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J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers closing out January with some Kickstarter fun and a host of wargaming, some very old school indeed.
Campoverdi broke out The Others and ran the sinful side against Baron von Schulte, Smitch, Jim, and Maynard. They picked the Haven's Last Stand story with Campo lazily selecting Sloth with a bevy of Corrupted Nuns for acolytes. The heroes had to complete a set number of missions before they were all consumed by corruption.
A rules misinterpretation set the heroes back in the early going, as they inadvertently reset their first mission a couple times before moving on to the next. Corruption accumulated steadily (it fuels some of the most useful hero capabilities) but they ground their way through everything CampoSloth could throw at them. Finally Smitch's hero confronted a Nate-like abomination - they had no heroes left in the bullpen and Smitch's loss would end the game in a victory for sin. Smitch slew the abomination but sadly succumbed in the process. This was enjoyed by all - I can't say how it compares to other offerings in the Boss vs Hero Party field but they were happy to try it again down the road.
The wages of sin
Jim and Bill wrapped up 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany with some fierce back and forth campaigning. Bill's Prussia invaded Bavaria and swept through the kingdom all the way to Munich. This helped relieve pressure on the Italian front, as Albrecht backed off a touch given his uncertain lines of communication. Jim counterpunched in Silesia, flagging spaces and forcing Bill to split off troops to contain the threat.
Putting the boot to Bavaria
The Bavarian adventure proved unsustainable as the Austrians concentrated along the Elbe. Bill pulled back, pivoting to meet Jim in Saxony. He drove Jim back but was in turn stymied before Prague. As the hour grew late they called the game with Austria holding a two VP lead. I think they really enjoyed the game - no surprises rules-wise as it builds on proven ideas from the likes of Hannibal: RvC and PoG. I wondered if the thinnish (55 card) shared deck might make for a dull game but they said it wasn't an issue as the multi-front action gave them plenty of options. I will try this myself in a couple weeks - looking forward to it.
The Battle of Prague
Hawkeye and Scott returned to ASL and With Friends Like These, as Hawkeye's GIs closed on Scott's Vichy battery. Hawkeye's dogfaces were having a hard time of it, with the lack of cover and rally terrain leaving a good chunk of his infantry discombobulated and out of action. His armor crews weren't doing a lot better, either catching 105mm shells or putting their own rounds in backwards.
Headed back to the depot
With his right pincer snipped, Hawkeye turned to his left, led by the SSR-granted hero, Colonel Wilbur. They clawed their way within spitting distance of the buildings anchoring that flank. Unfortunately, they were well stuffed with Vichy, complete with leadership and support weapons. With his force melting away and the clock ticking, Hawkeye pulled the plug. This is a deceptively advanced scenario - the terrain SSRs, the unique victory conditions, and the troop mix combine to create enough snags to trip up players in unexpected ways. I think if they revisit this card down the road it will play out much differently.
A more promising proposition
Mark was in the mood for some throwback gaming, so we pulled down the original Krieg!, choosing a Barbarossa scenario developed by Alan Emrich for tournament play. I took the Soviets to Mark's Germans, loathe though he is to play the Nazi menace. The scenario structure presumes most of Germany's cardplay takes place 'off-map', with Germany granted forces and replacements according to a fixed schedule. He does open with the Barbarossa card, however, and all its blitzy goodness. It's assumed the Soviets have played cards 1-7, and start with 8 'pending', and Emergency Mobilization automatically occurs on the first turn of the scenario. The Germans accumulate VPs normally in the east and add them to historical achievements in the west and North Africa.
Ready for Russia
It has been nearly twenty years since I last played Krieg!, but I did at least recall that a poorly constructed defense in depth can get you rolled up in a hurry (retreating units carry along anyone they retreat through). I had a lot of freedom of setup as the Reds but I tried to avoid any avalanche-retreat traps while striking a balance between terrain and sheer mass to hold back the fascist tide. The open expanses in the south made me nervous, while I had successive river lines in the north and center. Therefore, I gave the southern third of my defense one of my two precious HQs and maybe a couple more infantry armies than the region really needed.
Army Group North on the move
Mark's attack was a thing of beauty. He did a great job optimizing the double-attack advantage of blitz turns, annihilating the Western Military District in the opening hours of the campaign. My Baltic defenders fled in terror to the next river line, and I rushed troops north to fill the gaping hole in the center. However, on the second turn he repeated the feat and added another fistful of dead Soviet infantry to my 'available' pile. My faith in river bonuses proved ill-founded. More troubling, however, was the fate of my armor assets, which were booted five and six turns down the turn track thanks to less-than-stellar Delay rolls. The one piece of good news was the Soviet mobilization schedule - every season saw a fresh horde appear, ready to greet the Nazi spearheads.
Strong in the south
Winter slowed the German pace, but I was still well short of the bodies I needed to meet every threatened axis of advance. Army Group North was in striking distance of Moscow, so I maxed out the capital's defense and protected the flanks with cav and Shock Armies. Leningrad was close to a lost cause at this point, with the Finns cutting off reinforcement paths and German infantry on the doorstep of the Hermitage. The Luftwaffe had been a critical element of German success, but each use of an air support unit consigned it to the Delay track. Mark wisely held one air unit back, however, for just this sort of opportunity. Stukas and Ju-88s helped break the southern shoulder of Moscow's defense, and by March '42 sauerbraten was on the menu in the Kremlin cafe.
Uncle Joe reaches for his go-bag
Despite the fall of both Leningrad and Moscow the Soviet situation didn't look too dire on the map. However, the Red Army had suffered terrible losses, and I had little hope of marshaling the offensive firepower I needed to deny a German auto-victory by summer of 1942. Therefore we called it, declaring a decisive German victory. I had a great time, despite getting my ass kicked. I love the Soviet situation in Barbarossa, and though no game yet really captures the feel of the campaign, I always enjoy trying to slow the German juggernaut. Mark mastered the tools, however, and stone cold smoked me. I feel Krieg's real strengths are one level above a campaign scenario like this, but I still like mechanisms like the impact of blitz turns and the fickle vagaries of the Delay die roll. This was a very enjoyable session, whetting my appetite for more of the same or perhaps a dip into Totaler Krieg!.
I was shot at dawn
Hawkeye and Scott wrapped up with Up Front, playing a Desert War scenario with Hawkeye's Italians attacking Scott's Brits, using the cool theater-specific cards from www.wargamevault.com. This looks like a daunting situation for the defending British - a mere seven men standing against twenty two Italians supporting by an AFV! However, Italian morale is always an issue on the attack - man for man they have the equal of any other deck, but they're dragged down by a lot of low-morale soldiers who constantly hold up an assault (unless you cut them loose and advance without them).
Scott found himself repairing weapons every turn but his attacks still slowed the Italian advance. The fire of the Italian M13/40 was effective, forcing Sergeant Vasey to employ the full extent of his motivational powers to maintain order. The weight of Italian numbers eventually made itself felt, and a group of five soldiers advanced to Relative Range 3 to threaten a dash to victory. Scott took a chance and moved his MMG onto a hill, tearing up Hawkeye's point group before he could react. That was enough to wrap up the evening with a British win.
Charles in charge
J. R. Tracy
We had thirteen players a couple weeks ago for a mix of wargaming and euros, including a trip to the Hyborian Age.
Mitch, Maynard, Dr. Rob, Dave, and Stéphane enjoyed a very tight game of Terraforming Mars. Stéphane had a green thumb, planting shrubbery across the planet and pushing oxygen levels hard. Dr. Rob was more an urban planner, collecting a host of city cards. Unfortunately these are crazy expensive and developing his cities precluded much other activity. Dave opted for the longer view, focusing on science and biologics for a slow but steady accumulation of VPs.
If you want a friend on Mars, get a dog
In addition to greenery, the water tiles flew out as well. The terraforming was proceeding nicely but Dave was motivated to extend the game and stopped contributing to planet development. This proved shrewd as the game ran about two turns longer than expected, allowing Dave to snag the Heat King and Banker awards funded by Mitch. Those ten points along with a whopping twenty four VPs on his cards carried Dave to a win, edging Stéphane at the wire. Ten points separated first from fifth, so everyone had a shot down the stretch. The main lessons (re)learned were never fund an award you might not get, and if a long game doesn't favor you, push the terraforming. Great session, and it was fun to see several competing strategies go head to head.
Stéphane falls for an old gag
Hawkeye is on a Torch/Tunisia kick, so he paired up with Scott for With Friends Like These, an ASL Out of the Attic scenario set in 1942 Morocco. It depicts an American assault on a Vichy coastal battery overlooking some of the TORCH beaches. Colonel William Wilbur hopped up a Stuart tank to direct the attack - in game terms he enters as a Hero riding one of four M3A1s, supported by ten second line American squads. Scott's French defend with four 105mm artillery pieces guarded by a half dozen first line squads and barbed wire fences (transformed cliff hexsides by SSR). Hawkeye had to eliminate or control all four heavy guns to win.
Rolling up with intent
Hawkeye opened by splitting his armor left and right, with infantry supporting each flank. A squad and a couple halfsquads moved up the center, ready to help either flank. The normally hilly board 8 is flattened by SSR, and woods are treated as brush - the former denied Scott good firing positions but the latter puts essentially the entire board in line of sight. It doesn't take much to persuade a 546 to take a breather, and even with the LOS hindrances Hawkeye soon had some personnel management issues to attend to as his Stuarts approached the objective. By they time they quit for the evening, his infantry was just within range, but one AFV has a broken MA and another has a matching pair of 105mm holes fore and aft. They will return to action next week.
Proud of his handiwork
Renaud and Afghan Rich dipped into Quartermaster General: 1914 for a few turns. This series gets more interesting with each release. We've had a ball with the original, which is barely tethered to history but plays in a flash and continues to feel fresh. Cake or Death has a little more scripting and hews closer to the source material, but still moves at a good clip. 1914 moves further along the trendline, encouraging players to lay a lot of groundwork before embarking on adventures, and appears to lack the wacky-war qualities of its WWII cousin. Rich and Renaud didn't get very deep into the game but it's their first try at the system, which can be bewildering at first. The first impression is positive, however, so we should see a complete game soon.
Last up, Smitch, Herr Fuchs, the Kaiser von Österreich, and I tackled the new Conan, freshly mined from the Kickstarter Cavern of Uncertain Quality. This is a skirmish/dungeon crawl game set in the world of everyone's favorite Cimmerian hill-panther. It uses a heroes-versus-overlord format, with a bunch of scenarios calibrated for difficulty level and party size.
Hero play is action based. Each hero has a collection of gems that serve as both action currency and hit points. A hero selects an action by committing at least one gem from his ready pool, and if he wants to juice it up he can add one or more extra gems for additional movement points, combat dice, etc. At the end of the hero turn the expended gems are swept into the fatigue pool of the hero card. You may use as many ready gems as you want, but the catch is you replenish at a pretty slow rate - if you're in an aggressive stance, you only recover two gems a turn. If you opt for a cautious stance (may only block attacks or use re-roll actions) you recover five gems. Therefore you see cycles of action and down time, as the situation demands or allows.
Destined for greatness
The hero turn is very fluid, with actions taken in any order. Heroes may even intermingle actions, such as Hero A firing a bow to clear an area for Hero B, who moves on to kill an enemy, allowing Hero A to move himself, and so on. Actions are resolved via special dice (yellow, orange, and red in ascending order of effectiveness); every hero has a base level competence for a particular action, while weapons and tools add extra dice and special capabilities. The different characters have unique abilities as well. A melee attack typically only affects a single targeted enemy, for instance, but Conan can apply excess damage against any other enemies unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity.
The Overlord's dashboard
The Overlord's turn is a simpler version of the heroes'. He has several different groups of minions at his command, each represented by a tile on his control board. He may activate up to two tiles per turn. The tiles are arranged in a row (called 'the River') with ascending activation costs from left to right. The Overlord expends the gems necessary to activate a group, and then places that tile at the end of the queue while the rest slide down to the left. Thus he can repeatedly activate his most capable goons, but it gets expensive. As with the heroes, the Overlord's recovery rate is limited, so he might have some downtime while he builds up a reserve of gems for a burst of activity. If all the figures in a group are killed, their tile remains in the River, clogging up the Overlord's queue - he may still choose to activate the tile just to move it to the back of the line, or permanently discard two gems to get rid of it altogether.
Laughing at danger
The scenarios are autonomous mini-adventures without an overarching campaign scheme. Each adventure assigns a map, the forces and deployment for each side (some allow for a range of hero-characters), and scenario-specific victory conditions such as retrieve a princess, discover a treasure, and so on. The scenario details are in the Overlord's handbook, so we assumed most of the information was to be kept from the heroes, but it wasn't always clear what they should know. This didn't prove to be a big issue, however.
Don't worry boys, I got this
We opened with In the Clutches of the Picts - Conan, Shevatas (thief/rogue), and Hadrathus (mage) have to raid a Pict village, rescue the princess Yselda, and return with the head of Zogar Sag, the local shaman. David took Hadrathus (despite wearing a Conan shirt), Jim was Shevatas, and Smitch was the big guy himself. I took the Overlord role. I had to decide where to hide the princess, so I put her in a hut in the center of the village, which happened to be the lair of a large and irritable snake. As the heroes entered the village, all they could see were three warrior-Picts strolling in the open, but I also had the shaman, several groups of hunter-picts, a pack of hyenas, and the aforementioned giant snake. I grabbed a few other figures from the box and kept them all within arm's reach just to keep things a little mysterious.
Seriously, I'm on top of it
The good guys quickly dispatched my warriors, which was a pity since they were my best fighters. Shevatas found himself isolated on the wrong side of town, however, so I descended upon him with Zogar Sag and the hyenas. Herr Fuchs and Smitch prepared to come to his rescue but Jim waved them off with an unfounded air of confidence. Shevatas then spent most of the scenario fleeing for his life, pursued by canines. Hadrathus and Conan had a more productive midgame. Hadrathus found a cache of exploding orbs (Hyborian hand grenades) and took out several Picts from range, while Conan crashed into and through huts (he doesn't need a doorway) slaughtering my men while searching for the princess. I finally brought out the snake, who got a couple nips in before the Hadrathus/Conan tag team took him down. The princess was discovered soon after. Time was tight, but thanks to Hadrathus' teleportation spell, they were able to scoot off the map with the booty just as the clock ran out.
Hold my beer
For our second adventure, we tried Trapped Like Rats. Conan and his old pals Shevatas and Hadrathas had a few too many margaritas and got roofied by the local bad guys. They wake up in a locked tavern basement, unarmed. They must make their way out of the locked room, navigate through the guards, find their weapons and a set of tools, and make their escape. It's night time and for the first few turns the guards are limited in their abilities as long as the heroes are careful (hide bodies, stay out of line of sight, etc).
Conan could normally just burst through a locked door like a Cimmerian Kool-Aid Man, but that would raise the alarm early. Instead, Jim used Shevatas' deft lock-picking skills to open the door quietly, and the team tiptoed about shivving guards and dragging their bodies into corners. The Tollymon then took Jim's place as the good guys crept toward the staircase. By the time I had any freedom of action, the heroes were armed and upstairs, searching for the tools. However, I was able to bring Thak, a semi-boss minion, into play. He's an old enemy of Conan and can really fill a hallway. He delayed the heroes just long enough for the city watch to arrive and clap the heroes back into irons. It was only after we finished that I noticed this scenario was rated three crows (max difficulty) - much more of a puzzle than the first scenario and probably holds up for a couple plays.
Edging toward the exit
We had a blast with Conan - it has all the hackery-slashery you expect from the title, with good characterizations and excellent art. The system is clean and easy to use, with plenty of decisions for all concerned from turn to turn. The gem refresh mechanic forces players to take the long view, so you can't afford to just live in the moment. Planning is vital and understanding the complimentary skills of the hero team is necessary for success. I had a lot of fun as the Overlord too - not so much from a competitive point of view but more from a traditional dungeon master/show runner perspective. I think the system compares favorably with Descent: Journeys in the Dark but as mentioned, it lacks a campaign system which I know holds strong appeal for many. If you already own a solid skirmish game, I don't think you need this unless you are drawn to the theme. However, if you love the topic or have some space for a solid quick-playing battle game, check it out, by Crom!
The Most Interesting Wargamer in the World
J. R. Tracy
We had ten gamers for a lot of wargaming and a little terraforming.
Natus and Scott grabbed Caesar's Gallic War, with Scott playing the Romans to Nate's Gallic/Germanic barbarian hivemind. The game uses the Hammer of the Scots engine as a starting point, with tweaks and period chrome to better reflect the subject. Players win by pulling the tribes of Gaul over to their side, either through diplomacy or subjugation.
Nate treats with the Esuvii
The Roman legionnaires are lethal in combat (the only 'A' units and so always assured of first fire) so Natengetorix worked the diplomatic channels and recruited several tribes while ducking Scottius' haymakers. However, Scott eventually had all of central Gaul under his hobnailed sandal and Nate could do little to pry any more tribes away. Tallying up the score at game end, it proved to be a vary narrow Roman win. Enjoyed by both, but unlikely to return to the table soon. Love the designer's Hands in the Sea, though - that one *will* be returning to the table soon.
More than three parts
Jim and Bill headed to 19th century Central Europe with Compass Games' recently released 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany. 1866 uses a PoG-like engine to portray the short but decisive war between Austria and Germany that consolidated Prussian strength and set the table for several wars to come. Bill took the Prussians (and their Italian allies) against Jim's Austria and her assorted German holdings.
For the fate of Germany
The PoG roots are evident in the operations structure, large/small unit differentation, the combat resolution, and the deck breakout by period (Mobilization and War), but several elements set 1866 apart. For example, leaders are explicitly represented, interception and avoid battle mechanics are included, the game uses a common deck, and sieges are more detailed. The point to point map stretches from the Baltic to the Gulf of Genoa, with a slice of France in the west in case Napoleon III decides to intervene.
The attempt to relieve Dresden
After a stretch of mobilizing by both sides Bill got things rolling properly by popping down to the Kingdom of Saxony for a chat with Albert, the Crown Prince. Albert was having none of that and with his Austrian chum Feldzeugmeister Benedek he confronted the Prussians just outside of Dresden. Deft Prussian card play reduced Austrian strength leading to an inconclusive result. Benedek and Albert fell back to Prague, leaving the future Kaiser Frederick in control of Dresden. Frederick Charles is leading another Prussian force in Silesia, cleaning up the litter of an early-war Austrian incursion.
Albrecht in control
Down south, the Austrians have a firmer grip. The Duke of Teschen put the wood to the Italians, seizing several border spaces and daring La Marmora to do anything about it. Entering Turn 4, the Austrians hold a slender one VP lead. Looks good so far.
Smitch, Afghan Rich, Dave, and Mark turned to new favorite Terraforming Mars. This proved to be a romp by Dave, who got three shrubbery tiles out before anyone had one, and had a personal asteroid magnet that pulled down several high-value celestial bodies. Capturing all three milestones didn't hurt either, as he walked to a 15 point win.
Building a home away from home
Last up, Hawkeye and I banged out three games of Up Front. Looking for something off the beaten path, we opened with a Japanese/Soviet engagement. We tried Delaying Action, with my Japanese pursuing his Reds. A momentary lapse of reason led me to try a Banzai charge from way too far away, as my Group A chased his. I blame ASL rules bleed, as I thought my charging A Group could cut over and hit the Soviet B Group when it got close enough. Alas by Up Front's rules it was locked on his A crew, who sensibly fell back while the rest of his force cut me to ribbons. Let's just write that up as a failed experiment and say no more about it.
Bound for the land of wind and ghosts
For our second game we tried Outpost Line, with GIs versus the French in North Africa. Hawkeye's dogfaces were on the attack, supported by an MG-armed M20 scout car. I had the support of a 60mm Brandt mortar and the burden of the dreaded French single card discard. I had good fortune early, stunning the scout car, but Hawkeye methodically built the hand he needed before pounding my position. Despite my at-start entrenchments my troops steadily deteriorated from Pinned to Routed (for the lucky ones). I had no answer other than to try to knock out the M20, but that was a long shot and Hawkeye collected a tidy win.
Searching for a Rally card, questioning the justice of the universe
Last up, we played a Jungle Assault, with Hawkeye again commanding Americans while I returned to the IJA. Hawkeye had a flamethrower, and Jungle rules were in effect, making Infiltration easier. Again Hawkeye went with a methodical approach, grinding forward with good use of Gullies and favorable terrain to avoid or blunt my attacks. Meanwhile, his support group chipped away at my defense, and as his forces closed I approached the brink of my break condition (75% for the Japanese). The end was nigh when his C Group moved to Relative Range 5 with five men, with a decent chunk of the final deck remaining. All he had to do was play a decent terrain card. While Hawkeye frantically discarded and drew, searching for some cover, I infiltrated the attacking group and managed to kill one GI - one more and he'd be a man short of the four-man victory condition. Unfortunately, I failed to infiltrate a second time (it's very hard to sneak into a moving group) but the deck god smiled on the Emperor, denying any terrain to Hawkeye. Time expired with Hawkeye's troops just short of victory.
Hawkeye, always generous with the Stream cards
Hawkeye totally outplayed me, so it was satisfying to snag one win out of three games. To be fair, it was more like 2.9-.1 overall, as he was a huge favorite in the final game as well. Great fun as always, and as frustrating as the French might be, I love the challenge and will play them again in a heartbeat.
Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:07 pm
J. R. Tracy
We crammed in fifteen players last week for a host of new titles plus a couple cherished classics.
Mark and Hawkeye broke out the factory-fresh South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943, with Mark running the Japanese against Hawkeye's Allies. Hawkeye helped playtest this and they wanted to give the real deal a try.
Fletcher looks for an opening
Though ostensibly on the offensive, Hawkeye found himself scrambling to maintain equilibrium after losing a chunk of his carrier force off Noumea. He managed to eke out a tie for the US, which as he says is closer to a Japanese win. The package looks great and should provide a manageable small-footprint intro to Empire of the Sun.
Adding a skosh more air to Rabaul
Natus and Jim wrapped up Wilderness War. Last week Nate's French stymied an assault on Louisbourg and the action moved to the west. Nate's Indian allies ran a mediocre petite guerre but did force Jim to allocate resources in response.
Jim took two more cracks at Louisbourg, but was thrown back each time. In the last two turns, he focused on the center, overrunning Nate's stockade line. However, Nate's guerrilla warfare finally paid dividends, generating enough VPs for a French win.
Upper Hudson hoedown
This classic still holds up - it's a testimony to my age that this still feels like a 'new' game to me, but I guess I just need to play it more. It was a close match, with Jim putting a lot of effort into the Louisbourg assaults, with troops that may have won the game elsewhere. Tough call, but one of many difficult decisions in the game.
Taking no chances
Smitch and Mitch took another run at Die Macher with Maynard and Campoverdi in tow. Mitch was hot out of the gate, winning the first election and scoring a media cube. Maynard was looking further down the road, however, setting himself up to take the third election for the chunky 80 point North Rhine-Westphalia region. A resource-drunk Maynard then went on a spending spree, ramping up poll auctions to undermine Smitch's popularity and break up a potential Smitch/Mitch coalition.
Manipulating the media
Despite Maynard's predations, Smitch made a strong late run, and Campo continued to score consistently. Mitch, however, led pole to pole winning 308 to 298 in a tight contest. Maynard came third, with Campo close behind. They played to conclusion in under four hours, which I reckon is a decent pace for a notoriously heavy game. It helps they played it recently but it's good to know it's a reasonable option for a weeknight.
Awaiting the final returns
Dan VIII rolled into town along with Passaic's Finest, to try Black Orchestra along with Bill, Dave, and Afghan Rich. This is a cooperative game with the players conspiring to assassinate Hitler, while the Reich's security apparatus strives to disrupt your activities. The conspirators try to keep the level of suspicion low while piecing together the components necessary to activate an assassination attempt. As the war progresses, eroding military support for the regime makes it easier to successfully execute a plot, but the collective suspicion of the conspirators works against you, and may unhinge an otherwise successful plot. As highly placed officials and officers, you move in Hitler's closest circles, which creates opportunities but also has its hazards. Beginning a turn in the space as Hitler or one of his committed deputies (Goebbels, Bormann, etc) leaves you vulnerable or reduces your capabilities.
In the first game, the conspiracy club was meeting regularly and making good progress, when Bill said the wrong thing to the wrong Reichsminister and found himself in a cold, dank holding cell. Dave was nearby with the ability to spring Bill from the clink but ran into a little Gestapo trouble of his own. One look at the interrogator's toolkit was all the motivation Bill needed, and soon the whole pack of traitors had free overnight accommodations and a pre-dawn appointment with Herr Guillotine.
The conspirators were much more aggressive in the second game, to the point of recklessness. High West Double Rye may have played a role, but the results speak for themselves. As Allied armies closed in on Berlin, Hitler met his overdue and well-justified fate, saving 12 million lives according to the handy index in the rulebook. The players really enjoyed the experience, finding the game challenging and atmospheric. Good art - very dark palette but quite legible. I don't think any rules questions cropped up, so the players hit the ground running. As co-ops go, this looks like a winner, and despite my bias against the breed I might have to pick up a copy for future plotting.
Be careful what you wish for
Scott has been translating a packet of Japanese Game Journal titles for possible publication by MMP. He just finished the rulebook and cards for Storm Over Japanese Homeland, so we put it through its paces. The game covers Operations Olympic and Coronet, the components of the planned invasion of Japan.
As with other games in the 'Storm Over' family, cardplay is central. Airstrikes don't require a card, but all other actions do. Cards generally augment actions or restore spent units and place reinforcements, but can also serve as interrupts and responses. The game uses an area map and a roll to hit system, and units include air, ground and naval components. The Allies win by scoring more victory points (for captured areas) than they lose in casualties (scored as unit strength divided by two). The Allies also win immediately if they control the area containing the (hidden) Imperial government.
I took the Allies to Scott's Japan. We played with the Secret Weapons optional rule, which granted Scott a randomly drawn set of gee-whiz toys from a selection of late-war Japanese research projects. These improved the lethality of his attacks in various ways but were generally one-shot items that had to be rebuilt after use. My units were conventional but I did have an atomic bomb option just in case I couldn't get things done the old fashioned way. SOJH allows you to choose your hand each turn, so I opened with a couple Amphibious Assaults, a pair of Blitzkriegs (allows you to activate the same group twice) and a pair of Combined Operations (allowing you to activate two groups in succession). This was enough to get me ashore on Kyushu, the southernmost island. Most of the VPs were in central and northern Honshu, but I figured I'd start in the south and grind my way north.
Admiral of the Inland Sea
Capturing Kyushu's base area increased my hand size from six to seven cards while reducing Scott's. I concentrated my naval strength in the Inland Sea where I could bombard a wide swath of Honshu and launch airstrikes further north. Scott's defense of Kyushu was characterized by terrible dice, but his kamikaze strikes against the Inland Sea were much more successful, as most of my escort carriers and even a couple of fleet CVs succumbed. I seized Shikoku but another breath of Divine Wind eliminated my depleted Marines. Despite my losses, I reoccupied Shikoku and staged my air units there so they could reach the length of the Home Islands. I was soon ashore on Honshu and the combination of concentrated air and seapower was flattening Scott's ground forces. This made life a lot easier for my GIs and Marines, and as the Japanese dead pile increased the outcome was no longer in doubt. We called it at that point as an Allied win.
As bad as it sounds
We found the situation interesting but the Allied advance was inexorable. The Allies *will* conquer the Home Islands, but the question is at what cost? However, we didn't see an answer for concentrated sea and air power - I could inflict so many hits the Japanese struggled to piece together the punch necessary to pick off even the occasional casualty. However, Scott has since received some clarifications from the designer that should serve to improve Japanese attacks. It will still be a very asymmetric game, with the Japanese relying on timing and card combos to pull off one or two stinging blows each turn, while grudgingly yielding territory. It requires a particular mindset to appreciate and enjoy that sort of situation, but other titles such as Turning Point: Stalingrad have a similar feel, asymmetric but tension-filled and competitive. I think this will be worth another look after Scott makes a second pass through the rules.
With the fate of New France still up in the air, Dan VIII, Chris, Dave, Hawkeye, Mark and I did a little Caveman Curling to round out the evening. I teamed with Dan and Hawkeye to eke out a narrow win. The key to success in dexterity games is always bet on the flickmaster from the mountains of New Jersey.
Passaic's Finest draws a bead
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players to start off the new year with a bevy of card games, wargames, and a co-op.
Natus and Jim dipped their toes into Wilderness War. They went with the tournament scenario, with Nate taking the French.
A becalmed Montcalm
Nate used his Indian allies to harass Jim along the frontier, but to little effect. Meanwhile, Jim pieced together a large expedition of regulars to hit Louisbourg. Nate barely fought him off, with heavy casualties on both sides. They then spent several cards picking up the pieces, and look forward to returning to action next week.
Action in the Adirondacks
Mitch, Manfred, and Renaud tried Star Trek: Ascendancy, with Mitch taking the Federation, Manfred the Klingons, and Renaud the Romulans. Contact was quickly established between the Federation and the Klingons, with the Romulans joining the party a little later.
Reaching toward the Romulans
A big fight between the Feds and the Klingons went Mitch's way as he pelted Manfred with photon dice. Renaud extended a helping hand to the Klingons in the form of a favorable trade deal. With his less-helpful hand he then choke-slammed Manfred's fleet, making good use of the Romulan first strike ability to sweep the field. With the evening drawing to a close they called it a win for Renaud's Romulans.
Heghlu'DI' mobbe'lu'chugh QaQpu' Hegh wanI'
All three enjoyed the game - the theming is strong and there was a good narrative to the action. Caveats include downtime (turns get longer as the game progresses) and the power of the build/move sequence (players build then move in sequence, rather than all build, then all move). The latter allows a player to ramp up and attack an unprepared opponent. This sounds less like a problem than something you simply have to keep in mind as you plan your own builds and dispositions. Overall, though, it is a strong new addition to the rotation.
Smitch, Scott, Dr. Rob, and Campoverdi took Pax Renaissance for a spin. Dr. Rob, ever the experimenter, pushed for a religious win from the start but was working under a couple rules misapprehensions which led to some wasted moves. Campo had a more productive vision as he pursued dreams of empire. However, he couldn't quite close the deal as Smitch kept picking off pieces of Campoverdia until the deck ran out, with Smitch capturing a Patronage win.
Players are starting to form opinions about strategy, some of which may even have merit. A suspicion is emerging that the Imperial strategy is easiest to prosecute and tends to shape the game. Rob is skeptical his ecclesiastical approach has legs, due to a lack of supporting cards, and Republic may have the same problem. Still, it's early days, and the safest advice so far is to let the board guide your choices and don't try to force a strategy against the card flow. I'm sure this will see a lot of late-night action at Winter Offensive this week.
They then followed with House of Borgia about which I know nothing beyond the fact Smitch notched another win.
Hawkeye, Bill, and I finally got to try the co-op Thunderbirds and had a blast, which is only natural since we were playing on our very own Tracy Island. Each player is one of the Tracy brothers or one of their daredevil colleagues, working together to combat crises around the globe while frustrating the plans of The Hood. The map is divided into land, sea, and space areas, and we get all the iconic Thunderbird vehicles (supersonic 1, cargo-carrying 2, space-faring 3, submersible 4, and space station 5), plus of course FAB 1, Lady Penelope's sweet pink amphibious Rolls-Royce. Each character gets a bonus if he or she is in their vehicle of choice (Virgil can draw a bonus token when piloting Thunderbird 2, for instance) but any character can fly/drive any vehicle.
Virgil drops off some gear
There are two clocks in the game. The Hood track has a series of events and schemes, and as The Hood moves down the track the events are revealed and applied. Events are generally Bad Things that make life hard for the FAB crew, but if The Hood reaches a scheme before it is defeated, it's game over. The current scheme is always revealed, so the players work to foil it before The Hood can kick it off. Along the opposite edge of the board is the Disaster track. This starts primed with three disasters, and at the end of each player turn a new one is drawn. If the eighth and last place on the track is filled, the team is defeated. If the team beats the last scheme before losing by disaster, the players win.
Picking our poison
A scheme card specifies the conditions for its defeat - once the conditions are met, it is discarded. Disaster cards are beaten by a die roll, with various conditions for die roll bonuses as well as rewards for success. So, you might get a +2 if Scott Tracy is involved and another +2 if Thunderbird 4 is in the neighborhood. Many schemes and disasters need the presence of one or more pods - these are specialized bits of equipment built on Tracy Island and transported to the scene by Thunderbird 2.
Back home for a refit
Players get three actions per turn - you may move, attempt a rescue (roll to overcome a disaster), plan (draw a special-power FAB card at the cost of advancing The Hood), or scan (push a disaster back down the track). You may also perform an unlimited amount of operations, which including building pods, defeating schemes, transferring characters between vehicles, or loading and unloading equipment. To optimize your turn you have to assess the threats and decide whether you're going to deal with a disaster yourself or set up your teammates. The rescue die roll is 2d6, but the dice have a Hood face that advances the villain, and some of the disasters have very high values so you really need the modifiers to have any confidence of success. So, burning a turn building the correct pods and/or positioning personnel may be necessary even though the disaster track is relentlessly advancing.
A popular brew in these parts
We proved to be horrible FABsters, losing five times in two games (yeah, we cheated, but it was in the name of Science and Discovery). I then learned I was a worse rules-reader than FABster - we had been adding disasters to the end of the queue, when by the rules you slide all current disasters one to the right (toward doom) and add the new one on the left. This was a major screwup, because the way we were playing it was very difficult to defeat the right-most disaster (i.e., the one that will ultimately defeat you) because by the time we optimized our deployment, a new disaster eclipsed it as the greatest threat. Playing correctly, we had a chance to plan and defeat the right-most disaster when we needed to, giving us a lot more flexibility. So, we played two more games, losing one and winning one - hurrah for humanity! 1-6 looks pretty good to this Browns' fan.
House party on Thunderbird 5
Even without our rules gaffe, the game is very challenging. We were playing at the basic level, facing only three schemes, but you can add more to increase the difficulty. We learned a lot in our desperate losses in terms of harnessing synergies and getting the most out of the bonus tokens. These are vital for defeating schemes but also have in-game effects (building pods, +2 DRMs, free FAB card draws, rerolls, and extra actions). We randomly drew characters, which are all useful, but some less so. John Tracy enjoys hanging out in orbit on Thunderbird 5, where he can negate Hood die rolls, but we found the space station to be the least-used bit of kit. If you're playing John, you are likely to head to Earth where you'll have plenty to do but without access to your special ability. On the other hand, Virgil in Thunderbird 2 is the hardest working man in International Rescue. Bill had a good run as Lady Penelope in one game, playing a hand in several key rescues.
In general, I'm not a big fan of co-ops, but I had a lot of fun with this. All three of us were very familiar with the shows, which added immensely to our enjoyment. There are three expansions which add characters and cards, which should enhance replayability. As noted above, it's starts out hard and has a couple dials to increase difficulty if you start beating it consistently. I'm glad we finally got to try it - a handsome package, and a system that does justice to the elaborate presentation. Highly recommended to fans of the show, though it will resonate less with youngsters unfamiliar with the backstory. We will see more of this soon.
J. R. Tracy
We closed out the year with a slew of great gaming, with a mini-session on the 26th and a crowd for our regular Tuesday evening.
I introduced Natus to Hands in the Sea Monday night, with Hawkeye in attendance to cajole, organize games, and add a general air of sophistication. I've played HitS once already, so this was really a teaching game, though Nate at least had some experience with A Few Acres of Snow. I took Carthage to Nate's Roman Republic.
Early on I grabbed the Strategy card that expands your hand from five cards to six. I then expanded across western Sicily, settling and fortifying Agrigentum; I fortified Panormus as well. Despite subtle hints on my part <cough>SYRACUSE! TAKE SYRACUSE!<cough> Natus worked his way along the northern coast and we constantly raided back and forth. Nate kept picking off Thermae while I unleashed my hounds on Tyndaris.
A pondering proconsul
Meanwhile, I moved up through Sardinia toward Corsica, but Natus beat me to the punch and settled Aleria by sea before I could get there. This proved to be the theater of decision, with multiple sea battles off the coast as I tried to blockade Corsica while Nate fought to keep his supply lines open. In the first battle, I committed a mercenary general to win the fight right before a campaign card came up, denying Nate the VPs. After that, Nate had the advantage in ship count (thanks to a sweet ship-building Strategy card) but had terrible dice, so we saw three stalemates in a row. Before he could fortify Aleria I sank the Roman fleet, raided the town, and then settled it myself. Meanwhile, I was winnowing my deck where possible and cycling cards at a blinding rate to make the most of my VP advantage.
Though I was working the clock, I shifted strategy when a Storms at Sea sank my eight-point(!) fleet. With Corsica vulnerable, I built my remaining two towns to end the game before Nate could take advantage. Rome outscored Carthage in a couple game-end categories, but between existing VP lead was too much to overcome, so Carthage prevailed.
Nate loved the game and I learned quite a bit myself. In our first game, Campoverdi and I struggled to spend all our cash, but Nate and I did a lot of card-drafting and card-cycling. We both invested heavily in cav and therefore saw a lot of raiding, but strangely, no land battles. It feels like beyond a couple obvious early moves (SYRACUSE!) there are several promising options for both sides, guided in part by the Strategy cards but also by players' individual predilections. There's a lot more to explore, and with five players with at least one game under their belt, we are developing a good base for further study.
Cut off from home
On the 27th, we crammed in fifteen gamers, including three father-son pairs. Jim and son Brandon, Natus and son Aeneas, and Mitch and son Eliot somehow made room around the card tables for a six-handed session of Evolution. Nate developed a hard shell but the other players just flipped him on his back and left him baking in the hot sun. Mitch's pack-hunting carnivores dominated the savannah, scoring another all-too-common win for the Stein clan.
The father/son crew moved on to The Resistance and had an absolute blast. The volume quickly rose to a din and stayed there through three games, with accusations and denials flying back and forth. The Spies won all three games, but I think all the players managed to find themselves on a winning side at least once.
A nest of spies
Spencer, Sean, Herr Fuchs, and Bill laid down some HellRails, a train game set in Dante's Inferno. Herr Fuchs proved to be the best infernal engineer as he conducted sinful souls to their designated circles for an eternity of suffering.
Next stop: Penn Station
They then played an entirely different sort of train game, First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express. Here players run their own railways, competing to offer the most prestigious luxury accommodations to attract wealthy passengers and their ready cash. The game is a sprawling beast, with displays, cards, and bits strewn everywhere. The designer also did Russian Rails but this looks like a very different animal. Spencer had the best knack for hospitality, taking the win.
David then broke out The Dragon & Flagon with his groovy Reaper miniatures. Sean's pirate immediately leapt up on a table and shouted a Boast, which boosts VPs but rewards other players for attacking you. The last player to try this caught two mugs and a chair for his troubles, but Sean lived up to his words. He managed to seize the Dragon Flagon and make good use of it, building a lead and hanging on for the win.
Last up, Hawkeye, Afghan Rich, Dr. Rob, and I were joined by the feared and reviled Ignacio Catastrophe, our Columbus correspondent in town for his annual debriefing. We chose Terraforming Mars, familiar to all. That familiarity raised the game to a new level, with a much higher degree of interaction.
I had the early settlement corporation, so I kicked things off with Mars' first city. I also had the Media event, which confers a cash bonus when playing further events, so I got a few of those out as well. Otherwise, I had a very attractive but slow-developing hand: cool critter cards that needed oxygen, and some hefty space cards that just needed a ton of cash and/or titanium. Despite a mental pre-game commitment to developing the surface, I found myself drifting into yet another VP-engine card strategy.
The inimitable Ignacio
To my right, Dr. Rob had the heat corporation and the blessing of some heat-production cards, and quickly established a humming economy. If he wasn't already Public Enemy Number One, his burgeoning engine would've made him a marked man. Hawkeye had the choice of two crappy corps and took the slightly less crappy one, settling in for the long slog. Afghan Rich had either the Earth of Jovian corporation - either way, no one was playing cards that helped him so he was on his own. I didn't see Ignacio's corporation - the ecology corp, maybe?
Seulowitz Consolidated Enterprises
I retained my entire initial hand and added a few cards later, so I quickly captured the Dreamer milestone. Rob however grabbed the next two, Builder and Gardener. The award race was a little more cagey, with no one committing until the late game as one would expect. On the map, we all made a point of jamming each other - "Nice little city you have there - mind if I set off a nuke right next door?" "Lovely view from your new town - you can see my strip mine!" Ignacio busied himself stealing resources from everyone but at least had the decency to spread the pain around the table. My own tableau had minor developments, mostly science cards, but I was engineering a big animal combo when I realized the centerpiece had an 11% oxygen requirement rather than 8% (the former is predators, the latter herbivores, I think). So, I spent a couple cycles boosting my Terraform Rating and rejiggered my plans.
Down the stretch Rob funded the Thermalist award (a no-brainer) while Ignacio sealed the Banker. I gambled by funding the Scientist at a whopping 20 credits - I had five science tags on board to Hawkeye's four, and I had two more in hand. Little did I know Hawkeye had four more in his own hand - ugh. However, I did manage to get three whopper space cards into play - Interstellar Travel and two big convoys, including a shipment of bears for my new Predator compound. My predators also wandered over to Ignacio's buffet, I mean tableau, to snack on a couple free range Martian sheep. Hawkeye steadily built out his own tableau and surface presence, and had great success with the Mars Rover. For the record, I've played that card in two different games, drawing over twenty cards with it with zero signs of life. Hawkeye? Three microbes in six draws. Where is the justice?
A couple of us made good use of an extra turn when we couldn't quite close out the terraforming, but when we tallied the score we weren't surprised to see Dr. Rob on top - two milestones and an award were more than enough for a win. Hawkeye and I were in close race for second, but I edged him by a couple points, while Ignacio and Rich weren't far behind. It was a good, competitive game, but we need to develop some tactics to slow someone who opens with an obviously superior engine. It's tough to deny awards, but I think with some focus we could've kept Rob off the milestones. Regardless, every game is a learning experience, and I picked up a few pointers this game. I think my strategy worked for the most part, but I disregarded a couple microbe cards early on that would've fed the oxygen level and helped my overall aims and boosted my TR rating (and income) to boot. Also, I *still* haven't done much on the board. I guess I'm just going to have to try it again.
Ready for occupancy
Thus ends a great year of gaming, with one of the highlights of the year - the father/son table. We saw many new games played and continued to enjoy old favorites, made a lot of big plans and even followed through on some of them. I hope you had a good year of gaming in 2016 as well, and wish you all the best for 2017.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers the week before Christmas for a couple multiplayer titles and a glorious two-player.
Bill, Renaud, Scott, and Afghan Rich tried the new Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne card game, a re-skinning of the classic Cosmic Encounter. Players represent the different houses of Westeros, using their major personalities to engage and destroy their opponents. Each house and individual has system-altering powers and variable strength, but diplomacy is a key to success as you build temporary alliances for short term advantage.
In the first game Renaud's House Tyrell looked dominant and seemed to be about to run the table but Bill's House Lannister and Rich's House Stark teamed up for an alliance win (shocking, I know). I'm not sure who came out on top of the second game. It was well received, with good depth and a moderate playing time.
West of Essos
Smitch, Mitch, Natus, Jim, and Eliot realized a long-standing dream by finally getting Die Macher (Valley Games edition) to the table. This venerable classic recreates a German national election, covering the Federal Republic in the original 1986 edition but encompassing a reunited German in the latest iteration.
Each player represents a party and play proceeds through seven regional elections until the overall winning party is determined. Players manipulate local issues, their party's stance on said issues, media coverage, and so on to secure as many votes as possible in each region. Regions are resolved one at a time, but four are always 'in play' - if things look hopeless in the current Bavarian election you can lay the groundwork for the upcoming Rhineland-Pfalz contest. The VPs for the regions vary substantially, so you can either save your bullets for the elephants or try to sweep the small fry.
Eliot and Smitch were strong in the early going, maxing out in Bavaria, while the other players looked further down the election cycle. Their lead held, however, and it developed into a two-party race. Eliot had the advantage but a minor misstep in the late game cost him a couple VPs, and when the final scores were tallied, he found himself splitting a coalition government with Smitch. Not a bad performance for the lad! It was great to see this warhorse put through its paces - it has been a grail game for us for some time, and it lived up to its rep.
Inside the sausage factory
Last up, Hawkeye and I did some playtesting for MMP's upcoming ASL Journal 12. We played A Real Barn Burner, set in France in late May, 1940. The French 14th Infantry Division has been giving the Germans a hard time, counterattacking to disrupt the offensive. In this scenario, a French platoon is isolated in the board 43 Koresh Compound, and the balance of the company is trying to fight through in relief. Hawkeye's French had just two and a half squads in the compound, but they're all Fanatic by SSR, and ten squads coming to their rescue. I had nine and a half squads to hold them off, along with a 37mm ATG, a medium machine gun, and a pair of LMGs.
Ready for the next bound
Chas was concerned the Germans might be able to totally ignore the compound and just focus on stopping the relief force, which only has five turns to break through. With this in mind, I set up my force to make the most of interlocking fire lanes, with the medium on my right side side and one LMG and the ATG on the left, neatly covering the open ground on the approach. I used the balance of my force to screen the attackers as they came through the board 72 woods.
The happy warrior
Hawkeye's attack was methodical, reaching the tree line en masse to confront my 8-0/LMG/467 garrison in O1. He also sent a flanking force with a 60mm mortar to harass the MMG on my right. Many French halfsquads were broken in the assault on O1, but the position fell and the supporting squad went Berserk, charging to its doom. On my right, the mortar broke my MMG team, but I had another halfsquad ready to take over in the nick of time. My center screen was gone, but the clock was ticking - Hawkeye had to run for it. The MG34s did their job, along with some lethal HE rounds from the PaK. No Frenchman crossed the Line of Death, so Hawkeye threw in the towel.
The center falls
I believe we demonstrated the viability of a cordon defense, but it's no sure thing. My deployment was very fragile - loss of the leader directing the MMG would have been a real problem, and more aggressive use of the compound Fanatics might have disrupted my defenders on either flank. The French have just enough time to develop a couple lines of attack, with the opportunity to apply overwhelming pressure against one point of a diffuse German defense. I think Chas decided to leave the scenario as is, and we should see it in print in a couple weeks.
Not gonna make it
J. R. Tracy
We had fourteen players for some multis, a couple two-player games, and some fresh Eklund.
Smitch rolled out the third edition of Fury of Dracula, playing the eponymous Count with Tenno, Natus, Mitch, and Campoverdi in pursuit. Smitch toyed with the hunters, who were always within a couple spaces of his current location. Smitch occasionally turned and caught a lone hunter for some bloodletting before flapping away into the night. The clock continued to tick and the encounters became bloodier, with Dracula consistently getting the better of it. Smitch was doing a great job anticipating hunter combat cards, either neutralizing strong attacks or counterpunching effectively. They reached the point where Dracula was going to peg out the influence track without much trouble so they called it a victory for old Bitey.
Preparing for the chase
I think the hunters enjoyed it but were frustrated by their repeated failures in combat. Smitch suggested he knew the cards a little better than the pursuers and therefore had a much better sense of the interactions and distributions. The hunters went heavy on weapon cards, which deal the most damage, but lack the disabling characteristics of the supernatural cards. Next time I'm sure they'll use a more balanced approach. I've only played the first two editions, and would like to try this one just to see how much has changed.
Ill met by moonlight
Scott and Jim wrapped up their game of Festung Europa. Scott's mid-game commitment to degrade German infrastructure finally paid dividends, as he had a fistful of options compared to the meager pickings in Jim's hand. Scott wedged his way into a crack in the line on the North German Plain and leveraged it ever wider. Jim had a couple powerful engaged, but Allied zones of control kept them locked up and unable to do much more than inflict heavy but bearable casualties. With German industry a shambles and the front line swinging open like a gate, the Third Reich closed up shop 988 years early and Scott claimed a win for the Allies.
The stark fist of justice sweeps across Europe
It was nice to see them finish the game despite mismatched schedules over the past several weeks. They definitely feel the game is worth struggling through the graphical and ergonomic issues. Mike started with the familiar POG chassis but made substantial changes and additions to reflect the topic - this is a unique experience quite distinct from its CDG cousins. In terms of strategy, the Allies naturally have a broader range of choices but the German has some options of his own as he responds. Overall, four thumbs up and worth a look.
Knocking on the door
They followed up with Bios: Genesis, Phil Eklund's look at the origins of life. Players seek to shepherd their fledgling organisms through the hazards of the primordial soup and set them on the path toward higher forms of life to come.
A glimmer of life
Scott's little microbes shook loose of Jim's pesky parasites to take an early lead in the race for ecosphere domination. They managed to learn and play to completion in under a couple hours, not bad for a pretty funky title. I'm a sucker for all the BIOS games, so I look forward to this one. There's even talk of playing them all in sequence, perhaps capping things off with a session of High Frontier!
Afternoon of the third day
Rich and Stefan ze Basque enjoyed an great game of Up Front, playing the basic Meeting of Patrols scenario. Rich spread his Soviets out into four groups, which seemed rash but ultimately worked out. He struggled to keep a cohesive group of four men intact for the advance, but he also mitigated the impact of Stéphane's powerful firegroups.
Somewhere near Kharkov
Rich kept patching up his broken groups while plinking away with his Moisin-Nagants, dropping Landsers one by one. He worked Stéphane to within one casualty of a broken squad, but Stéphane felt confident with a small stack of Rally cards in hand. They proved irrelevant as Rich simply killed the sixth German outright for the win. It was a good, hard fight, going deep into the third deck.
Past the tipping point
Last up, NewSteve, Hawkeye, and I took another crack at Terraforming Mars, joined by first-timer Mark. Drew jumped in after the third turn. I drew the eco and Jovian corporations, opting for the latter since I've already played with the farmers. Unfortunately my special ability proved pretty lame as Jupiter cards rarely hit the table. NewSteve played the heat corporation, which may use heat as money, and did nothing the first turn, saving up to deploy card that boosted his heat production on turn two. Combined with his native production, this netted him an extra ten credits a turn in addition to whatever his Terraform Rating (TR) paid. This made NewSteve an early threat and I directed any negative aspects of my cards toward his end of the table.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Drew developed cities and greenery, while Mark quietly rolled out a couple beauties of his own. One accumulated micro-organisms that he cashed in three at a time to boost his TR. Another was the planetary defense franchise, which also steadily bumped up his TR. I was doing a good job increasing my income with an eye to roping in some asteroids and other pricey space cards, but did little in the way of board position. When our engines started to accelerate, we discovered Mark had some scary curvature to his development and was suddenly pulling away from the pack. Even NewSteve couldn't catch him and Mark won by a healthy margin, based on his TR rating and a tidy collection of milestones and awards. NewSteve placed second, while Drew, Hawkeye, and I were well back, all within a point of each other.
The leaders share a laugh
Once again, a solid gaming experience, but I'm still struggling to find the right approach. I spend too much time chasing cards instead of going for incremental achievements. My lack of board position was appalling - I think you can win without much on the board, but tiles link into several milestones and awards, so you'd better have a screaming VP machine in your tableau if you forgo developing the surface. I think I'll take a page from NewSteve's book and just sit on my hands for a turn now and then - the accumulated cash gives you a lot more freedom of action, and might be the best/only way to pursue a heavy card strategy.
J. R. Tracy
We had a mellow crew of eight this past week so we could spread out a little.
Scott, Bill, Natus, and Smitch broke out Pax Renaissance for a second run. Natus quickly got a stranglehold on the East and used his ever-growing tableau to dominate proceedings. Scott did what he could to stem the surging Ottomans, installing the charismatic Vlad Țepeș on the throne of Hungary with orders to defend Christendom. Nate sent Radu, Vlad's own brother, to overthrow him, taking Hungary and sealing an Empire win.
High praise all around for this one. With Scott guiding the action there was a lot more coherence this time around, and some real strategies had a chance to develop. Nate was the man to beat from early on, but everyone remained in the running. We're still playing with the basic kit, but there's an expansion deck to be explored as well.
Maynard and Dave tried Terraforming Mars two-handed. Maynard had a good start, setting off a few nukes to make things a little more cozy. Dave slowly built a VP machine, however, with great plant/critter synergies. Dave's VP harvest reached the point he wasn't really interested in completing the terraforming, so Maynard was doing most of the work in that department down the stretch. They didn't add up the points at the end but Dave was up by a healthy margin.
Ready for a Martian winter
The players enjoyed building their engines, but found two player mode almost overwhelming as their tableaus grew. I think they had well over 40 cards in play each. It became a lot to process each turn and as a result the game took much longer than our five-player sessions. I think the activity is more tractable parceled across five minds instead of just two. Of course, when you play solo you are responsible for *everything*, but at least you have that mindset going in. It looks like two-player requires a similar mentality to some degree, and certainly a little planning to make sure you have enough space to deploy your cards!
Hawkeye and I settled in for some ASL playtesting for the upcoming Journal 12. Taskmaster Chas assigned us Belgian Blitzkrieg, depicting an action on the Lys River line in late May, 1940. My plucky Belgians had to deter a large German infantry assault on Board 71 long enough for reinforcements to enter play. The Germans had to either take building Z6, well forward of the Belgian main line (hexrow S), by the end of turn two, or two multihex buildings by game end.
Ready and waiting
Hawkeye started with thirteen squads and four leaders, along with copious support weapons, and received a pair of 37mm antitank guns and their transport on turn two. He could set up on map, with the option of setting aside a portion of his force to enter play close to the middle of the board on turn three. Also, by SSR he could pick two building hexes to rubble pre-game, with the possibility of falling rubble blocking a road. I started with seven and a half squads and a couple leaders, with a medium machine gun, a light mortar, and a 47mm antitank gun. As reinforcements I received three and a half bicycle-mounted squads supported by two small tanks that I suspect were pedal-powered as well. Overall I had good leadership (including an armor leader) and 40% of my force was elite - not a bad order of battle at all.
The biggest question I faced was how much force to commit to the forward building. Two turns isn't much time to clear a two-hex two-floor building, but if I was too stingy I'd lose the game before Nate's dinner arrived. I put the ATG in AA7 to cover the direct approach in case Hawkeye went for an all-out rush. I added the MMG and the 9-1 leader, putting them upstairs along with two squads, in case the Germans infiltrated toward town across the hedges on either side. Finally, I put a pair of half squads in the wooden buildings up front. In town, a half squad manned a mortar in the newly-rubbled J7, covering that flank, while a squad was upstairs in M6 peering over the hedges to the southeast. My other leader was with a squad in O4, looking to deploy for more flexibility, and my last squad sat in L4 watching the road. I had enough concealment left over to create a dummy stack to disorient and discombobulate the invaders.
Les carabiniers-cyclistes sont arrivés
Hawkeye opened with a cautious assault on the Z6 building, trying to draw as much fire as possible. With several German stacks lurking with intent on the periphery, I held my fire until they moved. Sure enough, they attempted to skitter up the map edges toward town. Low rolls and rate of fire put paid to that, leaving Hawkeye's broken and licking their wounds. The German 8-1 led a squad with an MMG up to CC5 where they commenced a duel with my 47mm ATG. It was not to end well for the Germans.
Despite the fate of the MMG team, Hawkeye landed several solid blows against the Z6 building. However, I always had someone upstairs in good order to interdict his flankers. When he entered his delayed units (five fulls squads, an ATR and a leader), he was forced to peel a couple squads off to support the assault on Z6 while the rest headed toward town. My town garrison held on as best they could, but Hawkeye managed to contest the H5 building with help from the northern flank. About this time the German 50mm mortar landed a round on the breechblock of my ATG, knocking it out of the game and compromising Z6.
The situation looked superficially grim for the Belgians when my reinforcements pedaled into the fray. Bicycling into battle is more foolhardy than brave, but the J7 rubble conveniently blocked German lines of sight and my troops got all the way to the center of town unscathed, reaching the J5 building in the Advance Phase. The AFVs tucked themselves in behind the wall in K5 and L4. Hawkeye had a couple squads, a hero and a leader in the H5 building, but I had a couple squads of my own hiding in the upstairs linen closet. He had to throw me out and hang on. However, my counterattack booted out one German squad while a squad and a half of Belgians got inside. That was enough for the Germans to call it a day.
I think this scenario has a nifty central concept with related puzzles for both sides. How much do the Belgians commit to the forward building? Do the Germans go for the gusto and an early win, or head for town and win there? Hawkeye had a sound plan but was undermined by mediocre dice and some execution issues as he climbs the learning curve. If he drew a little more fire with his screening force, he might have had a couple squads in town well ahead of my reinforcements, in position to interdict my BMX team. That in turn would've allowed his delayed reinforcements freedom of movement, and he might even have gotten his own ATGs into action. The playtesting concern is the timing of the Belgian reinforcements. Early plays showed turn four to be too early - we entered them on turn five which felt about right. There may yet be some tweaks but the structure is sound and this has the size and curb appeal to see a lot of play.
J. R. Tracy
We had sixteen players just before Thanksgiving for some crowded gaming and a birthday celebration!
Smitch, Maynard, Natus, and Tenno broke in our fresh copy of Inis. This is a Celtic-themed card drafting/area control game with great looking components. Players draft their hands and set out to build and expand. The cards are all interesting and attractive so deciding what to pass is tough; further, you may opt to lose cards instead of figures to fulfill combat losses, adding to your card anxiety.
With all the cards flying around, many with rule-bending abilities, the game requires you to announce when you've reached a game-winning condition, giving the table a chance to rein you in. I like the idea of it, but it had no impact on their game. Smitch seemed to be out of the race, but had a whopper final turn. With the rest of the table out of actions, he managed to stitch together a sequence of winning a battle to pick up a VP, which in turn satisfied a couple more conditions allowing him to pick up two more for a come-from-behind win. Giving notice to the table of imminent victory doesn't mean much when they're out of bullets!
Opinions varied. Natus offered little more than Nate-hate beyond some soft coos over the pretty pictures; he still prefers Blood Rage for dudes-on-a-map gaming. Tenno, Maynard, and Smitch were more enthusiastic. The game is indeed beautiful, and the combination of card management and positional play looked appealing from the middle distance. I look forward to trying it myself before year end.
Dave, Herr Fuchs, Mitch, Dr. Rob, and NewSteve set out to do some Terraforming of Mars. All were new to the game, but after a blurry hand-waving explanation session from three different teachers, they were ready for liftoff. They went with the advanced game, and Herr Fuchs picked the corporation that played Earth cards at a discount. He made the most of this to build out a low-cost card-playing machine, and rode it to a win. Hawkeye stepped in to replace Dr. Rob after an unfortunate airlock incident, but could not stop our new Martian overlord.
The winning board
Amy Muldoon made a surprise appearance with cupcakes in hand to celebrate another turn around the sun for husband Scott. They were joined by Jim and Bill for a session of the new Pax Renaissance.
The birthday beer of choice for giant robots everywhere
As with the other Pax games, the learning process is part of the experience, as players try to figure out what the hell is going on. The Muldoons ruled the east, with Amy sitting in Byzantium while Scott grabbed the Ottomans. Scott was working toward a Holy victory when Amy hit him with a peasant revolt that slapped him to the back of the pack. Jim and Bill were busy running trade fairs with some success, though Scott overthrew Bill's English kingdom to get back into the game. Sadly they had to adjourn without finishing but they had a blast and are eager to return to it.
GorGor and I got in a quick tuneup before the upcoming ASL tournament in Albany. We picked BFP 138, Outgunned, from Bounding Fire's Poland in Flames. This depicts a Polish counterattack against the Soviet bridgehead on the Dniester, on 18 September 1939. My Reds started with half a dozen squads, a heavy machine gun, an LMG, and a couple flak trucks, while GorGor attacked with 18 squads (2/3 first liners and the rest green), four FT-17s, a pair of twin-turreted 7TPdws, and a couple of armored cars. I received six more squads plus six BTs as reinforcements on turn two. We both wanted the Poles, but Steve bid more so I got some extra concealment counters and my inexperienced AFV crews were upgraded to normal.
Thin on the ground
The Poles score points for buildings near the river as well as for any units on my side of the Dniester at game end. Setting up, I was afraid to defend too far forward for fear of being swarmed, but I figured I had to contest the approach. I anchored my right flank with my AA trucks lurking in the woods with good enfilading lines of sight, and concentrated my infantry in the center, three to five hexes beyond the far bank. I used dummies to represent other possible flak truck positions. I hoped to slow the Poles a bit and then fall back on my reinforcements.
Rock and a hard place
GorGor focused on my left flank, meeting my main line of resistance and rolling right through it. I broke a couple halfsquads but my MGs missed all their attempts to knock out Polish armor. With my infantry rolled up, it was up to my armor to stem the tide. I sent all my gun-armed BTs to the left and my MG-armed BT-2Bs to the center, supported by the AA trucks. I had thicker armor and better armament, so would have the upper hand in the tank battle. Unfortunately, Steve was already in position and thus had the defender's natural advantage. A furious exchange left one Polish armored car burning in exchange for four BTs. With two thirds of my infantry down, along with all my gun-armed AFVs, I threw in the towel. I did at least manage to kill the unluckiest 7-0 in the Polish Army!
Not even breaking a sweat
I made a couple mistakes in my setup, one obvious at the time and the second in retrospect. I needed to either have a flak truck on my left or a convincing fake, to prevent Steve from establishing himself so easily on the river's edge. However, I had the other flank to worry about as well - a couple trucks only go so far. Having played it, I'm not sure the Soviet can afford to put much at all on the far side of the river; the Polish assault is just too overwhelming. Preserving force to contest the crossing may be the way to go. Even with the the setup errors, I had a chance to shake things up with more aggressive armor play, perhaps sending my BT-2Bs on an overrun rampage. All that said, we think this is a pretty pro-Polish card. Cool AFVs, and a neat situation, but the Polish victory condition feels within easy reach, particularly if the Soviets suffer from Inexperienced Crews.
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