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J. R. Tracy
We had seven gamers for some playtesting and lighter fare.
Hawkeye, Dr. Rob, Smitch, Bill, and Herr Fuchs tackled Pax Porfiriana for the first time in months. Prestige was scarce so Smitch and Dr. Rob focused on enterprises, accumulating gold in anticipation of a long game. The first Topple appeared and worked its way down the Market. As a defensive move, Smitch went ahead and bought it to prevent a surprise win by someone else. Adding up the scores, he discovered the two low players were at zero prestige apiece - his own meager score was enough to win. Looks like the Iron Hand variant would've been the way to go here, as big tables seem to end early otherwise.
A Pax upon you
The same crowd then played 7 Wonders. This was a close game, with everyone clustered in the low 40s, except for Smitch, whose official score was "less than 42". Herr Fuchs triumphed, with a score that was presumably at least slightly higher than 42.
Get your own damn rulebook
Scott and I tried his new design Gettysburg 25, essentially Napoleonic 20 goes to the ACW. Units are rated for combat strength, quality, and movement, and leaders tag along to help their troops operate efficiently. The map covers a bit more than the traditional Gettysburg game, though the road net funnels the action toward familiar terrain.
Most elements of the game will be recognizable to anyone with experience with the Napoleonic 20 series - cards generating positive or negative random events, army morale affected by combat outcomes, lowish movement factors (but faster than the Nappy games), and a differential combat results table. Scott has added some leadership tweaks, morale penalties for failing to mind lines of communication, and asymmetric artillery bonuses (the Union has artillery reserves which boost neighboring units on defense, while Confederate divisions each get a bonus that may be applied once per day).
Here they come!
In our game, I took the Bluebellies. I had larger units but coordination issues outside the watchful eye of Meade. Heth trundled into town and I fell back to the ridges to the southeast, but not before Howard was chased off the field. Scott has some very bad luck in two large battles, suffering 'Attacker Rout' results in each for a whopping total four morale hits to the Confederate army.
Despite their shaky morale, the Rebels held a positional advantage, oozing around my flanks and threatening my LOCs. I launched a couple judicious counterattacks in hopes of pushing Confederate morale down further, but only managed to tire out my own troops. By the afternoon of the second day, both armies were on the verge of collapse. Scott organized a multihex attack focused on an exposed Sickles - he had a very good chance of inflicting the two morale hits necessary to see the Union off. Unfortunately for the Cause, he was beaten back. On my own turn, I was able to tag a Rebel division for the final morale hit on the Confederate army, saving the day and the Republic.
Repulsed but reforming
This is definitely a workable design - I felt it offered the full scope of the battle but with a small footprint and a reasonable playing time. We had a tight, exciting game, but much of that was down to Scott rolling a pair of particularly ill-timed 1s. As a result, he might tweak the army morale levels upwards - as it stands, both sides are fragile and unlikely to see a third day of fighting. Other than that, Gettysburg 25 looks nearly ready for prime time.
Sickles in a pickle
We wrapped up with a couple more games of 7 Wonders. In the first, Herr Fuchs offered me a belated birthday gift in the form of a steady stream of science cards; thanks to 43 points in green I managed a tidy win. In the second game, Hawkeye grabbed the win thanks to 27 points in purple. We crowned him Guildmaster and called it a night.
Hawkeye likes what he sees
Fri Jul 31, 2015 12:29 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players for our Bastille Day edition of game night, wrapping up Virgin Queen and playing something appropriate for the occasion.
The VQ gang began the evening with Nate's Ottomans in the lead, but several players were positioned to make a run. Spain appeared to have shot her bolt last week, but England and France were up and coming.
Natus' epic death-struggle with Smitch's HRE did neither player any favors, cutting Nate's lead as he lost keys elsewhere while battling his mortal enemy. The Ottoman Empire's fate was sealed when Smitch hit Nate with the Sultan's Harem card, denying the Turks a turn at a crucial moment. Nate was compelled to navigate the traditional stages of CDG grief.
Shock, anger, acceptance
Campoverdi's France was roaring into the picture as it took care of business on the home front by squashing a rebellious population, before venturing forth on the seas once more. England also surged, splitting many of the spoils of the New World with her cross-channel rival.
The clock expired without anyone reaching an autowin, so it came down to highest VPs. The Ottomans had the nominal lead, but both England and France still had some patronage to resolve. Stéphane rolled first, for a promising playwright from Avon, and maxed out the table, seizing first place. Campo followed up with Le Testu (inventor of the test tube), and *also* maxed out, leaving France in a tie with England! Ties are resolved by referring to whoever had the lead the previous turn...which was France.
A (momentary) Shakespearean triumph
Campoverdi claimed a hard-earned win, but Natus gets credit for leading six and seven-eighths of the gameturns. If this was Kremlin, he would've won pulling away....
By a whisker
Dutch and Scott tried the repackaged Jena 20 from the recent Prussia 20 release. Dutch had the French, fighting on two fronts against Scott's Prussians.
It was nip and tuck at first, but Dutch was attacking with Davout's outnumbered force. Once he switched the future Duc d'Auerstaedt to a holding posture, the focus moved to the other end of the map. The Prussians had already suffered a beating on the morale track, so Napoleon's control of geographic objectives was enough to tip them over the brink for a French win.
Murat awaits his moment
George Young was in town for business, so he joined the Tolleymon and me for Liberté, in honor of the date. This is a classic Martin Wallace area control game with a lot of bells and whistles. Players take turns using cards to place blocks representing either Royalists, Radicals, or Moderates across the provinces of 18th century France, marking their placement with a token of their own color.
Basic placement strategy is two-fold - you want to control the 'winning' faction-stack in a given province at the end of each round, and you want to have the largest presence in the faction that gains control of France (by having a plurality of provinces) when the round's province scores are tallied. Mechanical nuances complicate strategy a bit, since you may only place one stack per province, and multiple players may place stacks of the same faction within a given province (ties are resolved by cardplay). Also, a round ends when all the blocks of any faction are depleted, so your decision might be shaped by whether or not you want to extend a round.
Play proceeds through four rounds, the last three of which involve the Battle Box. This represents the control of the armies of the fledgling Republic - you may spend an action committing a token there instead of placing faction blocks on the map. Whoever has the most tokens in the Battle Box *and* has a general in his tableau wins the battle points for the turn (ranging from three to five, depending on the round). You build your tableau by placing a limited cards there instead of in the discard pile - you may expend tableau cards to resolve province and Battle Box ties, and retrieve the rest back to your hand after scoring the round.
A moderating influence
Besides placing faction blocks or building your Battle Box presence, you may also play Special cards, which are essentially gotchas. These range from Bread Shortage in the early going (removes a single block of the ruling faction from anywhere on the map) to Terror, which can eliminate a *stack* of faction blocks from any province containing Radicals, *and* allows you to remove a card from anyone's personal display. That's a heavy hammer and we wielded it indiscriminately.
In our game, Dave, our resident area-control mentat, established an early lead thanks to board presence, while George and I built our tableaus with an eye toward the second round. This round looked a lot like the first - I would've cut into Dave's lead, but I failed to deploy a general so all my actions expended on the Battle Box went for naught. Round three tightened things up considerably, as I finally won command of the armies and almost caught up to Dave, with George right behind.
The fourth round was vicious, as George and I struggled for control of the Battle Box (five VP this round) while Dave focused on Paris (worth three times the other provinces). About this time we discovered we'd been misplaying Terror - it may only be used if the Radicals are in power, something they never achieved. We figured we'd all benefited and suffered equally, so we decided to continue our misuse through game end. Heads were rolling across the map, as neither George nor I could keep a general alive on our tableaux. However, the turn order allowed George to place one from his hand with his final action, the last of the game, thereby claiming the Battle Box points. We toted up the scores, and George emerged the winner, 21 to my 20 to Dave's 19.
Battling over the Vendée
I felt Liberté lived up to its solid reputation. It has multidimensional decision-making, excellent player interaction, and a tidy playing time (for three seats, anyway). The theme comes through largely in the form of the special cards, which escalate in power as the game progresses (Bread Shortages are in the first half of the deck, but Terror and the Guillotine don't show up 'til later). There is also the possibility of a Royalist counter-revolution ending the game early, should they control a specific subset of provinces (if the players fail to win the 'battle' on a given round the Royalist score is increased for this purpose). Similarly, overwhelming Radical control also ends the game early - both these events prompt alternate scoring mechanisms, adding a couple more factors to consider. I'll happily play this one again, and I hope I don't have to wait 'til the next Bastille Day to do so.
With VQ still going on, we grabbed Roll for the Galaxy for a couple quick games. George thoroughly abused us, bouncing Dave and me around the room as he romped to embarrassingly large margins of victory in both games. Dice management was my main issue, as I was too focused on getting big planets or developments into play immediately instead of taking the time to build an engine. Dave fared a little better, but we were no match for for George's powers of galactic conquest. George finished the night a tidy three for three, bidding us adieu before heading back to the wild mountains of Vermont.
I should probably buy back some dice
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve gamers for a continuation of Virgin Queen and some lighter fare.
In VQ, Nate's Ottomans continued to hold the lead but could not break through to victory. Horrific luck at sea (two entire fleets sunk!) and a seemingly eternal stalemate with the HRE in the east denied the Turks any fresh keys, but they didn't lose any either.
Another great Ottoman roll
Elsewhere, England and France preyed upon Spanish convoys, but Maynard refused to yield treasures, giving up VPs instead. He was saving his CPs in order to set up a serious Hail Mary (Queen of Scots) against England. Twice Maynard tried to assassinate Elizabeth, and twice he came up just short thanks to clutch die-rolling by Stéphane. Besides his attempts on Betty, Maynard dragged Spain within a key of victory, but was beaten back.
God save the Queen
Back in the pack, the Protestants bided their time, spreading the good word, while the HRE kept mum about their religious preference. France, through marriage and piracy, tiptoed up the standings. With two turns to go, we have an obvious favorite in the Ottomans, but a couple other players are within reach.
Holding the Turks at bay
Scott and Hawkeye tried the new edition of Empire of the Sun, with the 1943 scenario, Scott's Japan against Hawkeye's Allies.
Hawkeye made little progress island-hopping, but was grinding his way to the reconquest of New Guinea. The most interesting action was in the CBI - Scott's offensive made good progress but suffered a bloody nose from a British counterattack. A Japanese attempt to regain the initiative just resulted in further Japanese casualties. Sadly they had to call it about halfway through, but I think the hook is set for a rematch.
The tide is turning
Dutch, Sean, Dr. Rob and I pulled out Imperial Settlers, a slick little card-based civ-building game. Each player takes a civilization (Rome, Egypt, Japan, and 'Barbarians') and its respective deck of unique buildings. There is also a common deck of buildings, generally resource-producers that serve as foundations for your own more interesting cool-power-providing constructs.
As you cycle through your turn, you harvest resources, build buildings, activate special powers, and work to develop a tableau while occasionally harassing your neighbors. Dutch, Rob, and I had a good three way fight going but Sean was receding into the rear-view mirror. Each civ has several unique abilities, but Egypt's powers seemed inscrutable relative to the others. With Sean out of it by turn four (of five) we decided to call the game and assess.
I enjoyed the gameplay, as you build your economic engine in a very dynamic fashion (unique buildings almost always replace common buildings, so your tableau changes a great deal from turn to turn). The civs have distinct thematic character, and the degree of player interaction is decent - you can steal or borrow from your neighbors, and even burn their buildings down. The game has great iconography, though unfortunately the resource symbols are very small and almost indistinguishable from a couple feet away. Also, while I liked the action flow of a given turn, it didn't seem to change much over the course of the game; instead we just did *more* of everything. Instead of marking the turn track 1-2-3-4-5, they should use short-tall-grande-venti-trenta. I'd like to return to the game, but it's not at the top of the heap.
Dr. Rob headed home so Dutch and I introduced Sean to Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, which we figured would be right up Sean's alley. Sure enough, he quickly warmed to it, running the One-Niners ruthlessly, while Dutch managed the SAMCRO and I had the Grim Bastards.
I focused on making money and avoiding the other gangs, because SAMCRO was always strapped and the One-Niner dog-whistle meant they usually had the numbers on me. I built up a nice kitty and then played rope-a-dope, tying up lucrative locations and either exploiting them myself or forcing the others to spend extra orders to step in front of me. This succeeded until I miscalculated the order count and allowed Sean to exploit a sweet Opportunity card. That proved the difference and he edged me by a dollar, with Dutch a few bucks further back. It was a fast, tight game, and likely in the rotation for the next few months.
Next week, VQ wraps!
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve players last week for some offbeat stuff alongside a multiplayer stalwart.
The HIS crew reconvened with their traditional Virgin Queen sequel, and got off to a rousing start. Smitch as the Holy Roman Emperor recorded his secret religious preference and then turned to face his Ottoman nemesis. Stéphane's England and Campoverdi's France headed off to the New World, though France was pestered by Bill's proselytizing Protestants going door to door spreading the good word.
Pilfering from the Protestants
Jim's Spain had a lot going on, harvesting treasures overseas and battling Nate's Turks for control of the Mediterranean. This is shaping up to be the Sultan's personal goldfish pond, as Natus' rampaging pirates piled up the VPs, while he cultivated scientists and artists back in Istanbul. After two turns, the Ottomans have a solid lead at 20 VPs, with Spain trailing at 18. The HRE is back at 13 and the rest trail behind. Next week should be fun, as Nate-bashing is a treasured local pastime and he won't be hard to spot while wearing that bright yellow jersey.
Scott, Mitch, Dave, and Dr. Rob tried Historia, a lightish Civy 4X game with a couple unique twists. Players navigate a development matrix that has technology along one axis and military along the other. Advancing your status in either confers gameplay advantages such as actions against your opponents or extra abilities over the course of your turn. The shape of the matrix is such that you will need to work both axes to some degree or you'll bump into an edge and get stopped out.
The matrix appears to be the heart and soul of the game, but actions are driven by cardplay. Players are working off hands built from identical generic decks, but commit cards one at a time to be revealed simultaneously. Expended cards go into the player's discard queue, and this continues until someone opts for a Revolution, which ends the turn and allows some measure of retrieval from your discards. There is an element of hand management here that also carries some player interaction, as it looks like you can really hose an opponent with a well-timed Revolution that suits your situation but upends theirs.
The board also tracks player position on a world map, with regional VPs randomly assigned before play. This helps define scoring as well as contact points for military action. Dave focused on map development, while Rob worked the tech side of the matrix; Scott and Mitch headed the other way. Rob built a fair lead by combining his tech advances with supporting Wonders, with Dave's board position keeping him within shouting distance. Scott and Mitch's military emphasis wasn't enough to close the gap, so Rob held his lead to the end. It looked very interesting and was well received. Scott kindly produced a more detailed recap, appended below.
The engines of empire
After Rob's standard mid-evening departure, Mitch, Dave, and Scott tried Soulfall, an intriguing card game featuring terrific art. Sadly this came and went while I was locked in grim combat in the hills of East Africa, so I have neither photos nor comment. However, again Scott comes through with a write-up of his own, in the comments below.
Roberto, our Washington correspondent, was up from DC, so we paired up for a bit of wargaming. First up I introduced him to W1815. Roberto warmed to it quickly, taking the French to the precipice of victory in our first game. He opened with Milhaud and rolled the dreaded "Ney's Charge" right off the bat. However, though I cut his cavalry to ribbons, they really put a hurt on Hill's corps before the recall sounded. He followed up with Reille, while I frantically waved the Prussians forward. I declined to commit my last Reserve block to recover Hougoumont - the action expenditure plus the long-term effects of losing my Reserve didn't justify the move. Instead, I fired off another strongly-worded text message to Bülow. He seized Plancenoit just as Boney sent the Guard into the center. I was forced to take a Rout Test, but passed, while Roberto failed his own, yielding an A-A win. Our second game wasn't nearly as dramatic - as the French, I opened by bouncing Reille off Hill for three straight attacks. Pathetic flailing with d'Erlon did no better, and the onrushing tide of Prussians provided a swift and merciful conclusion to a very bad day for La Grande Armée.
The chateau falls!
Roberto would've been happy playing W1815 all night, but we decided to move on to something a little meatier. We were intrigued by Acies' Adowa, covering the decisive 1896 battle of the First Italo-Ethiopian War. Though we both own it, neither of us had played it even read the rules, but we didn't let a little detail like that stop us. We traded off punching counters and perusing the rulebook, getting up to speed as best we could.
As it happens, Roberto's grandfather fought in Ethiopia, albeit in 1935-36, so naturally he assumed command of the Italians. His force is initially on the attack, but soon finds itself outnumbered as my formations enter the map. Historically the Italians expected to catch the Ethiopians by surprise but were instead met by an alert and aggressive opponent. This is recreated in game terms by randomly assigning objective hexes to the four Italian brigade-columns. The Italians score points for reaching them at any point, while the Ethiopians score half as many for controlling them at the end of the game. Also, the enthusiasm of the Ethiopians wanes as long as the Italians continue to hold their objectives. This seems to nicely recreate the shifting initiative of the action.
Following in his grandfather's footsteps
The game is battalion scale, with infantry, artillery, and cavalry, along with individual leader counters. Players alternate activating individual formations (brigades for the Italians, divisions of two or three brigades each for the Ethiopians) and assigning opponent. The Italian actually chooses an order (Advance, Attack, Defend, Manoeuvre) and rolls to see if it is accepted, while the Ethiopian just rolls on a table to see if the unit attacks, defends, or goes to No Command status. Individual batteries and battalions conform to the formation order if they are in range of their leader or if they pass a strength-based order check; otherwise they also go No Command. No Command status forces a unit to drift a hex based on a random direction roll. The other order states confer greater or lesser movement ability, affect performance in combat, and compel units to enter melee if under Attack orders.
Combat includes fire (adjacent or same-hex for rifle fire, out to three hexes for artillery) and same-hex melee. The Italian forces are much more effective in fire combat, with some Ethiopian battalions lacking the ability to even fire at all. However, Ethiopian units are usually bigger and therefore pack a bigger wallop in close combat. This contrast is apparent in a typical engagement - the Ethiopians close, the Italians respond with Opportunity Fire, the Ethiopians continue into the target hex to suffer Melee Fire, and then Melee is resolved. Opportunity Fire may only be conducted once per enemy formation activation, but Melee Fire may be conducted multiple times, with each successive use conferring a die roll penalty. Melee is a function of movement, and units move individually, so a single defender may find itself subjected to waves of attackers over the course of an activation.
Albertone greets Makonnen
The map is a bit of a nightmare, both in terms of the terrain depicted and the method of presentation. A massif dominates the center, cut by ravines and passes, with some roads and trails to assist movement. Unfortunately the terrain types are a little ambiguous, so we found ourselves making a lot of judgement calls over the course of the game. The Ethiopians are generally more agile over the hills, though native Ascaris and metropolitan Alpini provide the Italians with some mountain goats of their own.
Roberto determined his objectives, with three on the central massif and one way toward my side of the map. He had a couple turns of free movement beginning at 04:00 (turns are 30 minutes) before I started entering. At 05:00 I began rolling for my five off-board divisions - I needed Attack orders to enter, a 2/3 chance. Any formations failing to enter at 05:00 would get another chance at 06:00, and if they failed then, they were out of the game. The Shewan & Afar division, the biggest in the game, always enters by 06:00, so the Ethiopian is guaranteed *someone* shows up for the dance. In the event, I rolled well and got everyone on board, most at 05:00. However, Roberto's seizure of three of the four objectives meant I had a hard time chivvying my troops forward, and I didn't make contact for two hours of game time.
The (Ethiopian) Empire strikes back
Once engaged, the action was swift and violent. Italian rifle fire ripped me to pieces, but in turn my melee prowess sent heaps of colonials to the dead pile. VPs are awarded for destroyed units, but the Italians are generally worth twice as much as the Ethiopians, so I could afford to trade unit for unit. In addition, I could score a lot of points by seizing the Italian entry hexes. However, my leading formations were smashed, and I had to bide my time as my supporting echelons meandered over the foothills. It was late morning in game time but near midnight in New York City by the time they reached the ridge top, so we decided to call the game at that point and assess.
The situation appeared dire for the Italians, massively outnumbered and overextended. However, the hit-or-miss Ethiopian order mechanic, combined with Italian firepower superiority, allowed for a credible fighting withdrawal. With three objectives 'touched', Roberto had a twenty VP cushion, assuming I bagged all four by game end. That might be enough, though it would be a very close affair. We discovered we played one key rule incorrectly - I was moving one *stack* (two units) at a time, when I should've been moving units individually. This made my melee attacks more effective than they should've been, so Roberto's losses were exaggerated. I think the game should be even tighter assuming experienced players.
Swarming the Alpini
Overall we were quite pleased. The rules are a little patchy, and the map is a pain, but the situation is very interesting and the force asymmetry is a real draw. Both sides have the opportunity to attack, always a plus, and the command system creates a nice sense of battle management. Variable objectives and force entry means the game should have ample replayability. I enjoy the standard Nappy/ACW/WWII fare as much as the next guy, but I found the underexposed subject matter fun and refreshing. If you like esoteric topics and/or offbeat systems, this is worth a look.
Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:30 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers a couple weeks ago for the anniversary of Quatre Bras and Ligny, though the Ogre made only a token table-top appearance.
Scott and Jim opened with a speedy-quick game of W1815, with Scott taking the French. Scott pressed hard with Reille through Hougoumont, and had the Anglo-Allies stretched to the breaking point. He called on the Guard to end it, and they did...with poor rolls and too many French morale hits. A-A victory, and another convert.
They moved on to Surrounding Nobunaga, for the second time in a couple months. Scott took Nobunaga's forces and had to control nine points worth of victory areas for a win.
Pressed on all sides
Scott took the fight to Jim, picking off minor clans while expanding his territory. However, Jim constantly threatened the Oda flanks, forcing Scott to look over his shoulder and devote troops to consolidation when they were desperately needed at the point of attack. With a turn to go and only five VP in Nobunaga's hands, they called it. This one looks like a lot of fun, with beautiful components and a bit of chaos built into the card play.
Natus, Bill, and Campoverdi played Academy's 1812: The Invasion of Canada, with Campo handling the British/Commonwealth/Indians to Nate's and Bill's Americans. This was a rough show for the upstart nation, with Campo's east coast offensive welcoming New York State back to Britannia's fold. With the upper hand on the board and the truce cards flowing, our northern neighbors won pulling away.
Round Two to the mother country
Maynard, Mitch, Hawkeye, and Dr. Rob settled in for Age of Industry, using the Germany map. They spent a couple turns getting the hang of the rules but the errors were low impact and they were soon running full speed. Passing by the table, I thought Maynard had a commanding lead but in the end Mitch persevered with some efficient late-game builds. Rob made a good run of his own, emerging Phoenix-like from a fiery pool of debt to grab second place. Fun for all, I think - we have commissioned an expedition to retrieve Brass from the archives for some more Wallace birth-of-industry goodness.
Last up, Dutch and I traveled back to the Peloponnesian War with Polis: Fight for the Hegemony. Dutch had a hankering to try it and I was happy to return to a favorite title. I took Athens to Dutch's Sparta. Our first event shut down the Persian market. Dutch was able to able to skip off to Egypt and grab their grain, leaving me scrambling on the food front for the rest of the round to feed my peeps. I subjugated Makedonia and turned its forests into a dominant Athenian fleet, while Dutch sailed for Sikelia to move further ahead in the grain race. We ended the round with Dutch ahead on Prestige, but my Athens held a useful store of nonperishable resources.
Sparta wins the race to Egyptian wheat
Rounds 2 and 3 (4 and 5-alpha in game terms) saw a lot of action on land and sea. True to form, Athens owned the waves while Sparta won all our land battles. With generally even numbers, choosing cards first proved dominant. I was able to use my fleet to interfere with Spartan trade, but I couldn't quite get around to cut off Sikelia from the mainland. However, I did slip a land force into Messenia to pillage her food stocks before Dutch could get back down to kick me out. We were very close by most measures going into the final round, but sadly it was too late to finish.
This is such a refreshing experience, one of the few games that I feel conveys a credible balance of economic and military concerns at the strategic level. On the face of it, the flip-flopping of territories seems fluid, but I don't think it's too bad given the time scale (four rounds cover 74 years of warfare). I think many wargamers may find the mechanics too abstract but I feel it's a worthwhile tradeoff in exchange for the scope and reasonable playing time. We played the second edition, and while I miss the idiosyncratic charm of the original translation, this version is much tighter and an easier read. Dutch really enjoyed it too, and we will play it again soon, possibly with one of the several scenarios provided. Definitely one to try if you haven't already.
J. R. Tracy
With twelve players we had a lot of action, wrapping up HIS and getting a look at a pair of terrific Finnish offerings.
HIS rumbled to its dramatic conclusion with everyone in spitting distance of a win. Frustrated by multiple failures on the piracy front and against the Habsburgs, the Sultan turned to Italy. Venice, newly acquired by the Papacy, was the first objective. A ragtag collection of the faithful bolstered by mercenary scum met the Turks at Ravenna. The Ottoman horde carried a 17:11 dice advantage going in, but suddenly the clouds parted and a brilliant light flooded the battlefield - Smitch rolled seven hits to Hawkeye's four, repulsing the Turks and leaving them empty-handed at the end of the campaign season.
The Miracle of Ravenna
The final turn saw the Ottomans turn once more toward Vienna, while England joined the Habsburgs against France. The Turkish offensive breathed its last at Graz, but the English campaign went surprisingly well. Meanwhile, Eck triumphed in debate, adding a few more points to the Papal cause. This, plus the keys of Genoa and Venice, were enough to assure a victory for the Papacy. England, once the game's laughingstock after two disastrous wars against France, squeezed into second place, a remarkable comeback. Nice win for Smitch, great fun for all, and the stage has been set for Virgin Queen in a few weeks' time.
There will be no master of Italy
Mark, Mitch, Natus, and El Rios broke in Splendor, which has been getting good reviews but is only just now reaching the table. El Rios, returning from a long absence, made up for lost time with a handsome win. I didn't catch much of the game but the reports were positive.
The same group followed up with Ra - with no TolleyMon at the table, it was a wide open session. This time Mitch took the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, edging out El Rios while Mark was busy building a sculpture garden.
Scott and I tried a couple titles from U&P Games, a Finnish outfit. First up was W1815, an intriguing take on the Battle of Waterloo. This comes in a simple folio package, with a map, rules, a handful of cards, a pair of dice, and some wooden bits in place of counters. There is no maneuver on the lovely map, but instead it serves as a highly functional play aid to track the battle's progress. The major formations of each side are laid out with spaces for the wooden pieces, which are removed as the formation takes losses. One side of the map marks the advance of the Prussians, while the other side monitors casualties and the morale states of the opposing sides.
Europe in the balance
The game proceeds with the players alternating the activation of individual formations. Each formation has a unique two-sided card, most of which bear a single-column combat results table. Activation means rolling a d6, possibly modified by various game states, and applying the result. Results include casualties, both friendly and enemy, morale hits for either army, and special outcomes such as the fall of Hougoumont or La Haye Sainte, or the dreaded "Ney's Cavalry Charge". Each formation has a particular nemesis, so for example when d'Erlon inflicts casualties, the Prince of Orange's I Corps takes the losses. Most formations also have a 'Counterattack' table, referencing a specific enemy formation (not necessarily their primary opponent). If you activate a formation immediately after its counterattack target was activated, you may use this table, often with devastating results.
Formations vary in strength from five blocks for Orange, four for d'Erlon and Reille, all the way down to two each for Kellerman and Milhaud. Once a formation's blocks are all eliminated, it can no longer be activated and that army suffers a morale hit. Overall army losses are tracked as well - beyond a certain point (on the fourth loss for the Allies, the fifth for the French) each new loss generates an army Rout Test (RT). RTs require a d6 roll against the army's current morale state - you must roll equal to or lower than your current value to pass. The armies start at morale 10, but as morale hits are sustained it can get shaky in a hurry, particularly as formations are lost and the Prussians show up. The passage of time matters too - the game has three time states, with the clock advancing with the tenth overall loss, and again when five Prussian units are on the map - each advance of time incurs another one pip penalty on RT rolls.
Les Belles Filles
Play proceeds until an army fails an RT or hits a casualty threshold (eleven for the Allies, thirteen for the French). That's the game in a nutshell, but the beauty is in the special cases and unique unit capabilities. I hesitate to call these chrome because they are integral to game play and form a web of interdependencies that drive your decision making. For example, when d'Erlon attacks Orange, Uxbridge may counterattack, which doubles d'Erlon's casualties and morale hits. Further, an Uxbridge counterattack automatically carries on to hit the Grand Battery. The French player may counterattack in turn with Milhaud, and so on.
The Allied Reserve formation is perhaps the most important in the game - its function is to undo the losses (casualties and morale) of the previous French activation, at the cost of one Reserve block (they start with four). These can also be used to cancel the loss of La Haye Sainte or Hougoumont, each of which flips the relevant French formation to its more deadly reverse side. However, the Allied player may only use the Reserve four times before the formation is lost - the fourth use not only eliminates the formation for a morale hit, but the Allied player suffers another die roll modifier on future RTs.
The other side of the hill
Other interesting functions include the Grand Battery which can chew up Allied morale unless Uxbridge sallies forth; Lobau, who delays the Prussians but always suffers casualties as he does so; the Ogre, who allows you to roll two dice and pick the better result on any single roll; and Old Big Nose, who immediately inflicts two casualties upon activation (Napoleon and Wellington are one-use-only cards). The Prussians advance relentlessly with each activation - as more arrive, they start to inflict morale hits and casualties on the French. If they seize Plancenoit, their card flips and it gets really, really ugly for the French. After Lobau is exhausted, the Guard can be activated to immediately undo the last Prussian result, but that's a short term measure and no way to win back an empire.
All these interactions add up to a very rich experience, but the game plays in a flash. I took the French to Scott's Allies for a best of five match. In the first, I almost immediately burned out my cavalry by rolling a '6' in my second attack. This invokes Ney's charge, which means all the French can do is launch cavalry attacks until he rolls a modified '1' or '2'. These attacks will inflict losses on the Allies but if the opposing formation remains in square, each charge is an automatic hit on the cav. With only four steps in the entire French cavalry arm, it can disappear in a hurry, as mine did. My unsupported infantry just could not carry the day, so we reset.
The Bravest of the Brave, but maybe not the smartest
In our second game, my Grand Battery could not miss, and I rapidly had Scott halfway down the morale track. In desperation he sent Uxbridge out to deal with the guns - the Earl's card will put hair on your chest, with the lower half of the card all dead dragoons, and the upper half eliminated French cannon. Scott rolled a '1', for two Allied losses. Milhaud immediately counterattacked to take Uxbridge's third block, eliminating the formation and inflicting an Allied RT die roll modifier for having no cav - the game didn't go much further.
The third game was closely fought until I decided to commit the Guard, which is pretty burly as you'd expect. They generated some hits, but I noticed the card says, "turn the card after die roll" - uh oh. The flip side also has a pretty good table, but it's littered with French morale hits, and the ominous phrase, "+1 modifier for French rout tests". Scott ably directed the Prussians, and their steady pressure, the inability to use the Guard to offset their advance (that effect is only on the front of the card), and my inept flailing in front of Hougoumont added up to a comprehensive French defeat.
A German victory
Our fourth game again saw Uxbridge ride to his doom, with Reille and friends breaking through on the left. This set up our fifth and decisive game, which was a doozy. My attacks mowed down Allied troops all across the front, but I just couldn't manage a morale hit. Meanwhile, the Prussians were pouring onto the map. I decided again to commit the Guard, in the hope of breaking through a weakened Hill and on through to Brussels. Scott was four hits from breaking, and the Guard inflicts two casualties on half their results. For the first commitment, I threw Nappy in as well - double '2' (thanks for nothing, Boney). That was good for just one Allied casualty (and one for me as well, along with a morale hit). The Prussians kept coming, but I passed my RT. The Guard go in again - another '2' this time, for an Allied morale hit, and *two* French morale hits! The Prussians pushed me further, but I again passed my RT. Last time for the Guard...and I rolled a '1', generating *three* French morale hits and a defeat. All five games were fun, but the last was terrific, and going down with the Guard seemed a fitting way to end the session.
"La Garde Recule!"
This really is a nice little game - we played five times in under an hour, and each one felt like a fully realized recreation. The card abilities and interactions generate a viable narrative that maps well to the history. The structure imposes some false choices (are the Prussians playing Red Light/Green Light or what?) but the game works so well elsewhere that I can overlook a few flaws. The dual casualty/morale concept adds just enough complexity to the combat resolution to elevate it above mindless banging. I think some optimal strategies will emerge (Grand Battery 'til you miss) and suboptimal strategies will be immediately discarded once tried (don't lead with your horse). Whether that means it will be 'solved' in a couple dozen playings remains to be seen, but even so I think it so interesting and fresh that you will have fun regardless. As an added plus, it looks to be an ideal candidate for solitaire. Great stuff, innovative and beautifully packaged.
Next we tried FUBA, a soccer game from the U&P guys. Players maneuver their jersey-meeples across the pitch, vying for ball control and positional advantage. It's all driven off a very simple d6 system. The pitch is divided into thirteen zones, and the controlling player selects a target zone for his next pass. The ball is represented by an annoying round die - the top 'side' is the current control value. The controlling player rolls to match or exceed this target to retain possession, modified by how far the ball travels, relative number of players in the target area, and or two other things. The opposing player rolls as well. After control is resolved, the low-rolling player moves his guys as he sees fit, followed by his opponent - the catch is the second player may only move as many pieces as his opponent, so in certain situations you can press an attacking advantage and leave your opponent without the means to respond, or on defense deny your opponent the ability to develop his position.
Shots on goal are straightforward, rolling a d6 and trying to beat the current zone's goal value. The farther away, the harder it is to score (shocking) and opposing players in the shooting zone or between it and the goal act as modifiers. If you're in a viable zone, you may still shoot no matter how egregious the modifiers - you have to roll a six and make a subsequent roll to score, known to my ASL brothers as an Improbable Hit (C3.6). I should add, the control roll-off also governs other things such as the new control value, the intervention of random events, and the passage of time.
Looking to equalize
Scott and I played a full 90 minute game in roughly real time. I opted for an old-school English style, booming long balls up the sidelines and crossing for strikes. Scott did a better job of developing field position, usually managing a man advantage when on the attack. I had a lot more shots, but all were low probability threats. Scott scored first on a well-constructed attack, but I tied it up just before the half. In the second period, one of his diving divas proved persuasive, and I had a man sent off. Working a man down, we fought valiantly but yielded a second goal. I still managed three more shots on goal after that, including one from the penalty area in injury time, but all was for naught, as Scott won, 2-1.
I enjoyed the game, and feel the theme carries over well. It's not a hardcore sim by any means but it has a sim-ish heart. I don't think you have to be a fan of footie to appreciate it, but it helps in identifying the narrative. We played version 1.0 but U&P is releasing it with improved rules (which, I think, we played with thanks to Scott's mad downloading skilz). It is a handsome production, and worth a look if you enjoy lighter sports sims or enjoy the theme and the vision of meeples stampeding up and down the field.
The loneliest meeple on the pitch
Scott and Mark rounded out the evening with three more games of W1815, Scott's French to Mark's Allies. Mark took the session with two out of three wins, all accomplished in 20 minutes. Really, on play time/play value ratio alone, this game is a marvel.
Uxbridge goes in
Mon Jun 15, 2015 12:30 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven players last week to continue HIS, and play a couple classic Euros.
In the last session of Here I Stand, the Habsburgs just missed a win thanks to Frederick of Saxony, while France, the previous near-winner, found herself pushed far down the VP track. This week saw some reversals of fortune - a good portion of the board made war with Habsburgs, while Mark, assuming the throne of France, looked to repair her standing.
Makin' like Magellan
Jim's Habs had some good fortune on the sea, withstanding Hawkeye's attempt to extend Turkish naval dominance to the western Med. However, the Ottomans made progress on land, capturing Graz and taking Venice when the Pope wisely stood aside. England snapped up some Habsburg holdings in the Low Countries, increasing the pressure on that front. Meanwhile, Mark, having stabilized matters in the diplomatic realm, capped an impressive evening by circumnavigating the globe. That brought France roaring all the way back into a three-way tie for first! This is a very close game, with everyone still in it as we go into the final turns.
Neck and neck and neck
Dr. Rob, Mitch, Herr Fuchs, Dave, and myself again turned to Power Grid, using the German board. Everyone was on their game this week, with no easy buys in the auction and a lot of tactical manipulation of turn order as players timed their downshifts and expansions. After mapping out my progress to the dollar, for some reason I went off piste with a poorly considered resource buy - I figured I should grab another coal when it was cheap, without fully considering the implications. The great/terrible thing about Power Grid is that a small error early on can propagate through the rest of the game to generate massive implications for the end game. My 'cheap' coal left me a dollar short for a critical expansion, which left me at over capacity for a turn, which left me unable to win the plant that would've given me a victory a couple turns after that. Dave won that particular auction and the game. Good fun, and we hope to track down a China/Korea map for our next session.
Lodgemaster Seulowitz lights Westphalia
After Dr. Rob headed out, the rest of us tried Stone Age. I struggled to piece together the resources for good buildings, so I focused on the green civ cards instead. My people found themselves eating a lot of tree bark, but I steadily built a full set of cards. In the end, that was good enough to leap from the back of the pack to nip Dave for a win. Neat game, with several distinct strategies.
Love shack, baby!
J. R. Tracy
We had fourteen players last week for several multiplayers and a classic card game.
Here I Stand continued, with the pack dragging France back into the peleton before kicking her to the cellar. However, she was still a dangerous opponent, as England discovered. Stéphane landed a predatory expedition on the continent with visions of fresh keys dancing in his head, but Campoverdi squashed the invasion, and tossed the Duke of Suffolk into an oubliette alongside his brother-in-law Henry.
Tudor slumber party on the Île de la Cité
Elsewhere, the Holy Roman Empire was surging, filling the Med with her galleys and taking advantage of a peaceful Ottoman to expand her holdings in central Europe. Jim had the HRE on the precipice of victory, but Bill sent John Frederick and his Saxons to the gates of Prague, storming the walls for the Protestant cause. That was enough to prevent an auto-win, so this one will go the distance, to be concluded next week.
The Saxons save the day
Dan VIII was in town and tossed Tragedy Looper onto the table. He was joined by Dr. Rob, Scott, and Sean for this interesting little cooperative. The players are trying to prevent a crime from occurring, either outright or by travelling back in time to head it off once they identify the culprit. In this case, they quickly pegged a serial killer for what she was, and kept her separated from her potential victims for an easy win. Not the most rigorous test of their skills, but still, interesting and different.
Dan IX, Chris Storzillo, Dutch and I tried Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, another licensed multiplayer from Gale Force Nine. Each player represents a motorcycle gang in sunny Charming, California. Chris had the wealthy Lin Syndicate, Dan IX ran the volatile Mayans, Dutch controlled the hivemind One Niners, and I had the eponymous Sons of Anarchy (technically SAMCRO - Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original). Over the course of six turns we rode around town, sourcing and selling 'contraband' (probably uncirculated Magic cards and C3I inserts), while battling each other for control of advantageous locations. Each gang has a limited set of orders per turn; orders are used to move gang members, initiate throwdowns (fights), summon help, or utilize a location's special function. The nominal currencies of the game are money, guns, and contraband, but orders are the resource that governs all others.
Whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins. Each gang has a special ability - the Lin get extra money when they control the Patch (the initiative marker), the Mayans can throw down without expending an order, the One Niners may summon help without expending an order, and the SoA get an extra dollar when they sell any amount of guns. Each location has some nifty function, like a favorable rate of exchange for trading guns for contraband, or the ability to reduce the heat on your gang. Your heat index represents the level of law enforcement interest in your activities - the more they're paying attention, the less contraband you can sell in the market phase. When you max out the heat index you lose a member (presumably taking a fall for the brotherhood). Heat increases every time you use a gun, or for operating in some of the sketchier locations.
Trouble at the smoke shop
The basic economy of the game is converting orders into cash, but you can do that a number of ways, by trading guns, or selling contraband, or hitting up the locations that grant cash outright. Each turn we fought over the choicest locales - you must solely occupy a location tile to use it. If two or more gangs are present, one may throw down to initiate a fight in which all participate. Players summon help if they want, and each full member (the guys on bikes) is worth two points, initiates are worth one, and guns (secretly committed) are worth three. All this plus a six-sided die is your total score. Guns send guys to the hospital (50/50 chance of survival), fists send 'em to your clubhouse.
In our game, the Lin looked like the biggest threat as Passaic's Finest proved disturbingly efficient at running a crime syndicate - a side benefit of the job, I guess. Dan IX used his free throw-down ability with abandon, kicking off several scraps. I cornered the gun market and put a lot of guys in the hospital, but I wasn't getting a very good return on my order expenditure. Dutch made excellent use of his dog whistle, summoning gang members from all over into every fight. He also carved out and protected a nice synergy between two tiles, picking up contraband cheaply and immediately selling it at another locale. Steadily cycling that relationship filled up the One Niner coffers, allowing Dutch to handily beat Chris, $32 to $26, while Dan and I were at $24.
Chris, Dan, and I all enjoyed the game very much - Dutch liked it too but thought it was a little long. It's area-majority with teeth, and has several different ways to build your economic engine. The tile interactions are neat, and I like the contraband market - the more folks commit to it, the lower the value per bag o' Magic cards. Efficient use of orders is a must - I found myself burning actions grabbing locales only to lose them, while Dutch staked out his territory and dug in. I haven't even seen the TV show but the game piqued my interest. Kudos to Gale Force for another solid use of a popular license.
Dutch, Dan VIII, Dan IX, and Sean spilled some blood on the sand with Clash of the Gladiators. Sadly, this passed without any photographic evidence of Dutch's glorious victory.
Last up, Scott tutored me in a session of Android: Netrunner. I was Haas-Bioroid to his criminal hacking faction. Scott got off to a hot start when he burned through to my HQ on his first run before I could get any ICE out. Of course, I couldn't get any ICE out because my hand was full of agendas, and he plucked one for his trophy case. I somehow managed to score a couple agendas, and set a sweet trap for Scott on one server. Unfortunately, I didn't sell it very well - Scott pegged it for what it was and hit my other servers instead. Hiding in the skirts of a femme fatale to get past my strongest defenses, he completed a couple more runs for the win. It was touch and go for a while, with more action on the credit side than the board, but Scott was a man with a plan and I was just along for the ride. Fascinating game, and I'd love to achieve at least baseline competence in it some day.
J. R. Tracy
We had thirteen gamers this past week for theological discourse and other, less civilized, pursuits.
Our annual Here I Stand/Virgin Queen cycle kicked off with HIS. Smitch was the Pope, Hawkeye took the Ottomans, Jim was the Habsburgs, Campoverdi the French, Maynard the English, and Bill was the Protestant.
Aylward Pasha, the picture of serenity
Campo rocketed out of the gate, drawing several minor powers to his side and delivering the blessings of French civilization to a few corners of the New World. By turn three France was poised to win. However, a play of City State Rebels shaved a point off of France's lead, preventing auto-victory and extending the game into next week.
Bloodbath at Graz
Elsewhere, the Protestants are still looking for a place to nail their theses, England's monarch is doing hard time, and the Habsburgs and the Ottomans are up to their usual hijinks to the tune of thousands of dead and a devastated countryside. Campo goes into next week with a giant bulls-eye on his back - we'll see if he has the diplomatic chops to keep his enemies divided until he can close out a win.
Big iron and deceit, Ottoman tools of the trade
Scott is developing the GMT edition of A Throne Vacant and sat down to test some tweaks and clarifications in a campaign game with Natus. Nate took the French to Scott's Grand Alliance.
A bourbon-soaked Bourbon
Catalonia rebelled early, helping the Alliance cause. Scott supported the rebels by landing English troops in southeast Spain. Nate smashed the expeditionary force and routed the Catalans, but failed to retake the cities themselves. Meanwhile, Eugene seized northern Italy, and the Austrians held their own in Central Europe. They called the game early for a likely Alliance win.
Catalonia, undefended but unbroken
Sean and I *finally* popped the shrink on the base set of Star Wars: Armada, which has been languishing in the 'play soon' pile for far too long. This is a space combat game pitched a couple levels above that of its cousin Star Wars: X-Wing. Emphasis is on coordinated action and balancing the use of large ships and fighter squadrons.
Each big ship has four firing arcs which double as defensive zones, with each arc rated for firepower and defensive shielding. Ships also have unique maneuver schedules broken out by speed, a command rating (which allows it to store commands), a squadron rating (the number of fighter squadrons it can direct), and an engineering rating for repair. They're also rated for the number of hits they can take (hits don't count against this until the shielding has been defeated). Finally, each ship has a small array of defensive systems that may be deployed when under attack. The Empire gets an iconic Star Destroyer, while the Rebels get a frigate and a corvette.
Underway with escorts
Fighter squadrons are much simpler - no facing, no shields, an attack rating versus ships, and a separate attack rating for use versus other fighters. They are rated for speed and hits - the Rebel X-Wings are more robust and pack a bigger punch, but the TIE Fighters are faster and get re-rolls when attacking in groups. Fighters may be moved one of two ways - they may be directed by a ship during the Ship Phase if the ship plays an appropriate command - directed fighters may both move and fire in either order. Undirected fighters move in the Squadron Phase, but may only move or fire. Directed fighters are much more effective, but commands are precious and minding the little ones may be an unaffordable luxury.
At the beginning of the turn, players select one of four commands for their ships: Navigate, Squadron, Repair, or Concentrate Fire. Navigate allows you to change your speed and enhances maneuverability, Squadron directs fighters within command range, Repair repairs, and Concentrate Fire juices your attack. If you don't need the special ability afforded by a command at the time it is revealed, you may 'store' it in the form of a marker for later use. These stored commands aren't quite as powerful as they would be if used when revealed, and you may only keep a number equal to your command rating. Also, larger, more unwieldy ships have a command queue - you execute the oldest one each turn, so for a beast like a Star Destroyer, you are planning three turns in advance.
Movement itself is not plotted - you are free to move as you please within the limits of your current speed and turning ability. Movement is assisted by a nifty articulated ruler - the more nimble your craft, the more you can bend the ruler. Players alternate activating their ships, firing before moving. After ships move, the undirected fighter squadrons go. One consequence of this sequence is undirected fighters will be forever chasing ships, as the ships will move away and the fighters will have to forgo firing in order to keep up, a sort of Nantucket sleigh ride in space.
Darth Smithious adjusts his starboard shield
Sean and I played the basic scenario with the ships in the box. He naturally gravitated to the dark side, while I took the good guys. My plan was to fry his fighters and avoid the Destroyer, and that's pretty much how it played out. The combination of higher staying power and a bigger punch meant my X-Wings cleaned up. However, he nearly took down my corvette before his big ship lumbered off the far side of the playing area on the last turn. You play until one side is eliminated or six turns pass - I don't see a complete elimination barring scorching dice, so the turn limit looks like the real constraint.
For combat, you roll the dice appropriate to your fire arc and range (short, medium, or long), and generate hits, critical hits, and a special result that disables defensive systems. Crits are regular hits except they carry an extra disabling result, such as reducing the target's own fire dice. Shields absorb hits until reduced to zero, though engineering activity can build them up again. In our battle I burned through the Star Destroyer's shields and got it down to 50% of damage, while my weedy corvette was one knock away from space dust.
The game plays very smoothly, and though we flipped a lot of pages the first turn it all burned in quickly. Our card table proved to be maybe half a length too small, so we didn't get to exercise much maneuver, but we got a good sense of the potential. The ships feel quite distinct, and I love the fighter squadron/big ship contrast. There are several scenarios beyond the learning situation, and you'll be shocked to learn FFG has one wave of expansions out already and more to follow. We will try it again within the month, but on the bigger table with maybe some extra ships.
The big guy means business
Dr. Rob, Mitch, and Dave cranked up Power Grid, with the US map. I don't know much about the course of the game but Dave had an enormous carbon footprint and Rob came away with the win.
After Rob left, Mitch and Dave played three qames of Magic: The Gathering using some of Mitch's favorite preconstructed decks. Dave won one of three games, not a bad achievement against Mitch.
Facing the manastorm
Last up Sean and I played Doomtown: Reloaded, learning via the very nice preset decks and tutorial provided. I had the Law Dogs to Sean's Sloane Gang. This is a card-driven game set in the Old West, with supernatural and steampunk elements, though our game was fought with straight-up conventional shootin' irons.
Players vie for control of a town, by deploying gunmen and controlling buildings. Buildings generate income in the form of 'ghost rock', which is used to play cards out of your hand and pay for other activities; cards also carry traditional card values (three of clubs, etc), which we'll get to in a moment. Cards represent gunmen, accessories, and in-game actions such as interrupts. Conflict occurs when opposing gunmen are in the same location; someone can throw down, kicking off a gunfight.
Gunfight resolution is what sets Doomtown apart. Players draw cards from their decks to construct poker hands, using the card values. Gunmen add some bonuses, such as extra draws or the chance to discard and replace cards. Players discard down to their best five cards and compare. As an added twist, many card values are duplicated. You can construct a hand using dupes, but it's labeled a Cheatin' hand with potential consequences. As the goody-two-shoes lawful faction, I had some advantages when facing a cheating hand, while my no-good outlaw opponent had benefits of his own when cheating. Hands are ranked in traditional poker order, though the Dead Man's Hand (aces and eights) is the highest in this particular world. The greater the difference in hands, the more casualties suffered by the loser. This is a very cool and thematic subgame, and a nice hook.
In our game, I opened a General Store only to have Sean's goons show up almost immediately. I won the shootout but Sean managed to get a lead in income. I had trouble getting gunmen into play, so Sean was able to square up the numbers on the board before our final throw down. Sean had the edge going in (he was drawing ten cards with four redraws to my seven and two) but I had a powerful card tucked away - if Sean used a Cheatin' hand, I could force him to discard it and draw cold, five cards off the top of the deck. I only managed to scrape together two pair myself, but sure enough, Sean couldn't help but use two kings of spades for his four of a kind. I made him toss it, but sadly, his new hand *still* beat my two pair, killing off my posse and granting him control of Doomtown...for now.
That's when I reached for my revolvers
I enjoyed the game - the poker-hand combat resolution elevates the game and makes it worth a look. There are two other factions, a spectral circus and a cattle-baron confederation with the budget for steam-powered technology. There are several expansions as well. I don't know if it has the depth and variety of play of something like Netrunner, but I look forward to a few more games to see how the other factions interact. I believe it can handle up to four players, another plus - we will certainly be giving it some more table time.
Tue May 26, 2015 12:30 pm
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players for Euros and wargaming, with a little playtesting thrown in.
Bill, Dr. Rob, Hawkeye, Mark, and Jim sat down to Penny Press, a game about the newspaper business in late 19th century New York City. Each player runs his own paper, sending his reporters out to dig up the scoops in a variety of subjects. The game has elements of worker placement and bidding. Putting a reporter on a story not only improves your chance of carrying it but also ups the ante, increasing its value. Publishers are trying to optimize front-page real estate - any empty front-page space is worth negative points, but a claimed but unpublished story will cost you points as well. Play proceeds until three editions have been published. Jim emerged the winner thanks to a focus on the most highly rated stories.
Print the legend
The game looks great - lovely board and components, with a very nice period quality. Unfortunately, our crew didn't really warm to the game itself. The link to the subject matter felt weak and the game seemed to be missing the ability of newspaper magnates of the age to shape the news as much as report it. The latter is a case of expectations, however, as the design is more focused on the publishing process than the politics of journalism. Mixed reports on gameplay, with one player calling it a bit thin while another saw some interesting timing options. Overall, not likely to make it back to the table. However, Bill (an actual New York City reporter) did bring a sweet brew with a groovy wargaming slant.
Mitch, Miles, Dave, Herr Fuchs, and myself pulled out Power Grid, using the Germany map. It was the first time for Miles, though the rest of us are pretty raw. Miles and I staked claims in the Ruhr, where the cities are packed together, while Herr Fuchs stared up on the Baltic coast. Dave was more central, while Mitch had the east to himself (we dropped Bavaria from the map given given our five players).
Dave and I both horrifically overbid for our first plants, and spent a good part of the game scrambling to make up for it. We had a strange mix of plants flow into the auction, with several in the high 20s and low 30s popping up almost immediately. As a result, everyone could juice a fair number of cities in the midgame. We then saw a steady trickle of crappy high-teens plants, and a subsequent game of chicken as everyone waited for some other sucker to clear a lousy 2-city coal-burner so something tastier could pop up to the top row.
We had typical end-game caginess with folks trying to manipulate turn order to their best advantage. David had plenty of power but Mitch had a ton of cash, thanks to a timely down-shift. He was able to surge to 15 cities to kick off the end game, but could only power 12. David could power 13, but only had the resources to spin up 11. That left Mitch the winner, with Miles and David right behind. Again, good fun, and we knocked it out in a little over two hours.
Two's a crowd in the Ruhr Valley
Smitch tried out his new rugby game (Union rules) with Scott. This is a captain's game with player positioning across the pitch. It's still early days so they played about a third of a game with no score. Steven will head back to the drawing board to apply some new observations.
Looking something up
Scott then pulled out Surrounding Nobunaga, set in the 16th century during the Oda clan's drive to unify Japan (under Oda dominion, of course). This is the same subject matter as MMP's A Most Dangerous Time. Scott played Nobunaga, while Smitch took everyone else.
Ripe for shogunation
Steven stitched together a containment defense while waiting for his bigger clans to arrive. A strike at the Oda backyard forced Nobunaga to respond, and the would-be hegemon found himself pinned and then killed in battle for an opposition win. The game looks lovely and played at a good clip, but it helps to have a Japanese speaker in Scott to render it accessible.
With Dr. Rob's departure, Mark, Hawkeye, Bill, and Jim tried Cuba Libre, with Mark taking the Government, Bill the Reds, Hawkeye the anti-Red/anti-Batista Directorate, and Jim the Mob. Mark shot out to an early lead and the rest of the table struggled and failed to reel him before he notched a swift and tidy win.
Batista consolidates his grip
Last up, Miles, Dave, Mitch, Herr Fuchs, and myself finished the evening with Clash of the Gladiators. I always like trying something different when building my teams, so this time I went with the spear-carrying initiative fighters as my first pick for every tray. Kids, don't try this at home. Hey, at least it made it easy to choose the first fighter to die when I started taking losses, and boy did I start taking losses.
Far from a fair fight
I was the first to be wiped off the table, but I still stayed in the hunt thanks to the angriest bull to set foot in an arena. He killed six fighters before succumbing. Miles and Mitch were doing a lot better with their human gladiators, turning on each other after mowing me down. Dave and David did all right against the humans but really got the worst of it versus the beasts. Miles was the last man standing, and edged out Mitch and Herr Fuchs for the win, while Dave and I were just a point behind. Fast and furious, and maybe a little mindless, but a nice follow-on to a brain-burner.
Definitely not Ferdinand
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