Monday, December 20, 2010

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.

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