops card is played as a discard, as I am unable to do anything with it.

At the start of the final turn Eric is up 9-4 on Colonies, with one undecided, and way more CUs on the board. Neither of us draws any Special Event cards, and although I gain a Colony in the North, I lose the one in the south when Eric pounds my army there in a continual wave of attacks, as although I win the first battle (the first time in the game) we both lose a single CU. He also takes the undecided Colony to run out a solid 10-4 winner.

Here's the ending position:

We only missed two things in our game:

  • two extra Event cards are added to the deck at the start of the second turn - we added them at the start of the third turn
  • the British CU in the NW of the map isn't on a wintering space, and should have been rolling for attrition each turn

However, I missed several rules that might have helped me:

  • after playing a Battle card you draw a replacement (I missed that only once, but it meant that Eric had 2 plays at the end of the second turn when I had no cards in hand)
  • you can play an opponent's Event card in a battle for a +1 modifier, but don't draw a replacement card (this would have helped me in the first two turns)
  • there are overruns of weak forces - I left 1CU in the north, thinking that it would block him, but needed more, which I did have available
  • you can create a queue of Ops card play to activate a general - this would have allowed me to activate Howe in the first turn, although I'm not sure what I could have done with him that was useful, and it uses up 2 actions
  • discarding an Event Card allows the removal of an American PC marker adjacent to a British PC marker (I would have expected this to be included in the list of available 'PC Actions' for discarding an opponent's Event card)
  • ports are considered adjacent to each other for the British player - this means that all my discards for no use could have been used to place British PC markers, and, when combined with the above, to remove American PC markers

Pretty much everything in the game went wrong for me. From the die rolls to the card draws. Going back and looking at the deck, there are 12 Event cards each, 4 British Battle cards to 5 American, 2 Mandatory Events, 5 game end Special Events, and 4 Campaign Event cards (3 Minor, 1 Major), leaving 66 Ops cards (22 of each value). From my draws, I think this one is another statistical outlier, so I'm not going to hold too much over it.

WW is certainly at the simpler end of the CDG scale in my view. Unlike Twilight Struggle (BGG entry) or Labyrinth (BGG entry), there is less in the cards themselves, and you don't need to be aware of potential 'killer' combos, it's more in the Ops.

I really enjoy playing this one, as I do Unhappy King Charles, and all the CDGs, really. It's certainly a very interesting game, and I like the options available, the jockeying for position of the PC markers, the maneuvering of the armies. Every card play feels important.

Another great point is the game length. We finished in just around 2 hours, but really only played half a game, so it could run up to ~4 hours, likely less, but it easily plays in an evening. Knowing the rules better, I'd really like to take another swing at it. If you're thinking of trying a CDG I think this is a great starting choice.

Next up, after a week's break, is Fury in the East (BGG entry) from MMP, a one-map WW2 East Front game that gets gets good buzz. I'm looking forward to that one.

Valley Forge wasn't needed this time

Most categories of wargames can point to a single game that started them off. For block wargames, for example, you can point to either L'attaque or Napoleon as being the starting points. For hex-n-counter, many point to Tactics as the originator.

For card-driven wargames, there's a clear start: We the People. Published by Avalon Hill in 1994, Mark Herman's design paved new ground for what was possible in a wargame. Looking back on it now, it is still the simplest game in the genre (maybe... 1960's rather simple as well) and holds up pretty well given how different it was at the time.

That said, availability of We the People is a bit lacking. Herman had wanted to reprint it. As Hasbro now owns the rights, it appears the negotiations weren't going well. So, Herman re-designed it as Washington's War. He tweaked a few things (not many) from the original to the new release. Here's the differences:

  • Battle cards are gone. You used to play cards from your hand to resolve battles. That mechanic – which I hated – is now gone in favor of a contested die roll with modifiers.

  • You can now discard opponent events during a battle for a modifier.

  • If your opponent plays one of your events for any purpose other than discarding, you can swap an Ops card for it to play the event later in the turn.

  • An overrun rule was added that keeps 1-strength armies from being an overly strong blockade.

And that's really about it. If you know how to play We the People, you know how to play this. A quick run-through on the rules should be all you need. That said, I'd only played WtP a couple times, and not for many years.

Things to watch for if you're playing for the first time:

  • Take care about winter quarters

  • Watch for political isolation

  • The Brits get a LOT of positive combat modifiers

I randomly drew the Americans, and off we went.

Early in the first turn, Mike attacked Washington's forces with Howe, trying to take advantage of those early British modifiers. Combat in the late 18th century was a bit of an unknown affair. You never knew how well your forces (or commander) for that matter would perform. To sort of simulate this, one of the first things you do is roll for commander effectiveness. It's a 50/50 roll that if you fail cuts your commander's rating in half. Mike failed his roll on this first attack while I passed mine. This effectively eliminated the British DRM advantage and made the combat essentially a toss up. I won it, forced him to retreat, then pressed the advantage before he could reinforce.

From that point forward in the game, I held a military advantage. My cards matched well with what I was trying to do, Mike's did not. I think I only drew three British events the entire game, Mike had four American events in a single turn.

Mike did a pretty good job early on forcing the political control. I think he had 8 colonies at one point. Turned out after the fact he really didn't have much of a choice due to his card draws. Turns 3 and 4 saw me methodically reducing that advantage.

Between winning battles and events (including getting Benjamin Franklin into play pretty early on) I was able to get the French into the conflict in the fourth turn (1778).

We drew a 1779 “Government Falls” card in the second turn or so, and the way I was able to keep Mike on his heels meant the French helped lay the coup-de-grace early that year. When we hit the end of 1779, I think I had 9 colonies, Mike had 4 (including Canada), and one was drawn. It was a pretty significant victory for the Americans.

I had evicted Mike from the South, and he didn't have much left in the way of forces in the North. Even without a government falls card, it was going to be very hard for him to recover.

My thoughts on the game?

Production quality is good. Mounted board, thick cards, attractive (standard GMT) counters. It played very cleanly. We only had a few questions, and they were all handled by the rulebook. The game doesn't break any new ground, really, but it wasn't meant to. It was meant to be a refresh of a game that broke a whole lot of ground when it came out. And it does that very well.


If you're looking for a good, simple 2-hour CDG, this is it. It is the wargaming equivalent of an appetizer, though, so if you're looking for something a bit more substantial, you might want to temper your expectations. But appetizers are usually pretty tasty, and this is as well. It's one I'm happy to have in my library.

We're taking the week between Christmas and New Years off as I've got family coming to town. Our next game up will be Fury in the East from the MMP 2010 Operations Special Issue. More East Front goodness.

Monday, December 20, 2010

We're not dead yet

Well, after a rather extended hiatus, we're baaaaaaaack!

It wasn't really a hiatus, as such, just that our plan didn't really work out as we'd thought it would. Our OCS Korea game has been going on for most of this year, with (mostly) regular weekly sessions, and we were both taking notes and pics, but we just never got around to writing anything up. Partly that was down to our schedules, but at least on my part there was a certain amount of lethargy and disinclination to actually say much. It's hard to give insights into your thoughts and plans when your opponent is reading.

Anyway, we discussed where to go from here, and the idea of quietly closing the blog was quickly voted down on a 2-0 count. We agreed that the blog works best when we're playing shorter games, and that's what we're going to get back to. Moving forward, we'll get back to focussing on games in the 1-2 session length (i.e. 3-6 hours), unless we can find time for a longer session. That means shorter war-games (hex/counter, block, and CDGs), and (probably) more 18xx. Sounds like a plan, and I'm certainly very comfortable with that mix.

So, the first topic (and, in fact, the above conversation took place while we were playing) is the new GMT release Command & Colors: Napoleonics (BGG entry), the latest in the Commands and Colors series. This game covers the battles in the Peninsular War, featuring the British, French and Portuguese, and a single scenario featuring a small segment of the Waterloo battle. An expansion for the Spanish is currently on the P500 list, and tentatively scheduled for an August production slot. I'd expect to see more expansions for the Prussians and Russians, as well as lots more scenarios covering those armies, as well as some sort of 'Epic Napoleonics' rules/expansion. Sigh, more money sucked from my wallet.

The production is just as you'd expect for a C&C game from GMT; lots of wood blocks; colorful stickers; mounted map; good player aids; all in a bullet-proof box. In other words, up to their recent production standards, which have certainly taken a step up in quality.

I'm not going to go through the whole ruleset, but here, in my view, are the major differences from C&C:A (and others):

  • Unit losses: the number of dice used when attacking is based on 1 die per block in the attacking unit
  • Unit/Nationality distinction: various units get extra dice in combat depending on their unit type or National characteristics; e.g. Light/Rifle units gain a die in ranged combat; British line foot units gain a die in ranged combat if they do not move, and French line foot units gain a die in melee combat
  • Terrain: unlike the Ancients battlefields, we now have terrain to deal with, more akin to the Battle Cry and Memoir '44 battlefield
  • Objectives: just like in M'44
  • Square formation: infantry can form square in the face of cavalry assault

Of these, the first is the biggest change, in my view, and one that has been a bug-bear for quite a few C&C players, or potential players. Now those 1-block units are really fragile and mostly useless, and have to be withdrawn from harm's way. The unit/nationality distinctions are an interesting change, and allow for some variation in the way you use your force, with both the composition and side impacting your strategy/tactics.

OK, terrain really isn't a change, per se, but it's just that there is some, often a lot, unlike most of the C&C:A scenarios, where I've seen pool tables with more features. Some of the terrain features are also classed as objective hexes, in the same way that M'44 has. This was, in my view, one of the biggest issues with BC, as often there was no incentive to move forward and get shot at, as the other player would get the first shot due to the move/no fire rules. (In C&C:N you can move and half-fire.) So, that provides an incentive to do something.

C&C:N wouldn't truly represent Napoleonic warfare without allowing foot units to use square formation, and the implementation is interesting. As part of the cavalry melee procedure the infantry unit has the choice to enter square, but to do so, the player has to give up a command card (and you must have more than 2 in hand), which is placed on a holding display, reducing his hand size and, hence, tactical flexibility. Furthermore, the card is chosen at random from your hand. To quote the Guinness advert, 'Brilliant!' With some good cards in your hand, you now have a tough choice to make. Protect your unit, or potentially give up the ability to carry out your plans. Of course, all those that hate the C&C abstraction style will have more reason to hate on the system, spluttering about lack of control, etc. I think it's a stroke of genius!

We played the first two scenarios, both from the battle of Rolica, with me drawing the French each time. The first saw me move to a quick 4-banner position (with 5 required to win) as the dice gods favored me with an embarrassment of dicey riches, seeing me score 4 hits out of my first 5 rolls on his Light Infantry unit. (With 5 blocks and a 1-die bonus they can be pretty lethal, so that turned the good fortune into great fortune.) However, I thought to dash forward with a good card to claim my winning banner, but an untimely flag result on the first combat took his unit out of range of my second unit, allowing Eric to isolate them and bring it back to 4-3, before I did manage to claim that winning banner.

The second scenario, later in the same battle as the French were pushed back, once again saw me with the French. The sides are almost identical, with the Allied forces gaining an extra leader. What makes the scenario interesting is that the terrain provides for only 4 axes of advance for the Allies, with prohibited terrain funneling the attacks. The French, meanwhile, are sitting on a ridge of hills, which reduces incoming ranged fire by 1 die. So, restricted advance options for the Aliies, and a strong defensive position for the French, quite a puzzle. To make it even worse, most of the Allied artillery (which doesn't lose a die for firing into hills) is still stuck at the base line.

Sounds easy for the French player, but my sole artillery unit ran out of ammunition (an early card play by Eric) and returned to my base line. The issue was where to place it, as I was unsure of where Eric's main thrust was going to come, and although my hand had some really interesting cards, I had few section movement cards. In the end I chose to concentrate on the Portuguese on my left flank, but also drew a card that allowed me to redeploy a unit by 4 hexes, so my artillery was able to reduce the Portuguese threat, then move to the center to counter the advance in the center and on the other flank. I had one opportunity for using square, but with a hand of great cards I had to decline, as I had plans, which all worked as I ran out a comfortable winner.

A tough scenario for the Allies, in my view, but Eric felt that he played it wrongly in not bringing up his artillery first and using them to reduce my units. That would have given me a tough choice on whether to hold or force the action. The French bonus die on melee means that closing the action is of use, but is it worth leaving the hills? I'd like to get this scenario back to the table, and try it from the Allied side.

Here's the ending position, which shows the terrain:

(The 2 units at bottom left are Portuguese, one with a leader.)

OK, so what are my thoughts on C&C:N after my first play? As you've probably surmised by now, I really liked this one. I found it more interesting than C&C:A, which was partly due to the terrain providing a more interesting battlefield. However, the bigger factor was unit/nationality characteristics, and how to leverage them in my favor. I know it probably sounds like cult of the new, but so far this is my favorite C&C game. The mix of terrain, characteristics, everything. A great balance, and the continuing development of the C&C system is very evident. In play, I think C&C:N also flows better much better than BC, and has more tactical choices than C&C:A. The choices are tougher, as witnessed by several times in our games, as Eric or I had to take a moment to weigh our options and consider the potential implications. Yes, this will definitely see more table time.

For next time, Eric has requested GMT's Washington's War (BGG entry), the remake of We The People and the first of the CDGs. I've played it once before, so I'm looking forward to getting a second chance to try it. Beyond that, I'm thinking of Fury In The East (BGG Entry), one of the games that came in the MMP Operations Special Edition #3 magazine. But who knows, there are so many good choices out there.

Back to the fun bits

And, we're back.

I'd like to say I did something interesting in the year it's been since you heard from me on this blog, but (other than a wonderful trip to Europe with my wife for a combo 10th anniversary/40th birthday gift) that hasn't been the case. Mostly, two things have shut down my writing on this blog: I was working on two simultaneous, parallel documentation projects at work that severely diminished any desire I had to write, and Mike and I were playing OCS Korea for most of the year. We discovered that really big games make poor incentive to blog. Various non-gaming life issues jumped up as well cutting us way back on gaming in the fall, and so that left us with a grand total of four posts this year up until now.

Not acceptable.

My work duties have shifted to a new project, and Korea's been packed away (or will be shortly.) We've made it through the end of 1950, and we will complete it at some point. Just not now. After some discussions, we decided we wanted to get back to what got this blog moving in the first place: evening two-player games and what we think about them. So, if you're ready to hear our slightly-informed opinions every week or two again, we're ready to start writing them. Right... about...


Mike and I got GMT's new Command & Colors: Napoleonics on the table last week. I'd been curious about this one, as I find the C&C system quick and enjoyable, but don't particularly care for Battle Cry – the version of the game closest in time frame to the Napoleonic wars. Also, the Napoleonic era is about my least favorite one to study. As a result, I didn't preorder this game. But, never being one to pass up a good game, wanted to see what it was like.

C&C:N is, frankly, not very different from C&C: Ancients. The production is very similar, and I think they use the same terrain tiles. Readers of this blog will likely be familiar with C&C:A, so I'll highlight the differences between the two games:

  • Ranged fire is more powerful.
  • The number of blocks in a unit changes per national characteristics.
  • Similar units (say, Line Infantry) fight differently for different nationalities.
  • The number of battle dice you roll is a function of the number of blocks remaining in the unit.
  • Units down to a single block may not be able to battle due to terrain modifiers.
  • There is much more terrain in the game. MUCH more.
  • Many of the scenarios involve terrain objectives.
  • Infantry can form square

There are more differences, but these highlight the major points. Let's just say that playing this game like you'd play C&C:A will cause you to lose. Badly. And that's a good thing. It also much more closely resembles C&C:A than Battle Cry as far as rules complexity goes. And that's a good thing as well. I was fearing this game was Battle Cry with Bicorns. It's actually closer to C&C:A with gunpowder. In all the good ways.

Mike and I decided to start off at the beginning and played the first two scenarios, randomly drawing sides. As fate would have it, I drew the Brits/Portuguese each time. These two scenarios cover positions early and late within the Battle of Rolica. (Apparently the first battle in the Peninsular War involving the British.)

I attempted to push on my right flank with the Portuguese, as my opening hand was right-flank-heavy, but they failed miserably. Eventually, I gained some center cards and began advancing there, trying to focus on using artillery. Mike got to four of his required five flags quickly (three of them thanks to the Portuguese) but after I started forcing the action, pulled back to a 4-3 deficit with victories in the center. Shortly thereafter, Mike got his fifth flag, breaking my position.

As is typical with this game, both of us tended to run out of cards in the sectors where battles were the fiercest, and of course you have no idea your opponent is in the same boat. We felt we had the rules down pretty well, so we moved on to the 2nd scenario. This involves the exact same unit mix (except the Brits get a third leader) but radically different terrain. This one forces the Allies down lanes with impassable hills between them to assault a hill infested with French infantry (and one unit of artillery). Not an easy task.

I lost this one 5-2, I believe, and realized I was doing something very wrong. I'd been playing with the very Ancient approach of leading with the cavalry and having the infantry mop up. Not how it works in the Napoleonic era. You need to soften with artillery, push with infantry, and punish weak positions with cavalry. Particularly when you're assaulting a good defensive position, as you are in this scenario. If I play this one again as the Brits, I'd have a very different plan.

So, I lose two scenarios. I had some poor dice, Mike had some good dice (including five hits out of six dice in ranged combat against a single unit), but nothing earth shattering that would invalidate either play.

Those are the high-level reports of the gaming, but the important bit is what did I think about the game?

First off, it surprised me. After reading the rules (and only the rules – I had not seen any of the other components), I had a feeling it was going to be better than I initially expected, but the gameplay exceeded even those thoughts. Despite how light the C&C series is, this game will make you think. You've got puzzles to solve as well as battles to fight.

Secondly, the game gives the feel of Napoleonic warfare without getting into too much detail. There are bits of chrome to distinguish the varying fighting styles (e.g. the French line infantry get an extra die when in melee against infantry, but the British line infantry get an extra die when firing without moving) but the chrome doesn't get in the way. Exactly the level of abstraction I'd expect from this series.

Eight out of 10 from me, with the understanding this will probably go up as the line is expanded with other nationalities and scenarios.

Finally, a bit of a soapbox moment.

There's already been a bit of talk about “fixing” the game after a play or two because of some perceived superiority in one of the troop types. This is the kind of talk that has soured me on a lot of gaming lately – people make pronouncements about games very early without giving the games a fair shake. This is particularly bad with wargames, as that “fair shake” may involve 20-40 hours of play to really get a feel for what's going on.

Of course, this involved someone who is a self-proclaimed “Napoleonics buff” who has a different idea of how things should go. This is exactly why I was turned off of Napoleonic gaming back when I was a heavy miniatures player. For whatever reason, this particular era has a knack of attracting know-it-alls who are more than happy to tell you you're doing it wrong. As a result, I simply won't play Napoleonic miniatures. It's not worth the angst.

In this era of the internet, these people get a voice a lot louder than they deserve. I've seen many situations where games have been played once, discounted because they didn't meet the expectations of the initial player (who usually has way more time on his hands than should be allowed), and the game is subsequently shuffled off and ignored by a large number of players who'd probably like the game. That early dissenting opinion gets parroted rather than challenged. And there's a lot of games that don't get the table time they actually deserve as a result.

This whole phenomena has completely turned me off the primary boardgaming websites I used to frequent (BoardGameGeek and ConSimWorld). I now no longer go on there except for reference purposes. The interest in finding out about what's coming up has been completely squashed by people who, frankly, are most interested in hearing themselves.

So, while I used to occasionally re-post these blog entries on the Geek, I no longer will. I have no interest in shouting above the din. I will, however, be creating a Twitter account specifically for the blog, and will throw little tidbits up there as they cross my mind. I'll post details when those are available. I'd be more than happy to have you follow.

If you like what I write, great. I hope to be providing you semi-regular content for the foreseeable future. There's been a ton of great new games released in the last couple years, and lots of them are on our schedule.

If you don't, I'm sorry. But I do completely understand. There's no shortage of other game reviewers/reporters for you to read. Thanks for the time you've given us so far. Hopefully, we'll draw you back at some point.

And, with that, the return is complete. Next week's game is Washington's War.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From Korea to Nebraska

The OCS Korea (BGG entry) game is ongoing, but this evening we took a break. Partly this was just me wanting to play something different, and partly due to the warm weather, which makes the garage a little stifling in the evening, as it takes the full blast of the afternoon/evening sun. My original thought was some Combat Commander (BGG entry) (Yes, yes, yes, I know that after the last game with Eric I said I'd never play it again, but it keeps calling to me, and I keep hoping that it will be a better gaming experience, and, on occasion, it is. It's just that it hates me.), but Eric counter-proposed some 18xx, and we settled on the recent Deep Thought release 18Neb (BGG entry), one that neither of us had played before.

18Neb is fairly straightforward for experienced 18xx players. There's an initial auction for the minors, then the regular Stock/Operating rounds. Points of interest include:

  • One private is the Credit Mobilier, which pays you $5 for each track tile laid by any player (new or upgrade).
  • In the Stock Round a Corporation President can have the Corporation sell stock to the pool or buy a certificate back from the pool or another player (with the player's agreement). In other games this happens at the end of each OR turn (e.g. 18EU). Any buy action counts as the player's buy action for that SR turn.
  • Corporations float with only the President's share. From Phase 5 onwards new Corporations that sell 5 shares become fully capitalized, with their remaining shares being placed in the pool.
  • Bidding in the 2nd and subsequent SRs is done by pass order in the previous SR. The 1st player to pass gets the 'First Pass' card, the second player gets the 'Second Pass' card, etc. At the end of the SR you swap your card for a turn order card (as used to determine initial seating order), with the 'First Pass' owner getting the 'Priority Deal card. The only issue is that as a player then buys a share after passing, you all have to pass your cards around, as the, for example, 2nd pass player now becomes 1st pass player. A trifle clumsy, perhaps, but overall a decent idea, although irrelevant in the 2-player game.
  • Local Railway Corporations have only 5 certificates, representing double shares.They are permitted to own a single train, which must be one of those already rusted.

So, some interesting aspects to the game.

I started off with the Missouri Pacific in the SW corner, planning to run to Chicago South, and along the bottom of the map. Eric opened UP, using his private, as well as the Colorado & Southern, on opposite sides of the map. However, I chopped and changed plans a couple of times, before Eric managed to dump the Chicago NW on me, through fine play on his part and carelessness on my part. The worst part of having to buy a train for CNW, which didn't cost me that much, was that it rusted the sole train on another company I had. Didn't see that one coming!

Now _that_ could have been the end, but Eric's view of the rules was that as President I could sell the company shares in the OR in order to pay for the train. Now, the rules don't explicitly state that when selling shares to pay for a train that the President isn't permitted to have the company sell its own shares to pay for the train, putting money in the company treasury and thus saving the President's stupid a$$. As it turns out, this all had a silver lining as my companies now had better trains, and were running for gobs of money. The game lasted just long enough for me to catch up, and I squeaked it by only $149, pretty much a rounding error. Here's the final map and stock positions:

I had 6 shares in Missouri Pacific, Chicago Burlington, and Chicago NW, and Eric in Colorado Southern, Denver Rio Grande, and Nebkota, with us splitting UP. Only Missouri Pacific, Chicago Burlington and UP were sold out, which helped me, I think, to seal the game. Our share values were almost identical, only $4 difference, but I had the better cash balance to the tune of $153.

Whilst 18Neb is a very interesting 18xx game, and I'd like to try it again, I'm still not sure about 2-player 18xx. Until the latter part of the game you very much seem to own your own companies, with very little cross investment in the other player's companies. There seems to be little incentive to make a company sold out if you don't have the majority position, as you help your opponent more than yourself. Although I guess if the company income is high enough, then buying that extra share can outweigh the benefit of being sold out. However, that all being said, I would still rather play 18xx 2-player than not play 18xx at all.

Now back to OCS Korea....

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Helloo (helloo, helloo, helloo...)

OK, it's been rather quiet in here for some time now, so I thought it was about time to post something to show we're still around.

We're currently in the middle of our long-planned OCS Korea game, with me as the godless commies, and Eric as the capitalist pig-dogs. We've got as far as November 1950, so we're not far off half way through the game. We had planned to post thoughts as the game progresses, but, as you've probably noticed, that hasn't happened so far. The game-end post should have something to say. And then some.

I was looking back through some old posts for info on a particular game we'd played, and found a plan from last year of what we wanted to do. In the absence of anything real to post, I thought I'd give it a quick revisit. (Hey, content is content, right?)

This is what I posted almost a year ago that we were going to focus on, and [how it panned out]:

  • OCS - completing Sicily, and perhaps Korea [Tick, definitely.]
  • SCS - TME again, and more from this series, which I'm very fond of [Mostly a tick, we played Bastogne and Guadalajara, but never did get back to TME. Yet.]
  • Bitter End - with the revised retreat rule, this is a high priority [Fail. Still one I'd like to retry.]
  • Conflict of Heroes - getting deeper into the scenarios, including tanks [Tick. Now for Storms of Steel!]
  • CDGs - Shifting Sands, PoG, PuG, and more (oh, my!) [Fail. Although I did play PoG and PuG with another gaming partner, so I get a tick. Nyah!]
  • Musket & Pike - OK, we haven't played this here, but we've played a few scenarios before TSttC [Tick. Although our grand plan of playing all the scenarios in the box gets a fail.]

So, about 3.5 ticks out of a possible 6. Not a bad score really, considering all the great games out there, and more arriving all the time. If anything, we've found another couple of games to add to the list of games that we'd like to get back to the table again:

  • The Caucasus Campaign [we actually played this before the holidays, but never managed to get the posts done]
  • Richard III [As this is only ~3 hours, it's quite likely to see table time in our upcoming retreat.]
  • Red Star Rising [This would be another multi-session event, but needs serious table space.]
  • SCS The Mighty Endeavor [I need to try the Allies, to see if I can do better.]

So, what's my current take on the path ahead? Mostly it's pretty much the same.

  • OCS Korea - We've got some time to go on this, and with the upcoming retreat we're not going to get another session until the end of May. At ~3 turns/session, we're looking at another 5-6 months to complete this, although we might be able to fit in some full-day sessions to speed things along.
  • SCS - There are lots of games in the series that I'd like to try. With limitations on space, these may see a lot of table time after Korea is finished, as they're mostly single-mappers.
  • Bitter End - I still want to give this another go, the whole campaign with the updated retreat rule.
  • Red Star Rising - I want to try running the Axis, to see if I can do any better. As this needs a large table space, this is the most likely not to happen.
  • Conflict of Heroes - Storms of Steel

In amongst all those there's quite likely to be a few single session fillers. And then there's all the stuff that's in the current production pipeline. Man, I so don't want to think about all that.... :)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Prussia Defies Us Again

A few weeks ago, Mike and I got Prussia's Defiant Stand back to the table. This is one we'd played before and wanted to give another go. I'm going to give a short report here as Mike's covered the “session report” section.

I didn't go back to read our prior reports before playing. All I did was re-read the rulebook and head in “cold.” We played the same sides as before – I took the Prussians, Mike had the Austrians and Allies.

Mike has detailed the flow of our battle. I managed to get Freddy killed (again) and seemed to be falling down a slippery slope as time was running out on me.

In the end, though, I've got to admit that my conclusion is no different than last time – great game, horrific rulebook.

The insidious part of it is the rulebook seems fine when you're reading it to get ready to play. It's during play, however, where the shortcomings appear. Questions are either not answered, or answers are very difficult to find. I really have a hard time believing this game was blind-playtested. If so, many of the issues we ran into would have been discovered.

I like this game. A lot. It's just when you're only able to play it twice a year or so, it's hard to remember all the questions you laboriously worked out (or guessed at) the last time. This game is no more complex than Columbia's block games, yet their rulebooks are shorter and more complete. I admit I'm a bit biased because I love the subject matter, so I'm predisposed to liking this game. Yet I don't own it. Why? The rulebook. It's simply too much work to play as things currently stand.

So, what to do? First start would be to create a glossary. Terms (such as “engaged”) are used but not defined. Many rules are currently worded rather vaguely, but a definition might indirectly tighten their meaning. Then I'd just rewrite each section of the rules using the glossary as a guide. I'd start with combat. Then supply. That will catch the bulk of the issues we ran across. From there, rewrite as you see fit. Figure out how it's supposed to work, then document that.

Many times I've threatened to rewrite rulebooks. (Panzer Grenadier being a good example.) This is the game that needs it most, though. I need to put my money where my mouth is. First resolution of the new year: get a glossary and the combat section of the rulebook rewritten before the end of Summer. (if you knew my writing schedule at work, you'd realize how optimistic this is...)

All this being said, if you like block games, I recommend it. Just go in knowing you're going to swear at that rulebook at least a handful of times during your first game. If you're new to block games and are curious whether you'll like them or not, stay away from this one. I can't recommend it as a starter block game at all. The rulebook experience will likely keep you from trying other block games, “just in case.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

PDS - take 2

One of the things Eric and I wanted to target was going back to games we'd previously played and giving them a second go. So far, due to so many great games that we wanted to play being published, we haven't been able to do this, but with the delays in starting our OCS Korea game we had a few weeks to fill in. And so we decided to get Prussia's Defiant Stand (BGG entry) from Worthington Games back on the table. In our previous playing (Eric's take, my take) we had a rule or two wrong, suffered badly from the DSDF, but generally really liked the game, despite some of the most atrocious rules ever.

This time around we kept the same sides, Eric as Frederick and the Prussians, myself as the coalition (Austria, France, and Russia/Sweden). In fact the game opened the same as our previous affair, with Frederick marching on Dresden. This time around we played that all face-up blocks on the battle board were 'engaged' and eligible to take hits, rather than hits having to be taken in the block class (Leaders, Infantry, Cavalry). The rules clearly states that any 'engaged' block is eligible to take hits, in fact it's in bold, but never identifies what is an engaged block. Anyway, Eric takes Dresden without too much trouble, while I play a waiting game, building up Austrian strength. 3VPs to the Prussians.

In the second year, the French and Russian arrive in turn 3, immediately pressing forward. The Russians besiege Konigsberg, the Swedes take Stettin. The French have advanced up to Dresden, and with an Austrian force and the aid of a card that allows two armies to both take part in the first round (normally one would be a reserve, joining in during the second round) I pound his forces into submission, but take a lot of losses in the process.

Meanwhile the Russians have captured Konigsberg, and start to move forward. I attempt a forced march, but roll 4 '1's in 6 attempts, and lose 4 steps. Not trying that again. The Austrians now push forward, and besiege Breslau. This is where we make our only real rules gaffe, and miss that both Breslau and Cosel are now out of supply, and should be losing steps.

Eric attempts to extricate his force in Cosel by attacking into Breslau, but against a stronger force he comes off the worse and only the leader makes it back to Gloggen.

I push the Russian Cossacks forward, and they capture the weakly defended Gloggen, but a large fight for it develops, as Eric counter-attacks, and I try to reinforce. Eric comes off the better this time and retains Gloggen, but Breslau falls to siege.

Going into 1760, we're both fairly weak, the victory track is at 4VPs in my favor, having just earned 6VPs at the end of 1759. Eric has some work to do to regain some VPs or he will lose at the end of the year, as 10VPs is a game-ending decisive victory condition. (You earn VPs at the end of each year for the enemy cities you hold.) However, it's now 2230, and we have to call it a night. It's going to be tough for the Prussians to come back from this one. Even if they capture a 3 VP city back, it just postpones the loss by one turn. But without Frederick, and generally weak on troops, it's going to be a hard fight just to survive this turn, and we agree that an Allied win is the most likely outcome.

OK, so after a second play, has anything changed? Not really, it's still a very engaging game. Good length, interesting choices, good mechanisms. A proper set of rules would go a long way to making this game more acceptable, as they are really bad, even in the 2ed. Some other gaming friends tried this with the 1ed rules, gave up on it, and won't try the game again. I feel that's their loss, but it's only a small one, as there are so many great games out there that they won't suffer from a lack of games to play.

And that's where I think that Worthington (and they're not alone in this regard) have kinda shot themselves in the foot. They've produced a fine little game that deserves to see some table time, but the rules were so bad that people won't play it. Why fight through the ruleset to find out whether the game is worth playing when there are many other games in the queue all shouting 'Play me!'?

I can see this game being great for a Sunriver WBC-W bash.

My only concerns are in play balance, as I felt I had a relatively easy time of it. Then again, that card that allowed me to bring in my two major forces in the attack on Dresden was major, as it allowed me to take out a strong force and Frederick. After that, building up and attacking to Breslau made that and Cosel out of supply, and it seemed like an easy win. Knowing that, the Prussian player may need to withdraw out of Cosel, or be a bit more aggressive in defending Breslau.

All it shows is that even after a second play we still need to get it back on the table again. And I'm pretty sure it will make it, despite those rules.