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Subject: A Diskwars Reminiscence rss

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Don Lynch
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I originally posted this on a Geeklist, "Your favorite games that are NOT in BGG's Top 1000?", at #184:

* * * * * * * * * *

Story time.

Many years ago, a friend brought this game back from Gencon to the local game store. He was raving about how much fun Diskwars was to play. After quickly explaining it, he played a sample game with someone he had taught. I watched. I wasn't impressed. But while watching a second game, I started to mentally kibitz the game. It was an easy game to learn, and I had learned and become interested in spite of my original impression. So before leaving, I bought some and took it home and read the rules.

* * *

Game time.

Over on the Diskwars forum, someone asked why does this have bad rating? Based on my initial reactions to it, here are some possibilities:

It is fantasy based.
It looks silly.
It plays silly.
You move by flipping disks end over end?
You attack by landing on an opponents disk?
You drop chits to shoot arrows?
How can I play this if I have no manual dexterity?
It's a collectible game and you get random stuff in each box.
It's a collectible game and will cost too much.
Cry havoc and let loose the pogs of war?

Addressing these issues,

>It is fantasy based.
Coming from a background of Avalon Hill and SPI wargames, this was so different I didn't know what to make of it. But having played D&D and Magic the Gathering, the Fantasy element was easy enough to digest. Made even easier because each race had the usual fantasy stereotypes which made for lots of theme and asymmetrical play.

>It looks silly.
Yes it does, but hidden under the hood is an exceptionally clever game. It may look like an Edsel, but it plays like a Ferrari.

>It plays silly.
>You move by flipping disks end over end?
>You attack by landing on an opponents disk?
Appearances were deceiving. After playing it a bit, I realized that this game modeled military tactics better than any previous tactical game, and it did it by it's design, not with a lot of artificial rules. More on this later.

>You drop chits to shoot arrows?
OK, this is the weakest link. One defense is that it's equally frustrating to all. But curiously it is the best system for friendly fire casualties I have ever seen. And again, no extra rules. And you can have fun with it, especially when the little arrow disks go rolling around the table.

>How can I play this if I have no manual dexterity?
It's actually pretty easy to flip disks, after you get the hang of it. By the way, I always played this game with "touch" rules. Way more chaotic and fun.

>It's a collectible game and you get random stuff in each box.
>It's a collectible game and will cost too much.
Neither is a deal breaker if you can trade with your friends for the disks you want. Besides, having all the disks doesn't necessarily make one a great player. Personally I have enough so that anyone who plays can build their own army from my set.

>Cry havoc and let loose the pogs of war?
Most definitely.

* * *

Story time.

So it turned out that I really didn't like the elf army my friend was using. After watching those couple of games, I had started to think what I wanted to do in terms of this game. Given my Fantasy gaming experience, I had decided to use dragons and orcs. I like stuff that moves fast and hits hard. The best defense is a great offense. In a world of kill or be killed, I knew which side of that equation I liked best. Not having enough good dragon stuff, I built an orc army that featured a couple of beastriders (medium sized 2.5" disk with 5 flips), who trample cheap (defense 2 or less) disks and keep on moving. This paid immediate dividends when they rushed around ends of the elvish line like orcish versions of Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, and gorged on elven archers. My friend then started to play knights, with all their interconnected bonuses.

I still hadn't been able to make a satisfactory dragon army (ballisters suck), so that was on hold. Sometime later, I played a guy with a dragon army and beat him. While a near run thing, I was very impressed with a disk he used named Helspanth. I was able to kill it in that recent game and he was down on his dragons, and was subsequently willing to trade it. Took me quite a few disks including a giant, but it was now mine, and it became the centerpiece in every dragon army I fielded. I was also using a hydra I had acquired by this time. Frankly not a great disk, but it was big (3.5") and slow (2 flips) and inspired fear in the opposition by damaging every disk it touched, not just one. As expansions were released, my dragon army got meaner and meaner, becoming a 'pure' dragon army.

* * *

Game time.

So let's talk modeling military tactics. It is worth noting that the size of disks provides its spacial footprint and also factors into movement. Seems obvious, but a given equal movement, a larger disk can move further than a smaller disk. But a smaller disk can squeeze through some narrow spaces between disks. So if you are facing a tight line of enemy disks, then the large disk can't get through but can pin multiple disks if desired. A loose line can be infiltrated by more disks, but won't allow multiple disks to be pinned by one disk. This applies both attacking enemy enemy lines and moving through your own. If you wish to move reserves forward through your line, then you have to deal with disruption and accidental pinning when moving among closely packed units. Think of the movie Patton when he is directing traffic jams trying to relieve forces being attacked in the Battle of the Bulge.

If you read a lot of military stuff, you may have run across Frederick the Great's use of the oblique attack. Instead of facing off line to line and attacking head on, it would be more desirable to gain local superiority by moving to a position where you bring more guns to bear. For example, an enfilade where you attack directly into the enemy flank where it is weakest. (Crossing the T in nautical terms.) An oblique attack hits about the same spot, but at say a 45 degree angle, all pressuring the end of the enemy line. Theory is about the same for both of these; cause the enemy to retreat and then roll up the line. Frederick accomplished this by having a superbly trained professional army and exploiting its better training and marching speed to concentrate on an enemy weak point.

This is almost impossible to simulate in a traditional wargame without extra rules to account for this. However I was able to use this manoeuver many times in diskwars by patiently waiting for too many activations in the enemy's flank and using my purposely unactivated local disks to concentrate on pinning that end of the enemy line. The result would be multiple enemy losses with much of his army too far away to counter in time. Thus the oblique attack was initiated with no extra rules. (I did say I liked disks that move fast and hit hard.)

This is just one example of classic military tactics that can be used in diskwars, a game that I believe is easy to play, hard to master, and great fun every time out.

* * *

Story time.

Played a game where my opponent advanced a single disk a bit too far on the first turn and I countered by pinning it with Helspanth which was the only disk that could reach it from the set-up. Turns out my opponent was transfixed by the dragon and started piling on with at least one disk every turn to at least prevent Helspanth from moving, even if he couldn't damage it. I kept pinning the pinners in a way that prevented any wounds to the dragon, mostly by eliminating selected disks. In the meantime the rest of my army was in the process of concentrating and killing enemy disks. So with Helspanth constantly pinned, sometimes by my own disks after killing the original pinner, it never got to move again. But this resulted in a crushing dragon victory.

OK, so think of Waterloo and the effect Chateau Hougoumont had on that battle. Hougoumont was occupied by British forces and the French spent an inordinate amount of time attacking it, time enough to delay the rest of the battle until Blucher arrived with the Prussian reinforcements, resulting in a French loss and rout.

Essentially Helspanth played the part of Hougoumont, becoming a stalking horse (dragon?) that was fought over for the entire battle. This worked so well that I began putting a large slow giant into some armies and pushing it toward the enemy lines every turn until it was pinned and attacked. Being too big and somewhat dangerous, the giant distracted opponents every time. And it usually survived after killing more than its share of disks with its '8' defense stat and 2 wounds.

Even though I haven't played Diskwars for a few years, it's still an incredible game and one of my all-time favorites.
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Martin Gallo
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Nicely written and a good description of the game. I love it, but have not played in over ten years. None of my current gaming buddies are even remotely interested and after a bit of nerve damage I am not even sure my hands can handle the mechanics. But I am keeping my disks - They take up very little room and I smile when I see them.
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Hugh G. Rection
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Thanks for the great write-up. I bought the complete non-randomized sets during FFG holiday sales, but still need to get this to the table. shake

Have you also played the Doomtown version? If so, how would you compare/contrast the two?
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Martin Gallo
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I thought I would like the boomtown version better but did not. Something about the smaller armies took something away. Range Wars was still fun, but it never caught on. We did like the CCG.
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Don Lynch
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There were a group of games that FFG released about the same (collectable games) time period, including Diskwars, Rangewars, Twilight Imperium: Armada, and Vortex. They also designed "Star Trek Red Alert" for Last Unicorn and licensed Diskwars to AEG for "Legend of Five Rings Diskwars". TI Armada is based on their work for Red Alert.

I really liked them all, but Diskwars and Vortex were the best.

edit> Red Alert was very compatible with Armada, and Diskwars and L5R Diskwars were also very compatible. Just had to make allowances for special rules and abilities for different things. Rules for each pair were very similar. Had a lot of fun using my Unicorn L5R army against regular diskwars ones. Move fast and hit hard, as I previously mentioned.
 
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Martin Gallo
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I recall enjoying Red Alert.
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Don Lynch
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Martin, sorry to hear about the hand thing. I'm starting to feel some arthritis as I age. Already causing some effect in my other favorite hobby, guitar playing.
 
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Don Lynch
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martimer wrote:
I recall enjoying Red Alert.


And with all that memorable dialogue to invoke. cool
 
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Martin Gallo
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donlyn wrote:
Martin, sorry to hear about the hand thing. I'm starting to feel some arthritis as I age. Already causing some effect in my other favorite hobby, guitar playing.
So sorry to hear that. I also have arthritis but thanks to the nerve damage I do not feel the pain much any more. I do NOT recommend this as a solution.
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