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J. R. Tracy
Various personal issues, solar flares, and the need for atonement disrupted our schedule this month, leaving us with a pair of short-handed but still lively sessions the past two weeks.
Natus, Hawkeye, and I convened on the fourth for Pax Pamir. We all had one or two games under our belts but weren't totally familiar with it, so we approached it as a learning game to explore the possibilities. We happened to end up with all three factions represented - Hawkeye was the British, Natus the Russians, and I the plucky Afghans.
Wealth beyond measure
We slowly built our tableaux without developing much board presence until I scored a hefty Persia card. I nailed down that corner of the map and the best cards to follow were also Persian. As the resident satrap I collected hefty fees whenever anyone deployed such a card, and taxed where I could to further reduce my opponents' treasuries. I was soon bumping up against their tax shelters, a cool feature I hadn't really seen yet in play.
The first two topples passed before I could get any spies out, but soon my agents were roaming the board. We had an assassination and a bribe, and saw some military campaigning as well. My position was strong but not unassailable - my best defense was economic warfare plus the occasional preemptive campaign against neighboring states. I had to use spies to protect my own cards down the stretch. Finally another topple appeared and I had all modes covered as well as supremacy, pulling out a win for the locals.
We found the game very clean and fast playing, and managed to see a lot of the moving parts in play so it was a great refresher course. I've said it before, but while I'm partial to the grit and detail of Pax Porfiriana, I appreciate the efficient functionality of Pax Pamir's design. Looking forward to trying it again, perhaps with the expansion which should appear soon.
Graveyard of empires
On the twelfth, Scott brought over a couple Euros, one new, another an old classic. We started with Dynasties: Heirate & Herrsche, joined by Smitch and Bill. Dynasties is a area-majority(ish) title with a slew of point-scoring opportunities, set in Renaissance (?) Europe. The game is broken up into three rounds, within which players execute at least four card-driven actions. Some VPs are scored each round, but a big chunk of scoring occurs at game end, based on your presence in the four regions (England/Scotland, Spain, France, HRE).
Each card offers multiple actions, such as shipping in goods, consulting advisors, and setting up for the next turn, but most of the time you are attempting to marry off your pawns to other players. Each city has two spaces (black and white) and you play a card with the appropriate action color, pay the requisite dowry in cubes, and either complete a union with an already-placed opposing pawn, or anxiously await your suitor. On the blessed day, the 'little dowry' spouse rolls three special dice (each face represents some sort of benefit) and splits them two and one. The 'big dowry' spouse then picks either the pair or the singleton. Gifts are collected and play moves on. Each city has an additional benefit (a couple VPs, influence at court, etc) that both players enjoy upon placing a pawn.
The other actions fuel the marital campaign. Advisors grant extra actions, let you steal goods, provide non-player spouses, and other handy things; shipping actions pair you up with another player to split a merchant's cargo much as wedding gifts are divided; and 'purple' actions allow you to alter the turn order for the coming round and get first choice of the end-of-round bonuses. Amidst all this are additional scoring opportunities for having unwed candidates on the board at the end of the first two rounds, and completing secret victory conditions provided by card draw.
Slicing the pie
In practice you find yourself managing diverse and unruly currencies. Actions are primary and precious, of course. You also need the right card at the right moment, but the perfect card for your next action might also be the only one that allows another, equally vital task. Finally, the goods themselves are randomly apportioned after the initial 'one of each' allotment; gathering the precise mix you need is a difficult process. Players constantly scan the board, trying to make sense of the interactions. This isn't happening in a vacuum, either - an attentive opponent can identify your needs and goals as well, and step in front of you at just the wrong moment.
Learned men and women
In our game my initial hand let me get a leg up in France, but I struggled to get the timing right between cube draws and board action. Scott jumped ahead thanks to a boardful of bachelors and completing some secret goals. Smitch quietly stockpiled resources and Bill was knocking heads with me in France. The second round saw me solidify control of France, while battling Smitch and Scott in a three-way struggle for Britain. In the final round, Bill grabbed the Holy Roman Empire, I locked up Britain, and everyone got a slice of Spain. I was trailing the field until final scoring, when my positions in France and Britain proved enough to fly through the pack for a win, 108 to Bill and Scott at 100, and Smitch just behind at 95.
This is a deep, thinky Euro with a lot of interaction. The marriage aspect forces some cooperation and splitting the gifts is a neat little sub-game. The special actions offer ways to bypass roadblocks and keep the situation fluid until the end of the final round. Timing puzzles abound, as do scoring opportunities. The range of viable strategies generates a nice tension - I was playing the long game but grew increasingly concerned as Scott built a healthy lead. Not much to speak of in terms of theme, but it's not forced and doesn't get in the way. Overall, a solid effort.
Hawkeye joined us for a five-handed game of the Reiner Knizia classic, Fabrik der Träume ("Dream Factory"). This is an auction/set-building game set in the golden age of Hollywood. Players manage studios competing for talent as they rush to get their pictures out the door.
Players start with three screenplays, all actual classics, with slots for directors, actors, cinematographers, etc. Each script has a different talent requirement, and scripts and the talent are all rated from zero to four stars. Once a film is completed, you sum the stars for the score of the film. You get VPs for completed films, as well as for being the first film in a genre (drama/adventure/'entertainment'), plus end of game bonuses for best overall film and top title in a genre.
Talent is acquired through an auction process, where you bid for one to three randomly drawn tiles. There are also periodic 'parties', where you get to pick a tile from a randomly drawn pool of talent - whoever has the most acting starpower in their stable gets first dibs. Play proceeds through three trips around the auction track and the victor is determined.
As usual with auction games, I was utterly clueless about valuation in the early going. Smitch was more astute, jumping out in front in terms of acting talent, which he leveraged effectively by cherry picking the party pools. Scott and I were perpetual 'first losers' in the auctions, finally going head to head with our massive warchests. Sadly Scott's warchest was a tiny bit bigger than mine, so I lost that auction too. However, I was then able to lock up the (lack of) talent necessary to capture the Ed Wood Award for Worst Picture, nipping Hawkeye by a point. Smitch crushed us with 97 points. Bill took second with 52, while I balanced my Ed Wood trophy with overall Best Picture to score a shocking 50, with Scott and Hawkeye trailing behind.
Oscars and Razzies
I can see why this is considered a classic, and appreciate its clean lines. The theme is great and we had fun talking about the films and the stars and contemplating the horror of Errol Flynn headlining Casablanca. Having played it, I'm not sure I need to play it again - I can find much of what I like here in other, deeper games. However, it was a snappy hour of gaming and likely improves with experience given familiarity with appropriate auction values. Nice nightcap, and a treat for film fans.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen gamers for a slew of titles, including heavy euros, upcoming wargames, and a dessert tray of nightcaps.
Hawkeye sat down with Mark to playtest South Pacific, a four-turn self-contained Empire of the Sun campaign. The map focuses on New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and neighboring regions, with the campaign kicking off in late '42. Mark took Japan against Hawkeye's Allies. On the opening turn, off-map events cramped immediate plans for both sides, so they invested in their respective operations queues for the future.
Rising sun's out, guns out
1943 opened with a rendezvous between Isoruku Yamamoto and a gaggle of P-38s that did not end well for the admiral. Dugout Doug then appeared on the scene, directing the SW Pacific HQ to seize Lae, an important stepping stone toward the control of New Guinea. The sole bright spot for the Japanese was a naval victory that turned back an American landing at Woodlark Island.
Crossing the Owen Stanleys
Midyear, USN subs continued to strangle Japanese shipping, but the IJN had enough mojo to deflect an attempt to take Biak. However, Madang fell to the relentless advance of Allied forces along the north coast of New Guinea. This momentum carried over into the final turn. The success of the submarine campaign continued, Wewak fell, and a desperate Emperor intervened to force army-navy cooperation. This wasn't enough to hold back MacArthur, however, as a joint US-Australian force captured fiercely-defended Hollandia, and with it an Allied victory for Hawkeye.
Next stop Hollandia
This should be a nice little folio game for EotS fans. The full rules are in play, but South Pacific provides a compact package, a self-contained campaign, and a small footprint. Keep an eye out for it in an upcoming issue of C3i.
Scott and Jim wrapped up The Grunwald Swords, with Scott's Lithuanians returning to the fray. Jim's Teutonic Knights needed to hit a victory point total, but also had to exceed Scott's score by a ten point margin. The German counterattack hammered the Poles but was beginning to lose steam.
Looking down on the green forest
Jim hit his number just as the Lithuanians made contact, but Scott still had a turn to reply. The fresh enthusiasm of the Lithuanians combined with the pluck of the surviving Poles to pick off a few more Teutons. Several senior brothers were found among the dead, enough to boost Scott's core to within ten of Jim's, for an alliance win.
A swirling melee
Both players really enjoyed the game. As mentioned last week, the complexity is below that of the Men of Iron series, with emphasis on higher level formations and orders. The rebounding Lithuanians create an interesting side game to the main battle itself, which allows both sides opportunities to attack and defend, sometimes simultaneously. Replay value looks decent as well; a nice effort.
They followed up with Festung Europa, with Scott taking the Allies. He worked his way across Sicily and up the boot to take Rome, before turning his attention to France.
Hitting the Gustav Line
After a headfake toward Normandy, Scott slogged ashore at Calais, a little ahead of schedule with a May invasion. However, the weather proved fickle, limiting his ability to fight his way off the beachhead. The Allies are ashore, however, and ready to fight on when we return.
Renaud and Bill returned to the trenches with No Man's Land. Renaud again took the French, this time on defense. Bill opened his attack with a gas bombardment, but an unexpected shift of the wind blew the toxic cloud back toward German lines. This, along with Renaud's Hotchkiss machine guns, persuaded les Boches to reconsider, as they ducked back into their dugouts to table their offensive for another day.
A chuckle amidst the carnage
They turned next to Cyclades. Bill took an early lead by building the first two metropolises, but Renaud battled back, assisted by the Harpies and a Gorgon or two. He snagged one of Bill's metropolises with an invasion, and fended off Bill's counterattack with the aid of Polyphemus. Renaud clinched the game with Athena by his side. Appropriate sacrifices were made.
For the favor of the gods
Tim Uren dropped by in the midst of his US vacation, and was kind enough to get us up to speed with Scythe, an obscure little empire-builder struggling for exposure. He took the Nordic Kingdoms, Campoverdi was the Khan of Crimea, Smitch ran Polania, and I was Emperor of the Saxons. Each of us received a unique faction mat (with a couple special powers, plus our starting popularity, power points, combat cards, and coins). This was combined with a randomly drawn player mat that outlines available actions as well as their costs and benefits. These are also unique, with slight variations from card to card. Thus there are twenty five possible combinations, similar to the manner Small World weds races and abilities.
Gameplay is engine-building/expansion, turning on action and resource allocation, with some conflict thrown in. Your player mat is divided into four options, each with a top row and bottom row action. Top row actions grant you stuff and let you do things - Move, Bolster (gain Power or combat cards), Trade (pay cash for resources), and Produce (turn the crank on your resource engine).
Bottom row actions cost resources but upgrade your operation. Deploy gets your fighty Mechs onto the board, simultaneously revealing a new capability for your faction when you remove it from your mat. Build allows you to plunk one of your four structures on the map - a couple are just VP engines, a couple have in-game functions. Enlist moves a 'recruit' token from your play mat to your faction mat, earning a one-time bonus while at the same time revealing a goodie that you will collect every time one of your neighbors performs the corresponding bottom row action. This is akin to the Follow action in Glory to Rome, and is a nice way to fuel your engine in the midgame. Finally, Upgrade does just that - dials up your abilities a notch. This is done by removing a cube from any top row action (increasing its value) and placing on any bottom row action (reducing its cost).
Buildup to a showdown
You mark your chosen action with your pawn, a reminder that you cannot perform two actions in a row (a shout out to many games). Each player starts hemmed in in a little three-hex enclave, bounded by water. Until you get your water-walking capability or manage to tunnel across, you're stuck in your homelands. As you expand, you populate new territory with Workers that collect whatever resource a given hex offers. Your unique character piece (you plus your dæmon, lovely figures) can collect Encounters, chits that earn a draw from the Encounter deck, another way for little boosts to Power, combat cards, etc. Also, if your character reaches the Factory hex in the center of the board, you get to select a new action tile from a deck of (players plus one) cards. The worst of these are more efficient versions of something you can already do, while the best are very good indeed.
Your character and Mechs are your combat units - they just displace unsupported enemy Workers back to their homeland, though you pay a price in Popularity to do so. Combat is Dune-like - the antagonists secretly commit up to seven Power points (expended in combat) plus a combat card for each participating unit (combat cards have values from two to five). Attacker wins ties, and the defender skedaddles home.
The game ends when someone collects six Stars, awarded for various achievements such as completing all your upgrades, deploying all four of your Mechs, or for winning a combat (maximum of two stars for this one). It's an instant-end condition, with no 'once more around the table' wrap-up. Coins convert to VPs, and you also get VPs for hexes owned, resources controlled, and Stars earned. The higher your popularity, the higher your multiplier for these last three categories.
I looked at my mats and discovered as Saxony I could earn more than two Stars for winning battles. That's all I needed to know and focused on building all my Mechs, ignoring mundane concerns such as expanding my workforce. Smitch was the first to reach the Factory, collecting an action tile before I bounced him out and got one of my own. I then turned to attack Tim, sending his character and a Nordic Mech packing. Sadly that was the zenith of the glorious Saxon Empire, from which I plunged into a hellish vortex of incompetence and despair.
The gangster-thieves of Polania
Smitch was making the most of Polania's special ability of getting twice as much value from Encounters. I decided to use the Saxon mine/mountain/tunnel subway system to nip in front of him and score some Encounter tokens of my own. I beat him to several, but found my character bottled up in a corner by Smitch and Tim. Meanwhile, Tim completed all his Enlistment actions and reaped benefits the rest of the game surfing the actions of his neighbors. He plowed the proceeds back into the development of the rest of his action card.
Cornered like a wolf-rat
I tried stealing some resources from Campo, but he shored up his defenses before I could get too far. Smitch then raided my heartland and blew out my (inadequate) Worker base for no loss of popularity, thanks to a revealed Polonian ability. At that point, I was kaput. Tim and Smitch edged toward ending the game. Tim was at five but couldn't close it out; Smitch tried to make the jump from four, but needed to defeat Tim in battle for his sixth star...and lost, pushing Tim over the top. Tim's stars and board position were enough for a comfortable Nordic win at 84 points. Smitch followed with a respectable 64, while Campo and I staggered in with scores in the 30s.
The final fight
I found Scythe a really well crafted game, with lots of things to do and several approaches to take. My monostrategy was a disaster - I clearly needed to build out my production base first. However, Tim's monostrategy had knock-on benefits and laid the foundation for the rest of his game. Smitch had success with a balanced approach. I love the development path and the way the Upgrade function naturally accelerates the game. I'd heard there wasn't a lot of combat but we seemed to have plenty - particular situations definitely reward aggression. The production is beautiful, and the structure offers a lot of variability. Is it equal to the hype? Nah - that's darn near impossible, but it's still a very good game. I'd be happy to try it again.
Natus and Mitch paired up for card gaming. They opened with Android: Netrunner, with Nate running. First he ran Criminal against Mitch's Hass-Bioroid, splitting a pair of games. They then played Anarch against Jinteki, again winning one apiece.
We welcome all kinds - even pod people
They moved on to Magic: The Gathering; I don't speak Magic, so I'll let Mitch describe the games:
"Nate and I played two decks in the Modern format. Nate piloted Bant Eldrazi, a blue-white-green deck featuring oversized Cthulian-style monsters that enter the battlefield early and crush the opponent quickly. I played Grixis Delver, which is a blue-red-black deck that relies on graveyard recursion and a suite of removal and counterspells to eliminate the opponent's creatures and push through damage. We played a best-of-three match. Nate came out aggressively in both games, using his Eldrazi Temples and Caverns of Souls to power out big creatures early and protect them from my counter-magic. I fortunately was able to stabilize by playing Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, both beefy creatures which I was able to cast in part by exiling cards from my graveyard. Once stabilized, I pushed through the final damage I needed using small flyers and/or burn spells. Both games were close. If Nate had drawn one more Reality Smasher (5/5 with haste and trample) in each game, the results likely would have been different. Also, we did not sideboard after the first game, which probably hurt Nate more, since he had some cards available that would have wreaked havoc with my ability to use cards from my graveyard."
Dueling life-counter apps
After Scythe we moved on to some small stuff. First, Campo and I taught Tim and Smitch Atlantic Euchre. I've never played with less than a full complement, and found it has a very different feel with four seats. I had ridiculous cards, to the point I wrapped up the last (three point) convoy by sending Admiral Doughnuts out with Bismarck and Scharnhorst. I took the game with 20 points, with Campo coming in second with 11.
'41, North Atlantic, surface
Mark then joined us for The Resistance. Tim and I circled each other with suspicion in the early going, but Mark's stone-faced demeanor <cough> narrowed the field of actual suspects, and careful mission selection revealed Campoverdi to be a fellow traveler. There was some minor endgame drama as ill-timed Plot cards gave Mark and Campo a shot to get back in it, but we foiled their shenanigans and prevailed for the win.
Emmy Award nominee
We closed out the evening with Roll for the Galaxy, losing Mark and Campo but picking up Hawkeye and Bill. I had a Novelty home world and quickly added another, so I experimented with a shipping VP strategy. Bill built a VP engine as well, alongside a straight build strategy. The phase selections were kind to us so we pulled away from the pack; Bill closed the game with his twelfth tile, but I edged him 40-37 with the rest of the table in the low 20s.
Helping with the finer points
A great evening with a lot of variety - I hope we've convinced Tim to drop by again next time he's Stateside!
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve players this week for science fiction, retro science fiction, alt history, and a little bit of historical gaming too.
Renaud, Steve, Bill, and Mitch pulled out Onward to Venus, a Martin Wallace empire-builder with a steam-punk space exploration theme. Players play various earthly powers spreading the blessings of man throughout the solar system through constant warfare and relentless exploitation of resources.
To infinity and beyond!
The players spread out across our neighboring planets, so focused on their extraterrestrial land grab that they let things slip a bit at home. A robot uprising back on Earth rattled the game's economy before it was reined in. Back out in space, Renaud consolidated his gains to carry France to a narrow one point win over Mitch, with Bill and Steve trailing behind. I think they enjoyed the game - it looks good on the table and has substantial variability. As a Wallace fan I'm looking forward to trying it myself.
Feeding the flames
Natus, Smitch, El Rios, and Campoverdi convened for Forbidden Stars, playing Eldar, Chaos, Space Marines, and Orks respectively. They played the introductory start which takes a little time to spin up to speed. I saw some clever manipulation of the warp storms to frustrate plans and protect home systems, but Smitch's Chaos was able to edge out in front of the pack and squeak out a win.
The grim darkness of the far future
Smitch points out the basic setup is so finely balanced it channels your actions and probably yields the least interesting game of Forbidden Stars you'll ever play. It does at least lay down the fundamental understanding you'll need to build your board the next time out.
Scott and Jim took a trip down Memory Lane...to the future! They cracked open Natus, Nukes & Nazis 2, Ty Bomba's remake of the old XTR alt-(future)history title. This posits WWIII circa 1989, between Nazi Germany and her old mid-century enemies. Unlike the original, the new title throws in the Russians, and is really an entirely new game systems-wise. For some unknown reason the remake lacks a unique BGG page, though it certainly warrants one. [Edit: this has since been remedied by Scott]
New old school
Jim took the Nazis against Scott's everybody else. With the new activation system, players alternate moving or fighting with individual stacks, which are then vulnerable to attack due to reduced defense strength. This encourages careful planning and attention to your activation sequence, but it also makes for a looong game given the size of this mini-monster. After grinding through the first turn, they cut bait and moved on, with nary a mushroom cloud to be seen. It seems to lack the innate wackiness of the original, aspiring to something more serious. Unfortunately it seems to lack the fun of the original as well. It did at least encourage me to dig out my old copy, which should see action before year end.
Not available in Germany
Our intrepid duo moved on to The Grunwald Swords, Hollandspiele's title on the 1410 battle (sometimes called Tannenberg) between the Teutonic Knights and a Polish-Lithuanian alliance. The complexity is on the low side (Scott says it's reminiscent of Ancients), enough to cover the expected tactical interactions but saving some brainspace for a clever order system. Players direct their wings with order chits, but the order sets are unique and each chit is backprinted with another order. If you use Order A, then you necessarily forgo Order B on the flip side.
Formed for battle
The situation finds Scott's Polish-Lithuanians attacking Jim's Germans, who are defending the edge of a long ridge. Unfortunately for the alliance, the Lithuanians take a powder at some point only to return later, as they did historically. Here the alliance player gets to choose the timing of both the departure and the return, gaining VPs the longer he holds the Lithuanians off map, but risking the rest of his army if he waits too long.
Hitting the slopes
Scott advanced with his right and engaged the Knights, before falling back under counterattacking pressure. Casualties have been heavy but the Teutons are threatening to roll up the Poles. They still have a few turns to go, and Lithuanian banners have just appeared on the horizon. We'll see if they return in time to save the day!
A hard right hook
Last up, Hawkeye and I got in a little pre-ASLOK ASL tuneup with The Tebourba Engagement, an old At The Point title featuring Germans on the attack in 1942 Tunisia. Hawkeye had a half dozen British squads backed by some support weapons, a two-pounder anti-tank gun, and a pair of US AFVs - an M3 Lee and an M3 Gun Motor Carriage (a halftrack sporting a 75mm gun). I fielded eight 548s led by three leaders, including a 9-2, along with a pair of PzIVF2s and a pair of PzIIILs. I had seven turns to travel the length of a halfboard and exit 20 CVPs, including at least eight points of non-crew infantry. Hawkeye got a little help on turn three, when a second Lee appeared along with two more squads and a leader. The terrain both helps and hurts - orchards are olive groves by SSR, lending a +1 TEM in addition to their hindrance value, but with doubled movement cost.
Hawkeye set up with most of his forces strung along the forward edge of his setup area, about mid-board. The AFVs were nicely spaced on either side, with infantry anchoring the flanks. One stack of infantry looked suspiciously like a leader-led MMG commanding a fire lane-friendly line of sight. The ATG was nowhere to be seen. I decided to enter heavy on my right, with a reduced platoon advancing through the riverbank woods on my left. Three tanks supported my right flank while one PzIVF2 headed left to engage the unidentified AFV on that flank.
My men frolicked through the olive groves, with a couple half squads breaking from small arms fire. A low-firepower shot inflicted a normal morale check on my left-flank platoon; one squad broke, while the second passed with Hawkeye's SAN. The sniper came in hot, selecting both the unbroken squad and my leader. Hawkeye naturally popped the leader, and the squad went down on the subsequent die roll. Nice shooting, Tex! The AFV on that side revealed itself to be the Lee, bouncing multiple shells off my PzIV. The PzIV forgot its APCR, but bagged the Lee with straight AP. Hawkeye's GMC quickly evened the score, knocking out a PzIII.
The mid game saw me kill the GMC before I pierced the main British line and cracked the BB4 stone building. A smoke round took care of one squad and a leader, and a successful CC eliminated another. My infantry slipped past but not before Hawkeye's reinforcements arrived. I had three AFVs to his one, but he still had three tank-killing weapons, including both tubes on the Lee and the still-hidden two-pounder.
I spread my assets and timed my exit for one large rush, hoping Hawkeye would either miss or at least lose rate of fire. The ATG failed to follow the script, popping up in GG7 to kill a PzIII as it attempted to exit. However, it immediately malfunctioned on its subsequent ROF shot. The Lee was more polite, missing entirely. With both my PzIVs off, I needed eight points of infantry - my first couple squads went down but soaked up a lot of shots, allowing the 9-2 to scamper off with his platoon for the win.
Consoled by Campari
This is a tidy little scenario, perfect for covering a lot of ASL in a small package. The olive groves add a nice twist, and it's fun to see a couple nationalities fighting side by side. I think the outcome breaks on the initial armor engagement - if the Lee wins that first exchange, I probably lose another tank as well and am hard pressed to get the points off. Worth tracking down for an evening's play. On to Cleveland in a couple weeks!
J. R. Tracy
We had thirteen players for playtesting, real-time ASW action, and a little something from Dan VIII's collection of odds and ends.
Bill, Smitch, Jim, Manfred, Mitch, Dan VIII, and Tenno opted for real-time Captain Sonar. With the odd number, one team was short-handed, so celebrated radio operator Mitch "Sparks" Stein joined Dan and Tenno on the three-man crew. Both teams neglected to name their subs, a grievous oversight that has been forwarded to the Discipline Committee for review.
Checking the plot
As expected, this was a very different experience from last week's turn-based game. They surfaced much more often to clear damage, relying on the cover of chaos to protect them. It was interesting to see how differently the two teams operated. At one point the big team seemed almost dead in the water while the other crew banged out move after move. The small crew ultimately triumphed - I don't know if was due to better efficiency, an inherent advantage of a small team, or pure dumb luck. Fun session for all, though.
The same group followed up with Secret Hitler. I don't know how all the roles split, but Bill-as-Hitler was elected to office with the help of Chancellor Jim.
Nate sat down to teach Dave Android: Netrunner. Dave took the corporate side, using Jinteki for all seven games. Natus ran with Shaper for the first five, before switching to Anarch. Dave learned quite a bit, taking two games, and expanded our pool of potential NR players.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye introduced Rich to Up Front, with the traditional Meeting of Patrols. Hawkeye took the dogfaces against Rich's squareheads. Rich picked up on the key tactics early, as Hawkeye seemed to be perpetually under wire. They went the distance, ending in a draw after a very cagey match. Rich is sold on the game and looking for more.
Scott and I opened with a playtest of Charles Vasey's B1704, applying the W1815 system to the Battle of Blenheim. The Duke of Marlborough leads an Anglo-Allied army against the Franco-Bavarian force of the Duc de Tallard. The French and Bavarians await the Allied attack behind the Nebel (a marsh-bound stream), relying on fortified hamlets and counterpunching cavalry to withstand the assault.
Tallard's batteries speak
For those unfamiliar with W1815, each side is represented by a number of formation cards, each with its own CRT. Combat results are casualties, morale hits, or both, affecting either (and occasionally both) sides depending on the roll. The map is a schematic of the battlefield, and serves to hold the division blocks that represent the manpower of a given formation. Commanders typically have one-use special powers. Victory is attained by driving the enemy's casualty track to zero, or by breaking their morale. Morale hits reduce army morale, and casualties trigger morale checks.
Historically Marlborough demonstrated against the flanks to deny support to the French center, before launching his own assault against the heart of Tallard's line. In game terms, Colonel Cutts leads his brigade against Blenheim on the Allied left, with the possibility of 'locking' French reserves into the fight for the town. Eugene, facing Marsin and the town of Lutzingen on the right, doesn't have such a direct effect. However, if his units aren't activated at least once every three turns, Marsin can release troops to help Tallard in the center.
The Nebel ran red
Eugene and Marlborough each have an infantry and cavalry card, but must first deploy pontoons before engaging the French/Bavarian line. In the meantime, the French heavy batteries pound Allied morale as they slog across the swampy approach. Once the pontoons are down, the French batteries are overrun and Marlborough and Eugene assault Oberglau and Lutzingen respectively. When a town is taken, the relevant formation cards are flipped with the Allies becoming more effective and the French/Bavarians less so. At this point the Franco-Bavarians are usually on the ropes, but Allied morale may be wavering; can Marlborough finish off Tallard before his army loses the will to continue?
We played four games, switching sides. In our opener, Cutts failed spectacularly before Blenheim but Eugene blasted his way into Lutzingen on his first attempt and never looked back. In the second, Marlborough grabbed Oberglau and settled into a long attritional battle with the French failing morale first. In the third, Clérambault got a division over to Tallard, allowing him to last long enough to destroy the Duke's foot. The Elector of Bavaria was flattened and both sides were reeling but the Duke's cavalry carried the day, forcing the clinching rout test. The last was our sole French win - Cutts seduced both French reserve divisions into Blenheim, but the French batteries scored two morale hits in the meantime. Casualties were surprisingly light but the Allied morale steadily sank until they finally failed a test two boxes short of routing outright.
Marsin wears thin
I enjoyed B1704, and feel it reflects Blenheim to the extent possible in such a small package. We had one blowout but the other three were quite close games. The onus is on the Allies to dictate the flow, but Tallard has choices with respect to reserves and the timing of counterattacks. The typical +1 die roll bonus for a counterattack is always tempting, but the eligible formation may be just one casualty away from elimination, which might stay your hand. I like the tension once Marlborough is across the Nebel - the Gens d'Armes charge home again and again, hoping to force a fatal rout test before Tallard is swept away. A fun and satisfying little game, worthy of its ancestor.
The Allies lose their mojo
We followed up with the short Kashmir scenario from Next War: India-Pakistan, using the basic rules. Scott was Pakistan, trying to wrest Kashmir away from my Indians, aided by Chinese airmobile forces. The system is a highly polished expression of classic wargaming ideas - sticky (but not locking) zones of control, odds based combat, troop quality, reserve and exploitation movement, and so on. The sequence of play varies depending on initiative - if one side has the upper hand, the pace really picks up, with a given unit potentially moving and fighting three times in a single turn.
Unit class is very important in the Next War system, interacting with terrain for both movement and combat. Perched on the western slopes of the Himalayas, the scenario's battle area has a broad range of terrain, mostly suited to mountain troops and light infantry. There are a couple valleys in which armor can can get its war on, including the Vale of Kashmir. Air support in the basic game is straightforward, with attack helicopters and fast movers providing die roll modifiers, though only after surviving anti-air defenses. Both sides have airmobile infantry, very useful but again subject to anti-air.
On top of the world
In this scenario both sides collect VPs for eliminating enemy units, but the bulk of the scoring is for terrain objectives - five hexes worth five VPs each to whoever holds them at the end of the four turn game. My troops started near the borders, with three of the five rear-area objectives unprotected. Scott opened by attempting a coup de main against vacant Anantnag with a pair of PRC airmobile brigades. He had an 80% chance of success, but my ever-vigilant air defense forces sent the Chinese packing. The rest of his forces rolled up to my border outposts and proceeded to bash their way into the disputed province.
I garrisoned all the objectives at my first opportunity, and moved to reinforce the borders. I relied on my frontier outposts to slow the assault on Baramula, leaving my best unit to defend the city itself, protected by high mountains and a stream. In the north, Scott pieced together a large multi-hex attack against the mountain division facing Taobat, inflicting casualties but failing to dislodge the defenders. I reinforced, and a second attack saw a similar result. He abandoned that front and threw everything into the Baramula operation.
The Chinese lend a hand
The Baramula fight was a grind, as I traded bodies for time. Scott had the initiative for the first two turns, but it shifted over to me at the end. He needed to crack my line quickly, and called for a Chinese air assault to cut my retreat paths. The Hips got through this time, but my mountain troops held on. With just one turn to go and initiative flipping to me, we saw no chance for a breakthrough and called it.
This is a tidy little scenario, limited in options as you'd expect for its size, but well suited to teaching the system. I liked the dynamic turn sequence and the unit class distinctions. The use of supporting assets is clean but the air defense component feels a little elaborate. Still, it's quite a jump to the involved air and detection systems of the advanced game. We'll save those for another day, but I think the appeal is strong and we will return to this. All three titles hold interest but I reckon we'll stick with India-Pakistan for the time being.
Noted authority on mountain warfare
Dan VIII reached into his bag of tricks for a suitable nightcap and emerged with Junk Art. This is a dexterity/stacking game similar to Bausack/Sac Noir. The basic stacking game is shaped by card play; City cards set the victory conditions for the current game, and Junk Art cards determine what kind of pieces you place next. Depending on the city, you might need the tallest structure, the most pieces, or simply be the last player standing. Tenno proved to have the steadiest hand, graciously accepting the Junk Art crown to close out the evening.
J. R. Tracy
We had nine players this past Tuesday for three fresh and much-anticipated titles.
We opened with the heralded Captain Sonar, a game of team-based submarine combat. A screen separates the two crews as they arm torpedoes, plot their course, and track the movements of the opposition. Normally I'd give you a light overview of the rules, but for a change of pace I offer instead Shut Up and Sit Down's informative and entertaining review:
Unfortunately we had an odd number of players, so I sat out. Dave captained one sub with Dan VIII as Engineer and Mitch as the Radioman, while Smitch captained the other, with Engineer Hawkeye and Radioman Rich for crewmates. We opted for for a turn-base game instead of real time for our first attempt. Both teams picked suitably warlike names and sailed out to do battle.
The battling bosuns of Boaty McBoatface
Both boats powered up their drones first, and then their sonars. A well-timed sonar activation by S. S. Minnow dramatically narrowed their search area, and they quickly pinpointed the opposition. A torpedo soon followed for a direct hit.
A fearless crew
Up to that point Boaty McBoatface was about half a sector off on their own plot, but the torpedo launch tightened things up considerably and they replied with a direct hit of their own. However, Boaty's snake-like course limited their options (you cannot cross your previous path), and Minnow was able to surface and complete much-needed repairs without fear of Boaty closing for another shot. All patched up, Minnow submerged, survived a near miss, and put Boaty McBoatface on the bottom with a second direct hit.
One ping only
All hands enjoyed themselves; I think a turned-based starter game was a good intro, as a couple things still got lost in the confusion. A drone or two may have been launched with damaged components, for instance, and a sloppy plot opened the door to controversy. The enthusiasm is there for a full real-time session in the next few weeks.
Neither silent nor deep
Scott and Bill tried Compass' new Festung Europa: The Campaign for Western Europe, 1943-1945, with Scott taking the Germans to Bill's Wallies. After some initial confusion over what an Invasion card allowed, Bill stormed ashore in Sicily, and chased the Axis up the boot until Italy surrendered. Things did not go as well on the Channel coast, however, as the Allies struggled to get a foothold in France. They managed to get through six turns of the ten turn campaign, calling when it looked out of reach for the good guys.
The players found the game okay in concept, but weak in execution. The map is as bad as rumored, ugly and occasionally confusing. They were fighting the rulebook much of the time as well. Good play depends on understanding card interactions, but that's true for any CDG - Bill suffered more than Scott on this front because of demand for the Allies to set the pace. I think they liked it better than Barbarossa to Berlin, and it will get another look as we have several interested players. A solid design, sadly undermined by poor presentation.
Jammed up in Normandy
I joined the Sonar crews for The Dragon & Flagon, a rollicking bar room brawl in the spirit of the old Yaquinto Swashbuckler. Instead of swordsmen, each player-character is a particular class, such as Barbarian, Paladin, Monk, etc, though a Swashbuckler is included in a nod to its roots.
Each player has a deck of eighteen action cards. Most of these are common to everyone (Move, Dash, Riposte and so on) but each character has a few cards unique to his or her class. For instance, the Paladin can blast nearby players with his Radiance, while the Swashbuckler Dazes opponents by waving his fancy hat. Every player has also has a unique Dragon card, that can only be used if you get your hands on the Dragon Flagon that starts the game in the center of the tavern. These are very high powered moves, well worth making a play for the Flagon.
Game play is a mix of Robo Rally and Thebes(!) - you plot two actions in advance by placing the respective cards on your play mat. All the character tokens are placed in a cup and drawn one at a time, with that player playing his current action and adding another to his queue. Actions have a time value (this is the Thebes bit) - once completed, your token is placed that many spaces down the turn track, marking when you'll again be eligible to act. Robust moves carry a high time penalty, leaving you vulnerable if your nearby opponents plot more nimble actions.
Combat is resolved via an exchange of Reputation (everyone starts with twenty points). If I hit you with a chair, I collect three points off you. Some actions, such as Slash or Yank Rug, can collect Reputation from multiple opponents. An especially heavy blow Dazes your opponent, forcing him to plot an extra action. If you're feeling bold, you can hop up on a table and make a Boast - this increases the Reputation value of any actions you perform, but also increases the score of your opponents when they attack you!
Our game opened with Paladin Dave, Barbarian Rich, and Wizard me all jumping up on tables. Dave then made a Boast, just in time to catch my boots with the side of his face as I swung across on a chandelier. Dave staggered forward a couple spaces to be met by Rich, swinging in from the other direction! I settled in and started launching ranged attacks around the room, deploying LazerCat, my familiar, in the center of the tavern. LazerCat acts as another point of origin for my ranged spells, a pretty nifty asset. Unfortunately, noted ailurophobe Mitch (Rogue) pegged LazerCat with a mug, forcing me to burn another action redeploying her.
Dave, Hawkeye (Druid) and Rich stood off to one side, bouncing mugs and chairs off one another from pointblank range, stepping off the rug every time Mitch lined up to give it a yank. Smitch (Swashbuckler) edged toward the Flagon, absorbing Arc Lightning and Ice blasts from me and my feline in the process. Dan VIII (Monk) seemed uninterested in the proceedings beyond throwing the occasional mug. I was leading at this point, dishing out a lot of punishment without getting hit myself.
Just resting their eyes
Despite my efforts, Smitch got his hands on the Dragon Flagon, and we got a taste of his killer Dragon card. Called the Blade Waltz, it allowed him to attack and move continuously as long as he obeyed the pattern on the card and each move led to a fresh attack against a new opponent. He set it up perfectly, hitting all six of us in a single turn. I handed him the yellow jersey, but it was soon stained red.
We were over three quarters through the game when Shaolin Dan got involved. He tapped Mitch with the Touch of Death, good for seven points, then hopped on a table and slammed into Smitch and myself. By the time we returned to our feet Dan had skipped away out of range, surprisingly agile for a man his size. We gave chase but failed to catch him before the City Guard arrived to shut down the party. Dan's patient sandbagging paid off, giving him a win with 30 Rep to my 27, with Smitch in third at 24.
LazerCat sitting pretty
I thought it was a lot of fun, and very clean for a tactical combat game. If you're a fan of the older game, you will not be disappointed. We opted for the longer game but I suggest playing the shorter length first time out (and not just because I would've won had we done so ). In addition to the free for all, you can play teams, and a given player can control multiple characters if you wish. As with the original, you have the option to play a boarding action instead of a tavern fight. Highly recommended if you're in the mood for an old fashioned donnybrook.
J. R. Tracy
We had a baker's dozen last week for a slew of old and new titles.
Cataclysm wrapped up with an action packed final turn. I took over Japan and Italy from Mark as the war advanced into 1945. With no resources or industrial capacity, Campoverdi's Germany was reeling. Italy held her home territory along with the Balkans, but Dutch and Hawkeye were on the doorstep with Commonwealth, French, and American might. Jim's USSR was in the best position - he sat in Berlin and faced thin Japanese opposition in Mongolia and China, while Japan herself was contending with an ever-stronger USN.
Storming the boot
Outnumbered and outgunned, the Axis still put up a good fight. A relentless barrage of sixes threw back several Allied attacks against Italy, while the IJN performed heroic feats against the US in the Ryukyus and the Sea of Japan. Japanese land forces fared worse, however, getting rolled by a surging Red Army. The Axis VP lead was quickly overwhelmed and the Soviets pulled in front.
Uncle Joe piles on
Unfortunately I couldn't roll a six *every* time so the Western Allies eventually took Sicily and Lombardy. Italy failed her Collapse roll and I was forced to offer an Armistice. The greedy Allies refused, hoping to capture Rome and its two VPs. Out east, the Soviet steamroller slowed to a halt but the IJN carrier force slipped beneath the waves, leaving only surface assets to face the Fifth Fleet. Hawkeye turned his attention to the Home Islands, failing repeated invasion attempts.
Redeploying to the CBI
Three of four Crisis chits were drawn - the fourth would end the game. The Axis clawed back into a tie when Campo's erotic sonnets were well received in Bucharest, flipping Romania from Soviet client to German lackey. We even had a shot at pulling into the lead but a Japanese attempt to retake Manchuria and an Italian counterattack into Sicily were both rebuffed. The Soviets managed one more offensive before the final Crisis chit emerged, using it to retake Romania. The Crisis chit followed, ending the game with a Soviet victory. The final tally was USSR 11, Axis 9, Western Allies 8.
Reaping the whirlwind
It was an exciting final turn, due largely to smokin' hot Italian and Japanese combat dice. The dominant Soviet position forced the Western Allies to declare war, but they just couldn't come to grips with the Reds. It was gratifying to see the Axis still had a glimmer of hope at the end, at least something that made it worth playing on. At this point the basic systems are proven, and all that remains is confirming the powers are reasonably balanced. I think Scott and Bill are pretty comfortable with where things stand. Just a few more preorders to go before this enters the GMT production pipeline.
The new face of Europe
Jon Kay, visiting from Toronto, taught Rich "Sergeant Schultz" Schulte Arena: Roma II. They had a great, drawn-out game, nearly draining the VP pool before blowing holes in each others' tableaus to build it up again. Both then managed to deploy double Forums, with Schultz winning the VP race for a narrow win.
Walking through the rules
Renaud dropped by with No Man's Land: Trench Warfare 1914-1918 in hand, sitting down with Herr Fuchs. This is a tactical-level WWI game with detailed treatment of artillery, rules for support weapons, and date-dependent tweaks that reflect the evolution of combat over the course of the war. It also has a neat élan rule - the attacker draws an élan chit every turn, which affects either Initiative, Close Combat, or Rallying. In the early going, these effects are positive, but as the game progresses, they become neutral and even negative, reflecting fatigue.
The assault begins
They chose a 1916 scenario with Renaud's poilus on the attack. Both sides scored VPs for inflicting casualties, while Renaud also scored for occupying German trenches, winning the game outright if he reached the Support line. David defended up front, stuffing the French on the German left but gradually giving ground on the right. Renaud advanced enough on that flank to make up for his casualties, scoring a win for the French. Renaud seems to be on a bit of a WWI kick of late - maybe his designer brain is dreaming Great War dreams.
Through the wire
Smitch, Dave, Manfred, Jon, and Schultz turned to Ra while they waited for Cataclysm to end. Dave and Schultz battled over the pharaoh lead, and after a catastrophe-ridden first epoch everyone enjoyed the rich auctions of the end game. Jon (playing for the first time) twigged to the parabolic nature of monument scoring, and cultivated an impressive sculpture garden. This was enough to take home the win, not a bad achievement for his first visit to Dave's dojo.
In the catbird seat
After some early departures, ten of us sat down to Secret Hitler, a recent Kickstarter production. This is yet another twist on Mafia/Werewolf/The Resistance etc. Players are divided into two teams, the Liberals versus the Fascists of Weimar Germany. One Fascist is Hitler - he does not know the identity of the the other Fascists. The other Fascists all know each other and the identity of Hitler. Liberals are in the dark about everyone.
Don't let this happen to *your* country
One player is President, and nominates a Chancellor. Via open voting with 'Ja' and 'Nein' cards, the choice is ratified or defeated. Assuming the Chancellor is elected, the President then draws three random Policies, examines them in secret, bins one, and passes the other two to his Chancellor, who enacts one and bins the other. Discards are secret. If the Chancellor choice is defeated, the President's seat rotates and the process repeats. Three defeats in a row means you draw a random Policy off the top of the deck and enact it, which is dangerous for the Liberals since Fascist Policies outnumber Liberal by a little more than 2:1.
If the Liberals enact five Policies, they win; if the Fascists enact six, they win instead. However, if Hitler is elected Chancellor after the Fascists have three or more Policies in place, they get an autowin. Also, each Fascist Policy comes with a little authoritarian bonus - for the first two, the current President may examine someone's party affiliation (but will not be able to discover whether that person is Hitler). For the fourth and fifth Policies, the President can assassinate a player (if Hitler is killed this way the Liberals autowin). Also, after the Fascists reach five Policies, the Chancellor may propose a veto of all current proposals, which succeeds if the President agrees. This prevents a Liberal/Liberal pairing from getting boxed in by three Fascist policies.
Springtime for Hitler
In all, very simple, but a lot of fun. We played two games. In the first, I killed an innocent Bill who was mystifyingly coy about his Policy choices as Chancellor. Later, a charismatic Austrian war veteran assumed office with promises of a better future. Our Hitler proved to be Manfred, in a shameful display of typecasting.
In our second game, I was a Fascist and we jumped out to an early lead. However, we were on the ropes going into the endgame, with five Policies on the board against four Liberal Policies. Two Fascists were dead and the other two clearly identified. My Fascist colleague Smitch was President, and took a chance nominating Liberal Manfred as Chancellor. Before the Liberals recognized the trap, they ratified Smitch's choice. Smitch smiled, handed Manfred two Fascist Policies, politely declined his offer of a veto, and ushered the Fascists into power. It was a clever play dependent on drawing at least two Fascist policies, but the odds were in his favor.
Get yer ja-ja's out
I like the Policy construct and the gamesmanship it encourages. A Liberal President might nominate a shady Chancellor and hand him a Policy of each flavor in order to clarify his faction. The risk of enacting a Fascist policy might well be a price worth paying to establish someone's identity. Keeping an eye on voting patterns can clarify political leanings as well, but there is ample opportunity to out-think yourself. Half the table was at sea during the first game, but the second was very sharp and focused.
I don't know if it has the legs of The Resistance, but this looks good for several sessions before growing stale. Like most of the secret-identity breed, it has the virtue of accommodating a range of players, from five to ten I believe. Good art, with an agitprop flair that doesn't exactly fit but is evocative nonetheless. PnP files are available here on BGG, but I reckon production copies should be hitting stores soon.
J. R. Tracy
We gathered a dozen gamers to continue our playtest and also sample some vintage Borg.
After simmering in the Far East for a few turns, the war is now truly global in our game of Cataclysm. France seized the lightly held Ruhr while Comrade Campagna led the Soviets into the war by invading Poland and Romania. British troops fought their way into Berlin before being thrown back, only to be replaced by the Russians advancing from the east. Germany took Poland from the south to pinch off the spearhead and retrieve the situation, but even Goebbels is struggling to put a positive spin on recent developments.
Red Army rolling
Meanwhile, Japan has the China situation under control, having chased Mao's columns into the hills. The Soviets are getting involved, however, and the US Navy is applying pressure from the sea, briefly cutting off the Home Islands and remaining a threat to mainland operations.
Germany is hanging on by a thread, Italy is threatened, and Japan itself may see an invasion. The tide has definitely turned but with just one turn remaining (1945-46) the Allies still have their work cut out for them. Good exciting game so far!
With a reboot looming Natus wanted to get the venerable Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel on the table. Mitch, Tenno, Eliot, and I signed up for the ride. This is a science fiction themed dungeon crawl designed by Richard Borg. Players control corporate factions battling the evil Dark Legion, which is bent on exterminating humanity. One player controls the Dark Legion, while everyone else controls a pair of fighters representing their faction.
Packing them in
The scenario structure offers a campaign format, with factions increasing in ability from game to game. The Dark Legion role is randomly assigned each scenario, but that player still earns points toward his own faction for use in later games. Each scenario has a specific objective for the humans - completing the mission earns credits, good for buying toys in the coming scenarios. In addition, killing bad guys racks up Promotion Points - these advance your faction as a whole, adding bonus actions and improving your combat abilities.
The basic bones are very straightforward - each trooper gets two actions a turn, which can be used to move and/or fight. Fighting may be either Close Combat or Ranged, with different values for each depending on your weapons. There are three sets of combat dice (white, red, black) with increasing effectiveness. Units are rated for armor and hit points - you must exceed the armor rating by an amount equal to the target's hit points in order to kill it. When attacked, humans deflect the first hit and get a saving roll against the second. Dark Legion figures need to be overcome in one combat (hits don't carry over) while human troopers accumulate hits and die after suffering their fifth.
The Dark Lord checks his notes
Turn order is by chit draw. On his turn, the Dark Legion player first randomly draws an Event (all bad as far as I could tell), reveals a Force card (placing reinforcements on the map) and conducts actions with all of his minions. The randomized turn order can be a real pain for the humans, as the rules prohibit moving or shooting through friendlies, and the corridors of death tend to get crowded as chokepoints abound.
Tenno was selected to run the bad guys in our opening scenario. We humans had to enter the map, kill 20 Dark Legion minions, and escape (in four turns). Seemed simple enough. Tenno drew a heavy Event right off the bat, placing eight Legionnaires and a couple Centurions on the map. Tenno sized up the situation and placed them as far from our entrance as possible. He proceeded to move every figure he had toward the same area, so one tile was teeming with bad guys. We managed to pick off a few strays but had to wade into this snakepit if we had any hope of success. Mitch was armed with a grenade launcher that had the potential to inflict devastating damage in a crowded evironment, but he had terrible luck with it. The rest of us scored a handful of kills but as time expired our body count was four short of victory.
Enemies ahead and behind
Eliot was the Dark Lord for our second scenario. This one found us pursued by Ezoghoul (known variously as Esophagus or the Demogorgon during our game), a PED-powered killing machine that enjoys three actions a turn and a ton of attack dice. We had to flee through a serpentine maze, cutting through the usual collection of riffraff before exiting the far end, all while trying to stay a step ahead of the boss. This really did not go well at all, as poor chit draws saw us get in each others' way and we struggled to kill the goons clogging the corridors. Natus and Tenno both used special abilities to teleport ahead and at least exit a couple guys, but for the human team as a whole it was a dismal failure. Between his top performance in the first scenario and the havoc he wrought with Esophagus, Eliot was the overall winner with Tenno coming in second.
Laughing in the face of danger
Siege of the Citadel was a fun throwback experience. It is very much a product of its time, with a bright primary-color palette and an early-Warhammer graphics vibe. However, you can detect the DNA of a lot of recent titles in its genes, such as tiered combat dice, enemies whose power escalates as you level up, and the semi-cooperative scenario/campaign scheme. Games like Descent and Space Cadets: Away Missions owe much to Siege of the Citadel just as it owes something to Space Hulk and others before it. It holds up well as a game, but I can see room for improvement, just in terms of physical presentation. The tiles feel very crowded, and two faction colors match a couple flavors of villains, making it harder to read the board than it should be. That said, Borg's steady design hand is evident and I can easily imagine investing the time to play a full ten scenario campaign. I will keep an eye out for the new version, likely a Kickstarter campaign later this year or early next.
J. R. Tracy
We packed in fifteen players for a playtest, a couple new titles, and some popular Euros.
Scott and Bill opened a fresh test of Cataclysm: A Second World War, with Campoverdi running Germany, Dutch the UK, Hawkeye France/USA, Mark Japan/Italy, and Jim the USSR.
Campo's unique brand of nationalistic lunacy proved strangely attractive to the people of Europe, as he peacefully built an ever-expanding power base under the noses of the dithering Allies. 'Dithering' in this case meant perpetually missing mobilization rolls. Mark's Italians also carved out a chunk of the Balkans for themselves. When the munitions plants finally came on line, Dutch opened the war with aggressive action in the West, setting the stage for the next session.
In the Far East, Mark turned toward China, consuming half the country thanks to ample air and armor support. Uncle Joe looked on with concern but has yet to act. The US is far from entering the war and the other Western powers have other matters to attend to, so we'll see how much progress the Emperor can make before the rest of the table responds. We'll be returning to this in the coming weeks.
Playing the China card
Dr. Rob, Natus, Dave, and Tenno sat down to Concordia. It was Tenno's first try of the game so everyone else felt they had a chance. They were wrong.
Dr. Rob was urgently summoned to a Scarsdale kurultai to select the new khan of Westchester, so the remaining three followed up with Alhambra. If three players could not stop Tenno, what hope did two have?
A fistful of dinar
GorGor, Herr Fuchs, Smitch, and I tried the new Cake or Death: The Peloponnesian War, from the folks who brought us Quartermaster General. Like QMG, this is a light card-driven strategic game, with the various powers split into opposing sides. Here, Athens and the Delian League are opposed by Sparta and Corinth.
Build cards are used to build hoplites and triremes, and Battle cards attack your enemies. Status cards are played in front of you for on-going capabilities known to all. You can also play Prepare cards, which are played face down for future use, as well as Events, which have immediate impact. In a change from QMG, you can lay down a Prepare card after your regular action, by discarding a card. You may also discard two cards in order to dive into your deck to retrieve a Build or Battle card. Also new are Bribe tokens - you can buy these via discards or obtain them through Events. Bribe tokens have several applications, but the most common use is providing a 'friendly unit' for the purpose of placing builds or tracing supply. They disappear the turn after they are placed, but can save your empire in their brief life on board.
Rich Corinthian pleather
In the first game I had Athens, allied with Herr Fuchs, while Smitch led Sparta and GorGor headed Corinth. I had my fleet out to sea in no time but just as quickly the Spartans were on my doorstep. Corinthian air strikes devastated my draw deck, forcing me discard several Prepare cards vital to the defense of Athens. I didn't help by discarding a Build Hoplite at the outset, not realizing how rare they are. Herr Fuchs fought valiant naval battles west of the Peloponnese, but when Athens fell our fate was sealed. I founded a new city in Messenia, too late to have any real impact. The running score was deceptively close thanks to overseas colonies but once the end-of-game bonuses were counted up we were buried.
Sparta marches north
For our second game we rotated powers, so I had Sparta to David's Corinth, while GorGor ran Athens to Smitch's Delian League. This was a very tight game, as Herr Fuchs and I teamed up to grind through the Athenian defenses. There was plenty of action on the periphery too, around the Dodecanese and in Sicily. As the end game approached, the Oligarchs were set to finally capture Athens...when GorGor played Peace of Nicias, prohibiting sea or land battles for the final turn. Our plans dashed, the Demos triumphed.
I love Cake or Death's forbear, but this is a much deeper game. In QMG choices are usually obvious, or at most you're choosing between two cards. The draw is the speed with which the board develops and the ebb and flow between theaters as you try to win here to pressure them there. VoD by contrast demands longer-term planning, tempting you to risk your short term position in order to build out for actions two or three turns in the future. You can score a lot of points overseas, for instance, but you need the Prepare cards in place beforehand, along with a few Bribe tokens. Your capital might fall in the meantime unless you've done something to buttress your defenses. The two partners in each coalition have complementary powers as well - leaning on the capabilities of your ally leverages your own.
As you come to know the various decks, you have a better sense of your peculiar vulnerabilities. This can be a burden as well as a boon, as Sparta wonders whether Athens might seize Argos while he's off grabbing Syracuse. Knowing the cards also allows the luxury of the planning mentioned above - you will hold certain cards back now, knowing they'll be much more effective in combination with cards yet to come. Of course you may well find yourself disappointed when an enemy Event forces you to discard those very same cards from your draw deck.
Thumbs up all around - this is a solid four player game with several paths to victory for both coalitions. Great tension, fast playing, and a lot better history than I expected. Highly recommended.
Oligarchs in Attica
We rounded out the evening with Smitch's fresh copy of Quadropolis. This is a construction-themed set-building abstract that appears to owe more than a little to the computer Sim City series.
Each player has a mat of 20 spaces in a 4x5 grid. The spaces are aggregated into five four-space groups, and each space also has a value from one to five. Play consists of four rounds of four turns each during which players take turns selecting building tiles from a common pool, arrayed in a 5x5 grid on the Construction Site.
To select a tile you must use an Architect - Architects are numbered from one to five (there are four of each value in a four player game). You place your Architect at the edge of the of the Construction Site, count in a number of spaces equal to the Architect's value, and grab that building. You can't place an Architect on top of another, so as play proceeds some tiles will be locked out as the Architect supply dwindles and edge spaces are consumed. You must place your new tile on your mat in a space that matches your Architect's value, further constraining your choices.
There are several types of buildings - Tower Blocks, Office Towers, Harbors, Factories, Shops, Parks, Public Services, and Monuments. These all score in various ways, with bonuses for concentration, distribution, proximity to other types, etc. Some provide resources (Inhabitants and/or Energy), while others demand either or both to function. A building will only score if you have the resources required to run it, and excess unused resources carry a VP penalty. After four rounds, scores are tallied.
We had a good time with this, finding it surprisingly interactive as we identified and thwarted one another's strategies and placed our Architects in a manner calculated to inflict the greatest pain. My Office Tower/Harbor strategy was rocking along nicely until everyone made a point of denying me the easy pickings. GorGor went with a more balanced city, adding Monuments and Parks to the mix. This was good enough to edge me 95-87, with Smitch and Herr Fuchs following in the 60s. Neat little game, worth another trip to the table.
J. R. Tracy
Back from DonCon, nine of us unwound with some Euros, wargames, and wordplay.
Jim and Smitch wrapped up Reluctant Enemies as Operation Exporter reached a successful conclusion. As the Vichy feared, the breach of the Awali line unhinged the mountain position. Before Jim could respond, the Staffordshire Yeomanry slipped behind his hill fighters and put them out of supply. Relief attempts failed; Jim was last seen affixing the Cross of Lorraine to his kepi, asking what the fuss was all about.
Dutch and Scott broke out Academy's new Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal – The Pacific 1942. Scott took the IJA to Dutch's jarheads. As with ASL, CoH tweaks the rules a bit to account for Japanese tactics and motivation. Here the IJA player accrues 'Bushido points' for various actions, such as suffering casualties in close combat. These Bushido points are effectively CAPs, so the Japanese are rewarded for aggressive play with increased capability.
The Solomons and Syria
I didn't get to watch much of their play but in the first game Scott was able to throw back the Marines, and they were just getting started with the second when we wrapped up for the evening. I think Dutch was a little frustrated by the unique Japanese idiosyncrasies - it's hard to close with an enemy who might grow stronger with each loss. Cautious optimism on the part of both players - I hope they have enough enthusiasm to give it a try with me in the next month or two.
Crossing the Matanikau
Mitch, Bill, Mark, Maynard, and I all tried Tin Goose, a post-DonCon acquisition. Each player is running an airline in the golden age of aviation. You need to buy aircraft, expand your service, manage your cash flow, and keep an eye on fuel costs and safety.
Each airline starts with a couple Ford Trimotors. Over the course of your turn you play a card, usually an aircraft put up for auction. New models are rated for range, safety, and fuel efficiency. Other cards are events such as strikes, fuel crises, and crashes. After the card is resolved, the player performs actions such as expand his routes, borrow money, or improve labor relations.
Route expansion depends on the type of planes you have - short-range planes fly to adjacent cities, medium range to adjacent regions, and long range planes to any city on the board. Each new city increases your income (unless someone beat you to it) and you get cash bonuses for reaching 'demand' cities. You can also fly to international destinations that are worth beaucoup VPs at game end. Each plane purchase grants you two plane pieces, a precious commodity. You can skimp a bit on safety and efficiency by using 'extenders' instead of your available planes for short routes. You save a plane piece, but increase the fuel consumption and hazard rating of your airline.
I pursued an aggressive expansion policy, snapping up firetraps with little regard for passenger safety in order to lock down the east coast. I figured I'd weather the calamities when they came, but boy did they come. Mitch, Mark, and Maynard took special delight in invoking labor strikes, which made sense given they spent precious actions lining the pockets of their union reps. Bill had a knack for invoking a fuel crisis every time I tapped my bank account for a shiny new Lockheed Molotov. My commitment to providing affordable convenience for the fare-paying masses translated into a lead position on the hazard table, good for severe hits to my income with each new crash.
Proudly serving the Northeast Corridor
VPs are scored for money in hand, income x 10, large cities served, and overseas destinations. You also lose VPs for any bonds you have outstanding. I had a great raw score but my three bonds sank me to the bottom of the pack. Mark, Mitch, and Maynard were all closely ranked, but Bill came out on top, thanks to prudent purchases that left him immune to most of the negative events. At DonCon I heard this described as "Just like Air Baron!" but also heard "It's nothing like Air Baron!". Having never played Air Baron I can't comment either way, but I found it to be a challenging network-builder, with a slightly odd auction structure and lots of chances to jam up your neighbors. Good interaction, several ways to win (I think - there is some debate on this), and a reasonable playing time.
Smitch, Maynard, Hawkeye, and I closed out the evening with Codenames, with Smitch and I paired up. We played to best of three. Smitch and I took the first game, and lost the second when I hit the bomb on a desperate stretch. The third game was a hoot. I was the clue-giver and we had two words remaining to just one for Hawkeye and Maynard. I said "hooves" as my clue. Smitch immediately picked 'calves' for one correct guess, but was a little lost looking for the second. He mulled over 'pan' and was moving on when Maynard said, "Wait, doesn't the mythological Pan have hooves?" Smitch said, "Uh, thanks!" and picked 'pan' for the win. I'd call it a 1.5-1.5 draw due to the inadvertent assist.
This continues to be a hit - great nightcap, terrific family game, and the rare choice that accommodates a broad range of headcounts. I enjoy the insights you get into how people think, and how *differently* people think. Often humbling, occasionally inspiring, but always a blast.
J. R. Tracy
We had ten gamers over the week before DonCon, for a playtest and some action in both world wars.
Mark's Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars is entering the developmental home stretch, so he unveiled the latest iteration for another run-through. Campo and Scott manned the Athenian side of the table against Smitch and Mitch as the Lacedaemonians. Much has changed since this first hit the table but the four player/two team tension remains intact. Sparta triumphed with Mitch the overall winner.
Buffing and polishing
The players immediately commenced with our traditional post-playtest beat-down of the designer, but Mark as usual more than held his own. The discussion continued into the elevator, onto the street, through the shared cab home, and on to email the following day. It's down to tweaks at this point, with concerns about hand management and how to reel in your hometown rival foremost. Lots of good thoughts put forward, and of course Mark has his own adjustments in mind. I expect this to be wrapped up shortly pending the reports of other groups.
Dutch and Renaud sat down to The Great War with the Tanks expansion. Renaud led the British with three tanks on the attack, supported by infantry. The monsters lumbered forward, absorbing most of Renaud's commands but breaching the German trench line and attracting the full attention of the defense. Renaud had to take off so Drew stepped in to inherit a precarious situation. His tanks were bogged, making them vulnerable to Dutch's counterblows. One by one they went down, and Drew was left without enough oomph to carry on the attack. Dutch eventually bagged the medals he needed for the win.
Confronting the beast
The expansion looks *terrific* but Dutch felt the tanks disrupted the elegance of the base game without a commensurate payoff. However, Renaud and Drew were both first-timers, so I have to believe that was a factor as well. Regardless, it does look great and I have a few Whippets and A7Vs itching for action.
Drew assumes command
Last up, Jon and I paired up for some ASL, picking Kazina Klash from Bounding Fire's recent Poland in Flames. It's 5 September 1939, and my plucky Poles had to defend a pair of buildings with 6.5 squads and six tanks, holding on to one while keeping at least one of my AFVs alive and mobile. Jon was attacking with nine first line squads supported by five light panzers and three armored cars. I had a choice of taking either an 81mm mortar or a heavy machine gun (I chose the mortar) while Jon had the option of taking either a pair of 37mm ATGs or a 75mm infantry gun along with some extra infantry and an MMG. He ended up with the INF gun and the extra bodies. The scenario is only five turns long and takes up just a half board, so we expected it to be pretty sparky from the get-go.
A quiet fall day
I deployed with my armor and most of my infantry in the woods near my board edge. I stacked my ATR-armed hero with a squad in H7, a wooded hex atop a mid-map hill, to offer the impression of a leader-led HMG. More infantry guarded my extreme right flank, and a failure of imagination led me to place my 37mm ATG in H0 on my left flank, where it could cover the approaches to the victory buildings. My mortar was in C7 where it could hit the edge of the G9 woods mass as well as the F6 building. A pre-setup die roll determined my reinforcements (one Vickers Ejw and a squad) would enter on turn two. Ideally I could just hide the tank to keep it alive but I suspected I would need it in action.
Jon opened with his armor, blowing sDs to cover the unhooking of his infantry gun, sighting down the road from Q8. Sure enough, a PzI rolled up on my 'HMG' team, taking an ATR round to the drive sprocket before killing off my 149 with the help of its armored mates. Long range MG fire kept Jon from probing too far down my left, keeping my ATG safe for the time being.
The midgame saw heavy exchange of fire between the woods and the hills, where Jon made several hulldown rolls. With single digit TK numbers, lots of small targets, and terrain, kills were hard-earned. My ATG claimed two tanks, the PzI was a mission kill (immobilized and out of LOS), and a PzII was stuck in the woods on my right flank. However, the 75mm INF gun took out two tanks and a hulldown PzII in K5 popped two more, and the F6 building fell quickly. We both bad luck with our armament, as an armored car lost its tube, as did my mortar, while my ATG crew succumbed to small arms fire.
Jon's flanking panzer finally pulled loose from the woods and knocked out the Vickers on my right in C8. My reinforcing tank was in B0, while I had a TKS with a broken MA in the D4 victory building. Jon still had three mobile AFVs, two with functioning armament. My brave infantry were up to the task, however, killing the two panzers in close combat while my left-flank Vickers took out the PSW. Unfortunately my TKS then went down to the infantry gun. Jon threw everything at the second victory building, but a succession of breaks and pins along with a wall of residual kept him at bay. He also bounced HE, ATR, and MG rounds off my Vickers, allowing me to hang on for the win.
One more rush
This was a surprising amount of fun in a small package. Interesting OoB mix for both sides, though the Polish defense is pretty static once set up. There are a few different defensive options and a couple good channels of attack. I think this is ideal for a weeknight game, and a good option for someone moving up the AFV learning curve in ASL. PiF has very nice production values, no surprise given Bounding Fire's last three efforts. I look forward to checking out the rest of the set.
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