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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.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players a couple weeks ago to fire up a brand new title alongside new and old favorites.
Scott, Hawkeye, and Campoverdi finally got the sexy and seductive Scythe on the table. Scott handled the Rusviet Union, Hawkeye ran the Saxony Empire, and Campo led the brave Republic of Polania.
Like many empire-builders, there is a lot to do here, and as Campo said, he and Hawkeye couldn't help but "try every sweet in the shop". Meanwhile Scott advanced with steely-eyed Rusviet resolve. He was better prepared when he met Campo for a decisive battle in the central factory. Scott triumphed and Polania fell back. Scott was able to close out the game with a win before Hawkeye's war machine could really get rolling.
The Emperor picks his production
The response was positive all around - it doesn't quite live up to the hype, but with this level of hype that's not surprising. Interaction seemed sparse at the outset, but that may just be due to the learning process. Rules-wise, no big issues. Each power has special abilities that demand some study to maximize or counter, so there is still much to discover. We'll see a lot more of this in the near future.
Securing the factory
Dave sat down to teach 1989: Dawn of Freedom to Bill. As usual, Dave proved a good teacher and Bill a good pupil, as Bill pulled out a win as the Democrats. Still enjoying this a great deal but Wir sind das Volk! lurks in the wings for a turn at the table.
Democracy in action
Reluctant Enemies continues with the Allied attack starting to gel on all three fronts. Somehow beleaguered Layforce managed to survive, compromising the Awali line and forcing Jim to fall back along the coast. Both sides are reinforcing the mountain front, but Jim had to redirect forces to relieve Baraq, after an Allied raid threatened the depot there.
The Vichy are stretched, and the failure to eliminate the Commandos not only undermines the coastal defense, it exposes a flank of the mountain position as well. We'll see if Jim can recover the situation when they return to the table.
Pressure in the mountains
Natus, Dutch, Mark, and I tried The Great War, splitting up with Dutch and I taking the Tommies to Mark and Nate as the Germans. For our first scenario, we were actually Canadians, attempting to secure Hill 145, the highest point of Vimy Ridge. Our forces heavily outnumbered the defending Germans, but we would need every body. Victory medals were awarded for eliminating enemy units and occupying the opposing trench, and the hill itself was worth two to whoever controlled it. Also, the defender may discard a Recon card on their turn to pick up a medal. The winner was the first to reach eight medals.
Awaiting the whistle
We took heavy losses but soon pushed the Germans off the ridge and penetrated the enemy trench line. Things were looking good but Nate and Mark steadily picked off our one- and two-figure units, and crept back into the game, even moving up to deny us the ridge. We got the worst of the artillery exchanges and found ourselves on the knife-edge of defeat. We had to secure the high ground and hold it through the beginning of our next turn to win. We managed to push the Germans far enough away to guarantee a hard-fought 8-7 victory.
The loneliest squarehead on the Western Front
For our second game, Mark and Natus took the fight to us, leading the German counterattack at Loos in 1915. They made very good use of artillery, first driving us from our trenches and then catching us out in the open. On our left they quickly reached our lines, eliminated our forward units, and fought off our attempt to drive them back across No Man's Land. We scraped together a couple medals thanks to unit eliminations and discards, but once the Germans penetrated the trenches on our right, it was all over, with the Germans winning by a comfortable margin.
It's up...and it's good!
I really like the adjustments TGW makes to the Commands & Colors chassis. The addition of HQ points and tactics cards adds more decision-making to each turn, and the ability of the defense to collect medals via discards adds a much-needed clock to pressure the attacker. Artillery is an expensive but useful hammer (note to self: never get caught in the open again), the sort of thing you need to crack the formidable cover trenches provide. The WWI theme is strong. This jumps the queue to become one of my favorite C&C titles; looking forward to trying the Tanks expansion.
King vs Queen
Bill, Dave, Hawkeye, Campo, and Scott closed things out with Roll for the Galaxy. Hawkeye sank into a trance-like state before transforming into an amorphous mass; he emerged victorious forty minutes later with no clear recollection of what transpired. Fortunately for all, he quickly recovered his usual humanoid form.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players for a belated Independence Day gaming session a couple weeks ago.
Manfred, Dan VIII, Dan IX, Scott, and Bill went with Blood Rage, using the fifth player expansion. Bill and Manfred flexed their Loki skills while the other players corralled the special characters and got them into play.
Beneath Odin's Gallows
Scott and Dan VIII vied for the lead going into the final round, but Dan VIII's diversified strategy won out. Dan IX held Odin's Throne but it wasn't enough to bring him up from the back of the pack. Fun game for all, and it's good to see it works well with five.
Plenty of blood but no rage
Dutch and Natus tackled The Great War, where Richard Borg takes the Commands & Colors concept to WWI. In addition to Command cards, TGW features Combat cards. These offer bonus capabilities and are fueled by HQ points, akin to the Lore of BattleLore.
First day of the Somme
They played two games, with Natus leading the British against Dutch's Deutsche. Dutch skunked Nate twice, 6-0 6-0, but the games were closer than the score. Nate was in good position to crack the German line with the Whistles & Bugles card, essentially a 'line' order that allows all connected units to move forward. He paired it up with an excellent Combat card, only to see Dutch pull the plug on the whole enterprise with Lost Messenger. This reduced Nate's orders to a single unit, which felt awfully lonely as it left its mates behind. That sort of thing combined with lethal Krupp-forged dice did in the Tommies, but the game got high marks and will return soon.
Across deadly ground
Manfred, Dan, and Dan tried the latest version of Dan VIII's Lawn Wars, a game about the darker side of competitive grass cutting. Players maneuver their Toros around their yards, avoiding trees and sheds, and contending with the distractions and occasional rocks hurled their way by their neighbors. Manfred triumphed in an exercise of Teutonic efficiency. Dan still has a few tweaks before his baby is in peak Spiel des Jahres form.
Ooh Crikey It's...
Campoverdi, Smitch, Hawkeye, and myself settled into Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection. Campo had the Indians, Smitch the British, and Hawkeye the French, leaving the Patriots to me. This was my first play and I believe Hawkeye was a rookie as well, while Campo and Smitch were on their second try. We went for the medium scenario, covering four campaign seasons.
Thanks, we'll take it from here
As the Patriots, my victory criteria depended on the relative political control of the colonies (support for/opposition to the British government) as well as the differential between Indian Villages and Patriot Forts. I started relatively strong in the north, with a good force accompanying Washington in New York, and scattered forces elsewhere. My early plan was to steadily reinforce Washington while developing a board presence in the south, while beseeching my French counterpart to enter the war.
Campo built up his villages, lending a hand to the British for an occasional combat boost. Smitch gathered strength in New York so Washington skedaddled to Massachusetts before the hammer dropped. My Southern campaign was bumping along without too much drama but the British slowly devoured the coastal cities. By the time the foot-dragging French finally joined the party only Savannah was still in the hands of the rebellion.
Liberty got a boost with a powerful Allied combo - Hawkeye played a Command plus a Special Action, leaving the Morgan's Rifles event open for me. Washington led his force into New York, spanked Howe, and picked off a couple more Redcoats thanks to the free Partisan action. That actually helped Hawkeye more than myself, as the casualty differential is a French victory condition. However, the British stranglehold on the coast stifled exploitation opportunities.
Hawkeye couldn't move against the British without my help, and since political control was a shared victory condition, I wasn't motivated to assist. Instead, I used my Brilliant Stroke card to send Washington over the Adirondacks to engage in a campaign of ethic cleansing, burning four villages to the ground. The deck was dwindling and the fourth Winter card loomed. The Iroquois Killer had no more villages within reach, so he reluctantly joined the French in North Carolina - if I couldn't win, I hoped at least my ally could pull it out. Hawkeye used my troops to good effect, pushing the casualty differential further in his favor. Campo was poised to rebound just as the clock ran out, denying him a chance to vie for the lead.
Winter is coming
We toted up the score, and as expected no one won outright. Hawkeye worked out to a +2 differential, while Campo and I were even, and Smitch was at -2. I enjoyed the gameplay and found the choices challenging. The events seemed to lean more toward one-turn 'super actions' as opposed to the persistent effects I've seen in modern-era COIN games. We suppressed them as much as possible - my crack at Morgan's Rifles was just a fluke of timing combined with an oversight by Smitch.
My strongest reservation is with respect to the Indians. It didn't feel quite right going after them instead of liberating the coastal cities and colonies, but that was where the victory conditions told me to go. I think Campo played a solid game as the Indians but I don't think it was the most exciting - maybe he can chip in with his own thoughts. The game itself is beautiful, and the factions feel balanced. I will give it another shot, perhaps as the Indians to get a feel for them myself.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players to wrap up June with wargames, cardgames, COIN, and a euro.
Renaud dropped by with his new espionage-themed cardgame, The Very Best Men: CIA v KBG. Dr. Rob, Dave, and Herr Fuchs jumped in to give it a try. The setting is the 50s-60s era Cold War, with appropriately evocative card art. Game play looks like a mix of Atlantic Euchre trick-taking seasoned with a dash of CattleCar Galactica/The Resistance style double-agent shenanigans.
Explaining the concept
Players take turns assuming the role of Section Chief, nominating a mission for the group to complete. The mission lists a set of skills that must be contributed, and players donate cards face down into the center to meet the requirements. Double agents can submit useless cards, or cards that make the mission even more difficult. Play continues until the mission deck is drained; whoever had the most successful missions as Section Chief wins, though if a double agent created enough mischief, he will win instead.
Padding the HR file
They had a lot of fun in a couple games, with Dr. Rob winning one as a turncoat. They had a long debrief, discussing scoring issues, how to handle a double agent 'reveal', etc. Renaud took notes and revamped the rules a bit. The cards look great, a testimony to the kind of production support you can get these days even for playtest materials. I will have a deck and Renaud's revised rules at DonCon, if anyone is interested in giving it a try.
Jim and Smitch settled in to Reluctant Enemies, with Jim taking the Vichy to Smitch's Commonwealth. The channeling terrain dictates three avenues of attack - along the coast, through the Golan, and across the eastern plateau. After a couple turns Smitch feels behind schedule, but the Free French have appeared and now Jim faces the recurring puzzle of how to distribute his resources against the various threats.
Commandos on the coast
This is the second time I've watched RE in action, and it looks like a good intro for the OCS system. There's some airpower, but not so much that it dominates the action, and both sides face logistical issues that guide strategy and create vulnerabilities. I'm a fan of the campaign, which is off the beaten path but has a lot of interesting terrain and funky units on both sides. They should return to the theater in a couple weeks' time.
Stalled in the center
Mitch and I paired up for 7 Wonders: Duel, a nifty two-player implementation of some of the ideas from the original. Duel follows the same construction of tableau-building over three Ages, using resources and coins to purchases cards and build Wonders.
Rather than the pass-the-trash drafting method of the original, players draft off a lattice of cards whose form changes with each Age. Purchasing resources is a little different as well - you always have access to any resource, but the cost depends on how many your opponent holds. It's typically two coins per item above what you can supply off your own tableau, but for every example your opponent holds in his tableau, you must pay an additional coin. So, if I need three Stone and only produce one, but my opponent has one in his tableau, I must pay six coins ((2+1)x2). As with the original, some Yellow cards reduce this cost.
A man of science
In 7 Wonders you can ignore Military without suffering too much, especially if one or both neighbors are like-minded. With Duel, that choice might be fatal. Each play of a Military card advances the Conflict pawn down the Rivalry track toward your opponent's city; if it reaches his city, you win automatically. You also pick up tokens along the way which hit your opponent's pocketbook. Failing outright victory, you get a few VPs if the Rivalry pawn is on the far side of neutral. You can also auto-win via Science, by collecting six of the seven different symbols. Also, for each pair of the same symbol you pick up, you may select a Progress token - these are cool little rule-bending powers that can boost your efficiency.
The last major change is to the Wonders themselves. Each player has four (drafted from twelve), which are each completed with a single action. As with the original, some provide cash, some add abilities, some do both. In a nice touch, only seven may be built - if you've each built three, whoever builds his fourth denies his opponent the chance to build his last Wonder. Hey, the clue is in the name after all.
Mitch has never played 7 Wonders, so while I was focusing on the differences, he was focusing on the game itself. I fell into a Monument-heavy strategy, supplemented by Yellow cards to reduce my resource burden. Mitch grabbed some science early, and collected the first pair. We perused the Progress tokens for the first time, and discovered one allowed you to ignore two resources when building a Wonder. Mitch hadn't even started his Wonders, so he jumped on it. This was a great move - essentially picking up eight free resources in one action. We sparred on the Rivalry track without any decisive progress either way, so it came down to the final tally. My Yellows and Blues dominated those categories, but Mitch had the upper hand in Wonders and Science, edging me 56-53 for the win.
I think this is a great little game, as does Mitch, so no need to experience the original before enjoying Duel. The interaction is very high, thanks to the drafting lattice. The lattice is built up by overlapping cards row by row, and a card is only available if fully exposed. Therefore, depending on your pick, you might be able to fork your opponent into exposing a good card if he wants to continue to develop a particular strategy. The result is a rich decision set, allowing for surprising depth in a fast-playing game. A solid addition to the collection.
Natus, Hawkeye, Bill, and Campoverdi headed to Southeast Asia with Fire in the Lake. Natus was the NVA to Campo's Victor Charlie, while Bill ran the US and Hawkeye the RVN. Nate, playing red for the second COIN game in a row, saw his North Vietnamese fare no better than his Romans. Good event play helped the socialist cause, but he struggled for board position, as Bill's relentless air campaign kept his head down and stifled the Trail. Hawkeye in turn was frustrated by the RVN's inability to improve its position in the face of looming Coup cards - no opportunity for Patronage so no chance to boost his own scoring. This really hurt when the second Coup came out soon after the first - Campo was well placed to take advantage, tucking a win into his black footie pajamas before slipping into the night.
The rare 3v1 COIN title
Mitch and I joined Dave, Herr Fuchs, and Renaud for Concordia. I'd played it once before but it was new to everyone else. We went with the base map (Mediterranean and surrounding provinces).
I opened by chasing brick cities, and was fortunate to luck into the Mason card to support this strategy. I later picked up the Vintner, and accordingly pursued wine towns as well. Herr Fuchs was Mr. Cloth, locking up cloth cities all over the board and rolling in cash. Dave had a balanced cycle going, and was building out his set at a good clip, along with Mitch. Renaud yielded his seat to Smitch, which disrupted their game for a bit, but they had a good hold on the eastern Med.
I found my steady supply of wine made it easy to pick up Legate cards so I made a point of collecting those and spreading out across as many provinces as possible. Cheap and plentiful brick didn't hurt this strategy either. I was a little worried about Mitch and Dave, who had good board presence. Dave's colonists were particularly annoying as they always seemed to be hogging the connections I needed to efficiently expand. The end game loomed, and I grabbed one more Legate before Smitch (I think) closed out the game.
Starting to double up
Adding up the points, I was lingering at the back of the pack until we scored Saturnus - my six Legates and nine provinces raked in a tidy 54 points, vaulting me past Mitch for a 144-125 win. Smitch was right behind at 122, and Herr Fuchs at 118, and Dave a bit further back. Having a game under my belt was a huge advantage, as the god/board position dynamic finally clicked and I felt my expansion had some coherence. There is a lot going on here and the strategies are obscured by the moving parts. We need to return to it soon so folks don't have to relearn the basics while trying to formulate a game. Also, I think the interaction will pick up considerably once players have some experience and can anticipate the needs and ambitions of others.
J. R. Tracy
We had six gamers for our Flag Day edition of game night.
Smitch, Jim, Herr Fuchs, and Bill pulled out Blood Rage. Most of the big critters reached the map, and Loki was up to his usual tricks. However, Smitch cobbled together a killer combo of multiple quests and Odin's Throne in the final age, coming from behind for a tidy win.
Laying some doomsmack
The same group turned to Smash Up, adding in the Cthulhu expansion. Herr Fuchs had the Dunwich Robots, Smitch ran the Ghost Dinos, Jim had the Aliens of Innsmouth, and Bill led the Secret Agent Leprechauns. I'm not a fan of the Cthulhu set because in my experience the Madness cards clog things up and slow down play, but they had a really good game, with Smitch ultimately persevering. I will have to reconsider my opinion, as they felt the Lovecraft tweak was a large part of the fun.
Like peanut butter and jelly
Scott and I paired up for Tanks: Panther vs Sherman, a recently-published tactical armor game in keeping with Scott's ongoing survey of entry-level systems. This is a miniatures rules set, with the eponymous Panther included with a pair of Shermans, though you have to assemble the kits yourself.
The rules are very simple. Each vehicle type is rated for Initiative, and move in initiative order from lowest (worst) initiative to highest, and shoot in reverse order. You may move zero, one, or two bounds - how far you move affects your shooting ability and the likelihood you'll get hit. AFVs are also rated for Attack (number of d6 thrown when you shoot), Defense (saving throws), and Damage Capacity (hit points).
When shooting, you hit on fours, fives, and sixes. Sixes are critical hits, which are resolved by random draws from a crit deck. Similarly, fours, fives, and sixes rolled on defense are 'saves', but for every six you get to choose which attacking die to nullify, while the attacker chooses for your fours and fives. So, if I roll 2, 2, 4, 5, 6, 6 and you roll 3, 4, 6, you can kick out one crit and I'll use your four to banish one of my regular hits. You gain an extra die on defense for every bound you move, and one for every bound the attacker moved. Stationary shooters may re-roll all their dice. Critical hits do various things like knock off a tread (no movement), ping your optics (next shot is -2 dice), etc, and some (like a damaged tread) may be repaired with a 50-50 chance in the Command phase.
The Oberscharführer lines up his shot
In addition to the basic stats, each vehicle has some sort of special ability - Shermans get Gung Ho, which means they're treated as if they've moved one bound less which calculating their target's defense dice. Panthers get Blitzkrieg, granting them another bound if they don't roll for repair in the Command phase. You may also buy upgrades and crew cards, which grant still more nifty features, like a little extra armor or improved short-range gunnery. Vehicles, upgrades, and crews all have point values, so you can generate your own point-based scenarios.
We opted for the intro Barkmann's Corner scenario. Scott got the Panther along with the Barkmann crew card, which allowed him a re-roll on attack if he failed to score any criticals or uncancelled hits. I fielded two 75mm Shermans without any bonuses. The Panther far outclasses a Sherman on a one to one basis, but I had clever ideas about maneuvering through terrain and catching his side armor (-1 defense die). However, Scott used his initiative advantage to counter my efforts, and worse, I was usually getting just a single gun to bear in any shooting phase. It was still a close match, with Scott a couple hits from destruction when he finished off my second Sherman.
Catching a flank
Tanks is a fun, simple game, though a touch too simple at this intro level. I think you need more vehicles to make things interesting, but the basic kit at least gives you a taste of the system so you can tell if you wish to invest further. This is much more game than simulation, with a heroic/comic book eye of the action. The production values are pretty good - Scott didn't care much for the card quality but I thought they were fine. The plastic sprues are from the Flames of War line, but I don't think there is a strong connection beyond a link on the FoW website. This means you have to assemble the bits before you play a game, an obstacle to some, I'm sure. However, you can easily play with models you already have on hand, or even paper templates. Worth a look if you are in the market for something light and armor-oriented, with special attraction for modelers or folks looking to get a youngster interested in the hobby.
Next up, Scott and I pulled out Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal, 1942, Revolution's recent English-language release of Yasushi Nakaguro's design. Scott had a hand in editing the rules so he has a special connection to the game. As the title suggests, this depicts the early stages of the Solomon Islands campaign. Victory turns on possession of Henderson Field, and the game opens with the airfield in American hands.
The map is just a few areas - The Slot and Iron Bottom Sound, where most of the surface action takes place, plus the Eastern Solomon Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, where the carrier groups hang out. There are also bases (Truk for the IJN, Espirito Santo for the USN) which are essentially holding boxes for the respective fleets. Guadalcanal is in the Iron Bottom Sound area, and the status of Henderson Field is monitored on its own track.
Each side has a number of naval assets, including surface combatants and carriers. Whoever *doesn't* hold Henderson also gets a pair of transports, which they use to land troops and nudge the ground campaign toward their side of the ledger. At the start of each turn, players secretly assign their ships to up to seven task forces (TFs) in their respective bases; ships remain concealed until combat. They then alternate conducting seven actions apiece.
Actions include Sortie (committing a TF from base to the playing area), Move (moving a TF from one map area to another), Landing (dropping troops on the 'Canal), Naval Bombardment (lighting up Henderson Field), Air Strike (versus an opposing TF or Henderson Field), and Tokyo Express (a special IJN action that allows them to sneak troops onto the island using individual destroyers). There is no specific 'Surface Attack' action but this occurs whenever you move into an area occupied by an enemy TF. Similarly, Naval Bombardment and Landing actions move your TF into Iron Bottom Sound, and if an enemy TF is present, combat ensues.
Yamato rolls in
For combat, each ship rolls a d6, and inflicts a number of hits equal to the roll, up to its combat strength. Rolls over the combat strength are ignored. So, for North Carolina, with combat strength of three, a '3' inflicts three hits while a '4' misses altogether. Carrier strikes are similar with allowances for CAP and relative air strength and AAA. Hits are assigned, and ships may be either damaged (sitting out a turn or two) or sunk altogether. The game is only four turns long, so damage is effectively a mission kill in the second half of the game. Combat is two rounds, and for Naval Bombardment and Landing missions to succeed, the enemy must be cleared out on the first round. Once combat is resolved, participating TFs go home.
Game play is a giant sequencing puzzle for both sides. To gain control of Henderson Field, you have to get your transports through (each bumps the marker one box toward your end of the track). Before you can land troops, you must disrupt the airfield, achieved via Bombardment or Air Strikes; if the airfield is undisrupted at the end of the turn, it slides a box down the track in favor of the controlling side. Bombardment requires you clear out Iron Bottom Sound of enemy ships, while any carriers contemplating an Air Strike will have to weather the likely intervention of opposing naval air as it moves into position. You only have seven actions to work with, so it's unlikely you'll ever build out seven TFs (all ships return to base at the end of the turn). You must consider your force mix and order of commitment - TFs enter play in a predetermined sequence. The planning phase is the heart of the game and allows for a lot of deception as well as ample opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot.
Scott had the Japanese to my Americans in our game. We had a big air battle on the first turn which crippled both our carrier forces, but I had reinforcements arriving on turn two. I split my remaining carriers, absorbing the full power of the entire Japanese carrier force with lonely Hornet, freeing my other CVs in a separate TF to counter Japanese landing efforts. On turn three Scott turned the tables by running a cruiser as a decoy Tokyo Express, forcing me to waste an entire task force on a wild goose chase. That allowed him to land a transport and bump control a pip closer to the Japanese. On the final turn, the legitimate Tokyo Express evened control, but an undisrupted airfield still belonged to me. Sadly, I guessed wrong on my final activation, sending a useless air strike against a surface task force. Scott's unscathed carrier group was therefore able to launch a strike of its own against Henderson, disrupting the airstrip for a game-ending draw.
This is a tight little game, with unique but very straightforward mechanics. I think it captures the essence of the operational environment, with emphases on the fog of war and planning aspects at the expense of detailed combat routines. We set up and played in about 70 minutes, and I think our next game should be under an hour. It looks like there are several viable approaches to explore for both sides, so I think you can get a half dozen games in before the premise wears thin. Recommended.
Last up, Scott pulled out Arcade, a futuristic armor combat game with a presentation reminiscent of 80s-90s arcade games, complete with wire frame graphics. The board uses a simple grid, with blocks of terrain and neon-bright playing pieces. Players alternate moving their tanks, which can shoot at any point of their move. To shoot, you count the range in squares, down the file and across the rows, and divide by two - this is how many dice you roll. If you roll a one, you miss; otherwise you score a number of hits equal to your lowest roll. If you miss, your shot scatters (using the roll to determine where it lands), which may damage a different target or even destroy terrain. Some outcomes stun the target, forcing it to lose a turn. Tanks can take up to six hits apiece.
Need another quarter
In our first game, my dice were on fire, and I just hosed Scott, rolling four or five hits at a time. There is a wicked power curve such that once down a tank or two, the bad news just cascades over you. We reset, and added Interceptors, which are sorta like hovercraft - fast moving, but with fewer hit points. My dice continued to glow and I won this one as well, albeit in a closer match.
We thought the game was a hoot, but we'd tweak a couple things. The scatter damage caused as much destruction as direct hits, with destroyed terrain wreaking havoc on adjacent units. Stuns are nasty as well, particularly if the unit was about to activate. Still, it offers a lot of game play in a very simple set of rules, and has a groovy retro-futuristic look. The bits are fiddly but not too much of a hassle, and the footprint is manageable. Worth a look as a late night filler or a fast-playing skirmish game.
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve gamers to open June, all settling into four-handed titles.
Jim, Smitch, Natus, and Mitch wrapped up Falling Sky from last week. Smitch and the Belgae had established a good board position, with Natus pulling his Romans back to regroup and try to regain some momentum. Unfortunately, the Belgae and their Germans brothers were too well established and the remaining three players had a difficult time concentrating to reel them in; nice win for Smitch in our first crack at the title.
Vercingetorix pleads for action
Overall impressions were positive; the one mildly negative complaint was the three Gallic factions felt more similar than any threesome in other COIN titles. Also, the natural areas of influence of the factions are more geographically distinct than in other games, so when one player does develop a lead you often don't have a ready means to retaliate. Perhaps that role falls to the Roman, but in this case Nate got clipped early and didn't have the firepower to slow Smitch's roll. Great looking game, and sure to return to the table soon.
Bursting with Belgae
Mark, Tenno, Dutch, and the inimitable Dr. Glaze teamed up for Star Wars: Rebellion. Matt and Mark took the Empire to Tenno and Dutch as the Rebs. They went with the free setup, and the planet draw found the Empire's forces clustered around Coruscant. Given that, the Rebels selected Kessel as their base, to put as much galactic real estate as possible between them and the Imperial fleets.
Tenno mocks the puny Imperial fleet
Mark and Matt opted for a probe-heavy strategy, eschewing builds in favor of reducing the set of possible base locations. As a result, at one point the Rebels actually had more forces on board than the Empire! However, the Rebellion struggled to complete missions outside of a very effective sabotage campaign. Meanwhile, Imperial probes were scattershot, frustrating their planning until young Skywalker fell into their hands. The Sith team Lojack'd Luke with a Homing Beacon, and upon release he revealed the base's home region. Between this info and Probe statistics, Kessel was pegged. Unfortunately, given Imperial fleet dispositions and time remaining, there was no way the Empire could reach the base before time ran out. A solid Rebel win in a game full of craft and guile.
A cocky upstart meets his match
Bill, Hawkeye, Dan VIII, and I tried Divided Republic, a game on the US election of 1860. The players represent the four major candidates, with Bill taking John Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, Hawkeye Stephen Douglas of the Northern Democrats, Dan Honest Abe, and me John Bell of the Constitutional Unionists. The goal is to achieve an electoral college majority when the election is held after six turns. Barring that unlikely event, the outcome is thrown to the House of Representatives, which elects one of the top three Electoral College finishers using a one state-one vote format.
The structure is essentially area majority but with a lot of thematic flavor. The board is a map of the US carved up into states, which in turn are grouped into regions. Kansas and Nevada await entry into the Union, which can occur by cardplay. Each turn players spin through their 6-8 card hands. Cards have a value and an event - the value allows you to place that many cubes as influence in states of your choice, and the events can be anything from boosting your own position, forcing an impromptu poll in a region, or screwing an opponent. The polls serve to solidify control of states (you can 'lock down' state if you have enough influence) and determine player order for the following turn. This is important as the first player gets an extra card and it always helps to get a jump on the opposition.
There is a strong asymmetry across the player-candidates. Each has a one-use special ability that fits in with the campaign, and tend to have differing regional strengths and weaknesses. Lincoln has a lot of trouble campaigning in the South, Breckinridge's personal dojo. Douglas is generally strong in the Midwest, though Abe had the edge in Illinois, and so on. Many of the cards have a party orientation or regional bent as well. Platform Speech cards allow you to play a d6 worth of influence cubes in a particular region, with a bonus applied depending on the region you choose. The stronger the historical link between the speech topic and the region, the greater the bonus. The game doesn't force the history but its influence is felt throughout.
The center cannot hold
In our game, I took note of the likely House of Reps outcome and focused on picking up a lot of low-population states plus a couple biggies to make sure I qualified for the run-off. Bill and I battled mightily over the South, while Dan/Abe risked an early war (and a four-player loss) by bringing in both Kansas and Nevada as free states. Hawkeye did well in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. My cheap state strategy was looking very good until Dan played a card to shut me out of all but the South on the last turn - all my precious Midwestern holdings were now vulnerable and quickly picked off.
I made up what I could at Bill's expense but was well short of my high water mark. Hawkeye ran a scandal-plagued campaign (he seemed to have a lady in every town, at least according to Dan's newspaper cronies), but still amassed a tidy collection of states himself. As expected, no one secured a majority in the Electoral College, but when we tallied up the states we controlled (throwing out ties) we ended up tied 8-8-8-8! Sadly I was ineligible for the House of Reps vote because I was last in Electoral votes. Dan and I had split New York thanks to my play of Fusion Ticket; he had the most influence there so we felt this was an adequate tiebreaker to give him the win and the White House. Let the healing begin.
In the fashion of the day
We had a *lot* of fun with this one, in large part because we all had an interest in the era and the game really lets it shine through. Divided Republic is more than a gussied-up Euro - there is some real content here beyond a skin-deep theme. I reckon it really needs four players to work well, but if you can put together a crew with a love of the topic, give it a shot.
Last up, Dan VIII and I played a quick session of Bottom of the 9th, a baseball game from 2015. As the title suggests, it's just a half-inning of baseball, built around the tactics of pitch selection. Each player has two tokens, one Inside/Away, and the other High/Low. The pitcher makes his selection, and the batter makes his guess. The batter's success at getting on base and/or moving the runners along depends on whether he matches zero, one, or both of the pitcher's choices. Pitchers and batters have individual quirks and abilities that shape the outcome of an at-bat, so there's a lot of variation from batter to batter as well as room for strategy and deception. I managed to hold Dan scoreless in the inning for a quick win, but we barely scratched its potential as a game. Intriguing little package, worth a follow-up.
Closing them out
J. R. Tracy
We closed May with a dozen gamers for a new title, a tidied-up recent-ish title, and some classics.
Mitch, Natus, Jim, and Smitch tackled Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar, the latest addition to the COIN family. Mitch took the Aedui, Jim the Arveni, Smitch the Belgae, and Natus the Romans. The Roman goal is straightforward - smash the Gauls on the head until most of them have the good sense to do as they're told. The various Gallic objectives differ from one another - the Averni lead the fight behind mighty Vercingetorix, and want to kill Romans; the Belgae aspire to expand their own influence and gather allies to their banner; and the Aedui just want to survive the rebellion a little out in front of everyone else.
The Aedui converge
An early event cranked up the Suebi just across the Rhine. This Germanic tribe acts as a non-player force that can be controlled to a degree by any faction depending on cardplay. The Belgae, however, have closer ties to their Germanic cousins and can control them via a Belgic Special Action. Smitch took advantage of this along with his Rampage ability to lay some serious smack on the Romans. Caesar himself bought the farm and the legions were routed back to Provincia Nostra. The game reached about the halfway point, with Natus building back up and looking for revenge, while his Gallic counterparts pursue their individual goals.
Dutch and Scott tried Scott's homebrew Julian Muldoolian, a strategic level game on the Roman Empire circa the fourth century AD. Scott was inspired by Joe Miranda's Julian: Triumph Before the Storm, but has heavily modified Joe's design, moving to an area map among other changes. Scott ran the Empire against Dutch's barbarian hordes. Sadly for Rome, an ambitious Master of Horse decided he looked good in purple, switching sides halfway through an expedition in Persia. He laid waste to most of Anatolia and generally made life miserable for Scott. Rome didn't fare much better on other fronts, and it looks like the Empire may have ended a century or two early. I've played this myself and really enjoy it. Scott has built a very clean and fast-playing engine while retaining the sweep and chaos of Joe's original ideas. Fun stuff.
Hot tramp, I love you so
After failing to find 1989 amidst the rubble, Dave and Maynard opted for 1960: The Making of the President instead. What's 29 years between friends? I did not see much of this game but I believe Maynard came out on top as JFK.
Kennedy considers the South
Elsewhere we were shocked to learn that Bill, our groggiest grognard, has never played Up Front! Hawkeye immediately took control of the situation and administered two doses of A Meeting of Patrols. The patient responded favorably and upon recovery requested more of the same, stat.
Looking for cover
Last up, Campoverdi and I pulled out Won by the Sword with the long-awaited update in hand. The topic has always appealed to me and I have been looking forward to trying Ben Hull's approach. This is an operational-level treatment, with forces operating in columns, activated by card play. A given force will move and possibly fight in each of the five rounds comprising one-month turn, seeking to capture enemy towns and fortresses, engage enemy forces as needed, and above all find enough food to keep the column intact. Sieging and fighting are all well and good, but foraging is Job One and the game appropriately revolves around the logistics of the era.
The Lion raids the Rhineland
Players are dealt a hand of ten cards at the beginning of each turn. These are used to activate columns, of which he may have up to four. However, only the first two column activations of a round may use cards from your hand - further activations in that round are fueled by draws off the deck. Each card has a campaign point (CP) value, a baggage point (BP) cost for feeding your troops, and a Special Action. The Special Actions are usually little boosts and perks, but there are a few mandatory (mostly negative) events mixed in, so the random draw is not without hazard.
CPs are used to move, forage, lay siege, remove fatigue, and give battle. These costs are the same no matter the column size, but the BP price of the card depends on whether your column is small, medium, or large, measured in steps. Most columns are comprised of infantry and cavalry regiments, supporting artillery, baggage points, and leaders, but you may also form an all-cav column that can take advantage of the occasional cavalry-oriented Special Action. Judging which card to use for a given column requires measuring the trade-offs between CP value, Special Action, and BP cost. Do I use the high CP card for my hammer, even though it carries a very high price in BPs for a large force? I'd love to use the Tactical Advantage afforded by this particular card, but the CP allowance will leave me a space short of my goal. Dare I risk using a random draw for this vulnerable force, which might leave it within reach of the Lion of the North?
Tilly's first tangle
The moving/fighting mechanics are easily grasped. You expend CPs to move from space to space, paying more if moving through enemy cavalry patrols. You may move through enemy columns and towns, though enemy-held or besieged towns will prevent you from crossing a river, a nice touch. Along the way you'll need to spend some CPs asking the locals for a loaf of bread and a chicken or two - foraging yields BPs, but progressively exhausts an area's resources. As the campaign progresses, you find yourself looking further and further afield for food. If you're itching for a fight, you roll up to the enemy column and expend a CP to offer battle - he may refuse (losing VPs in the process) and skitter away. In that case, you may continue to move but don't get another crack at that particular column this activation.
Should a battle take place, you move to the battle board. Forces are divided into two cavalry wings and an infantry/artillery center, with some rejiggering allowed before the shooting starts. The wings are resolved first, with the winning side of each wing reinforcing the center with that wing's survivors. The center is then resolved, and whoever takes the best-of-three across the wings and center wins the battle. Resolution is a simple d10 roll for each side, added to their respective combat strength - this yields a loss number for the opponent. Whoever inflicts the most casualties in a wing or the center, wins that portion of the battle. After the overall victor is determined, the loser slinks off, leaving his artillery and baggage behind. The winner suffers a bit of fatigue, which needs to be paid down before moving again.
Scouring the countryside
Sieges are more drawn-out affairs. Again a CP is expended to initiate a siege, assuming the besieging column has enough troops to invest the fortification. Fortified locations progress from town, to strong town, fortress, and strong fortress. There's a chance the garrison will surrender as soon as you declare a siege (less likely the stronger the position), but if that fails, it's time to start digging. Locations are rated for siegeworks required to assault; you build your lines by expending CPs, and if you have enough troops on hand, you dig twice as fast. Artillery bombardment helps reduce the amount of siegeworks required. Once the siegeworks are complete, there's one more shot at surrender. If the stubborn bastards refuse to yield, walls come down, ladders go up, blood is spilled, and the town changes hands. There's usually some baggage to collect for your trouble, and of course a few VPs to tally as well.
Victory is determined by victory points. You score VPs for winning battles, from five for a minor battle up to fifteen for a major victory in a major battle (winning all three sectors in a big fight). You also score for taking towns and fortresses, from two VPs for knocking over a neutral town all the way up to a whopping twenty for an enemy strong fortress. Finally, you collect points for foraging in enemy territory - up to 1.5 VPs per space if you totally exhaust it. You can lose VPs if you refuse battle - an often sensible option since the price is only three VPs for shunning a fight versus a heavy score for the enemy if he whips you.
We picked the Crossing the Lech battle scenario, which is the first three turns (months) of the 1632 campaign. Since we're both Catholic, Campoverdi and I each performed an exorcism ritual on Natus for the honor of leading the Imperial-Bavarians. Campo managed to provoke some guttural muttering but I got Nate's eyes to roll back in his head before coaxing a column of smoke from his nose and mouth. Campo started with Gustavus Adolphus in Mainz, in the northwest corner of the map, while Horn led a smaller column of Swedes in Bamberg, in northern Franconia. I had three columns of my own, the largest with Tilly in Nördlingen, a smaller Imperial column under Aldringer in Memmingen, and a small observation column of three veteran infantry regiments in Forchheim. Wallenstein relaxed just off map with the largest column in the game, awaiting an engraved invitation before joining the fighting.
Wallenstein's invitation takes the form of an Imperial-Bavarian defeat in a major battle; he appears d10 rounds after such an event. I reckoned my chances were better with Wally than without, even given the price of a defeat, so I opened the game by sending the Butcher of Magdeburg straight at Horn. I figured it was win-win - either victory in battle, or a defeat soon rewarded by a stonking 43 regiments. It proved to be the latter, as Horn won both wings and smashed my center thanks to holding a Tactical Advantage that offset my own. Tilly dashed off a plea to Wallenstein as he fled the battlefield, and the old mercenary was soon in the saddle - I rolled a '2', for a mid-turn arrival. My remaining columns ravaged the countryside and took some minor towns, while the Lion rolled up Imperial garrisons along the Rhine.
Franconia in flames
Tilly's defeat had other consequences besides summoning Wallenstein - it sapped the spirit of the good burghers of Ulm and Augsburg, who were now much more likely to surrender their fortresses in event of siege. I hoped to make enough hay with Wally to put things out of reach before Gustavus made his way south to take them. Things started off well with a sharp defeat of Horn, and then I caught a very lucky break when Nuremburg surrendered to Aldringer, a one in ten shot. Torstensson and Banér arrived with two more columns to round out the Swedes, but neither were anxious to confront Wallenstein. By this time Franconia was a smoking ruin, as the criss-crossing columns devastated the countryside. We were both losing steps with each activation, our forces slowly melting away.
Torstensson took a shot at Nuremburg but was run off by Wally, while Tilly's remnants and Aldringer's column cleaned up northern Franconia and moved on to take a slice off Würzburg and Hesse-Darmstadt. Gustavus was forked, heading toward Bavaria but now contending with Imperial columns in his rear. Torstensson gambled by accepting battle with Wally, but his subsequent defeat sealed the fate of Franconia. Even with Ulm in hand and Augsburg about to fall, Gustavus was unlikely to make up the difference while Tilly and Aldringer rampaged up north. We called it at that point for an Imperial-Bavarian win.
I think the game succeeds in portraying the era - perhaps too well. Your main concern is keeping your columns fed and intact, taking enemy towns when you can and harassing his populace. If a battle occurs, someone has made a mistake. They are very bloody and leave you ill-equipped to siege large fortifications and in poor shape for another fight. So, gameplay is largely a combination of canny maneuver and mundane logistics. I personally *love* this sort of thing but some might find it moves too slowly for their taste.
We spent a little over an hour a turn, and I can't see speeding that up much - every column *must* be activated every round, so that's at least 20 activations, and as many as 40, every month. Throw in battles and siege resolution, and it adds up. There is a lot of calculation and recalculation as you count steps for foraging and sieges, plus of course the battle process. I was more of a fan than Campo, but even I found it tedious at times.
Ulm falls to Gustavus
Overall I like the game - it hits the operational and campaign beats I was looking for, and we found the systems very intuitive once we mastered the card/round/turn cycle. The battles are involved but they are rare and we welcomed the excitement and change of pace. Sieges make sense, with a fair amount of detail rolled up into an easily-executed mechanic. You spend a lot of time managing your logistics, but I think that's fair given the subject matter. Here Campo and I part ways - he'd rather see a lot more abstraction of that aspect. The biggest knock on the game is the pace; I don't think you can complete a full campaign in an evening, but you could comfortably wrap one up in a Saturday. This should be a good candidate for PBeM.
If Won by the Sword lingers on your shelf due to the rules brouhaha surrounding the initial release, pull it down and give it a spin with the update. Outside of a couple minor issues, the rules were no trouble. Ben built an involved but not overwhelming model, and pitched it at a level that highlights the command headaches that characterized the conflict. It demands some effort, but I found the payoff worth it - give it a try and see if you agree.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers for some ASL and a pair of current multiplayer favorites.
Dutch introduced Triumph & Tragedy to Jay and Natus. Dutch took the West to Nate's Axis and Jay's Soviet Union. This was probably the best arrangement, as we find the Wallies to be extremely unforgiving for new players.
"You're going to need this"
The opening pace was deliberate, with a lot of diplomacy and careful force-building. Any hope for going the distance went out the window when Jay and Nate tangled over Rumania and Bulgaria. Jay then dragged Dutch into the war with an offensive against India. Delhi fell to the Reds, and Jay looked like he had the upper hand. That's when Natus noticed the tip of a dagger sliding into his spine as the British landed in Italy to take Rome. It was a now a race - Dutch lunging for the Ruhr while Jay's Red Spaniards aimed for Paris. A doomed defense by the Volkssturm briefly slowed the blue tide, but the Ruhr soon fell in a win for the West.
Sprint to the finish line
Smitch and Tenno went over to the dark side against Campoverdi and El Rios in Star Wars: Rebellion. The Rebels were very hot to trot in the early turns, aggressively pursuing objectives all over the galaxy. Unfortunately, one such mission cost them the game. When Imperial stormtroopers landed on Rodia, they found an empty Rebel Base with a note pinned to the door: "Raiding Coruscant, back in 20 minutes". It was a fatal gamble, but hey, that's how these rebels rolled.
We had two games of Advanced Squad Leader going on side by side. First up, Stéphane faced Scott in the venerable Marked For Death from the Paddington Bears. Stéphane had a tough bunch of elite Germans, led by a 9-2 and a hero, trying to take and hold a bridge from Scott's handful of French defenders. Scott received mid-game reinforcements that would double his infantry and add a couple Pan-Pans to the mix.
Ze Basque on the attack
Stéphane's hero advantage was short lived, as Scott quickly matched him and then generated a second 149. One particularly stubborn SOB took a bullet in the shoulder early on, but settled in next to the bridge to defy all German attempts to dislodge him. Stéphane eventually took the bridge but his hold is precarious.
The French reinforcements have arrived and the bridge garrison is isolated. One Pan-Pan was immobilized by an ATR, its crew cut down as they bailed out. The other is prepared to lead the counterattack as the game enters the final turn. Sadly, they could not finish, but Scott recorded the positions and they will play it out via VASL.
Horace stands his ground
Hawkeye and I paired up for another scenario featuring the French, Erstwhile Allies from Dispatches from the Bunker. These French were Vichy, however, defending an Algerian town against fresh-faced Americans on the opening day of Operation Torch. I had the defenders, mostly first line units stiffened by a pair of elite squads, some good support weapons, and a Soixante-Quinze. I also had a pair of fanatic half squads hidden in the olive groves forward of my main defense. Hawkeye had a slew of second line 546s, several machine guns, and two M3 Gun Motor Carriages (halftracks mounting 75mm guns). The GIs had roughly two times the French firepower, but needed to dig my defenders out of three multi-hex buildings, all stone by SSR.
I centered my defense on the largest objective, building U3 in my left rear. I placed my artillery piece in V3, with a squad and a light machine gun upstairs in V2. Another couple squads defended X2 and X3, ready to fall back. I thought the Z2 building was a deathtrap, so I just manned it with a couple half squads and some dummies. The 9-1 directed my medium machine gun from X5, while more dummies defended the third objective, building T6. I put my HIP half squads forward on my right, to delay any Americans sweeping up that flank. As fanatics, they could also engage the halftracks without need of a PAATC, and had a decent chance against the open-topped, MG-less vehicles.
The opening was a thing of beauty from the French perspective, as a platoon of dogfaces walked right up to one of my hidden half squads. Unfortunately I blew the roll and my half squad soon departed the playing field. The second half squad had much better luck, holding my right flank all by itself and disrupting Hawkeye's ability to maintain a broad front attack. I had difficulty in the center, however, with the medium machine gun passing through the hands of several Frenchmen before finally landing with some GIs; it did manage to stun one GMC before going down. The left held up nicely, though, as it took Hawkeye several turns to battle through the buildings on the edge of town.
Giving ground grudgingly
As the final turns approached, I fell back on the U3 building and stuffed it full of Vichy. My Sniper sent the stunned halftrack home, while a light machine gun claimed the second. Without the support of his heavy hitters, Hawkeye's 6-morale troops struggled to advance. With no prospect of cracking my final defense, he conceded on the final turn. Looking this up on ROAR, I see it sports a 21-7 pro-Vichy record, and I can believe it. Attacking stone buildings with low morale troops is no picnic, even with a heavy firepower advantage. I like the idea of the scenario, but the GIs need a little more, and the French a little less, to generate a competitive situation.
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