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J. R. Tracy
Before we get rolling, I want to offer a shout out to Eric Lee Smith, currently recovering from a cerebral aneurysm he suffered last week. So far he seems to be bouncing back; our thoughts are with him.
We had fourteen gamers this week for all sorts of gaming, warlike and otherwise.
Stéphane and Smitch returned to the WWI Eastern Front with their Romanian tussle from Der Weltkrieg Series. Last week's session closed with a Romanian unit loose in the Serbian hinterland, bad news for the Central Powers.
Running the gypsies to ground
Stéphane moved heaven and earth (and a Bulgarian infantry brigade) to deal with the problem, at the expense of other activity on the Danube front. Once that crisis was dealt with, he focused on the mountainous border with Romania, where Smitch was threatening a couple Austrian towns. Both sides thickened their lines to the point further progress was unlikely.
The Russians arrive
Back down on the Danube, the Russians were finally rolling, putting together a nice concentration east of Bucharest. However, the weather was turning and the trenches were deepening, so any hope of crossing into Bulgaria faded with the progress of the turn marker.
Once winter (the final four turns) set in, they called it, for a marginal Central Powers victory. Bucharest was safe, so the CP was unlikely to do better, while the Russians were too late to make an offensive impact for the Romanian cause. It was a good, close game, enjoyed by both.
The 2nd Bicycle Brigade claims the polka dot jersey
Hawkeye, Ollie, Mark, Maynard, and Dr. Rob pulled out A Study in Emerald for the second week in a row. It proved to be three Loyalists to two Restorationists, and the latter were smoked out early and kept pinned to the low end of the scoring track. Though pink, Maynard worked the zombie angle aggressively, getting five out on the board, a local record. However, the laurels went to Oliver, who focused on city control for a handsome win.
Mitch brought his box o' Magic and paired up with Natus. Natus used one of Mitch's pre-constructed decks and though he kept up a brave front, Mitch deployed wall-wall mana and critters to keep Nate on his back foot all game. By the time Nate had anything deployed, Mitch's big guns were out and closed out Nate's life counter. No big surprise here as Mitch has been swimming in the MtG tournament shark tank for years.
It only looks solitaire
The Emerald crew, ex the departed Dr. Rob, broke out Maynard's copy of The Downfall of Pompeii. Players spend the pre-eruption portion of the game getting their pieces out on the board via cardplay, while the mountain smolders. An occasional Omen card allows a player to hurl an opponent's piece into the volcano, to the amusement of everyone. Well, mostly everyone.
Vesuvius will have the last laugh
Once the volcano erupts, it's time to get out of Dodge. Everyone tries to get their pieces off the board, while directing lava flows to block the exit paths of their rivals. Oliver proved to be the most nimble, skipping out of the city just ahead of the molten rock. I think Ollie, Mark, and Maynard enjoyed the silliness of it all, but Hawkeye was less enthused. You can almost make out the bitter expression on his plaster cast in the Naples museum.
Nate and Mitch followed up MtG with more cardgaming, as Nate taught Mitch Netrunner. Mitch's Corp fended off Nate's runs long enough to get his agendas out for the win. Thanks, Nate, for extending Mitch's all-conquering reach to yet another card game.
Setting up a run
Scott and Jim sat down for the First Volley scenario of Victory Games' Vietnam 1965-1975. This takes place in 1965, in the I Corps sector near the DMZ, where Jim's Free World troops had to defend their coastal enclaves against Scott's NLF backed by the NVA. It's just two turns long, but still a step up from the training scenario.
Ever the rules wrangler
Early on, Scott goaded Jim into chasing some pajama-clad guerillas back into the jungle. Jim quickly figured out that wasn't going to work without a little more planning, but with the burden of attack on the Reds in this scenario, he decided to settle in and let Scott come to him. This is a lot to ask - the NLF/NVA have to take a population center to do better than a draw, and direct assaults in the face of Free World firepower just has Bad Idea written all over it. They played it out and I think they enjoyed the system, but were a little disappointed with the competitive balance of the situation.
Hunkered down in Da Nang
Paul Sidhu joined us for the evening, and happened to bring along a picture of the two of us also playing Vietnam back in 1985, during Hurricane Gloria. As a further coincidence, we're playing the very same scenario!
Seems like yesterday
Pablo Garcia, up from Chile for an IMF shindig, joined Paul and me for a playtest of Whom Gods Destroy, a new three-player ASL card slated for publication by MMP. This saw action a couple months ago at our place, but it was a first playing for the three of us.
It is late summer of 1944, and the Germans are trying to extract themselves from Greece. An SS unit is tasked with opening a route through the partisan-infested countryside, while Greek Nationalist and Communist guerillas get their licks in on the Germans and against one another. I drew the SS, while Don Pablo got the Nationalists (EDES, represented by Allied Minor counters) and Brother Paul the Communists (ELAS, using Partisan and Soviet counters).
Pablo had fifteen squads, Paul had nineteen(!), and I had a mere ten, but I also had a machinegun-laden SPW, a pair of ex-Italian AFVs, and a positive mental attitude. Everyone had a slew of support weapons and great leadership. We all entered from different directions, and the victory conditions were, in descending order, to outnumber both opponents in town, outnumber both opponents along the road, or score the most CVP. If there was still a tie, whoever killed the most Germans won, which seemed kind of unfair.
Pablo's EDES entered first, but farthest from the objective, so he grabbed a hill with his mortars and sent his main force directly toward town and a smaller group on a wider swing to threaten me. I entered second and was able to establish myself in the village. I sent a platoon with a couple of medium MGs to the top of a hill as well, to interdict Paul's approach, and a squad and a leader off to my left flank to keep an eye on the Nationalists. Finally, Paul entered on a broad front, cresting a long ridge on his side of town, with *two* platoons threatening my MG position.
Gone to the Great Party Congress in the Sky
I drew first blood with a ferocious rate-of-fire tear from my MMGs, sending Paul's commissar to an early grave. However, a sniper sent my SPW home, but not before I pulled the heavy machinegun out. An unsettling level of cooperation between my Greek counterparts steadily pressed my Germans from three sides, but I maintained a CVP lead thanks to the benefit of better defensive terrain. Unfortunately my central position meant I had trouble routing by turn two or so. The highlight of the midgame was a 20-flat spray fire shot against a pair of Partisan squads that managed to turn both Fanatic and added a Hero to each.
Already feeling squeezed
Though I led in CVPs by a substantial margin, I struggled to return my brokies to good order given the lack of rout paths. Paul rolled through my MMG position, scattering the Germans on that flank. Meanwhile, Don Pablo made good use of a gully to get most of his force into range of the center of town. Up to this point, Paul's ELAS had suffered the brunt of the German firepower, but now there was a very real chance Don Pablo could win outright. Greek cooperation was replaced by a brief fascist/communist alliance as Paul and I both turned our guns on the EDES. Paul and Pablo continued to take ATR potshots at my tanks, however - they were worth two squads apiece for the town and road VCs, and their firepower dominated the center of the village.
By the endgame, I was down to a single good order squad in town. Paul's Reds were pouring down the slopes into the VC area, but I was still worried about Don Pablo. One of my tanks had a broken main armament and thus didn't count for victory, so I sent it after a platoon of EDES in the gully. This exceeded beyond my hopes, killing two squads in the process and chasing off the rest. Several more ATR shots and CC attempts failed to kill either tank, so after our final turn we toted up the score. Pablo failed to win the town VC by a squad, and the road VC by a little more than that. It came down to the CVP totals, which granted me the win with 15 points to 10 and 9 for Paul and Pablo respectively.
EDES gets in the picture
This one looks good to go - though I won the CVP count by a substantial margin it was actually a very close game. The town and road VCs were close, and if either of my tanks had gone down, the SS would've been outside looking in on a EDES/ELAS fight for the lead. I caught a break when my SPW went home as well - I reckon that typically dies in action, for a hefty five CVP. I have a soft spot for Dogs of War, Kinetic Energy's venerable three-player scenario, but that one's a static urban action that seems to fall out along the same lines every playing. Whom Gods Destroy is much more fluid, with maneuver options for all three players. Chris Olden, the designer, has done the right thing by keeping it light on SSRs, letting the three-playerness speak for itself in terms of novelty and appeal. Definitely one to look forward to.
J. R. Tracy
We had thirteen gamers this week for a lot of wargaming and a little Lovecraftian horror.
Stéphane amd Smitch paired up for a little piece of Der Weltkrieg Series from The Eastern Front: 1914-1917 box, with Smitch handling Romania against everything Stéphane's Central Powers could throw at him. The Romanians have to hold off the Austro-Hungarians in the north and the Bulgarians along the Danube, with some slow-moving Russians lumbering down to lend a hand.
This situation has quite a different look from its West Front iteration - smaller formations, much lower troop density, and difficult terrain on every front. The natural barrier of the Danube kept things quiet along that line, but the mountainous Hungarian borderlands saw a subtle fight for position, as every retreat or advance carried a threat of isolation. The underdeveloped infrastructure was a factor too - the single-line rail system made strategic redeployment a slow process for both sides.
Fending off the Bulgars
Most of the action was in the hills, with Smitch trying to nip off any protruding bits of the Austrian line, while Stéphane used his interior lines to concentrate firepower in response. The Danube stalemate continued but the steady trickle of arriving Russians may soon shake things up. In the west, Stéphane has a small problem in the form of a single Romanian division that slipped across the Danube into Serbia when the Bulgarian river flotillas were asleep at the tiller.
Hill country barbecue
The Romanian interloper isn't much of a threat in terms of combat power, but its presence on the wrong side of the river will demand a response, promising some logistical headaches for the Central Powers just in getting troops to the region. Interesting situation so far, to be continued next week.
Gypsy caravan on the loose
GorGor, Mitch, Brother Leon, Herr Fuchs, and Natus gathered for A Study in Emerald. Leon and GorGor were tentacle-loving Loyalists with everyone else trying to restore the old order.
Herr Fuchs is a natural source of chaos in this game, as he loves to get the biggest, baddest cards into action. True to form, he dropped Cthulhu on The Hague and generally ran around raising hell. Mitch ran a careful game of assassination and consolidation, while Leon and GorGor just tried to keep their heads above water and maybe push Natus into last place to sink the Restorationist cause. That was not to be, however, so Mitch powered through to a win while Herr Fuchs babbled happily in a mound of Madness chits.
Devastation in Den Haag
Hawkeye and Jim played nearly three full games of Up Front, opening with a German v American Meeting of Patrols scenario. Hawkeye's GIs managed a win by getting four unpinned soldiers up to Range Chit 4. In another Meeting of Patrols, Hawkeye's Italians faced Jim's British. This time it was Jim doing the maneuvering, and he worked a group up to Range Chit 4 himself. However, before they could find cover the Italians raked them with a couple of heavy fire cards. Follow-up attacks shattered the second group as well, eventually leading to an Italian win on casualties.
Last up, they tried an Armored Recon scenario, with Jim's Soviets (supported by an M3 halftrack) facing Hawkeye's IJA. This was really Jim and Hawkeye combining forces against the vehicle rules. They stumbled through for a while until Jim had to head home, but they should be in better shape for another crack at AFVs next time out.
Needs a Rally card (of course)
Maynard continued his Victory in the Pacific kick, introducing Dave to the game. Dave took the IJN to Maynard's USN, and after hitting Pearl hard, he sought to establish an extended perimeter.
Maynard hit right back, and the middle turns settled into a brutal game of attrition. Dave kept hitting the Hawaiian Islands, forcing Maynard to respond. The US carrier fleet was wiped out by the time the big slug of turn six reinforcements arrived, but the IJN was in even worse shape, given it was well past its high water mark in numbers. However, Dave had successfully fended off Maynard's attemtps to collapse the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Japan had enough POC in hand that even if the USN quickly ran the table (which looked likely), Maynard couldn't get the number below zero. Maynard conceded to Dave, who is obviously a fast learner.
LBA back from the dead, ready for deployment
Last up, Mark and I played October War, Mark's very first design. We've talked about it for months, but were prompted to finally try it by Mark Neukom's groovy scenario cards. We chose Chinese Farm - Mark remembered it as pretty pro-Israeli, but it has combined arms and the chance for both sides to attack and defend.
Operationally, the momentum of the Egyptian assault has stalled and the Israelis are on the counteroffensive. My objective was to clear a road of Egyptian units within three hexes, all the way to the Suez Canal. I had two brigades entering along different map edges, each with nine platoons of MBTs and nine platoons of APC-mounted infantry - the MBTs were M48s in one group, M60s in the other (identical for game purposes) and the APCs were M113s for one brigade, M3 halftracks for the other. The M3s are faster but more vulnerable than the M113s, especially to artillery.
Mark had nine platoons of infantry and six Sagger ATGM teams, deployed in the 'Chinese Farm' itself and along a ridge overlooking the road. He also had armor in the form of a bazillion T55s entering on turn one, along with a single BRDM section (a Sagger-armed armored car unit). The T55s are inferior to the M48s and M60s in every respect but speed...and numbers. We both had off-map artillery in support (plotted one turn in advance), and I had three platoons of M113-mounted mortars for direct fire support.
My general plan was to send most of my infantry for the ag complex, with some armor support, while the rest of my armor deployed along a wadi to meet the T55s. The rest of my infantry would get get close to the ridge and keep the RPG-armed Egyptian infantry from harassing my armor. The first turn went well - Mark's Saggers hammered my halftracks, but three of his teams depleted their missile stocks on their first shot, a big relief for me.
Buying the farm
On turns two and three, the assault on the farm began in earnest. Mark vectored all his artillery in on the area, tearing up my dismounted infantry. However, I had a heavy advantage in numbers and carried the position. Elsewhere, I moved a couple platoons of M48s inside the minimum range of the Sagger teams and eliminated the undepleted sections, while my infantry fended off Mark's brave but foolhardy RPG teams.
Soon Mark's T55s moved up to engage, and the next couple fire phases would decide the battle. Two thirds of the Egyptian AFVs came over the ridge for the road, while the balance swung south to hit the farm. Mark had more units, but I had better pKs. In the end, the latter won out; as I picked off tanks, the weakened platoons were more likely to panic, further eroding Egyptian effectiveness. Eventually the exchange rate grew too lopsided for any hope of recovery, so we called it.
I thought it was a fun little game, pretty spry for its 38 years. The differential CRT makes sense, and the pre-action panic die roll adds a layer of unpredictability that mimics C3i issues. Before firing or moving, a unit must pass what amounts to a morale test, modified by nationality and loss state - the Israelis are more likely to do as they're told, but even they lose their focus from time to time. Artillery is a nuisance for armor but a real infantry-killer, and the smoke option proved useful in my initial attack. I felt the various combat arms interacted in a plausible manner, compelling tactics that reflect the actual narrative. We talked about some potential tweaks - I don't think this warrants a re-release, but a couple pages of updates and variants would enhance the experience without weighing down the basic, fundamentally clean system. Fun stuff.
The scrap heap
Fri Apr 17, 2015 12:30 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had nine gamers Tuesday night for some playtesting, COIN action, and weird world-building.
Mark unveiled War Plan Orange (working title), a variant for Empire of the Sun based on the U. S. Navy's plans for conducting a Pacific war against Japan in the 1920s and '30s. The assumption is things kick off a little sooner than they did historically, so the forces involved are more battleship oriented than the carrier navies of WWII.
Hawkeye took the US to Scott's Japan. The Emperor quickly took down the Philippines, landing in Mindanao before moving on Luzon and taking Manila. The USN responded swiftly, rolling through the Marshalls on the way to retaking the Philippines. However, Scott sliced through a screen to sink Hawkeye's Fleet Train (essentially a mobile logistics center), stopping the US advance in its tracks. Hawkeye would have to build a forward base for the final leg of his counteroffensive, leaving him almost no time to retake his former possessions.
Kicking down the back door
The cards were kind to Hawkeye and the US, however - Hawkeye was able to accelerate his base construction, and was poised to reconquer the Philippines for a likely US victory.
I think everyone was happy with the way the game played out, though Mark may tweak a couple things to better fit the short (relative to EotS) game length. The map area is a subset of the full EotS map, and the whole thing looks like a candidate for a future issue of C3i.
Stormlanding in the Mandates
While keeping an eye on WPO, Mark ran the Reds in Fire in the Lake against Smitch's RVN and Campo's US. They played the 1965 scenario, and early play saw the ARVN controlling the Delta while the NVA massed in the north and the VC infiltrated the center of the country.
The red and the running dogs share a joke
As things came to a head, Mark couldn't quite coordinate his two-headed beast to put either faction over the top. Meanwhile, Campo pacified large swaths of the country, edging into the victory zone, while the RVN approached its Patronage target. However, Mark handcuffed Smitch by leaving him just a Limited Op going into the final Coup card, allowing Campo's US victory to stand.
Hammer poised over the north
Dave, Bill, Maynard, and I tried Patchistory again, and had a very weird game. For all I know, *every* game of Patchistory is weird, but this one felt particularly unpredictable.
Dave and Maynard scarfed up the first two Political tiles to come up in auction, while Bill and I were shut out for the entire first Era when no more Political tiles appeared. This left us very limited in our activities, so I built up a massive military while Bill fleshed out his resources. I made out nicely when the Military prestige card game up in the end-of-era phase, but it felt like Dave and Maynard were running away with the game.
Can you dig it?
In Era II, Bill and I finally got on the Political board. I immediately built a trade route toward Maynard with murderous intent. Meanwhile, Dave had a nice stable of Heroes with complementary features, and was minting votes and occasionally cashing in a fistful of VPs via Hero worship. After Napoleon squished Maynard, I turned my attention to Dave. Bill was quietly humming to himself, picking up tiles on the cheap and generally keeping a low profile.
Dave opened Era III by taking down Unsportsmanlike Conduct Jesus (aka Christ the Redeemer) - this further boosted his hero-worship potential. He also outbid me for a sweet set of wheels (a three-transport-value tile) which would have looked very nice on my lumbering war machine. However, I did score a stealth bomber fleet, while Maynard launched the Red Cross. When we weren't paying attention, Bill built an amusement park and a national park system. I managed to score a decisive victory in a war against Dave, and felt comfortable that I had dragged him down to earth...until we tallied the score. A vote tie on the two lowest prestige tiles binned the whole lot, so we went straight to adding up the VPs. I had 88, Dave had 91, Maynard had 99 (charity has its benefits), while Bill had a whopping 134! He not only had his parks in play, but he also added workers to his Era III culture tiles, and was really pumping out the VPs in the last couple rounds.
Coulda used a couple of those at Waterloo
I was pleased to see a crazy finish, and it was fun to get the Era III tiles into play. I was also gratified to learn a monostrategy such as all military all the time isn't a good bet. However, we were a little shocked by the chaos of it all. I think it's just a function of our lack of familiarity - we didn't recognize the power of Bill's tableau, and misestimated the magnitude of Dave's mid-game VP haul. Still, a fun, if strange, little game.
Mon Apr 13, 2015 12:30 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve players last week for a mix of Euros, playtesting, and a bit of wargaming.
Dr. Rob rolled out his latest cut of The Board: The Game, a Kremlin-esque take on corporate politics. He was joined by Hawkeye, Mark, and WargamerX (Jeff Coyle), with WargamerX-prime (Matthew Coyle) looking on. Players compete to control the management of a corporation, via influence on board members as opposed to Kremlin's Politburo. Rob has added cards to the mix - these are more integrated into the flow of the game than the Intrigue variant cards of Kremlin. Stress doesn't kill characters here, but it does drive them into early retirement due to burnout.
Dr. Rob entertains Matthew at the expense of his own performance
Company performance matters while you're running the show - Mark controlled both the CEO and CFO early but a shaky hand on the tiller guided the company into the danger zone. Fortunately for shareholders, Hawkeye used his Chairman of the Board skills (honed in smokey lower Manhattan lounges every Friday night) to right the ship and sail to corporate profits and personal victory. The session was enjoyed by all, and Rob picked up a few good points to apply to future development.
Stress piles up
Scott and Bill paired up for Borodino 20, with Bill defending Mother Russia. Scott's French rolled over the initial defenses, but he found himself locked into a frontal assault with a disadvantage in numbers. He tried to work through the woods to flank the Russian line, but card draws prevented from engaging for a couple key turns, and the clock finally ran out on the Emperor.
Shevardino Redoubt in hand, the French push forward
Scott and Bill were then joined by Mark and Hawkeye for Homeland: The Game, a (sometimes but not always) cooperative game based on the Showtime series. The core ideas draw on Cattlecar Galactica but this is very much a theme-driven reimplementation. The roles include loyal agents working for the greater good, a terrorist mole sabotaging their efforts, and a political opportunist taking advantage of a little scaremongering for personal political gain. As with BSG players commit cards to foil or enhance particular events, committing resources to counter crises while possibly committing even more resources under the table to support those very threats. In their game, the loyalists were outmaneuvered by the duplicitous Hawkeye, who talked a good game while quietly undermining everything he ever stood for.
Making the case for another drone strike
Natus, Smitch, Campoverdi, Dave, and I attempted to slay the beast known as Android. This is a nutso multiplayer detective game in a science fiction setting. I've heard it described as Blade Runner-inspired, and a cousin of Clue - I agree with the former, not so much with the latter. Players represent unique detectives trying to solve a crime somewhere in the linked metropolises of New Angeles and moon colony Heinlein.
Each detective draws a random set of 'hunch' cards at the outset - one indicates their personal guilty hunch, and the other their innocent hunch. If the guilty suspect at game end matches their guilty hunch, they get 15 VPs; if their innocent suspect goes free, they gain 5 VPs. Over the course of the game, detectives scour the board for leads; investigating a lead means drawing a random clue token and assigning it to a member of the suspect pool (one greater than the number of players). Clue tokens range in value from -3 to +4 - positive numbers imply guilt so you generally place positive chits on your guilty suspect and negative values on your innocent suspect. However, the chits are placed face down with their values concealed, so subterfuge is encouraged, such as placing a 0 token on someone other than one of your hunches.
Campo shares another disturbing anecdote from his troubled past
In addition to crime-solving, detectives must contend with their own baggage - literally. Each detective has a personal side-plot going on in the background, which branches off every couple turns before a resolution that awards or deducts VPs. As the plot shakes out, each 'chapter' may enhance or inhibit the detective's abilities depending on how the baggage breaks. Detectives play Light cards during their turn, which generally help them and/or add 'good baggage' to their plot (improving chances of a good outcome), and Dark cards during an opponent's turn, which harm that player and often add 'bad baggage' to his or her plot. These plots are central to the game's narrative strength and have a concrete effect on play. They shape decisions by compelling detectives to avoid locations that may trigger a Dark card against them, while seeking out NPCs or outcomes that further their positive plot elements.
Alongside the board action, there is a jigsaw puzzle to be completed, representing background conspiracies in the Android world. Instead of placing a clue token, a player may opt to place a puzzle piece when he investigates a lead. The puzzle may be completed a number of different ways (the piece shapes are identical) which will enhance the value of various victory point awards. The puzzle pieces also carry bonus effects themselves, so this is often an attractive option.
The lineup (with evidence values revealed)
In our game, Mr. William Brown turned up dead at the Rockvil Estates. I was Caprice Nisei, a psychic clone. I had the advantage of a high movement range, but I was pretty shaky mentally and liable to end up a basket case if I wasn't careful. I concentrated on following up leads and piling clue chits onto my hunch suspects, Mark Henry (guilty) and Thomas Haas (innocent). Just to shake things up, I placed my first chit, a zero, on Eve 5VA3TC, a pleasure bot with a violent streak. As I followed up a lead, I would hand the lead token to the player on my right (Dave), who then placed it on the board with some restrictions. I was dirtside in New Angeles, while Dave was on the moon in Heinlein - the two are connected by the Beanstalk, a space elevator that takes a full day to navigate. Dave shared the moon with Natus, to his right, so ideally (for them) they'd kick lead tokens back and forth to each other, forcing the rest of us to head to the moon. Nate didn't cotton on to this immediately, so along with my fellow earth-bound detectives, I enjoyed a few more leads than I probably should've seen in the early game.
Nate's character was Floyd 2X3A7C, a cop-bot struggling to discover the essence of humanity (much like Natus). His dedication to his role meant he could investigate leads more easily, and he had an extra action every turn, but he had to run back to the shop every few days for an oil change. That last bit didn't seem much of a burden so Natus looked like an early favorite. Therefore, we all piled as much bad baggage as possible on Lloyd's plot to rein him in.
Dave tries to jump the stalk
Dave (Rachel Beckman, bounty hunter) worked the moon for conspiracy puzzle pieces, while Campoverdi (Raymond Flint, haunted vet) and Smitch (Louis Blaine, career cop) walked the New Angeles beat, mixing cardplay with investigations. I had a hard time getting my own cards into action, though I did slap some dark cards down on Floyd and Raymond. By midgame we discovered why five isn't such a great number for the game - the game functions generally scale with player number, but the clue tokens and puzzle pieces are fixed and we were running out of both. By the time the second week started, both pools were tapped out.
We considered playing on, as there was still plenty to do via fleshing out our plots and working the light/dark decks, but we decided to go ahead and call it. Flipping over the clue tokens, we determined Steven's guilty hunch was the perpetrator. However, his hefty 15 VPs were more than offset by the tally scored by Dave off the conspiracy puzzle. I finished dead last, while Campo and Natus were in the middle.
Trust no one
After reading several horror stories about the game, we were pleasantly surprised to find it very playable. The presentation is typical FFG big-box bit spew, with myriad tokens of all sorts of shapes and colors. The resulting chaos might be offputting for some gamers, but I found it manageable. I liked the multiple scoring paths, and the way the central narrative arc interacts with the backstories of the individual detectives. Five wasn't a bad number in the sense we able to fully explore the game, but three or four sounds like a better fit - I think the game loses something when the investigation component falls away with almost half the game yet to play. I'd like to try it again with smaller numbers, and cautiously recommend it for anyone in the mood for a funky blend of RPG and area-majority mechanics.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players for a range of fresh and familiar titles.
Dutch and Scott made their way through a few turns of Columbia's new Victory in Europe, a strategic-level block game on the ETO. This is pitched a level above the company's Eastfront/Westfront/Eurofront family, and from my reading of the rules, looks a bit simpler in execution. Activity is governed by card play; a given card's command value determines the number of battles that may be initiated by that side. Cards are broken out by side and by year into mini-decks, and each card has an associated bonus appropriate to the year, such as extra mojo for German ground forces in the early going. In addition to combat operations on land, air, and sea, there are rules for diplomacy and production.
His inner Il Duce is never far from the surface, even when he sits at 10 Downing Street
Dutch took the Axis to Scott's Allies, and after the usual preliminaries at Poland's expense, Dutch tried to take out France on the bounce with a winter campaign. That first blow failed, but set the stage for a full offensive later in '40. Offshore, the U-Boat fleet tussled with the Royal Navy, and Ribbentrop worked his diplomatic magic in Scandinavia. They got a couple years into the war before calling it, with only a few rules questions of any significance. At first blush it looks like a clean-playing strategic WWII option. The full war might be a little ambitious for a weeknight, but force pools are provided for '41, '42, '43, and '44 start dates, so set aside a Saturday for the whole shebang or kick off with Barbarossa on a school night.
A roundhouse to the jaw of France
Hawkeye and Bill resumed For the People, with Hawkeye's Bluebellies methodically carving up the western river system while the armies in the east stared each other down. The Army of the Potomac did get caught leaning the wrong way, however, allowing Bill to strike for the capital and burn Washington to the ground. Southern veterans will remember the raid fondly, but the history books recorded a Federal win, as Union Strategic Will was robust enough to weather the loss of DC. Good fun for both players, I think.
The theater of decision
Dave, Mark, Maynard, and Herr Fuchs brought out the classic Tigris & Euphrates. Mark has enjoyed this with his daughter, Maynard plays it on his iPad, it's one of Dave's favorites from years past, and, uh, Herr Fuchs was being a good sport. The game evolved into a two-way battle between Maynard and Dave, ending in a tie. Maynard took the win on the first tie-breaker, no small accomplishment given Dave's strong record in the game. I have a feeling a repeat will be difficult now that we've knocked the rust off Dave's T&E brain.
David struggles to contain his excitement
David, Mark, and Maynard followed up with Sentinels of the Multiverse. David has a small trunk full of all the fixings, so they played with some of the expansion cards. Maynard was Sky Scraper, Mark was The Wraith, and David donned the spandex tights of Mr. Fixer. The threat of the night was Baron Blade, aboard his Mobile Defense Platform. The Baron gave as good as he got, bumping off Sky Scraper and taking the other two heroes down to single digits before succumbing to a two-fisted helping of Truth and Justice.
Defending the Multiverse
On GorGor's recommendation, Smitch, Dr. Rob, Natus, and I tried Patchistory, from the Korean company Deinko. This is an interesting civ-builder, with the usual resource accumulation/allocation model grafted onto a funky tile-laying scheme that sets the game apart.
The heart of the game is the deck of terrain tiles, broken out into three eras. The white side of a tile has a General Building, usually producing a resource of some kind, while the black side has either a Special Building, a General, or a Wonder, which are a little jazzier. There are five rounds per era, and each round kicks off with an auction of randomly drawn tiles, with the white/black facing alternating with each draw. The number of tiles equals the number of players, so no one goes home empty-handed.
As crazy as it looks
Once you've won your tile, you must 'patch' it onto your tableau. The tiles are square and broken into quadrants, though often a building, wonder, or general will take up more than one quadrant. When you patch a tile, at least one quadrant must overlap or slide under a quadrant of an already-patched tile of your tableau. There are a few other constraints - your tableau is limited in size (5x5 quadrants in the first era, 6x6 in the second, and 7x7 in the third), water quadrants present special difficulties, and multi-quadrant elements must be completely covered or not covered at all.
The tiles themselves provide the elements needed to build your empire, including gold, food, political power, military, transportation, 'resources', and defense. Some tiles provide additional goods if manned by a worker. Generally, political power funds the actions, while the other goods do the actual purchasing. Additional material can be gained by manning the trade routes with your neighbors (each player has a one-way route to the player on his left), though the trade routes are also the paths of invasion. Transportation governs how far you can move workers, both on your tableau and on the trade routes - since a number of goods are offered on the latter, trade allows you to fine-tune your stockpile to suit a given turn's needs.
A canticle for Seulowitz
War occurs when a worker reaches the far end of a trade route - each player makes a secret choice between war or alliance. If both choose the latter, an enhanced two-way trade route is established. If only one player chooses war, he is the attacker (allowing the other to use his defense value), and if both players choose war, it's a good old fashioned hoedown. The war itself isn't resolved until the next round, however, giving each player time to prepare. War itself is simply a comparison of military value (plus defense as noted), plus secretly-allocated resources. Depending on the extent of the ensuing beatdown, the winner is awarded an escalating number of culture points (victory points) from the bank - in a complete hammering, the vanquished must also surrender some culture to the winner.
Whoever accumulates the most culture wins. A variety of in-game actions and tiles generate culture, as does winning a war. There is also an interesting sub-game at the end of each era where players vote on specific 'snap-shot' victory conditions that award culture to whoever scores highest in a given category at that moment (and docks a few points from the low-scorer).
The seeds of empire
In our session, I grabbed Constantine right off the bat and had a little extra political juice. Natus edged ahead in resources, Rob had food, and Steven, I think, had a little more money. Naturally everyone lamented their lack of whatever it was they didn't have - as the lowest food producer, I can safely state that food actually is the most critical good (AAR writer's prerogative). Through the middle era, Rob and I both built up substantial military, but Natus was socking away an unsettling amount of culture. I foolishly created an alliance with Nate right off the bat (a special ability of Constantine), which prevented me from attacking him, but Rob had no such constraints. Led by both Napoleon *and* Julius Caesar, Rob's legions knocked on the door of Nate's kingdom, fully expecting a glorious victory. Instead, Natus revealed a fistful of resource points, which when added to his military and defense, edged Rob by a single point. It was a stunning reversal, and left Nate clearly in command.
Sadly, the terms of Dr. Rob's probation require him to be home by 11:00pm, so we had to call it at the end of the second era. I had a nice economy going, generating twice the gold of any other player, while Rob had his war machine, and Steven had a nicely balanced approach. Nate's culture factory looked to be the favorite, however, given his established lead, so he took the honors. We all enjoyed the game, though it certainly has its quirks (I will post Rob's comments below). Ergonomically, it's a mess, with sprawling bits and light cardstock tiles that curl alarmingly and seem to float on the slightest breath. However, the fundamental engine works well, and the topological challenge of the tile-patching proved surprisingly fun and involving. Next time out, I'm confident we can wrap it up in an evening with time to spare. Really worth a look if you enjoy civ-builders or want to try something different.
Last up, Natus taught Smitch and me Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. As the name implies, this is a rummy derivative with a Ripper theme. Players open suits by playing suspects, which in turn allows melds of evidence cards to be played. There are several special types of cards tied to the theme, such as victims, alibis, scenes, and others. As a rummy game, it's solid, and the theme comes through nicely. We played one game to a hundred points, which I managed to take thanks to getting the 35 point 'Ripper Escapes' card out of my hand thanks to all five victims hitting the table. There are several other titles in the Mystery Rummy family - I'm not sure if they're just light variations or distinct beyond the specific theming, but this game at least is a good filler/nightcap.
A rum story
J. R. Tracy
We had fourteen gamers last week for all kinds of wargaming, plus some die-rolling, tile-laying, and frog-jumping.
The Britannia crew resumed an essentially three player game between Red, Blue, and Green, though occasionally a Yellow hand emerged from the mud to grasp at a passing ankle.
The three leaders stayed very close, with the big hammers for each slightly underperforming. The Hanson Brothers, my personal favorites, fell at the head of the Danish invasion, while Alfred fought William to a standstill. The tenacious Welsh proved to be the difference, clinging to Devon and Cornwall through game end, as Mitch led Green to victory. Green had 238 points to 236 for Campoverdi with Blue, and 233 for Smitch (né Steven) and Red. Natus finished in Nateplace with Yellow, as the prophecy foretold.
1066 and all that
Mark led Hawkeye and Bill through For the People, with Bill taking the Rebels to Hawkeye's Federals.
A divided Republic
Action quickly stalemated in the eastern theater, with most of the fun stuff going on out west. Cities and forts traded hands along the Tennessee and Mississippi, while talented leaders were identified and shipped to the front. They made it well into 1862 before calling it a night, with the Union looking good but still under threat.
Building a reputation west of the Mississippi
John popped down from Boston to face off against Stéphane in ASL. They picked Armored Car Savikurki from Hakkaa Päälle!. John's horseless Finnish cavalry had to fight their way through a Soviet infantry screen to friendly lines, supported by the lone operational AFV in the Finnish Army, the eponymous armored car.
A split for the Finns
In their first scenario, John suffered too many casualties in the early going, falling below the number of troops he needed to exit. They reset, and had a very tense match in the second game. Stéphane fell back carefully, maintaining a central position so he could immediately react once John picked an exit point. John went for the far left corner, and though Stéphane responded in force, the Finns were able to squeak out a win on the final turn.
Five hexes from freedom
Scott and Jim wrapped up NATO: The Next War in Europe. Last week Jim's NATO was already on the ropes, and Scott opened up this session with chemical weapons. This generates column shifts for Pact attacks (that decline over time) and halves NATO air points. The resulting turbo-boosted assaults pushed Jim to the very edge, forcing him to reach for the big red button. Tactical nukes are always an option in NATO, but their first use carries a 50/50 chance of immediate strategic defeat due to global conflagration. Jim's die roll resulted in the latter, so the game ended early with a Warsaw Pact victory.
Conventional solutions receding
This is a tough one for the NATO player, particularly in your first game or two. You just get your head kicked in for the first few turns, and it is hard to see the potential for a mid- or end-game comeback. Also, conducting a fighting withdrawal is one of the most difficult tasks in gaming in my opinion, and again, picking where and when to make a stand is especially hard on your first go-around. Jim may try his hand again versus Scott's juggernaut, putting some hard-earned lessons to work.
Blasting through the BAOR
Maynard and I matched up for Victory in the Pacific. Maynard is an old hand, but I've played it a few times ages ago. Maynard's copy is battleworn - all eight corners of the box are blown out, so basically it's just the bread for a VitP sandwich at this point. He suggested the Japanese were slightly easier to play, so I took them against his USN/RN.
I successfully climbed Mount Niitaka, destroying Battleship Row and its associated cruisers. Most of the 'Location Uncertain' US forces showed up in the Hawaiian Islands, but Maynard wisely opted to retreat them from the area rather than face the Combined Fleet right off the bat. As high water marks go, it was pretty glorious, but from that point on I was subjected to a clinical vivisection, with only grain-based anesthetic available to ease the suffering.
Raiding the Marshalls
I grabbed Midway with my SNLF to control the Central Pacific, neglecting the Aleutians and the North Pacific. I did make it all the way down to the Coral Sea, but soon the USN was pushing back on all fronts. I successfully defended the Marshalls and Indonesia, but when Maynard conducted the Doolittle Raid on Turn 3 with the bulk of the Pacific Fleet, I knew I was a little off the timeline. By turn six, my perimeter was shrinking, and the might of the US shipyards was about to make itself felt. With my accumulated POC count down to the single digits, I knew I was toast but offered to play it out anyway. Maynard politely declined, saying, "I know how this story ends".
Davy Jones' locker
The broader points of VitP strategy came back to me as we played, though too late to be useful. I really had to push out my perimeter, and needed to be more aggressive in trading losses with the USN. The force ratio swings wildly toward the US as the game wears on, but the IJN can generate a temporary advantage in the early to mid game, and it's worth risking some mammoth engagements for the potential payoff of sinking the US fleet carriers. I came close a couple times in some pursuit actions, but just couldn't land the deathblows. The area geometry is simple, though the implications of certain positions are subtle. The northern route to the Home Islands has to be respected and defended. There are a host of strategy articles on the game, and I can see why it rewards study. I'm looking forward to trying it again, but it will be some time before I'm up to Maynard's level of understanding.
The ASL/NATO crew, plus Dave, enjoyed a game of Roll for the Galaxy. I did not witness the game but reliable reports indicate Scott overwhelmed the field with a tidal wave of genetic technology.
Smitch, Maynard, Campoverdi, and I sat down for a quick game of Alhambra. This turned out to be a crafty affair - all of us had several tiles in our reserve, and we had much more reserve/palace manipulation than I've ever seen. In fact, a late-game switch of a corner piece proved decisive, as I edged Smitch by two points for a win, with Maynard close behind and Campo following up. With four players, tile-based planning is an optimistic exercise, so I focused on building out my currency suits with low-value cards. The extra couple actions earned with exact payment are precious, and make a reserve strategy viable. This isn't a favorite, but I enjoyed breaking it out again after a long absence.
Working some exact-change magic
Last up, Mark brought his latest creation, RIBBIT: The Jump, Move, and Block Game. This is a Checker-ish abstract with a froggy theme. It involves a lot of jumping, blocking, and meeple manipulation - needless to say, inter-service rivalry isn't much of a concern.
Mark introduced Ribbit to Hawkeye and Campoverdi, and it looks like a solid filler. Mark can chime in if I'm wrong, but I think it's self-published and available via Amazon.
Next week, a new Columbia offering, a little more ACW, and my first ever game from Korea!
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players for a lot of wargaming and a little dice-throwing.
Natus, Campoverdi, Mitch, and Steve rolled out Britannia, playing the FFG re-release. Mitch had green, Natus yellow, Steven red, and Campo blue.
The story of the evening was the eradication of the Romans. The dice failed Natus at every turn and by the halfway mark Latin was a dead language several centuries ahead of schedule. Without any bonus limes points, the Romans massively underperformed - Natus and yellow may be dead in the water. They made it to the halfway point and will finish next week.
The last of the Romans
Scott and Jim sat down to NATO: The Next War in Europe, the Victory Games' title on WWIII in Europe. Scott took the Warsaw Pact to Jim's NATO. They played the Tactical Surprise scenario, so the Pact has the jump on NATO but without the benefit of forward deployment; the first turn is spent maneuvering in friendly territory before the shooting starts.
Another trip back to the future
Scott opted to squish Berlin ASAP, figuring he could rail most of the earmarked units forward after the city's fall. Everyone else went hell for leather for the Inter German Border. Jim scrambled to form a line but the meaty Reforger reinforcements were two or three turns away - even the West German territorials wouldn't show up 'til then. The NATO commander has to make some very tough choices on what to defend and what to leave to the Reds. A few West German formations got caught in Bavaria before Jim wrote off the region, and the BAOR took a beating holding a forward line.
Chaos in the Tempelhof departure lounge
Scott bypassed Denmark and used his airborne troops to harass Reforger sites and encircle some key defense points, with seven successful drops in eight tries; Soviet marines helped cut off Hamburg and moved on to defend against possible Danish flanking attacks. Pact airpower focused on interdiction missions to slow the NATO response. It's all about keeping the defense dispersed and disrupted, and so far the Reds seem to have the upper hand. Another one to be continued next week.
Flanking Fifth Corps
Bill and Dave introduced Dr. Rob to Roll for the Galaxy; Rob, an old Race fan, warmed to it quickly. With his natural acumen and powers of prestidigitation, he was able to manipulate the cubes to a 20 point win.
Dave lends a helping hand
Last up, Hawkeye and I dusted off his copy of SDC's Khalkhin-Gol, from 1973. This covers the hard-fought 1939 border dispute between Japan and the USSR. Hawkeye played the Soviet aggressor while I defended the honor of the Emperor.
The game is battalion level, with armor, cavalry, infantry, engineers, artillery, and transport units. Other than artillery, units are rated for movement rate only; combat is based on the ratio of strength steps, with column shifts for armor bonuses or terrain. Artillery is rated for range, and fires on a separate table. The CRT is 2d6, with step losses for the attacker possible until the very highest (7:1+?) columns.
Repelling the invader
The game opens with the Soviets already encroaching into Manchukuo, with forces deployed east of the Halha River. My Japanese kick things off with a powerful attack to drive them back, while significant Soviet reinforcements arrive over the course of the battle. The river halts movement for foot, cav, and engineers, and is prohibited terrain for the armor. A single temporary bridge is in place at start, guarded by the Sovs, but either side's engineers can build more.
Keeping a wary eye
I heavily weighted my attack toward the northern flank, with armor and infantry supported by my meager artillery and a couple engineers; my cav and remaining infantry headed south to contain the Soviet bridgehead there. My initial strike was successful and soon Hawkeye was defending the river line as my engineers tried to force two separate crossings. Hawkeye burned his bridge in the south so he could swing the bulk of his forces north to meet my attack.
A bemused Zhukov
I eventually forced my way across and we had a couple turns of swirling action west of the river, as I tried to inflict as many losses as possible before Hawkeye's reinforcements could swing the momentum. Victory points are awarded for killing units and for having troops on the enemy side of the river, and I was hoping to get ahead of the curve in kills before the Red hammer fell on my head.
Hawkeye was piecing together a counteroffensive (countercounteroffensive?) of his own when we discovered his only engineer unit was already dead, so no more bridge-building. No bridges, no armor, and without armor, crossing the Halha was a risky proposition. Instead, he focused on a desperate attempt to collapse my bridgehead against the river. He had a pocket of troops within my lines, and a series of retreat results would have spelled disaster. Unfortunately, other than a couple step losses he didn't get the results he needed, so we called it a turn early, for a Japanese win.
Though the Emperor was pleased, the victory bears a chrysanthemum-like asterisk - stacking is normally five units, but only two in river hexes. I was therefore overstacked during our river fight, and though I had the weight of numbers to eventually force my way across, it should have taken at least a couple more turns to push through. This would have made for a much more interesting battle as I would have emerged from the muck right around when Hawkeye's fresh BT-7s arrived to blast me back to Manchuria.
Trying to crack the corner
It is an interesting game, with a lot going on in a very short set of rules. I like the attritional CRT, the combined arms aspect, and the attack/counterattack situation. Though the units seem generic, the armies feel distinct - the Soviets have a lot more transport for their leg units, giving them much greater mobility. That, along with their heavier artillery support, makes them feel a generation ahead of the Japanese. The latter must pick their fronts at the outset and stick to the plan, while the Reds have the flexibility to both respond and open up a front of their own. In all, a nice effort, much more than I expected from a forty year old game.
J. R. Tracy
We had ten gamers last week as we shipped product in France, visited the future by way of the past, worshipped Ra, and fought for Erebor and a scrap of Mongolia.
Dr. Rob, Steven, and Maynard sat down to Le Havre, the first game for Maynard but the most recent of many for Steven and Rob. Steven was all about late-game shipping of product, accruing an impressive mound of commodities in front of him that looked more like the bank than a personal supply. Dr. Rob on the other hand built out a massive multi-building enterprise that steadily produced income and resources, sustaining its own expansion. Maynard was running two strategies simultaneously, buying into heavy buildings while working the commodity cycle.
I thought Steven might make it close once the Seine bridge opened for business, but Rob's empire proved unassailable. Maynard's approach fell short, as this particular session rewarded single-mindedness over diversification.
The Seulowitz industrial complex
Jim and I were inspired by the weather and pulled the old SPI War in the Ice down off the shelf. Set in the distant future of 1991, the game portrays a superpower struggle for Antarctica. The force mix features hover tanks, laser cats, droids, killer satellites, and more futuristic goodness alongside foot-slogging infantry and extensive air assets.
The system is fairly complex, with an elaborate supply system supporting a combined-arms-focused sequence of play. After weather is determined and supply is resolved, an alternating air sequence allows players to move resources around the map and attempt detection of enemy forces. Then, ground units move, followed by combat initiated by units occupying the same hex. Combat is not guaranteed, however - if one side remains undetected it is invulnerable to attack. Even detection does not reveal the exact composition of a stack - you may find yourself hammering a column of droids while the real threat slips through to your vital base.
Showdown by the Davis Sea
Combat starts with an air phase, with surviving units pushing through to hit enemy ground forces (though AA fire may take its toll). Each side then picks a force posture, with the available options determined by force composition - combined arms allows more choices, while an all-infantry force offers little mystery in the posture matrix. If forces on both sides survive, players may opt to attempt to break off combat, or repeat the process.
Ground units (companies or battalions, hard to tell really) are rated for anti-armor, anti-infantry, anti-air, and electronic warfare (EW); air units are anti-air, anti-ground, range, and EW. Movement rates for ground units vary by unit type and weather - hovertanks zip along when the sun shines, not so much when the wind kicks up. EW plays a role in detecting the enemy, and is integral to air-to-air combat resolution. Range may be the most important air unit value, as we'll see later.
The Battle of Wilkes Station
WitI may be a supply game as much as a combat game. Supply points are bought in batches and delivered to coastal bases, where they are loaded onto transport aircraft and supply convoys for shipment to the interior. Units are rated for per-turn supply consumption, and it is a tricky exercise to budget your needs and get your supplies in place and on time to support your operations. Supply is purchased with Resource Points (RPs), which are victory points for all intents and purposes. You also use RPs to buy reinforcements, lose them when your units are eliminated, and win them when you take an enemy base. Deficit spending is allowed, with reversible VP/RP markers. You get four: 1000x, 100x, 10x, and 1x, giving you some idea of the magnitude of the RP management chore.
Jim and I played the 12-turn USA vs USSR Gradual Escalation scenario, with me taking the Soviets. We each had a budget of RPs with which to purchase our orders of battle and supply. Set up was simultaneous and secret, as we distributed our forces across our existing Antarctic bases - coastal bases could be piled high (there is no stacking limit) while interior bases were restricted to one air and two land units. We each had our natural spheres of influence, but in one corner of the map my Lenin base a mere three hexes away from Jim's Wilkes Station. Jim noticed this and put a lot of units in Wilkes. I noticed it too, and put even more units in Lenin. I had a 2:1 advantage in the air and on the ground - the battle for Wilkes Station was nasty, brutish, and short.
US counterattack in the frozen interior
I had Wilkes in hand and Jim suffered the double whammy of heavy losses on the board and on the RP/VP track. He was now playing from behind, and had to attempt to seize the initiative. Here's where the short-legged air support became an issue - no other opposing bases were within air range of one another. I could station air units on my bases and he would have to march into a well-supported defense. He had the option of building temporary bases using his engineers, but since these had to be constructed in range of my own bases, he would have to weather a counterpunch before getting them established. In the meantime, I could use my RP advantage to get ahead of him on the force curve. Nonetheless, he made a game play for Russia's Inaccessibility base, roughly in the center of the continent. He supported his mech unit with airmobile troops, while I flew in paratroops. It was a much closer fight than we saw at Wilkes, but the Soviets triumphed, and the fate of the Antarctica was sealed.
War in the Ice was a real pleasure. The rules are reasonably tight, and though the supply rules cry out for simplification, they didn't inhibit our enjoyment. After one playing, it's clear experienced players will load up on the Lenin/Wilkes front to establish a stalemate, while conducting a more dynamic campaign elsewhere on the continent. There are many interesting asymmetries in the game, with slightly different force pools and unit costs. Also, the US retains more capability as the weather worsens, so with the scenario starting in the Antarctic autumn, it might pay to play for time, and go over on the offensive once the snow flakes start to fly. There is a three player option which introduces the South American Union (SAU), a prior build-up scenario with more at-start forces, and a science fiction scenario that posits an ancient (but technically adept) civilization beneath the icecap that awakens to wreak havoc. Altogether, a cool nostalgia trip and a good game, worthy of rediscovery.
Red stars over the icecap
Stéphane and Bill introduced Hawkeye to Roll for the Galaxy, which meant that Stéphane and Bill fought for the lead while Hawkeye fought for basic understanding in the early going. Hawkeye eventually got up to speed with a respectable engine but by that time Stéphane had built a lead he maintained to the end for a close win over Bill.
Hawkeye contemplates the vacuum of space
Dave also taught a game, walking Campoverdi through the finer points of The Battle of Five Armies. Dave took the Shadow forces and quickly seized the center of the valley. However, he was a little too good of a tutor, and as Bolg led the assault on the Eastern Spur, Campo piled on the hits. Soon Bolg's bodyguards were depleted and the Shadow general was vulnerable. A five-hit attack burned through his escorting combat units, felling the big lug for a Free People win. Campoverdi, Bolg-Slayer!
Bolg storms the Eastern Spur
Dave and Campo followed up with a couple rounds of Ra: The Dice Game. They split the pair, with Dave really liking the game. He's mastered the parent game Ra to the point that I've lost my copy and every time I find it someone hides it again. Anyway, it's an interesting implementation of the base game, a decent substitute in a pinch if you're looking for a filler.
Coaxing a leaner
Finally, Hawkeye and Stéphane wrapped up the evening with a little Up Front, using the Banzai expansion for a Japanese-Soviet matchup. Hawkeye's Japanese approached carefully at first, but in a sudden burst of impetuosity all three groups rose up in a Banzai charge. Unfortunately for the Emperor's finest, Stéphane had a decent fire card in hand. That card, assisted by a lack of terrain, the movement penalty, and a steady flow of black numbers, reduced Hawkeye's entire Group B to a slick spot on the Mongolian steppe. Short game, but that's two Up Front sessions so far this year, a trend I hope continues.
The group of wind and ghosts
J. R. Tracy
We had ten players for some Lovecraftian intrigue, some die rolling, and a light run through WWII.
Dave, John, Steven, Scott, and Mitch went with A Study in Emerald, always a popular choice. John had his sights set on the vampire card, but a steady procession of blocking discs kept him at bay as the table conspired against him. Meanwhile, Restorationist Dave established a solid lead and stretched it turn by turn through assassination and city-taking. As he prepared to take Saint Petersburg and score enough for an auto-win, his colleagues cried "Noooooo!" Fellow Restorationist Scott was tussling at the back of the pack, currently in last but drawing a bead on Gloriana to move up the track. Dave's 'win' would prove fatal to the Restorationist cause as a result. Still, he pressed on, flipped the city, and handed the victory to Loyalist Steven.
All are known
Stéphane, Bill, Jim, Scott Blanton (up from North Carolina), and I grabbed Roll for the Galaxy. We were starting from scratch, but a few of us had played Race for the Galaxy so we had a grasp of the basic concepts. Rather than a card-based economy, the dice run the show here by granting actions and acting as the resource for researching developments and settling planets. Players start with five generic dice, and as they build out their tableaux they add more specialized dice that help tailor a given economic engine. As with Race, play continues until the VP pool is drained or someone builds out a 12-tile tableau of world and developments.
In our first game, I initially hoped to build out a mineral mining empire, with a vague memory of powerful synergies from the earlier game. However, exploratory tile draws nudged me toward a rainbow coalition of planets, and I was soon surfing a lucrative production/consumption cycle. I was helped by the fact that Roll tweaks the action order, with Ship (trade/consumption) now *following* Produce. I was reaping a steady harvest of VP chits, but Scott was slapping down worlds at a pretty good clip. He closed out the game with his twelfth tile, but it turned out my VP hoard was enough for a narrow win.
Production engine optimized (the brown rocket was Dictated to the Produce role)
Crystal, Scott's wife, arrived to sweep him away to karaoke night (Scott is known as the Karaoke King of Cary, North Carolina), so Stéphane, Bill, Jim, and I played a four-hander. This time I settled several military worlds, enabling me to recycle dice quickly. Normally, used dice go to your 'citizenry pool', from which you must buy them to put in your cup; my military worlds allowed me to skip the citizenry step for any red (military) dice, and drop 'em right back in the cup for immediate re-use. This helped me settle a couple high-value worlds in quick succession, and I edged Stéphane's development-heavy tableau by a couple points.
I enjoy Race for the Galaxy, but I'm not a huge fan; however, I got a real kick out of Roll for the Galaxy. The dice/action allocation process is bewildering at first, but no more so than the learning phase for Race, and I think the newer game is much more intuitive in layout and iconography. Both allow you the pleasure of constructing and operating an economic engine, though I think with Roll you at least get a couple cranks of the handle, where with Race I always feel like I'm lucky to get one good cycle out of my economy. Some say Roll is the simpler game, and though they may be right, it's not by much - there is still plenty going on here. I like it a lot and I'm sure it will see at least as much action as Race did when it first blazed across the sky.
Stéphane dips into the draw bag
Last up, John, Dave, Scott, Steven, and Mitch tried Quartermaster General, a strategic-level WWII game that spans the globe. The board presentation is simple, even simplistic, reminiscent of Axis & Allies or Risk but with even fewer pieces. All the action is in the cardplay. Combat is deterministic, initiated by cards, but losses can be exacerbated or mitigated by additional cards. Cards also drive production, movement, supply, and allied cooperation. Each player is a major power, and in their game Mitch had the Soviet Union, Scott the UK, Dave the US, John Italy/Germany, and Steven, Japan.
I was rolling through the galaxy for the first part of WWII, so by the time I looked in, Steven was developing a Co-Prosperity Sphere in the Far East, but the Western Allies were on Germany's doorstep in France, while the Eastern Front was stable and stagnated. Dave and Scott had a good partnership going, with Dave lending Scott actions via Lend-Lease, which helped drive their assault. Once they were close to Germany, they were able to wield their strategic airpower. In a brutal sequence, Dave dropped Heavy Bombers on John two turns in a row, which forced him to dump five cards off his draw deck each time. Cards are not recycled, and once you're through the deck, you're done. Germany was barely clinging to the Iron Dream when Dave finished her off with Firestorm, good for seven cards off the German draw deck, draining it and effectively knocking Germany out of the war. Despite Steven's relative success with Japan, it was a handy Allied victory.
Australia falls to the Emperor
All five players had fun, even John, despite spending the last few turns cowering in a U-Bahn station. The system looks clean, and the presentation is spare but evocative. They wrapped up the whole war in 90 minutes, an impressive pace. One to consider if you're looking for epic scope in a quick-playing format.
J. R. Tracy
We had seven players on a bitterly cold night, to defend the planet and fight over a corner of Spain.
Hawkeye and I paired up for an ASL scenario, Not One Inch from Le Franc Tireur. This is set during the Spanish Civil War, with my Nationalist infantry, backed by Pz Is of the Condor Legion, attacking the Thälmann Battalion of the XIth International Brigade. I had to take an entire town or reduce the Republicans to no good order infantry to win. The forces are roughly equal, generally bad news on the attack, but my panzers come on in two pairs, potentially behind Hawkeye's lines. My plan was to have my infantry carefully edge forward through the village, while the AFVs did the heavy lifting by cutting rout paths and laying down encircling fire.
Grinding through Las Rozas
All was going according to plan, except for the panzer part - Hawkeye killed two and stunned a third with ATR fire. That spelled trouble for the Nationalists, so I had to resort to more desperate means. A Heat of Battle result generated a hero, so I sent him forward to do jumping jacks in front of Hawkeye's main machine gun position. Hawkeye did not take the bait, however, ignoring the hero while dishing out punishment on my other assaulting units. My hero showed unusual discretion, eschewing close combat to advance next door to the MG position instead. In his turn, Hawkeye decided to deal with the pest, sending two squads and a leader in for CC. However, they were CX, and the +1 DRM was enough to turn a kill into a mere wound. Therefore in my next turn, Hawkeye had 21 guys chasing a wounded hero around a garden shed while I ran over with a 9-2-led platoon to square up the odds. The ensuing close combat went my way, and from that point I was able to tie up enough Republican infantry to win via the 'no good order' victory condition. Fun little game, though some bad luck on Hawkeye's part made the difference more than good play on my part. Flavor-wise, it didn't feel particularly like the SCW, as Hawkeye and I continue to research ASL's treatment of the period.
Backed into a corner
Dan VIII and Dan IX made it in from the bear-infested wasteland of northern New Jersey, and introduced Steven, Bill, and Dr. Rob to XCOM: The Board Game. This is essentially an analog implementation of the console/computer game, as the players take different roles in the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit to battle the AI-driven aliens. The twist here is an iOS app that randomizes the sequence of play and limits the amount of time players have to plan and execute their defense.
Earth's last hope
The humans were doing well in the early going, with Dan IX allocating resources, Bill playing the part of Krieger in the lab, dissecting alien specimens for fun and research, Steven running the satellites and interceptors, and Dr. Rob managing the tactical teams. Dan VIII kept the whole thing rolling, running the app and wielding his ball-peen hammer as needed. However, this is XCOM, and nothing good lasts long. Soon the crisis track was redlining, with several continents on the verge of pulling their funding. The game came down to the Final Mission, wiping out the lair of the invaders. The fate of humanity rested in Dr. Rob's raccoon-like forepaws, but he proved to be up to the task, eliminating the menace decisively. Generally good reception all around - solid, thematic co-op.
Mutton is on the menu
We loaded Rob into a Scarsdale-bound pneumatic tube, while Dans VIII and IX joined Bill and Steven for Galaxy Mother Trucker. Dan VIII is something of a savant at this game, and racked up 24 points in the first game for a substantial lead. The second round was rough on everyone, with goods thin on the ground and the galaxy thick with hazards, so poor scores left Dan VIII in front.
Astroengineers at work
The third round was a complete catastrophe. Dan VIII's ship achieved command module separation when a meteor sliced through the seven hole, cutting his ship in half. He lasted about as long as he could hold his breath, which turned out to be a merciful fate. Bill, Steven, and Dan IX were all overwhelmed by star slavers, and will spend the rest of their days cage-dancing in the sex emporiums of Torcularis Prime. A win, of sorts, for Dan VIII.
More cold-weather AARs to come as I get caught up after a crazy couple weeks!
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