Archive for J. R. Tracy
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J. R. Tracy
After a week off to get ready for Winter Offensive, we reconvened with a dozen players in snow-bound conditions.
Dave and Maynard paired off with a mutual favorite, 1989: Dawn of Freedom. Dave took the Reds to Maynard's upstart Democrats. Maynard opened with a loaded hand and despite fierce repression by Dave, never looked back on his way to a win.
Democracy marches on
Dave followed by up teaching Arena: Roma II, perhaps a little too well. Every time I walked by there were gaping holes in Dave's tableau, and the steady drain of VPs sunk Dave's cause as Maynard chalked up a second win for the night.
Holes to fill
Hawkeye sat down with Sam Tyson, our Gulf Coast correspondent, for Up Front. First up was Infantry's Iron Fist, Sam's Germans against Hawkeye's GIs. Hawkeye's bazooka took out the German PSW, but Sam was able to push a quartet to Range Chit 4 to take the scenario.
Four at four for victory
They moved on to Outpost Line. Again Hawkeye led a squad of Amis, this time against Sam's French. Hawkeye's Greyhound dominated the battlefield, tearing Sam up in a quick one-deck win. Sam switched to Germans for a reset, and this time they had a much longer game, with Sam grimly holding on until he finally won by breaking Hawkeye's squad.
Hawkeye's spider sense is tingling
Nate and Scott pulled out Vae Victis' Les Guerres de Bourgogne, with Nate playing the Duke against our suddenly Swiss Scott. They hammered out six of the twelve turns (each turn is roughly a season) in a close match - Scott was relieving Nate of his Savoy ally while the Burgundians were about to take Lorraine. Though fans of the subject they were a little disappointed by the portrayal here. The rules strongly reward entering garrison after moving your field armies, given the ability to thereby enjoy the defensive siege benefits. As a result, they saw no field battles in over a year of fighting, despite the nifty mechanics provided to resolve combat. It's a pity, as I also love the period and was hoping this was a campaign system worth investigating. I hope to try it myself regardless.
They followed up with another playtest of Scott's tactical armor game. Each took an assortment of AFVs, including a Matilda on each side. These proved to be tough nuts to crack for both players - Nate reduced Scott to just his Matilda, which then rampaged through Nate's ranks until finally finishing off its counterpart for the win.
Haters gonna hate
Jim and Bill lined up for another playtest of The Lamps Are Going Out. Both have played before and were expecting to get pretty deep into the war with just two players, but wrapped up around the end of 1916. The West was in a stalemate but the East was loosening up a bit by the time they called it.
Ironing some wrinkles
Smitch, El Rios, Stéphane and I tried Blood Rage, just the base game without any Kickstarter extras. This is a combination drafting/area control game, with plenty of player interaction. You lead your Viking clan through three Ages of war in the territories surrounding Yggdrasil. Glory (VPs) is gained through victory in battle, completion of quests, and having the good fortune occupy the province destroyed by Ragnarök at the end of each Age.
Each Age begins with a drafting phase, as players choose a card from a fistful of eight and passing the rest, repeating until everyone has selected six cards. Cards offer clan upgrades, combat bonuses, and quests. Players then deploy warriors to the map by expending Rage (action) points, and fight for the rewards of province control. After everyone has expended all their Rage, quests are revealed and scored, Ragnarök smites a region, and dead warriors return to your pool from Valhalla.
Could use a breath mint
Combat occurs when a player seeks to pillage an area and claim its reward. You compare the combat strength of warriors present, plus the value of a card from your hand. Most combat cards carry other benefits as well, such as stealing Rage points from an enemy or recovering their combat card. The rewards usually bump one of your clan stats - Rage (amount of action points received each Age), Axes (Glory points per battle victory), or Horns (number of Clan figures you may have on the map at any time). Pushing these stats not only enhances your Clan abilities, but also awards Glory if you hit the high end of the tracks.
I had the orange clan in our game (the stats are all identical but each clan has unique figures), and focused on collecting Loki cards during the first draft. Loki combat cards are low power but allow you to steal Rage from your opponents, and they paired nicely with a couple quests that awarded points for warriors in Valhalla at the end of the Age. I figured I'd lose a lot of fights and be unjustly rewarded by the lovely shield-maidens of the afterlife. This worked out nicely for an early lead, despite Smitch recruiting the Sea Serpent, the first big monster to hit the map.
He knows what's coming
In the second Age, Stéphane made cunning use of Loki as well, stealing cards and bumping his stats. I was a little crippled early on, since all that fighting and dying had the unfortunate effect of leaving me without any troops on the board. I did manage to recruit the Fire Giant and the Valkyrie. The others caught up with me on the Glory track but I was ready to rock as the third Age dawned. Moving first in the final Age, I was able to lock up the designated Ragnarök region (area stacking is limited), which was pretty sweet since I had *two* quests that doubled the points rewarded for figures slain by the doom-stones. I spent the rest of the Age spoiling everybody else's quests, and making sure my Valkyrie got in a bit of soul-reaping. Toting up the final score, my Ragnarök quests proved decisive and I won pulling away. I think Smitch was second and El Rios just managed to squeak into third.
Fire Giant on fire
This was a fast and flavorful game, with three newbs and a third-timer wrapping up in under two hours. Though we all started with identical abilities, the clan upgrades quickly lent each faction a unique character. I stumbled onto a set of nicely complementary upgrades and quests that made the most of them - I'm not sure if I was just lucky but it seems like an obvious drafting goal. The common comparison is with Chaos in the Old World, which I love - I think CitOW is the richer game, and really enjoy the challenges it presents with the highly thematic factions. However, Blood Rage has plenty to offer and a shorter player time, and the ability to customize your clan has a powerful appeal. I don't think it's a Chaos-killer, but it's a worthy shelf companion if you can see past the hefty price tag.
Our Rage foursome wrapped with Nations: The Dice Game. I resolutely stuck with a More Dice Better strategy, buying up bonus dice tiles at every opportunity. I was getting a little worried as I had plenty of dice but not a lot of VPs, but I entered the final age with ten dice and a few bonus chits. Suddenly everything went my way and I powered into a win. Our score was very tight, as we finished in our opening turn order - fun, tense game.
J. R. Tracy
We had a mellow gang of nine for a relatively uncrowded evening a couple Tuesdays ago.
Mitch, Dave, Dr. Rob, Hawkeye, and Maynard broke out Power Grid using the Germany map. Mitch and Maynard contested the east, Dr. Rob and Hawkeye vied for the west, and Dave expanded south from the Baltic.
Maynard doles out the uranium
Penned in by the nefarious Seulowitz, Hawkeye bided his time and built his warchest, breaking out after Step 2. A healthy treasury proved the difference, allowing him to build up and snatch the win in a nice come from behind victory.
Campoverdi and a band of hardy sherpas hauled his complete Cthulhu Wars collection down so Tenno, Smitch, and I joined him for a session. Random draws assigned the Yellow Sign (Hastur) to Campo, Crawling Chaos (Nyarlathotep) to Smitch, the Great Cthulhu to Tenno, and the Black Goat (Shub-Niggurath) to me. We only used one expansion, High Priests, which function like Cultists but are a bit more expensive and may be sacrificed at any time for a couple points of power.
A quick scan of my faction card revealed my red crew to be a fertility cult, so I set forth and multiplied. Tenno expanded to grab a couple gates adjacent to my main area but I assured him I'd only steal one, and not right away. His Gang Green slowly built up, while Campo went north to the Arctic, picked up a couple more gates, and got the King in Yellow in action. Smitch kept his head down and built up his spell book.
Campo fires up Hastur with a rousing pre-deployment speech
By mid-game, I was the first to deploy a Great Old One and closely followed Smitch in building out my spellbook. However, I was light on gates and therefore power - my forces were cheaper than most but not as combat-savvy. Meanwhile, Tenno set out to teach us a lesson in why you don't let a sleeping god lie.
Squidface appeared and began rolling up the map. Tenno used his Submerge spell to pull Cthulhu and his army beneath the waves, reappearing at critical points. He always made sure to have a Shoggoth or two in tow, along with some expendable snacks (he can sacrifice his own units to Shoggoths to boost his combat value). This juggernaut proved unstoppable. He slaughtered my one big group, after which I was too dispersed to do much. Smitch put up a good fight, both on the map and on the scoring track, but couldn't match Tenno's strength in the long run. Hastur and friends also just bounced off Cthulhu's legions - Tenno finished well out in front, with Smitch second (I think) followed by Campo, while I was a distant fourth.
Elvis, King of the Cultists
This was my second game, and I liked it much more than the first. This time around I had a better handle on my faction capabilities, though I struggled to use them to best effect. Campo also had a hard time getting the most out of Hastur's crew. Yellow and red both have very powerful spells but they have a flatter learning curve than the other factions and take a little more experience to play well, in my opinion. Smitch and Tenno did the best with their unique powers - it is obvious in retrospect that the other factions need to chip away at Cthulhu from the very beginning to keep him from wreaking havoc in the endgame. Tenno did a great job diplomatically early on, and once he built out his forces he used them with ruthless efficiency for a well-deserved win.
We wrapped with Nations: The Dice Game, for a fast, balanced game. We were all in the running through three ages, but my lack of books hurt my chances and ultimately buried me. Tenno led in books and always seemed to meet the war and famine requirements, sufficient to take first place with the rest of us close behind.
J. R. Tracy
We opened the new year with a hardy crew of 15 players, a touch over capacity, for playtests, new games, and great old ones.
Tenno, Campoverdi, and El Rios risked their collective sanity with a session of Eldritch Horror, criss-crossing the globe in search of unspeakable evil. They drew ol' squidface himself as their opponent, as well as his secret daughter (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas) Cthylla. The investigators must scramble to solve mysteries before the doom clock awakens grumpy-pants, which adds another mystery to the mix as well as the attendant hazards of an angry ancient god on the loose.
The game began with Cthylla already wide awake and feeling playful. She developed a particular fondness for Tenno, picking him up and dropping him from great heights, or sending Deep Ones after him on a regular basis. Tenno eventually collected what seemed like every physical malady in the deck but continued to poke around the corpse-city of R'lyeh, which admittedly has its attractions. Our intrepid team showed more bravery than success, however, and the doom clock ticked down to their demise and presumably that of collective humanity. Despite the pounding, they had a great time, appreciating the challenge and looking forward to another round.
No way to go through life
Scott introduced Jim and Dr. Rob to his latest project, a tactical armor game borrowing inspiration from a variety of sources, including Panzer Vor!, World of Tanks, and Conflict of Heroes. Each player directs a super-sized platoon of individual AFVs, rated for armor, speed, and armament, assembled in a hodgepodge of nationalities with KVs fighting alongside Panthers. Cards are played to boost capabilities, add extra actions, and occasionally zap your opponent.
Dressed to kill
Scott cooked up his usual excellent homebrew counters and used the lovely CoH boards for the map. Dr. Rob got the best of it from the early going, drawing Jim into a town before flanking him from either side. That early edge quickly expanded into an overwhelming advantage as Rob took the playtest. Fun and fast in the spirit of its antecedents.
Finishing off the survivors
After Scott's playtest, some seats were swapped and Dr. Rob paired up with Hawkeye for Up Front, with Hawkeye's Kunduz homeboy Rich looking on. They played the City Fight scenario, Rob's GIs against Hawkeye's French. Rob was making steady, deliberate progress until the clock struck 9:14 - the Scarsdale Express waits for no man so Rob rushed forward, determined to expend the demolition charge that was burning a hole in his satchel. Rob's haste spelled doom for the dogfaces, however, as Hawkeye laid down fire card after fire card. With the Amis broken and his demo undelivered, Dr. Rob departed to fight another day.
Have DC, will travel
Mark, Dave, Hawkeye, Maynard, Smitch, Bill and I gathered to learn and play a bit of Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942. Players direct flights, squadrons, and yes, wings of aircraft in the conduct of air battles from the first half of WWII. The most striking departure from most games on the topic is the use of a 'side view' presentation of the action. The board displays altitude and one axis of ground position, as opposed to a bird's eye view with ground position the dominant representation. I found it initially disconcerting, even off-putting, but it soon felt quite natural in the course of play and is well suited to the depicted scale and the concepts emphasized.
Stormclouds over Rangoon
Most units represent squadrons (7-12 aircraft), with some flights (2-6 machines) sprinkled in. Squadrons may split into flights under some circumstances, adding tactical flexibility at some cost in effectiveness. Wings are present as a command and control construct. Units have an eight-point facing which has some impact on movement choices but not to the extent you see in hyper-tactical sims - it's more a cone of focus than a specific physical orientation.
While individual aircraft types are rated for speed (as well as climbing, armament, armor, and turning ability), unit movement on the board is governed by mission profile. Bombers plod along at constant speed and altitude, escorts remain tethered to their charges, and like bombers, sweeping fighter squadrons pass across the board at a steady rate, though they'd like to think they do so with a bit more flair than their lumbering cousins. Most defending units will have an intercept mission, which sends them to a specific vector (box on the board) where they'll circle until they tally an enemy. Some defenders benefit from the direction of ground-controlled interception (GCI) which allows the defending player to adjust the vector in response to the changing tactical situation.
A scenario opens with each side's units moving according to their mission profile - the players are certainly aware of the situation but until your pilots get eyeballs on an enemy, they are just following the flight plan. Things get interesting once a unit successfully tallies an opposing formation - they do so by die roll, modified by distance, size of opposing formation, and other factors. A tally allows the tallying squadron to close with that particular enemy, and as such removes the movement constraints of their initial mission. Tallies pile up in a hurry, and since they have an impact on movement order and combat resolution, it's vital to pay careful attention to their use and implications. It's a simple rule and clearly explained, so no worries on that front.
Once tallies are in place, the action heats up. Units close, with initiative (movement order) a function of altitude and speed, though tallying units follow their prey in turn order. Some reaction movement is possible, with escorts attempting to intervene as interceptors engage their assigned bombers. After movement, combat is resolved. The attacking side (determined by presence of bombers, or movement order otherwise) has an advantage, choosing the type of fight (turning or hit-and-run) and getting a small bonus on the post-fight cohesion check. Turning fights compare the turning rating of combatants, while hit-and-run fights compare speed. These ratings are modified by conditions such as diving into an attack for speed, or loaded bomb racks for turning. Doctrine and aircrew quality have an impact as well. Factors are compared, dice are rolled, and hits are generated. However, hits don't necessarily translate into actual damage - a further roll is made for each hit, comparing firepower versus defensive rating.
After the shooting is resolved, participating squadrons roll for cohesion - they progress through Disruption (still fighting but diminished) to Broken (heading home). Cohesion is a catch-all for ammo depletion, fuel expenditure, and of course cohesion itself as squadron members lose sight of their mates and cease to function as a tactical unit. Bombers tend to hang tough longer than fighters, reflective of their fuel capacity and mission profile. I found this to be the most tense part of the combat resolution sequence - all the glory may be in the rat-a-tat-tat, but the battles turn on who hits bingo and heads for home and who is willing to go another round.
Mark had already been playing around with the game, so he walked us through a training scenario, Tyger! Tyger!. A couple squadrons of Sally Ki-21s are on their way to hit Rangoon, but two flights of Warhawks climb to intercept. The bombers fly at a constant speed and altitude, so the focus is on establishing tallies and resolving combat. We dinged a couple Sallys but the bombers completed the mission for an American loss - our pilots weren't welcome in the watering holes of Rangoon that night.
Next up, Mark picked out a nice chunky scenario, Here Come the Last Fifty Spitfires. Bill and Mark ran the RAF interceptors trying to stop our He-111s, Do-17s, and accompanying Emils on 15 September 1940, for what proved to be the last massive daylight raid of the Battle of Britain. Maynard ran the loose escort group for the Heinkels, I ran a close escort group for the Flying Pencils, and Smitch ran the 109s sweeping ahead of the bombers. Bill and Mark had a mix of Spits and Hurris, some on board and some entering later.
Smitch had the first opportunity to tally, leading to our first big decision of the game. Commit all three sweeping squadrons? Gang-bang a single enemy squadron, or match up 1:1 versus three squadrons? Hit the Hurricanes or the Spits? We opted to go all in, 1:1 versus a pair of Hurris and a Spitfire squadron. Smitch rolled in and the fun began. Sadly, Smitch's pilots had good aim but not much oomph, scoring a lot of hits but failing to strike home. Bill rolled a little better, and Smitch's one veteran squadron decided it had had enough and peeled away. Smitch opted to stay engaged in a dogfight, a state which ties up the enemy but also meant trading our speed advantage for a maneuvering disadvantage in the upcoming dogfight-mandated turning fight.
Breaking the leader
Elsewhere, Mark's high altitude interceptors blissfully ignored the bombers below for the time being, while Bill's remaining squadrons attacked the Heinkels. Maynard's escorts reacted before Bill reached the bombers, and our second big fight began. This was a more even affair, with both parties taking losses and missing cohesion rolls at about an even pace. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, the RAF has a two-squadron overlap in fighters in the scenario, and once Mark's top cover picked up the plot our 109s were not long for the fight. We didn't lose many more machines but as the strain took its toll we proceeded to fail all our cohesion rolls. The RAF apparently just couldn't get enough of this funky stuff and continued to hit the bombers.
Our last elements were engaged when Mark brought in three more Hurricane squadrons behind our Dorniers. My close escorts had to wait 'til the Hurris caught up, but we made short work of them, inflicting a loss in exchange for a straggler. My pilots were quite pleased with themselves and headed back to France for a well deserved post-mission schnapps, but fortunately for the Dorniers, all of Mark's squadrons failed their cohesion rolls as well. With all the Bf-109s departed, it was now down to a handful of Spits and Hurricanes against the now-undefended bombers.
On their own
Our Luftwaffe joint command felt okay at this point - we'd lost a lot of fighters but all the remaining British were on depleted ammo status and we just had three more turns of flying before reaching our targets. To our dismay, Bill and Mark proceeded to make pass after pass against the lead Heinkel squadron, shooting it to pieces without a single fighter squadron returning to base. That Heinkel unit turned for home and the second absorbed a beating as well, before the Spitfires finally ran out of shells. Our surviving bombers exited the far edge of the board to deliver a vital shipment of propaganda leaflets and chocolate bars to the East End and the Isle of Dogs. Four pristine bomber squadrons plus one disrupted squadron produced 27 VPs, plus another five for downed British fighters, totalled 32 for the Luftwaffe. However, nine downed bombers at two VP apiece, plus another ten Emils at one per, gave the RAF 28 VPs. Our net of +4 VPs was well short of the 18 needed for a German win, resulting in a resounding British victory.
I found Wing Leader unique and enjoyable. The operational aspect of managing largish formations generates a great battle narrative, while the tactical nuance of combat setup and resolution echoes contemporary accounts. The aircraft data cards convey the distinct characteristics of the various models, but the emphasis here is on managing the timing and pace of engagement. Aircraft performance may confer an incremental advantage in combat, but the battle is won or lost a level or two above that. It reminds me a bit of a cavalry fight - whoever has the last fresh squadron holds a significant edge. With that in mind, there are a few things I'd like to try differently next time, like splitting our sweeping squadrons into flights to engage the interceptors. We'd likely lose the individual combats, but in return we'd have more opportunities to force cohesion rolls and a greater chance of wearing down the opposing fighter force before they reached our bombers.
There is much more to the game than I can describe in detail here, including weather, rules for ground units, flak, and more. Scenarios range from the tiny to the huge, covering strafing actions, naval engagements complete with dive bombing, and pure fighter vs fighter situations. Our scenario was actually one of the biggest in the box, and we finished in about three hours despite having an all-rookie table. The rules are clear and not particularly complex, but there are conceptual hurdles to clear before you are off and running. Once you cycle through a couple turns of action, it flows quite well. I feel I've assimilated the bulk of the ideas within the design; applying them effectively over the course of a game is another challenge entirely, one I look forward to meeting again soon.
Last up, Scott and Jim closed out the evening with Ortus Regni. Scott built an early lead but Jim raided him down to his original manor, while building up himself. The Vikings lurked on the edges of the game as a low-key irritant. Scott eventually stabilized the situation before reeling Jim back in for a win.
Not a bad start to 2016!
J. R. Tracy
A dozen gamers enjoyed light fare on our last gaming night of the year.
Mitch brought his teenage son Eliot along, and joined Tenno, Natus, and Bill for A Study in Emerald. Tenno led the dominant Loyalists as they mercilessly hunted down the outnumbered Restorationist agents, guaranteeing a win for the bad guys. He carved out enough points for himself to take the overall win, showing off a quick mastery of this game.
Detectives at work
The same group followed up with A Brief History of the World, and Tenno remained sharp. With five players, he always had a decent empire to work with, despite picking last. The others tried to jam him but he established a good board position and steadily built up a nice cushion. The final epoch was exciting as folks passed Tenno with the early empires, but the issue was never in doubt as he romped to glorious victory, thumping second-place Mitch 171-142, with the rest of the field strung out down to 125 with a certain someone in Nateplace.
A commanding lead
Dr. Rob taught Brew Crafters to Sean, Herr Fuchs, and Roberto. Herr Fuchs' used his finely honed Agricola instincts to quickly master this variation on cube-farming, taking the win despite not touching beer himself. He doesn't build cars, either, but that didn't seem to hurt his performance in Automobile the week before.
Finally, Dave and I sat down to Twilight Struggle, which is like me walking into the tiger cage with a ribeye tied to my neck. I haven't played TS in years and wasn't particularly good when I did play it, while Dave routinely thrashes his Cold War opponents.
I had the Soviets to Dave's Free World, and had a strong opening in the Mideast. Unfortunately, we were tied in Battleground countries so I didn't score much on the card. I did at least dominate the Coups and did nicely when Dave failed to respond with military activity, and settled into a eleven point lead as the early deck played out. Sadly, that was the high point for world socialism.
I made a subtle but serious error near the early/middle deck transition, pursuing a few extra points in the Mideast (the scoring card was in my hand) while remaining complacent in Asia. I had a card that allowed me to place influence just about anywhere, and I used it to build and expand where I already had a presence. Dave responded not by countering me, which I expected, but by building up in the Far East. I then realized my access to that region was very limited and I'd just blown my one chance to get anything done out there. So, while I did manage a couple points in the sandbox, Dave racked up five in Asia (the card was in his hand, of course), and another five when the card immediately came around on a reshuffle. I was duly punished for a lack of balance in my board position and a failure to understand my capabilities and potential as the Sovs.
As the stronger Free World cards trickled into play, the writing was on the wall, but I kept at it just to as a learning exercise as much as anything else. The space race was an all-American cavalcade of success, as I saw four straight launch attempts blow up on the pad. My cosmonaut corps was mainly dissidents and a Pope, so few tears were shed, but I could've used some of the space-track perks, not to mention VPs. Aldrich Ames showed up to make a devastating US hand slightly less decisive, but that was the lone highlight of the endgame. After a couple heavy scoring cards in his favor, Dave put me out of my misery on the penultimate turn, with Wargames.
The blue wall of Freedom
Despite getting my ass kicked, I'm glad we played. I wasn't a huge fan of the game in the past, but after a few years away from it I enjoyed it much more this time around. Dave's level of play opened my eyes, as he made some interesting moves beyond the tedious do/undo exchanges that so often signal an approaching scoring card. I enjoyed it enough to add it back to my rotation list.
That wraps up 2015 - looking forward to more of the same in 2016!
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve gamers for a pre-Christmas session, mostly lighter fare plus a useful playtest.
Dave, Natus, and Mitch pulled out Stone Age and had a back-and-forth game with a very close finish. Dave looked like the winner since Nate seemed to come up short in his quest for the eight green civilization cards. However, he pulled his seventh as the last act of the game, and it had the symbol for drawing one more card for final scoring. Sure enough, it proved to be the eighth and final card to complete the set, allowing Nate to edge Dave by a single point. The earth shook, Vesuvius spoke, and nations wept.
Dr. Rob taught Martin Wallace's Automobile to Ollie, Herr Fuchs, and myself. We were all automobile tycoons in the first half of the 20th century, building assembly lines and marketing infrastructure in a race to dominate the industry. As with many Wallace games, actions are your most precious resource, but this one adds the timing dynamic of a good train game - as your factories age they become liabilities, so you need to know when to shut down an old plant and pay up for a more modern facility. Herr Fuchs nailed the timing and the market segmentation, always seeming to have the right combination of production and model allocation. He finished a hundred bucks or so ahead of Rob, while Ollie and I faded into the distance. Neat little game, not bad for a short Wallace.
Dr Rob fixes the market
Scott directed Maynard, Campoverdi, Bill, and Hawkeye in a playtest of The Lamps Are Going Out, an upcoming WWI title from Compass Games. Maynard took the Western powers, paired with Hawkeye's Tsar, while Campo ran Germany alongside Bill's ancestral Austro-Hungarian Empire. The map runs from Russia to Great Britain, and includes the Italian theater, with a separate map for East Africa and a more schematic depiction of the edges of the Ottoman Empire.
From the comfort of his chateau
The game has a very clean combat/resource/replacement system spiced up with event and technology cards. The attacker nominates an attacking piece which is spent (with some exceptions). Attacker and defender each roll a d6 - high roll wins, but the attacker wins ties. If the defender loses, he must flip a defender to spent or retreat from the area. If unspent defenders remain, the attacker may repeat the process assuming he has fresh units available. As a kicker, once he defeats an enemy unit he gets a 'Big Push' bonus, a +1 to further rolls in that area until he loses a combat. The tricky bit is the attacker *always* spends units - even a successful offensive may leave his troops exhausted beyond his capacity to recover in the upcoming replacement phase. An overaggressive player may find himself overextended and exposed, and possibly worse off than when he started.
Resources and replacements are straightforward, with some areas showing a production value that translates into fresh units during the replacement phase. The cards add events and technologies that map onto the historical narrative. Air superiority fluctuates, artillery doctrine improves, fortifications inevitably emerge, etc. Some of these affect one power, some affect allies, and include good and bad effects for the power concerned.
In the playtest, the West saw good early movement before the front bogged down, while the Germans drove into Russia before losing momentum. The A-H Empire lost its mojo almost immediately after an event that burdened their attacks with a -1 die roll modifier. Hawkeye focused on cutting the Ottomans off from the support of their allies, bringing Romania into the war to pressure the A-H/Ottoman linkage. Germany garrisoned her southern border against the looming threat of Italy.
Hawkeye had to take off so I stepped into the Winter Palace to try my hand. I promptly saw the 'crippled' Austro-Hungarians knock Romania out of the war, but I retaliated by stepping into the viper's nest itself, capturing Prussia. That was a severe embarrassment for Campo but merely inconvenient in practical terms. In the West, Maynard somehow missed on eight of ten rolls to close out 1916 with little changed in Flanders.
We called it at that point, with the Ottomans back from the brink and things getting interesting in the East. We learned the game and played over half the war in maybe 3.5 hours, so I think this should be comparable to PoG time-wise with experienced hands. The basic systems were very easy to grasp and the game moves at a crisp pace. However, combat resolution does see half the table twiddling their thumbs for short stretches, making us wonder if this might not be a better two-player than four-player game. I didn't mind the down time when I was at the table, but defer to the others who spent the bulk of the evening playing. There are still areas to be tweaked and polished, but the basic chassis is sound - one to keep your eye on.
Punishing the perpetrator
Scott, Mitch, Dave, and Herr Fuchs wrapped up with Splendor, a set-building/collection game. Players accrue different jewel tokens which may be exchanged in various set combinations for cards, which in turn have jewel values for buying *more* cards. However, you keep your jewel-cards on your tableau, as permanent buying power. The goal is to ultimately buy VP cards until someone has 15 VPs - the game ends that turn with the high player winning. I thought the game might be serial solitaire but instead it was very interactive, with alert players nabbing key cards ahead of their opponents, or banking a critical card they couldn't afford but a neighbor was closing in on. Dave did this to deny Herr Fuchs a win, allowing Mitch to surge to victory.
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve gamers in mid-December for wargames, euros, crossovers, and co-ops.
Dave and Dr. Rob paired up for The Duke, hammering each other in a heavily attritional game until Dave finally cornered Rob's Duke for the win. I have a sack of expansions for this one beyond the REH tiles we used a while back - gonna have to drag them out for the next session.
Dr Rob demonstrates his two-seamer grip
Smitch and Mark dove into the three-turn 1861 scenario of The U.S. Civil War, with Smitch taking the Rebs to Mark's Federals.
Lyons tidies up the Show Me State
Mark opened by sending McDowell south in force, only to be stopped at Manassas, while Smitch drove up the Valley. Little Mac pacified most of West Virginia, and the Union gained the upper hand out west.
The Valley in safe hands
The second turn saw Burnside finish off the West Virginia campaign before turning to the Valley, while the Navy supported the seizure of Hatteras. The highlight of the summer was Halleck slipping past the not-yet-fortified Island No. 10 to grab Memphis. Smitch quickly built the missing fort to cut Halleck's supply, and sent reinforcements from the east to eject him from Memphis before Fremont could arrive to consolidate the Union gains.
Price warily eyes Springfield
The final turn focused on the struggle for Kentucky. Fremont grabbed Columbus while Buell and Pope took the rest of the state. The Rebs struck back, driving off Fremont to recapture Columbus and Evansville. The Union finished with six VP, a point shy of a win, but in review they learned Halleck could've burned Memphis for a couple more VPs. Overall, a good learning session for both players.
A split Kentucky
Mike Hershey dropped by to destroy Dutch's half-built Death Star 2.0 in Risk: Star Wars Edition. This was a very fluid fight with Dutch's Executor darting in and launching TIE fighters while Mike hammered the shield generators. Dutch finally got all his TIEs deployed for an apocalyptic fighter battle that was won by the Rebels. The shields were soon down and the Death Star's fate was sealed, with that of the Empire.
A rising tide of TIEs
Natus, Jim, Scott, and Bill tackled a short scenario of Pax Romana, with Jim running the Greeks, Bill the Romans, Scott the Carthaginians, and Natus the decadent East.
Spreading the word of Ba'al
Nate and Jim fought over a shifting battle across Asia Minor, as Natus tried to take Ionia and cross to the European side of the Bosporus. Jim fought him to a standstill, however, as stalemate prevailed. Bill took the long view, developing holdings in Hispania, but the real action was in the central Med. Scott captured Syracuse and the rest of Sicily soon fell into his hands, and he moved on to seize Corsica and Sardinia as well. With three new provinces in hand, Carthage was the clear winner.
The game features unorthodox combat resolution
It was a fun game enjoyed by all, surpassing our last session of Genesis: Empires and Kingdoms of the Ancient Middle East. The character of the individual powers feel more distinct in Pax, and the short scenario yields a more satisfying game experience than its counterpart in Genesis. We still need to play a longer session of Genesis to give it a fair shake, though.
Stalemate in the East
After their ACW adventures, Smitch and Mark turned to The Fires of Midway, Clash of Arms' card-based carrier battle game. The game has the same designer and graphic insanity as The Hell of Stalingrad but feels quite different from the earlier game in execution. I had a lot of fun with this a few years ago in a big four-player game of Midway, but Mark and Smitch opted for the smaller Coral Sea scenario.
Somewhere over the South Pacific
The USN never had a chance in this one, as Mark's Kates cut through the CAP and struck home. Lexington was crippled almost immediately, and Yorktown holed, to be finished off by a wave of Vals. A fast, fun match.
Of their bones are coral made
Hawkeye and I took a crack at Heroes of Normandie, an opulent tactical-level WWII game from last year. It enjoyed a very successful Kickstarter campaign and has seen a host of follow-on expansions, and has been on our radar for some time. We tried an intro scenario, Saving Private Rex. I gotta say, for a low-complexity game and an introductory situation, setup was far more work than it needed to be. We finally got everything in order, and Hawkeye's dogfaces set about retrieving their General's border collie while my Germans tried to get in the way and kill the occasional GI as the opportunity arose.
Hauser jumps a jeep
The basic systems of HoN are very straightforward - units are rated for defense strength, combat bonus versus infantry/softskin vehicles/AFVs, and movement. The board is a simple grid, with no adjustment for diagonal movement - a space is a space is a space. When attacking, you add your firing unit's appropriate combat bonus to a d6 result and try to meet or beat the defense value of the target, with adjustments for terrain, unit state, etc. Most units are eliminated when hit, though some flip for an extra step. Many units have additional capabilities, such as opportunity fire, melee bonuses, and so on. Atop all of this is a very simple command system - each side has a limited number of orders, assigned secretly via tokens (some order tokens are dummies). An order simply activates a unit - you are free to move or fire as you see fit at the moment of activation, within the capability of the unit concerned. Finally, there are action cards which augment actions, break the sequence of play, or otherwise disrupt your opponent's carefully constructed plans.
If at first you don't succeed
In our scenario, Rex romps around the map while the Amis try to grab him. Hawkeye started with most of his troops on board, while I had a static MG nest on the map and the rest of my troops entering as reinforcements. Rex moves semi-randomly, but if spooked by gunfire he may be moved by the firing player. I used this to my advantage and kept him buried behind German lines. Hawkeye had a 3:2 order advantage but had to come at me to retrieve his precious pooch. This meant my opportunity fire-capable MG nest effectively granted me an extra order, bagging a couple GI squads as they moved in line of sight. Hawkeye eventually eliminated the nest by creeping up from the flank, but the damage was done. He failed to recapture Rex and the casualty differential spelled a German victory. Rex, or König as he is better known, returned to a hero's welcome in his hometown of Hamburg, as one of the Reich's most effective canine sleeper agents.
Once we got past the rules and the setup, we enjoyed a very pleasant session. I think this is a very playable, narratively-rich game, with enough unit differentiation and tactical nuance to scratch a squad-level itch in an evening's play. It's a shame the rules get in the way, because otherwise the presentation is outstanding. There is a force-building element that allows you to generate your own battle group with tradeoffs across firepower, mobility, and command capability. That looks like the most interesting part of the design, though it did not come into play in our scenario. I think this is worth looking at for an intro wargame, but be sure to peruse the forums and player aids here on BGG to get you up to speed on what should be a very approachable system.
Rex marks his territory
Last up, Dutch, Dave, and Mike played a couple scenarios of Space Cadets: Away Missions. In the first, the Away Team was overwhelmed before they could recover the brainwashed human thralls, but they triumphed after a reset. I think they also won the second game, safeguarding Earth...for now. Watch The Skies!
J. R. Tracy
We had nine players last week for Euros, wargames, and a new twist on an old classic.
Scott and I paired up for Hexasim's Waterloo 1815: Fallen Eagles from earlier this year. This has been on our list for a while but we're only just now getting to it. We decided to try the Plancenoit scenario to get a feel for the system, Scott's Prussians against my French.
The game is regimental level with 200 meters per hex, with units rated for strength, quality, and movement, and command range and ability for officers. Each side alternates leader activation, either overall commanders or division commanders (Anglo-Allies) or corps commanders (French and Prussians). There is a light order system - formations either have an objective that they most move toward (or at least no further from), or defensive orders, which limit flexibility but offer some combat bonuses. There are exceptions for out of command units, units seeking to move independently, cavalry, etc. Simple and straightforward stuff.
Bülow won't take no for an answer
Once activated, a formation's units may fire, then move, and finally conduct melee attacks. Firing reduces movement ability, but is recommended to soften up a line before closing. Combat is very simple, with separate CRTs for infantry fire, artillery fire, and melee. The first two are simple one-column tables - you roll 2d6, add them, and find the result. Die roll modifiers include terrain, range (for artillery), opportunity fire (unengaged units firing at an enemy closing for melee), and other factors, but interestingly no modifier for infantry strength beyond a penalty for less than four factors. The assumption here is that frontages govern how many muskets can bear on a target, which makes sense and certainly eases calculation. Artillery, however, does get a bonus for weight of fire. Melee has similar modifiers, including +/- for strength ratios. Melee is resolved with a single roll, with low results affecting the defender, high results the attacker, and one (maybe two) in the middle affecting both.
Combat results may include a step loss (most units are two steps), but more often the target makes a 2d6 roll against its quality rating, sometimes with a penalty. Miss by a little, and you retreat; miss by a lot, and you rout. If a prospective attacker takes a hit or fails a quality check while closing for melee, the attack is off, even if it doesn't retreat. Thus you might see a portion of the attacking force stalled while the remainder goes in, creating a disjointed line of engagement.
Keeping Blücher busy
Our scenario was just four turns long, using a corner of the map. Lobau holds Plancenoit with a little help from the Guard, as Bülow approaches with Pirch just behind. Blücher is also on the map - old Marschall Vorwärts can activate individual units or help rally the unwilling. Scott needed to take some combination of town hexes and map-edge road hexes, while I just had to hold him off.
The battle opened with a cavalry action on my left flank while Bülow's artillery pounded my center. Well, not really 'pounded', as most of the cannonballs sailed over my head. Still, Bülow's massive Landwehr regiments fixed bayonets and charged home, only to be sent reeling by Lobau's defensive fire. Scott managed to roll routs for over half, maybe two-thirds of his quality checks, quite an achievement since a 2d6 '7' was good enough to pass. Blücher scrambled to turn Bülow around while I tightened my lines and braced for Pirch. Sadly for Prussia, Pirch received the same treatment. Scott took one more crack at Lobau with whatever he could scrape together, but the French line held.
Pirch tries his hand
This was a simple frontal assault and therefore not particularly interesting as a battle, but it is well suited to learning the rules. We flew through the turns once we got the processes down. Scott suffered mightily at the hands of the dice - if we flipped our rolls, Lobau would've been streaming off-map toward La Belle Alliance and Waterloo would've ended two hours early. I enjoyed the system and feel it hits a complexity sweet spot with a satisfying level of period chrome yet clean enough to portray the full battle in a reasonable amount of time. Scott is more skeptical, waiting to see the whole thing on the table before judging. The presentation is crisp, the rules snag-free, and the footprint large but not overwhelming. We will tackle the full day at some point, preferably before the 300th anniversary.
The Young Guard defend the objective with help from their big brothers
Dave, Mitch, and Smitch tried Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. This is a funky worker placement game where the worker-cubes are placed on gears that rotate with time, generating rewards based on their location. Glancing at the board, my first thought was, "That's probably what the inside of Dave's head looks like" - sure enough, he pipped Smitch by a point for the win.
Bill and Hawkeye headed back to the American War of Independence with Hold the Line, playing the Brandywine scenario. Bill had the British to Hawkeye's Continentals. Here Knyphausen is demonstrating along the Brandywine River in front of the American positions, while Cornwallis swings around to hit the American's right flank. The game begins as the Continentals redeploy to meet the flanking threat.
Washington and Howe
Bill's attack hammered Hawkeye back, but the British suffered heavy casualties in the process. Hawkeye enjoyed the benefit of terrain but eventually his position was turned and he was getting shot up in the open. He was forced to pull some troops off the river fortifications, allowing Knyphausen to attempt a crossing. By game end, Bill had racked up more than his seven VP target, but if they netted Hawkeye's VPs against Bill's total, it looked like he fell short. Looks like a win for the Americans but we'll have to confirm we calculated correctly.
Campoverdi brought it yet another big box o' plastic from Cool Mini Or Not; this time it was Arcadia Quest, a semi-cooperative dungeon adventure. Each player leads a guild fighting the evil blight upon the land. Your heroes tiptoe around in the dark, completing quests to collect upgrades, fighting NPCs for the most part but occasionally going after other players' pieces. Though you are joined against a common enemy, only one guild can win, and some quests specifically reward attacking your erstwhile allies. You string several scenarios together in a campaign, choosing a path of six games through the eleven scenarios provided.
Anime dungeon crawl
It's a typically well-produced CMON title, with tons of minis and extraneous extra bits. The art may make it or break it for some players - it has the cartoony style of Small World, more campy than ferocious. Campo and El Rios played through two scenarios over the course of the evening - I *think* El Rios took the first and they were tied in the second. I don't think they'll continue this particular campaign, but they're familiar with the system now, so we can start a fresh campaign with more players, and space it out over the course of a month or so.
For a nightcap, Scott pulled out The Dice Must Flow, aka Dune: The Dice Game. This is a simplified dice-driven take on the Avalon Hill classic. Players roll dice to collect spice, form alliances, recruit troops, ship to the surface, and move about the planet. You can assassinate enemies, be devoured by the Shai-Hulud, and suffer at the whim of the sandstorm. As with the original, each faction has a special power or two, and combat strength of troops and leaders varies as well. You must control three victory areas to win, or four as an alliance. You may ally with another faction if you roll their symbol and they accept - that grants them some use of your dice and allows you to use their special ability (I think), as well as press for an alliance win. However, alliances expire at the end of the player turn they were created.
The whole enchilada (from the game's gallery)
I was the Emperor, while Scott was the Harkonnen, Hawkeye the Fremen, Smitch the Guild, and El Rios House Atreides. I had some great rolls early on, getting troops to the surface and using my special ability to bank some spice for later turns. Scott and Hawkeye spread over the map, grabbing a couple VP spaces apiece, though Muad'Dib took one away from the Harkonnen. When my turn came around again, I was able to ally with Scott and grab enough spaces for an alliance win for the Axis of Evil.
My peeps (from the game's gallery)
This is a clever implementation, with 80+% of the original in <20% of the playing time. Purists might not care for it, however, as the biggest compromise is in diplomacy - negotiation is perfunctory and alliances are ephemeral by design. I really like the presentation, done by the same fellow who handled the black box edition of Glory to Rome. Oddly enough, I prefer the original graphics for that game but love the minimalist approach applied here. Sadly, I failed to take pictures, so what you see here are from the game's gallery. Neat little game, great if you like the original but lack the time to give it the love it deserves.
J. R. Tracy
We opened December with thirteen players and a mix of wargames and crossovers.
Dr. Rob and I wrapped up our ASL scenario Show of Force from last week. I was slowly squeezing Rob's defenders into the back left corner of the map - he still had a lot of pieces in play but my Flammpanzer slipped past his T34s and roasted the 9-1-led HMG position in K7. This was enough to crack Rob's personal morale - though he still had a shot it would be a grim slog as I hunted him down through the streets of Graiworon. All our Albany prep work paid, off, though, as Rob finished a healthy 3-2 and I managed to bring home the bacon (and Joe's sweet diorama), recounted here, here, here, here, and here.
The flame tank tracks its next kill
Next to us, Jim and Dutch traveled back in time to a galaxy far far away, firing up the basic Star Wars: Armada scenario, Dutch's Rebels against Jim's Empire. They were a little cramped on the card-table playing field, thought it's unclear whether it helped or hindered one side more than the other.
The X-Wings roll in
After an opening flurry of fighter action, the heavier ships closed. The drama focused on the Rebel corvette going toe-to-toe (or nose-to-nose) with Jim's Victory-class Star Destroyer. Jim reduced the SD speed to zero, which meant he couldn't play defense tokens. This left him vulnerable and allowed Dutch to to rack up enough damage for a Rebel win. We have to get this out on the big table to give the ships a little room to breathe!
Bumpin' uglies in space
Dave, Natus, Tenno, and Campoverdi pulled out Fire in the Lake, with Dave taking the NVA, Campo the VC, Tenno the US, and Natus Slaanesh. It took Dave a while to pick up the plot but in the meantime he was accumulating a massive force while Natus and Tenno battled Campo to a standstill. When Dave finally got rolling he dropped a hammer on Quang Tri and points south, and took the win.
Pressure on the capital
Smitch, Bill, and Hawkeye tried a three-handed game of Pax Pamir. I didn't catch a lot of this game other than to notice the *huge* tableaux the players built out - must've been a long time between Topples.
Hawkeye sends out a spy
No one managed to win outright on the final Topple (Intelligence War), so it moved on to tiebreakers, with Hawkeye scoring a victory by virtue of military strength.
Distinct spheres of influence
Last up, Scott and Maynard played the Operation Husky piece of No Retreat 4! Italian Front: 1943-45, with Maynard defending Sicily with his shaky Axis coalition. Scott got a little frisky with coastal leapfrogs but Maynard retired in good order on both flanks. I watched the final couple turns and thought Scott's Allies were certain to break through. However, well-placed counterblows diluted the final assault, and a deftly-timed cardplay preventing advance after combat allowed Maynard to hold the line.
Poking the underbelly
I *think* they had fun with the game, but they expressed frustration at the exception-rich chrome-laden rules, a far cry from the lean, mean patriarch of the family, the original VPG No Retreat!. That said, Scott's love/hate relationship with the series indicates there's a lot here to like, despite the ever-increasing effort necessary to enjoy it.
Der Dicke's boys block the coasts
J. R. Tracy
We had a crowd of fourteen gamers last week for a slew of titles.
Dr. Rob and I pulled out Show of Force from MMP's Action Pack #10. My Grossdeutschland tankers and panzergrenadiers have to toss Rob's Soviets from a little village in the gathering twilight of March, 1943. I have some bitchin' toys, including an early Tiger, a Flammpanzer, and a slew of halftracks and supporting AFVs, but the victory conditions are tough and Rob has some decent reinforcements coming. So far I've traded a PzIVF2 for his sole starting T34, and am in the center of town with my infantry. However, his two reinforcing T34s are about to arrive and his 76L artillery piece is alive and well. Fun so far!
Darkness on the edge of town
Campoverdi hauled his copy of Blood Rage in to share with Dave, Mitch, and El Rios. This is an opulent Kickstarter project with a Chaos in the Old World vibe and crazy miniatures. Unlike CitOW, there is no faction differentiation at the start but players pick up powers and assets over the course of the game to shape their side's identity and style of play.
Campo upgrades his troops
Early on El Rios picked up a card that reduced the cost of future upgrades. It looks like a sweet card in its own right but as his very first pickup it proved decisive. He was always a cycle ahead of the rest of the table in developing his force and the gap widened over time. He won handily but the game was well received by all - looks like the gameplay lives up to the fancy bits.
The Frost Giant goes into his windup
Natus, Tenno, Mark, Bill, and Herr Fuchs tackled A Study in Emerald. Some of you may recall Tenno as the Harkonnen player who fell victim to the Bene Gesserit prediction after 'winning' Dune a couple weeks ago. This week, Tenno was the high score at the table as he made a move to end the game...only to discover his faction was burdened by the *low* scoring player. Two victories denied! However, it seems this aspect of the game may have been under-explained at the outset, so they allowed a re-wind and played on. In the end, Bill emerged the winner, thanks to a steady city acquisition strategy that persevered despite vampires, zombies, and the wrath of Cthulhu.
Tenno summons an Elder
Maynard and Dutch paired up for the recently-released Risk: Star Wars Edition. This sorta-kinda recreates the climactic battle at the end of The Return of the Jedi, as Maynard's Rebels sought to destroy Death Star 2.0 before Darth Dutch annihilated the Rebel fleet. It doesn't appear very Risk-y beyond the name on the box, but hey, name recognition sells. Maybe they should pair it with a hot pop culture phenomenon to expand the audience. The game has a perhaps unfair rep for a poor rulebook, but our intrepid pair managed to complete two hard fought games, both Rebel victories. It turns out they got the most notorious ambiguity wrong (TIE fighters may in fact deploy and attack in the same turn) which hurt Dutch's chances, though his dice were his worst enemy. They enjoyed the game, and it looks great on the table. There is a simmering debate in the game's forum over balance, but at least some official clarifications have emerged to put the rulebook issues to rest. I'm looking forward to trying it myself.
A surprisingly cheerful Sith Lord
The Emerald and Blood Rage crews combined for a little One Night Werewolf; I'd hoped to join them but was called away to deal with a water leak in the building. No pix, but the general reception was lukewarm due to extreme randomness. They followed with Coup, with Dave taking at least one game. Mark memorably went down when he called an Assassin's bluff while holding two Assassins himself. Alas, the opponent's Assassin was legit <sad trombone>.
Mark has trouble couping
Scott and Smitch faced off for a little musket & pike action on the field of Wimpfen, from Saints in Armor. As Tilly/Córdoba, Smitch and his Catholics are assaulting the Baden Protestants dug in behind a wagon wall. The game opens with a scripted 'surprise' cavalry attack hammering the Catholic left, but Smitch weathered that storm and plodded up the slope with his infantry formations.
The Markgraf hunkers down
The actual battle was marked by a fluke Catholic artillery shot that detonated a Protestant ammo wagon and disrupted the defense. To trigger the event, the Catholics have to get at least a couple big infantry units up to the wagons, but steady arquebus fire staggered the Spanish infantry and Smitch just couldn't maintain a coordinated assault. As his momentum stalled and receded, he concluded he would be unable to crack the Baden line, so they called it.
Crashing into the wagenburg
Scott and Smitch wrapped up the evening with Ortus Regni. This is a lovely medieval-themed card game where you try to burn your opponent's palace to the ground. Players deploy buildings and upgrades to expand holdings and improve their action efficiency, and raise troops to assault their opponent's tableau. In addition, fickle Vikings lurk just over the horizon, ready to sail to the aid of one player or the other for the promise of plunder.
Peaceful seafaring folk
The full game allows players to construct their decks from identical pools, but they played with the predetermined basic decks. It was a very close match, with Scott struggling to hold onto his newly built holdings while the Vikings seemed to flock to Smitch's cause. Eventually Scott found himself nutted, unable to avoid drawing his last card to trigger a defeat condition. I think they both enjoyed it, and the period art is beautiful. Judging from the game's page, it looks like a self-published effort; if so, very impressive.
J. R. Tracy
We had nine players last Tuesday for several games, a couple of which were brand new to us.
Maynard and Campoverdi tried Worthington's recent Wilderness Empires, a card-driven block game on the French & Indian War. Campo took the French to Maynard's British. Maynard quickly seized Louisbourg thanks to an early flood of reinforcement cards (and maybe a rules misinterpretation). Though turned back at Quebec, he had Campo on his back foot for much of the game. The French struck into British territory when the opportunity presented itself, but Maynard maintained his advantage and closed out a win.
Early assault on Quebec
This is a handsome game, with a clean-looking map and nice chunky blocks. The art is good too - the Troiani images are wasted on the stickers but look great on the cards. Campo and Maynard enjoyed the game, and wrapped up quickly enough to move on to another title.
Fort William Henry under siege
They followed with Galaxy MotherTrucker, with Maynard looking to avenge his loss of a couple weeks ago. Since then he's installed the game app on his iPad and learned a thing or two. He put his newfound knowledge to good use and prevailed.
Smitch, GorGor, El Rios, and Mark tackled Pax Pamir and had a long, hard-fought game. All four Topples passed without an outright win, so it came down to tiebreakers. Smitch and El Rios were tied on military power, but Smitch eked out a victory thanks to an edge in rupees. Another good session with more to follow, I'm sure.
Mark recruits some local talent
The same crew followed up with a few games of Coup. El Rios took one, while GorGor won two. The final game was a hoot, with GorGor claiming a heavy card four plays in a row, getting called each time, and proving to hold the relevant office in every case. That cleaned up the table nicely for a convincing win.
"You're bluffing!" "Am I?"
At the other end of the table Scott introduced Dave and me to Burgle Bros., a cooperative in which the players are a team of thieves. The target is a three story building, with each floor composed of sixteen randomized tiles (though each floor always has a stairwell and a safe). We needed to crack each safe and make our way to the roof to escape via helicopter. In addition to the safe and stairwell, tiles might contain one of several flavors of detection systems (lasers, motion detectors, etc), a barrier of some sort (deadbolts, keypads, etc), good stuff (control rooms to disable security systems) or weird random bits like shaky walkways that could send you crashing through to the floor below. Each floor also has a guard walking a random beat.
Scott makes like Catherine Zeta-Jones
Once we enter a floor for the first time, the local guard is randomly placed. Players then expend up to four action points, to either move, reveal an adjacent tile, or perform other tasks like preparing to crack a safe or working the tumblers. The safest approach is to reveal a tile before entering (the walkway is dangerous only if unrevealed) but sometimes you're in a hurry and don't have the luxury of caution.
Each character has some sort of special ability that can break a particular rule or aid an action. Characters also have three 'stealth' tokens, and lose one each time they encounter a guard. The fourth time you bump into a guard, you're caught, and the team loses. After a character moves, the guard on that floor is moved. The guards have a randomly determined target tile and follow a predictable path to it, then choose another target location. While you know where they're going and their path, occasionally the newly-revealed destination proves inconvenient or even fatal to your chances. A triggered alarm takes priority over the guard's target tile, a fact you can use to your advantage.
Hacking the motion sensors
In our first game, we tiptoed onto the first floor and quickly cracked the safe, but found ourselves cornered by the guard and hemmed in by lasers and motion detectors. After a five year stretch upstate, we returned to the scene of the crime for another attempt. This went much better, and despite losing a few tokens on the first floor we breezed through the second and confronted the third and final floor. Two of us had expended all our tokens but we used the alarms to distract the guard and dart in to try the safe. Unfortunately, we didn't crack it on the first pass and an unfortunate tile draw sent the guard right at us, with a deadbolt at our back. We were out of options and could only watch helplessly as he made his collar.
This is a really nifty co-op, with a very strong theme and fun puzzle-solving elements. The layout can change dramatically from game to game and definitely shapes your strategy - early access to a security system control room can be a huge break, while a poorly placed stairwell can prove to be a bigger problem than opening a safe. Nice art, reminiscent of the credit sequences of 50s/60s caper flicks. The whole thing packs up in a compact little box, though only just. Impressive effort, and recommended especially for folks who might want to rope in a casual gamer or two.
We then tried The Magnates: A Game of Power, covering the golden age of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Players compete to expand their family holdings within the Commonwealth while seeing off various predators poised on the borders. Each player has a deck of cards numbered from two to fifteen - they use these to bid for offices in the Senate and privileges in the Sejm, and to fight Poland's wars.
The Sejm is in session
The course of play is simple - after determining the king for that turn (randomly selected from historical personalities; each confers a small bonus for some game action), players secretly bid for offices. These are Primate (breaks ties during the turn), Treasurer (allows you to swap an opponent's estate for one of your own), Hetman (+3 to your contribution in a conflict), and Chancellor (+3 to any one influence bid). With these in hand, bids are placed for the five Sejm privilege cards - these offer game bonuses or rule-bending actions, and allow placement of estates onto the map. Finally, five Conflict cards are drawn and placed where appropriate, and players secretly commit cards to fight them.
Scoring is typical area majority - points for each estate, plus bonus points for having a plurality or majority in each of the five major regions. In addition to estates earned via offices and privileges, you gain estates by helping win a conflict. Each conflict has a value that must be equaled or exceeded by the sum of the player cards committed against it. High contributor gets to place an estate if Poland wins, while the low man suffers in some way if the conflict prevails. Also, everyone loses an estate in an affected region if you don't see off the conflict; therefore you might not always be 100% motivated to win a particular fight if your neighbor will suffer more than you in a defeat. However, if three of the five regions have active undefeated conflicts at the end of a turn, the Commonwealth is broken up and all the players lose.
Dave snags another card
In our game, Dave dominated from the get-go. He grabbed the Primate on the first turn and won three ties in that round. Despite witnessing the power of the office, neither Scott nor I could wrest the Primate from Dave's grip the rest of the game. He also grabbed the lion's share of the privilege cards for most of the four turns. My ill-considered strategy focused on winning the conflicts and accruing extra estates that way, but it is clearly the weakest of the three uses of influence, more a defensive measure to protect holdings than a way to build your board position. I think Dave ended with a score in the upper 40s, while I had 38 with Scott a few points behind.
I found Magnates to be a very effective re-implementation of the ideas in Martin Wallace's God's Playground (the designers explicitly state their inspiration). All the basic systems are familiar but well-executed. This is no doubt a Euro, but I think the theme carries through via the Senate/Sejm/Conflict structure. As Scott says, it transcends its progenitor by forcing players to preserve the Commonwealth - you could win God's Playground regardless of Poland's fate, which never felt quite right. Magnates' presentation is top-flight, with great art and loads of flavor text. I'm afraid it pushes God's Playground into deep storage - definitely recommended if you're looking for a well-themed bidding/area majority game or have a fondness for the history of Poland.
Threats to the Commonwealth
Last up, I joined Smitch and GorGor for a nightcap of Nations: The Dice Game. This is a very straightforward dice-placement game. Players start with five white dice, with a face each for grain, stone, books, swords, gold, and re-rolls. At the beginning of each of four turns, a market is laid out of upgrade and monument tiles, with purchase prices expressed in terms of dice-generated commodities. Buying a tile grants more/better dice, victory points, and/or specific commodity tokens, which can be used once per turn as if you rolled that particular value.
In addition to scoring points for buying tiles, you also score by defeating that turn's war and/or famine (by having the requisite swords or grain). There is also an interesting culture track - you move up by playing books, and each turn score VPs equal to the number of players *behind* you.
Our game was very tight for two turns but then GorGor achieved and maintained separation due to a nicely diversified approach. He had both blue (stone/books) and red (swords) dice plus a few yellow (gold) thrown in, while I had only red in addition to my original white. Without blue dice, many of the expensive late-game tiles were simply out of reach - I could buy them, but the lack of stone meant I couldn't complete any monuments for VPs. Smitch and I were basically just fighting for second, and I managed to edge him by virtue of beating both the final war and famine. Neat little game, super-fast but with more depth than I first suspected.
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