Fun City Gaming

This is a weekly report of our Tuesday night gaming sessions in Chelsea (Manhattan).

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23 October 2017 - Holland '44: Operation Market-Garden, Up Front, Bitskrieg, The Expanse

J. R. Tracy
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We had nine players for some wargaming and solar system power politics.

Josh joined us to learn Up Front courtesy of Scott. They went with A Meeting of Patrols, with Scott leading the Germans against Josh's GIs. Josh was quickly introduced to the exquisite pain of UF, as a frustrating lack of terrain cards finally overwhelmed his judgement. Soon his maneuver group was up and running, protected by smoke but staring down the barrels of Scott's fire teams. Josh desperately cycled his hand only to see more and more Move cards, without a building in sight. He finally stumbled into cover, licking his wounds with the help of Rally cards.

A new initiate

Despite that frustrating sequence, Josh made a good game of it, recovering enough to beat up Scott's squad while inching toward Range 4. Unfortunately for the dogfaces, Scott got there first for the win. Good intro to the game, with Josh playing an open hand for the first half but gaining enough comfort to play it straight the rest of the way.

Mark, Renaud, Hawkeye, and Herr Fuchs tried The Expanse Board Game, based on the SF book series and television show of the same name. I believe the game covers the first two books, according to Renaud. Mark ran the Earth-based UN, Hawkeye was Mars, Renaud was the Outer Planets Alliance, and Herr Fuchs was the evil corporation Protogen, but in everyone's eyes, the protomolecule itself. Players vie for control of the inner solar system, via an interesting action mechanism. A player chooses from five available cards, playing the card for either action points or an event. Anyone may play the event if they are the active player, but otherwise the events are faction-specific. Non-active players may opt to play a relevant event but fall to the bottom of the initiative track if they do so. It looks like an interesting mutation of the COIN system.

Expansive

Renaud's anarchic OPA took an early lead but Mark caught up and passed him. They battled it out over the course of the game but Mark maintained the lead. Late in the game Renaud had a scoring opportunity but passed it up to save his powder for a better play the following turn. Unfortunately, the sixth and final scoring card appeared before he could do so, ending the game for a UN victory, 103 to the OPA's 102. I think everyone enjoyed the game, with its combination of board action and diplomacy/treachery. Mark was the only player with any experience, but they wrapped up in about three hours, a good clip for a robust multiplayer.

Beltway bandits

Stéphane was a little late to the party, but Hawkeye paired up with him for a little Bitskrieg. After all, we couldn't let Stéphane go home without some action on his first game night as a US citizen! Hawkeye had sweet ASL dice, which is to say, terrible Bitskrieg dice. Stéphane had the good sense to roll high, and enjoyed a red, white, and blue win along with his champagne toast.

Already making America proud

Last up, Campoverdi and I broke out GMT's new Holland '44: Operation Market-Garden. This is Mark Simonitch's latest WWII operational game covering the iconic campaign. A die roll gave Campo the Germans, and I commenced operations.

Exactly the right number of bridges

My drop was nearly flawless, with a couple scattered battalions but nothing too damaging. The British 1AB secured the drop zones and took the river road into Arnhem, within striking distance of the road bridge. As a bonus, the rail bridge remained intact, a good harbinger for the relief operation.

Ready to roll

82AB and 101AB also had good drops, but a little more trouble with the Germans. The unknown units proved prickly, with a mix of worthless zero-strength garrisons and tough little nuts of ear and stomach battalions that surely had something better to do. The paras secured their interior lines but fought tough battles on the periphery.

So far so good

101AB saw every road bridge on the Wilhelmina Canal blow up in their faces, while 82AB faced a threat from the east. The German 406ID starts just off map, entering by random die roll. The All Americans watched in dismay as Campo rolled well and entered everything but the 406's supporting artillery on turn one. Their quality is crap, but they enjoy decent unit strength and the power of concentration. The 82nd was already stretched thin and the pressure on the Groesbeek Heights drop zones was unwelcome.

A nice day for a swim

Down south, XXX Corps got off to a good start, blasting their way up the main road, with XII and VIII Corps supporting the flanks. The British suffered casualties immediately, however, and it seemed every successful attack was purchased with a step loss. Campo gave ground where he could, using the off-map areas to fall fall back and re-enter the board a little further north. By turn three the Screaming Eagles were clearing Eindhoven and preparing to welcome Guards Armoured. Sadly, the Irish Guards would not be joining them, as their burning Shermans marked the path of XXX Corps' advance.

Painful progress

By turn four, the Red Devils were firmly established in Arnhem as the first wave of German counterattacks foundered on their perimeter. 82AB was barely in control of their drop zones and engaged in a desperate fight in Nijmegen; the initial garrison held out long enough for 9SS panzergrenadiers to reinforce the defense. 101AB was in great shape, but until the Bailey bridges arrived they would be defending their stretch of the corridor on their own. Campo was pessimistic about German prospects but I felt it was pretty even overall. We decided to pick it up at that point and committed ourselves to an all day session at some point in the future.

Gräbner gets involved

We really enjoyed H'44. I've always had fun with Mark's games but this is my favorite by a good margin. The early turns are burdened with a host of special rules but the overhead didn't weigh heavily on game play. The ZOC bond concept works well in the swirling battles behind the lines, as the airborne perimeters coalesce and the German defense struggles for coherence. Both sides have puzzles to solve - how much of 82AB heads into Nijmegen and how much holds the Heights? Does the 1AB artillery support the drop zone defense or the defense of Arnhem? How long do the Germans hold in the face of the might of XXX Corps? Baseline assumptions are easy to come by with such a familiar battle, but random results and enemy action disrupt your planning, moreso here than in the forests of the Ardennes or the hedgerows of Normandy. All in all, a great first taste, and we look forward to the full meal.

J O E Vandeleur sleeps with the fishes
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Mon Nov 6, 2017 1:03 pm
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AAR 17 October 2017 - Bitskrieg, Hanamikoji, 1750: Britain vs. France, Blitz! A World in Conflict, Unpublished WWII Prototype, Stone Age

J. R. Tracy
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We had nine players mid October for a brand new release (pre-release?), some playtesting, wargaming, and Euros.

Milton Soong was in town but running late, so Dr. Rob and I opened the evening with Scott's spanking new copy of Bitskrieg. As described in an earlier session, this is a quick-play tactical armor game. AFVs are broken out into tank destroyers, light tanks, medium tanks, and heavies, with simple but sharp distinctions between the classes. Players alternate moving and firing individual vehicles, with to-hit rolls dependent on range and to-kill rolls dependent on the class of the target. Victory is achieved by capturing the enemy flags or wiping out his force.

Panzer pusher

Dr. Rob was the Red Scorpion to my Blue Owl. I drew first blood, quickly eliminating two of Dr. Rob's tanks before one of his lights inexplicably killed a blue heavy. I nailed another and was maneuvering against his objectives when Milton arrived. Dr. Rob departed for a multiplayer and we called it a draw.

Peeking through the trees

I had a blast with Scott's playtest components but Hollandspiele's production package elevates the experience. Clever box art, straightforward rules, and clear counters suit the theme and the level of complexity. This is a great intro game as well as a fun filler - kudos to the Muldoons on their swift journey from conception to reality.

I can't quite put my finger on it

Next to us, Scott and Campoverdi fired up Blitz! A World in Conflict, billed as World in Flames pitched at army level. Campo took the Axis to Scott's Allies.

Donner and Blitzen

A stubborn Poland refused to die in a single turn, upsetting Campo's timetable, but he made up for it with a successful early attack on France. They managed to work through three turns in about as many hours, well off the advertised pace but not bad for a first attempt.

The fall of France

The game looks good, despite a few niggling usability issues. The global map is clear and the info-packed counters stand out on the table. The designers' claim of eight hours for the campaign game sounds aggressive, but even at a touch longer it could still fit into a couple sessions or a long weekend day.

East Asian staring contest

Renaud brought the latest iteration of his WWII card game, and took the Allies against Bill's Axis. I witnessed some punching back and forth in the Med, but missed the invasion of Russia. They played through 1942, taking notes for the next re-write.

In the lab

After our little armor battle, Dr. Rob joined Mitch and Smitch for Stone Age. Mitch prevailed, closely followed by Rob. What happened in the Love Shack stayed in the Love Shack, thank God.

Cave dwellers

Milton arrived with Hanamikoji in hand. This is a two player geisha(!)-themed card game reminiscent of Battle Line. Seven geisha 'objective' cards are arrayed between the players; these range in value from two to five points (3x2, 2x3, 1x4, 1x5). Each geisha has an associated set of cards in the draw deck, each set equal to the value of the geisha, for a total of 21 cards. Each round one card from the draw deck is discarded at random, unexamined by either player.

Celebrity guest

An initial hand of four cards is dealt to each player. A turn consists of executing one of four actions. The actions allow you to do one of the following: secretly allocate one card to its associated geisha; discard two cards, unseen by your opponent; create two face-up pairs of cards from your hand and let your opponent choose one, after which all are assigned to their geishas; and lay three cards face up and let your opponent choose one, again assigning all to their geishas after the choice is made. Actions are only performed once per round, and you draw to replace the just-played (or discarded) cards.

After all actions have been played by both players, the secret cards are revealed and control of geishas is determined. If you 'win' a neutral geisha, you now control it, but in later rounds if you win one of your opponent's geishas, it moves from his control to neutral. More rounds are played until a player either controls four geishas or eleven points worth of geishas - if both happen simultaneously the latter wins.

All very tasteful

I was a little lost in the first round of the first game, but recovered in time to identify the winning move by the third round. Unfortunately, I then did exactly the opposite and handed the game to Milton. Our second game was a neat knife fight where we again contested several geishas through two rounds before I captured a win in the third.

This is a fast-playing but very thinky game. My opinion of Battle Line is heavily colored by the fact I suck at it, but I think I like Hanamikoji a little better. I found the action choices confusing at first, then obvious, and finally complex. I do think the viable decision set rapidly narrows after the first round, with only the unknown discard shaking things up. Prior to that you should face a few challenging dilemmas, however, and the whole thing resolves quickly enough that a best-of-five set should make for a nice filler.

Next up, I introduced Milton to 1750: Britain vs. France. This game is unusual enough that my one-game experience advantage proved decisive, but we had a lot of fun with it. My French were driven out of North America by Milton's German mercenaries and local riff-raff, led first by a young George Washington and then by the tragically fated Wolfe. Despite killing the latter in battle, I was thrown off the continent. However, I more than made up for it with gains in Africa and India, and Milton's diplomatic efforts weren't enough to close the gap.

George II hires some Hessians

I really like 1750 but I am a long way from mastering it. It has wargame elements, a strong economic/resource management component, and a bit of cardplay, all driven by a combination of novel and familiar mechanics. I only have a couple quibbles - it ends too quickly, and for such a short game the footprint is massive. This is FFG-level bit spew, almost more than a card table can handle. However, the art is beautiful and despite the chaos it still looks great. The random events and secret victory conditions extend replayability, and I look forward to several more sessions.

Steamrolling New France
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Fri Nov 3, 2017 6:43 pm
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AAR 10 October 2017 - A Handful of Stars, Magic: the Gathering - Ixalan

J. R. Tracy
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We had seven players after ASLOK for some space conquest and a little Magic.

Galactic interplay

Bill, Dave, and Renaud settled in for another session of A Handful of Stars. Renaud's Technoids established an early lead with a pattern of colonization and development, expanding through alien systems without directly lifting any territory off the other players. Dave worked hard to reel him in, with several large battles resulting.

The Bilderberg Group

Dave's hard work paid off with the capture of a couple systems, which slowed Renaud's roll and allowed Bill to briefly seize the lead. However, Renaud played a card for VPs to jump back out in front. Bill needed to conquer a Technoid colony on his last turn, but failed; the battle forced reshuffles for both Bill and Renaud, ending the game with a win for the latter. Good fun for all, as familiarity smoothes out the rules wrinkles.

Starry night

Mitch proposed a sealed deck mini no-stakes tournament with the new Magic release, Ixalan. This set has a vaguely Meso-American theme with jungle creatures, vampire conquistadors, dinosaurs, mermen, and more. Jim, Smitch, and I each received a deck from Mitch along with a handy construction tip sheet, and spent a few minutes building our decks.

I went with a vampire-dinosaur pairing, with low-cost fighters from the vampire (oddly mostly white) cards supporting the heavy hitting dinos (mostly green, as you'd expect). I added a few artifacts that complemented the combat cards and of course enough mana to get my troops into action.

I paired up with Smitch first. We enjoyed three very tight games, as his red/black/blue pirate mermen deftly turned aside my big beasts and outpointed my light troops. His MVP was the Contract Killing card, which kept picking off my high-value critters as soon as they were deployed. He was down to a single life point when he won the first game, and under five in the second. I somehow outlasted him in the third, after tweaking some of my artifact choices (it pays to read the cards closely).

Remorseless merman

We rotated and I then faced Mitch. This time everything went my way over the course of a couple games, as Mitch had terrible card flow and never seemed to have an answer for my flyers. By the time he built an aerial defense, I had enough mana to deploy the dinosaurs, which often have mutually enhancing characteristics. The combos proved unstoppable. I think with some adjustments Mitch could have countered my powers but he insisted on playing the same deck as a handicap for his massive experience advantage.

I had a great time re-learning the game - I was impressed with how well it continues to hold up. I love the deck-building metagame and it was fun trying my own creation against a couple others on the fly. M:tG will never be my main game but I understand how you can disappear down the rabbit hole. Fortunately Mitch has already surrendered his mind and fortune to Magic, so the rest of us don't have to. Between the enormous card inventory and the thriving community, it is an immersive and rewarding hobby unto itself.
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Thu Nov 2, 2017 3:42 am
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AAR 26 September 2017 - Advanced Squad Leader, Arquebus, Fire in the Lake, A Study in Emerald

J. R. Tracy
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We closed September with a dozen players for a land war in Asia, Chthulhoid madness, renaissance conflict, and rock 'em sock 'em WWII action.

Jon Kay was in town, and joined Dave, Smitch, and Campoverdi for Fire in the Lake. Jon took the US with Dave as the shifty ARVN, while Campo donned his black footie pajamas alongside Smitch's NVA on the Communist side.

Jon emphasizes the 'destroy' portion of 'Search and Destroy'

Jon opened the game with a pair of powerful cards, Arc Strike and Search and Destroy. Campo drew the bulk of Free World firepower as he threw himself on the wire for his northern comrades. Relatively unchecked, Smitch's NVA grew relentlessly and captured a win before Dave and Jon could shift their focus. We have a grip on the mechanics of the game, but the finer points of counterbalancing the various faction strengths are still undeveloped - much yet to explore here.

Commitment

Mitch, Baron von Schulte, Sean, and Herr Fuchs visited an alternative Victorian world to battle in the shadows of A Study in Emerald (first edition). Sean and Rich were both Restorationists, but Sean mimicked Loyalist behavior to keep the opposition off balance. However, the real story was Mitch getting the zombie train out of the station. For the first time ever in our many sessions of ASiE, we saw the Zombies card played for a game-ending win! Kudos to Mitch, and all hail our malevolent overlords.

They need to work on their disguises

Natus and Scott popped the shrink on the new Arquebus, the latest title in the Men of Iron series. They lined up for Agnadello, a 1509 battle of the Italian Wars. The French have just invaded Venetian territory, and the Most Serene Republic has hired a batch of mercenaries to meet the threat. Natus took the Venetians while Scott commanded the French.

The French engage

Nate's troops begin the game defending light fieldworks, but Scott's artillery hammered the Venetian right flank. His sword and buckler men quickly followed up, breaching the line and pushing the defenders back in disarray.

"...third, you forgot my birthday, fourth..."

With the Venetian defense compromised, Scott burned an activation to bring on Tremoille's reinforcements rather than consolidate his gains. Natus took advantage of the pause to hit Scott's left with his reserve cavalry, putting them to flight and regaining his original line. Scott replied with his own cavalry, tearing into the Venetian left with his formidable pikemen in support.

The Venetians form for a counterblow

Both players were approaching their Flight numbers, the point at which accumulated casualties break an army's morale. The French limit was higher but Scott's losses on the left put him closer to his break point. Once within nine points of the limit, a commander must roll a d10 with each successive loss; if the sum of current losses plus the die roll exceeds the Flight threshold, the force flees the battlefield. The Venetians had lost tactical cohesion, with their once-continuous line reduced to desperate pockets of resistance. Scott's gendarmes took a hit on an attack, forcing a Flight roll - only a nine would send the Valois monarch home. Sadly for Scott but to the everlasting glory of Venice, he rolled that very number and the French fell back on Milan to reflect on recent life choices.

Trémoille sweeps on

I love the Italian Wars, and have played many of the actions in a miniatures format. I'm looking forward to trying Arquebus, and will likely make use of Scott's house rules that take the edge off the more egregious elements of the activation system. Give him a ping if you'd like to try them yourself. The module looks great, and they had a blast with a dynamic back-and-forth battle. With seven more actions in the box, it should prove to be good value for fans of the topic.

The breaking point

Hawkeye and I got in a little ASL with Takin' Eibertingen from Dispatches from the Bunker. This is a January '45 action from the American counteroffensive to reduce the Bulge. Hawkeye's dogfaces had to clear my shaky Fallschirmjägers from the board 12 town. I had a mix of 548s, 447s, and 436s, about right for a late-war FJ formation, plus an immobilized StuG. The StuG set up like a HIP gun by SSR, essentially functioning as an armored pillbox. Hawkeye had a Kellogg's Variety Pack too - 667s, 666s, and 546s, with a pair each of MMGs and Baz '45s. The latter hurt my feelings a bit as my poor lads were suffering under the 1944 Panzerfaust rules, again by SSR. Hawkeye also had two M4A3s with an armor leader, and his infantry was led by a heroic 9-2. To win, I had to have good order infantry capable of applying five FP to a hex in the center of town, or inflict 20 CVP of casualties on the Americans.

Hawkeye steps off

I concentrated my infantry in the main part of town, with a real picket on my right and a pair of dummies in the center. The HIP StuG lurked in N10, commanding the center of the board but vulnerable to a bazooka shot from L10. I was willing to accept that risk, figuring it should at least bag a Sherman before going down.

Hawkeye split his infantry roughly equally between left and right, with each force supported by a Sherman. His infantry started the game CX, limiting his opening move. Things did not go well for the GIs in the early going, as a sneaky LOS from my upstairs MMG caught the 9-2 leading a platoon through open ground on the American left. All three squads broke and the 9-2 came up limping. On the right, my StuG nailed a Sherman as it approached the gully, so I was now playing with house money in the armor battle. However, the rest of Hawkeye's troops moved up in good order.

It died doing what it loved best

Midgame, Hawkeye used the gully on his right to approach the town, with a bazooka team popping up into L10 just as I feared. Soon my assault gun was burning and my infantry started to feel the pressure. However, American casualties were mounting, with the CVP climbing into the mid-teens. I pulled my troops back to the rear edge of the main buildings, where they could still see the target hex without taking direct fire. Hawkeye still had a shot, though, as the VCs required *good order* Germans - if he could lock me up in Melee he could still pull out the win.

Casualties mount

I had three positions remaining. The surviving Sherman swept into bypass of one, tying it up to allow his infantry to run adjacent to a second, where they survived defensive fire and were poised to advance into close combat. The third position was tricky, however, as it was in the marketplace and could not be approached without taking shots in open ground. Getting adjacent wouldn't be the problem - doing so without hitting the CVP cap was the issue. One squad made it, but a second was cut down by the defenders. That was enough to trigger the cap for a German victory.

On the cusp

This is a nice compact combined arms scenario. The German defense is static but they have timing issues on when to give ground and when to take some risks to inflict casualties. The Americans have to get the most out a force of predominantly six morale troops. The 9-2 is fragile given his heroic state, and the Shermans as always are very vulnerable to both the StuG and the German infantry. Aside from the opening move, Hawkeye had a solid game, and got to try some end-game shenanigans for the first time. Good fun, and a nice prep for ASLOK.
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Mon Oct 16, 2017 5:28 pm
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AAR 19 September 2017 - Terraforming Mars, Command & Colors Tricorne, Days of Ire, Cold War: CIA vs KGB

J. R. Tracy
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We had ten gamers for some terraforming, revolution, and espionage.

Renaud and Natus paired off for Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution, choosing the Guilford Courthouse scenario. The Redcoats start off near their own baseline while the Continentals are closer to midmap.

Cornwallis consults the tome

Renaud moved forward aggressively, reversing the initial deployment as he pushed Nate back up to *his* backline. Steady pressure and a barrage of retreat results chewed up the Continentals, granting Renaud a flag with each unit melted by the board edge. This proved enough to overcome Nate's initial lead, as Renaud led the oppressors to victory, 10-6.

Revolution in retrograde

Dave, Mark, Hawkeye, NewSteve, and I found ourselves on the now-familiar surface of Mars, hell-bent on making it suitable for human habitation.

Draftmaster Flash

I was the Helion Corporation and enjoyed a flow of cards that challenged my expert-level ability to screw up a sure thing. My initial hand allowed me to bump my Terraforming rating two clicks right off the bat with cheap cards, and rope in the 40 credit asteroid on the second turn. I increased my titanium production to five units per generation, and deployed a technology that increased the value of my minerals. The net result was I was roping in every space card I could draft, and I had the added bonus of seeing a friendly progression of science cards for the first time in over a dozen games of TM.

Craterfront real estate

I typically trash science cards as so many of the good ones have a prerequisite of multiple science tags - it's a chicken/egg situation and I usually have neither chickens nor eggs. This time, however, I saw a very friendly flow, with cheap no-prereq cards appearing early and heavier cards showing up as the game wore on. I kept all but the Rover in my hand lest folks stop passing them in the draft. Ultimately I had a fistful, and with my monster cash flow I had no problem laying them all down over the course of two generations for eleven science tags total. That sealed the Science award, and I already had the Terraforming and Builder milestones in hand. To add insult to injury I finally found life with the Rover, breaking my 0-37 streak. This all added up to 90 points by game end. The race for second was much closer, with NewSteve edging Mark 61-59 and fifth place coming in at a very close 55.

I blinded them with science

Scott, Amy, and Bill tried Days of Ire: Budapest 1956, seeking to overthrown their Soviet masters. This is a cooperative game, but I understand you can also have the regime run by a player if you wish. They succeeded in 'winning', though apparently that amounts to extending the uprising rather than a truly successful revolution. Still, it looks very interesting and has some great art.

Ruszkik haza!

With Bill's departure, Amy and Scott closed the evening with Cold War: CIA vs KGB. This is a card-driven game of espionage. Players compete for various objectives, deploying their agents and recruiting local assets to gain ascendancy. Amy sat in Moscow Centre as the puppet master of the Soviet shadow war, and dealt Scott a thrashing. This sat on the shelf for years and I'm glad to finally see it in action - looks like a nice wrap for a night of gaming.

Spy vs Spy
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Wed Oct 11, 2017 6:16 pm
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AAR 13 September 2017 - A Handful of Stars, MBT, Leaving Earth, Sticky Chameleons, NMBR 9

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We had ten players for some wargaming, star-faring, and more on a rare Wednesday game night.

Having played a couple weeks ago, Renaud and Mitch introduced A Handful of Stars to Bill and Dr. Rob. With four players, factions were quickly bumping into each other so we saw a little more conflict. Renaud, as the aggressive Storbots, went after his neighbors with heavy missile fire. This paid off in victory points and a rapid cycling of his deck, advancing the game clock. Renaud ultimately cycled his way to a win. The game was generally well received, but some concern has emerged with respect to deck cycling strategies. Renaud's approach wasn't excessive but a recent session report illustrates an extreme example that is either a rare anomaly or an edge case in need of a patch.

Reaching for a bigger handful

Rich and Jim paired up for the GMT edition of MBT, playing the intro T72-vs-M60A1 scenario. Rich took the Reds, and traded shots with Jim mid-map. They used the basic rules so it was just a hardware slugfest. When they called it, the VP locations were still up for grabs but Jim had the edge in kills.

Meeting engagement

Dan VIII rode his warbear into the city to join us, with Leaving Earth as his first choice. Hawkeye, Scott, and I joined him, using Dan's Zazzle map.

I was told there would be no math

I had the Chinese and proceeded to massively overengineer my missions by somehow double-counting my payload every step of the way. Fortunately there was a brisk market in researched technologies so I had access to heavy rockets early. I successfully completed two Mercury missions, and thanks to a tip from Scott I landed a probe on Venus, enough to seal a win.

What lurks within the Muldoonian mind

Poor Scott was burdened with an extra payload all game, acting as the living rulebook and technical advisor for the rest of the table. Despite having played it a few times now, we were all a little at sea. Fun game, with the potential for serial solitaire overthrown by the competition for missions and the technological horse trading.

Venus-bound

Next up, Scott, Hawkeye, and I looked on with trepidation as Dan VIII pulled Sticky Chameleons from his Great Bag of Holding. Each player has an elastic sticky 'tongue'. A pair of dice are rolled to determine the color and type of bug for the round, and then everyone starts snapping their tongues at a pile of insect tiles until someone retrieves the target. Dan has a knack for discovering titles that at first blush seem utterly ridiculous but in fact contain a nugget of gaming joy beneath an absurd veneer. In this case, however, appearances were not deceiving - Sticky Chameleons is nonsense to the core. I have a high tolerance for dexterity games but this one failed to clear even my low bar. After ten minutes of chaos Scott and Hawkeye decided they'd rather face the late-night denizens of the N train than endure another round. Back to the loch with you, Nessie.

Um, yeah

Chastised and in search of redemption, Dan next retrieved NMBR 9. This is a tile placement puzzle game. Each turn a card is flipped to reveal a number from zero to nine - players grab a tile with the corresponding value and add it to their tableaux. Tiles must be flush against another on the same level or cover other tiles with no space beneath. There is a wide variety of shapes so plotting your placement is tricky. Your score is the sum of each tile multiplied by its placement level. Dan mastered the nuances well before I did, smoking me by 28 points - he had his tiles three deep while I struggled to stack any at all. Despite totally sucking at it, I really enjoyed the game. It should scale nicely (it takes up to four players) and the spatial puzzle nature is a great brain rinse after an evening of rocket surgery and insect hunting.

Numerology
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Tue Oct 3, 2017 2:12 pm
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AAR 5 September 2017 - Serbien muß Sterbien, Ars Victor, Evolution: Climate, Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne

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We opened September with eight players for euros and wargaming.

Stéphane continues to avenge the Archduke in Serbien muß Sterbien. The Montenegrins have been annihilated and that front appears to be wide open. However, the road net, such as it is, does the Austrians no favors and the terrain should keep them at bay.

Last of their kind

Down on the plains, momentum is shifting the other way. The rumblings of the Russian Galicia offensive forced the withdrawal of two AH divisions to defend Lemberg. Smitch took advantage of the thinned lines and launched an attack of his own across the Sava, pushing the Austrians back 25km in spots.

Striking back

On the Drina front, Stéphane's drive is stalling as his troops reach the limit of his supply trains. With terrain now limiting action on two axes, Austrian efforts will shift to throwing back the sassy Serbs along the Sava, recovering lost territory and perhaps pressing on for gains of their own. Great fun so far for both players.

One more valley

Jim and Scott paired up for Ars Victor, choosing a basic scenario. The objectives were in the center of the map so could not be seized without exposing units to fire. Both players inflicted roughly equal damage, but Scott was able to concentrate his hits to the point of eliminating his targets, while Jim's damage was more widely distributed. This left Scott with more maneuver units, an advantage he leveraged into a win. Neat little game with a very simple but effective command and control overlay.

Searching for a solution

Renaud brought a bagful of games, pulling out Evolution: Climate to start the evening. I joined him along with Mitch and Bill. Players compete to develop the most successful species, customizing them with up to four genetic traits and tweaking their size and herd strength to adapt to climate change and predatory threats. Victory points are scored for food consumed over the course of the game and the number of traits you have in play at game end.

Elusive prey

I was off to a good start with an intelligent hard shell pack hunter, but didn't see another good trait card for a while. Renaud and Bill made good use of fatty tissue and complementary defensive traits to build out their herds. Mitch, however, had terrible luck, with two different species driven to extinction on the turn of their creation.

I enjoyed the view from the top of the food chain, but as the sole meat-eater I was the only player trying to limit the food supply at the watering hole. We saw no shortages over the course of the game, and our temperature never wandered more than one space from moderate. Bill and Renaud built three critters each, with big herds. My only hope was consuming one into oblivion, but my appetite was sated before I could drive a population down to zero. On the final turn, Renaud filled out his remaining genetic slots, edging Bill 69 to 66, while I finished a distant third with 51. Clever and fun, but also an odd session due to the predator/herbivore imbalance and a static climate.

Lord of the savannah

Next we tried Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne, a card game based on everyone's favorite series about human stories set in a fantasy world. Each player represents a great house of Westeros, selecting one character to lead the house while four more fight for your cause.

Each character starts with four power tokens (crowns) and each power has four more in reserve. On your turn, a card is drawn which determines your opponent in an 'encounter'. Other players may declare for either side. Once sides are determined, you nominate a character to lead your house in battle - your strength is the sum of the power of your character and that of your allies, if any, plus the value of a card played from your hand.

What is dead may never die

Either player may play a truce card - if one does and the other doesn't, the non-truce player wins by treachery but the loser gains some benefit. If both players play a truce, they may each benefit if they agree to terms from a set menu of options. If it's a straight up fight, a winning attacker (active player) places an influence token on the defending house, but a winning defender just gets some card draws and may move some power around. Losing characters must move half their power (rounded up) to their reserve - when a character hits zero power he's dead and out of the game. The game ends when one player has either distributed all five of his influence tokens, or has lost all his characters. Victory goes to the player with the most tokens distributed, and ties are possible.

I was House Greyjoy, with Balon running the show. Sexy Euron carried my banner as I won my first three or four encounters. Unfortunately, only a couple were on my own turn so I had just two tokens out amongst my opponents. I was also burning out my deck, using my two highest cards defending against attacks. Renaud as House Lannister and Mitch as Baratheon were much craftier, saving their heavy cards for their own turns. Power was scarce around the table as Mitch's Red Witch banished dead crowns to oblivion rather than to reserve. Mitch and Renaud scratched their way into the lead with four tokens out, but I caught up getting two more out myself. Lannister and Baratheon then faced off in a final battle, fashioning a truce for a shared victory. Personally I wouldn't trust either and am off to Winterfell to plot rebellion with Bill.

Aiding the Starks

I found this to be a very interesting trick-taking game but a little thin thematically. Renaud feels the character powers convey the subject matter, and I agree they are true to the source, but I find the game construct itself too abstract to really map onto anything related to the books or show. The shifting alliances from trick to trick are the exception. We played with the Allies expansion, which was my favorite part - these are extra one-use characters with very powerful (and often very specific) rule-warping abilities. As with the main characters, the theming here is strong. Overall, a very enjoyable card game, but for me, not really a Game of Thrones game. Renaud disagrees, so there is some hope for you if you're looking for both in a single package.
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Fri Sep 29, 2017 9:37 pm
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AAR 29 August 2017 - Command & Colors Tricorne, Handful of Stars, Terraforming Mars, Silver Bayonet

J. R. Tracy
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We closed August with eleven players for wargaming, a recurring favorite, and a new title.

Mark and Baron von Schulte matched up for the new edition of Silver Bayonet. They tried the small LZ X-Ray scenario (Into the Valley), which includes the map of the playing area right on the scenario card.

Some day this war's gonna end

They played two games, switching sides. Mark commanded the Americans in the first game, bunkering down on the eponymous LZ to hold on for the win. Rich tried a different tack as the US, counterattacking against the PAVN HQ. He struck between the prongs of the flanking attackers, tying up the HQ and hamstringing NVA operations.

Hot LZ

Both players really enjoyed it (Mark had already played it twice earlier in the day!) and the presentation is terrific. The new edition includes four mini-scenarios, a few medium-sized cards, and some campaign scenarios that integrate rules for helicopters, hidden movement, and more. It's certainly worth a look if you have the original game. The range of size options assures we'll see this again soon.

Hitting the HQ

Renaud and Mitch popped the shrink on A Handful of Stars, Martin Wallace's latest. This is a deck-builder based on A Few Acres of Snow, with further refinements. Neither had played AFAoS, so there was a lot of learning in the early going. Starting setups are random, and neutral space is seeded with aliens of various strength, so it took some time for their two cultures to make contact. They did manage to knock heads a bit before the evening drew to a close with the outcome still in doubt. There's enough here to warrant further investigation - with several experienced AFAoS hands in the house we should be able to assemble a full table.

Starry night

Bill, Campoverdi, Scott, Smitch, and Dave opted for Terraforming Mars, with Dave taking the win without placing a single tile on the surface! Pets generated his biggest haul, with a whopping nine points thanks to a convoy full of chihuahuas and some good card synergies. His 61 points comfortably edged Campo's 54. Campo, however, was burdened with the +/- corporation, one of the weakest in my opinion, so I reckon he did well to finish as close as he did.

Mars needs guitars

Herr Fuchs and I paired up for the new Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution, which takes Richard Borg's system to the War of Independence. Sadly I was unable to hornswoggle someone into stickering my blocks, so I had to perform the tedious task myself. No major accidents for a change, but a few German regulars apparently have English tailors.

Hammering the Scots

The chassis remains familiar to fans of the Commands & Colors series, but Tricorne adds the combat cards first seen in The Great War. These supplement your attacks, boost movement, allow recovery of casualties, and so on. Also, retreating units must now make a rally check, failure of which removes the unit entirely. Combat is therefore more lethal, reflecting the fragility of the irregular formations.

Don't tread on me!

Since we were just a couple days removed from the anniversary, we chose two scenarios representing the 1776 Battle of Long Island. We first fought Grant's Attack, a pinning action that held Washington's main force in place while the British flanking movement developed. David had the oppressors to my patriots. In addition to banners for casualties, some geographic objectives were in play, including the 'Correlyou' House (should be Cortelyou) in the center and Battle Hill on the British right (worth two banners to David, one to me). David also got a banner for capturing the road exit hex on the American board edge.

Timely play

David attacked on both flanks, quickly getting atop Battle Hill on my left but running into a buzzsaw on my right. Defending with just a militia unit and some provincials, I saw off the first attack, with a full unit of Redcoats running back to Staten Island upon failing their rally check after a retreat.

I peppered Battle Hill with rifle and artillery fire while my provincials on that flank massed for a counterattack. We traded casualties but I had the fire support that David lacked, and his regulars slowly melted away. On my right, my militia proved stalwart, eliminating a second unit of regulars in melee. We were both a couple banners from victory, but David's force on Battle Hill was in bad shape, with a couple units down to a block apiece. A final push by my provincials, supported by a rifle unit, eliminated two more units and carried the upstarts to victory.

Between a rock and a hard place

The second scenario covered Clinton's flank march. In the first scenario the British were almost entirely regulars, with a sole Highlander unit and some artillery for variety. For the flanking action, however, they enjoyed light troops, grenadiers, some Guards, more Highlanders, light cavalry, and a balanced batch of Hessians with lights, grenadiers, artillery, and regulars of their own. The Americans had another patchwork collection of provincials, riflemen, and militia, with no regulars to be seen. This time I took the British to David's Continentals.

No sleep till Brooklyn

The action opens with some British regulars and the Hessians facing the front of the American position, while the flanking force encroaches behind their left flank. The Americans enjoy good defensive terrain but have a terrible position overall. A couple Line Command cards granted me massive activations to open the game, and soon the defenders were under pressure from front and rear. My flanking force had a modified retreat route, allowing them to fall back obliquely, but the defenders had no such adjustment, and "retreated" right onto the bayonets of Clinton's troops. David's commander on his left was the sole survivor, cutting his way through a unit of Guards to freedom.

David fought gamely, battering my Hessians, but my German grenadiers proved their worth and closed to punish the defending riflemen. A full unit of British cavalry fled the battle, but otherwise I had all the good fortune. Compromised retreat paths sealed the Americans' fate, and well timed combat cards and line commands sped the process. David's left wing commander was the sole survivor on that flank, cutting his way through a unit of Guards to freedom. This scenario begs to be played twice. We learned a lot the first time through, and feel the Americans have to extricate themselves from the jaws of the trap before considering offensive action.

The great escape

We had a great time with Tricorne. I'm not fond of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics so I was not very optimistic going in, but between the rally test and the combat cards, this has a very fresh feel. Both add some thematic color and seem to encourage offensive action. The rally test adds an extra dollop of chaos - we both saw full units depart the field, David whiffing on a six-dice roll at one point. Our only concern is finding scenario-worthy situations. I expect we'll see the French and Indians added in a future expansion, and given the loose scaling of the series I'm sure they'll be able to scrape up enough actions to fill another expansion or two. Overall, a very satisfying night of gaming, with more to follow.
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Thu Sep 14, 2017 5:07 pm
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AAR 22 August 2017 - Angola!, Terraforming Mars, 1914: Serbien Muß Sterbien, Blood Rage

J. R. Tracy
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We packed in fourteen gamers for terraforming, WWI, blood raging, and war by proxy.

Hawkeye, Mike, Mark, Mitch, and Bill headed off to terraform Mars once again. The table foolishly allowed Mitch to run the Eco corporation, and the Jolly Green Giant predictably stomped his way to another victory. It was a very competitive game, with Mitch coming in at 58 and Hawkeye taking second with 53, while fifth and last checked in at 49.

Bumper to bumper across the finish line

Renaud chaired another session of Blood Rage with Scott and Dr. Rob. Rob had a sweet setup allowing him to pillage already pillaged spaces, and scored a bundle sinking his own ships as well. However, Renaud once again mounted a ferocious charge in the third age, collecting a whopping 100 points! Impressive, but not enough to pass our resident theologian, who was able to hang on for the win.

Ragers

Stéphane and Smitch continued with Serbien Muß Sterbien. The frequency and force of the Austro-Hungarian hammer blows have diminished, but Stéphane continues to push the Serbs back. It is now a question of supply management as Stéphane rearranges his supply heads for a strong push before Smitch can establish a cohesive defense. This is a handsome game, and despite its reputation for complexity they seem to be humming along without many issues.

Holding the Sava line

Natus, Campoverdi, Jim, and I set off for central Africa with Angola. Natus and Jim paired up with the FNLA and UNITA respectively, while my MPLA partnered with Campo's FAPLA. We worked hard for a socialist future, winning the first three turns, but in the process blue and green picked up a fistful of major units. We also screwed up a couple foreign aid bids, handing back a couple victory points for little gain.

Run through the jungle

In the midgame Jim and Nate began to roll, helped by the mercenaries and elite armor support. Jim secured Nova Lisboa and recaptured Benguela, while Natus launched a counteroffensive against Campo's early gains along the north coast. We held the east and the center, but struggled against the main enemy columns which always had an edge in die roll mods.

Work to do

Things went pear-shaped with the fall of Cabinda - that in itself was no surprise, but it came a little early and the extra green units fueled an FNLA drive down the Carmona-Lucala road. Campo was facing pressure from UNITA in the south, so I gambled and launched an attack north from Luanda. I was confident I'd do some serious damage with heavy air support and a spearhead of three tank units and a pair of armored cars. Unfortunately, a firestorm of antitank missiles utterly annihilated my armor and I suddenly wondered if I could even hold the capital. We surrendered three or four heads and ended turn seven down three VPs. Sadly we had to call it at that point, reckoning it a likely FNLA/UNITA victory.

Tag-teaming Nova Lisboa

Angola is always a hoot and this was no different. Afterward Campo thought we needed to gang up on one of the two western factions in the early going. We did pound Nate initially but let up after a turn and spread the love. In retrospect I think Campo's right. Now that we have some experience, we should be able to finish next time out. There's no telling how the endgame may play out given foreign aid, major units, and all the crazy games you can play when constructing your turn. I hope we can put our lessons to good use some time soon!

Shattered remnants
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Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:33 pm
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AAR 15 August 2017 - 1914: Serbien Muß Sterbien, Blood Rage, Fate of the Elder Gods, Up Front, Roll for the Galaxy

J. R. Tracy
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We had twelve gamers for World Wars I and II, some mythology, and dice-driven engine-building.

Smitch and Stéphane have enjoyed a few sessions with Der Weltkrieg Series but opted for a different take on the Great War this week. They headed for the Balkans with Michael Resch's 1914: Serbien muß Sterbien. Smitch took the Serbs to Stéphane's vengeful Austro-Hungarians.

Some damned foolish thing

Stéphane has the firepower and the troop strength, but the Serbs enjoy excellent defensive terrain. The border regions proved difficult to penetrate, and after two turns of action Stéphane has only a single VP town to his credit. However, he's applying pressure all along the line, and at this point his supply situation is proving as difficult an adversary as the Serbs. This will take a few sessions to complete so we'll see more of this in weeks to come.

Punitive expedition

Scott and Hawkeye paired off for Up Front, with Hawkeye's British on the attack against Scott's French. They decided to boost the French chances a bit by making them elite, improving their hand flexibility. They played The Infantry's Iron Fist, with Hawkeye's "iron" fist consisting of a more tin-like Universal Carrier. He gamely assaulted Scott's Legionnaires, dug in on a hilltop. The fire support from the Carrier wasn't enough to disrupt Scott's firegroups, so Hawkeye's Tommies struggled to close the distance. The third deck expired with the British still short of their goal, for a French victory.

Once and future friends

Campoverdi, Dr. Rob, Mitch, and Jim tried the new Fate of the Elder Robs, with each player leading the mortal cultists of a particular Great Old One or Outer God. Campo favored Azathoth, Dr. Rob represented Atlach-Nacha, Mitch worshipped Yog-Sothoth, and Jim pressed the concerns of Nyarlathotep in a professional, business-like manner. Gameplay appears to have elements of worker placement and area majority as players compete to be the first to summon their deity to Earth. Campo triumphed when his blind idiot god appeared as a harbinger of better days to come.

Cultivating cultists

Our Blood Rage mania continued, with Renaud, Bill, the Baron, and myself competing. I got off to a fast start, pumping my Rage up three clicks on the first turn. However, crafty card play eroded my advantage as I seemed to leak rage points with every combat.

Renaud reaches for rage

We combined for an impressive menagerie as the game wore on - the Baron had the sea serpent and the floss giant, Renaud had the mystic troll, Bill collected the dark elf, and I recruited Fenrir. However, I made a couple bone-headed mistakes that cost me quests, as I misread region names or failed to notice a gigantic sea snake just offshore. Boardplay aside, I still advanced all three of my stats, which provided the bulk of my glory points. Renaud put us away decisively in the third age with his patented endgame atomic leg drop. He finished with a total of 136 points, and in the battle for second place Bill and I tied at 108, with the Baron just behind at 104. Great game, but I need to play it again soon while the gambits remain fresh in my mind.

Loki draws a crowd

Hawkeye, Bill, Scott, and I wrapped up the evening with Roll for the Galaxy. I built a lovely novelty-good engine, with three planets cranking out vuvuzelas and fidget spinners and shipping them to market. However, Scott had a good development/settlement engine of his own, so we had a great race to the finish line. Unfortunately I needed one more crank of the handle, and my pile of VP chits couldn't overcome Scott's impressive collection of tiles, as he edged me 39-34.
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Wed Sep 6, 2017 2:50 pm
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