Boardgaming in Falls Church

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Some Good Days

Thumis Dalidalisa
United States
Falls Church
Virginia
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From gallery of Kolumel


One does not instinctively associate frigid Kazakhstan with pink flamingoes, which remind more of Miami or the plastic figures lining the driveway of a public driving range. However, flamingoes do stop in Kazakhstan at various points as part of their migration along the West Asian – East African flyway. This past May we broke Covid rules and took a bus to the protected lakes that pool on the steppe near Nur-Sultan. The glorious birds showed a rich reddish pink under the wings and on their bellies while their tops were a light pastel. Along the way, a local birder pointed out Demoiselle cranes, Dalmatian pelicans, sky larks, ruffs, grey heron, shell ducks, lapwings, marsh harriers, black kites, pallas gulls, great white egrets, cormorants, whooper swans, grey herons, grey leg geese, and black larks. I picked sprouts of the artemisia plant that gives the steppe its distinctive smell (sort of cedar mixed with oregano). Along the way, we stopped at a local farm, where the Russian owner in friendly fashion offered us “samogon,” white lightning, which knocked me back for a couple of days after.

That was a good day.

From gallery of Kolumel


Continuing the pink theme, on a different weekend not long after my recovery from Covid we went to see Kazakhstan’s pink lake. Different sources have different stories as to why the lake is such bright pink. Some say algae, some say minerals. I really don’t know, but it is definitely very pink, largely shallow, and so salty that white stones of salt form in the water.

That was another good day.

From gallery of Kolumel


Cramming in a lot of travel that had been previously canceled, we camped under the stars in Mangystau. With no lights, cars, or any other people for miles, the Milky Way was clearly visible. The scenery was gorgeous, though you have to be careful on the trails, which were slippery with loose rock. The region must have been the bottom of an ocean at one time as it had many fossils of shellfish. Back in the city of Aktau we strolled along the shore of the Caspian and sampled the local specialty of “fishbarmak,” the noodle dish “beshbarmak,” prepared with fish rather than horse meat, as in the rest of Kazakhstan

That was yet another good day.

From gallery of Kolumel


Another weekend, I took a walk with my two dogs. The tulips were in bloom and carpeted the land (the tulip originated in Kazakhstan – no Dutch should ever argue this point). The feistier dog took off after a rabbit, which she would never catch luckily (Kazakhstani rabbits, or rather hares, are almost as big as my dog). The sky was big and blue and the wind just gently rustled the vegetation. Again, I grabbed a handful of artemisia and rubbed it under my nose. So I’d remember.

I miss Kazakhstan.

From gallery of Kolumel


On Idahobit (Idahobit is more of an international event while Pride Month is U.S.-centered), I was proud to see the U.S. Embassy display a giant rainbow flag in support of the LGBTQI community in Kazakhstan, which suffers persecution, discrimination, and violence.

A day of good.

Cruelly interrupted by the pandemic, gaming in Kazakhstan also provided some wonderful days. We had a gender-balanced group that sounded like one of those jokes about nationalities: “a Finn, A Frenchman, a Belgian, a Canadian, and two Americans walked into a bar to play a game.” We played A Study in Emerald, 7 Wonders, and in a great evening near the end of my time in Kazakhstan, two epic games of Root, which Sean won both times if I remember correctly.

Another good …

From gallery of Kolumel


I have returned to Falls Church. While I do miss Kazakhstan, it’s good to be back. Partly because of the disruption of Covid, the move this time was more chaotic than usual, but things are slowly settling into a groove. For the first time in my life, it looks like I will have a dedicated gaming room, which I have decorated with some of my Tekumel collection.

From gallery of Kolumel


Compass Games Expo

Now that I am back in the States, I have resolved to do more gaming. Thus, I recently went to the Compass Expo in Meriden, CT, which was a blast. First, at the hotel you could feel the power and energy that is Meriden, CT (err …). More seriously, it was a great and welcoming set of gamers. I playtested Mike Willner’s “Prelude to Revolution,” which I strongly recommend for preorder (Compass). Mike turned out to be a great guy with similar gaming tastes and we also played two games of Kanger’s Nemesis, a game of great depth, as well as an abbreviated game of Triumph of Chaos v2. The highlight of the Con was my second game of Triumph of Chaos v2 against the mighty Bob Heinzmann. While he disposed of me in a relatively few turns, I had my moments and achieved, for example, White linkage, which was satisfying. All in all, it ranked with my best gaming experiences.

From gallery of Kolumel


Gaming All-time Bests

What are my best gaming moments? I can think of six off the top of my head:

1) History of the World and many other games with Zouave while we lived in Taiwan many years ago when we were young and green.
2) Fire in the Sky against the gracious Jim Eliason at WBC, who ground me to bits but in a very enjoyable fashion.
3) Playing Churchill with JR and Mark Herman himself to a 30-30-30 tie at JR’s place when I was in NY for UNGA.
4) A long session of Here I Stand with designer Ed Beach at Suzy Vitale's. So much fun that it seemed to pass in just an instant.
5) A playtest session with a copy of Pericles that WifWendell had constructed of Post-it notes.
6) Battling Bob at ToC v2 as noted above.

Definitely six of my ten thousand things and all very good days.

From gallery of Kolumel


I am not restarting the gaming group that I founded before I left. The group is in better hands now and thriving with a different host. However, I am trying to host a monthly Virgin Queen game. VQ is a great game and even greater when everyone pretty much knows the rules. Next time I will do a session report.

The past two years have seen a lot of bad days. My heart goes out to those affected by the death of covid. I find remembering a few good days helps a little in battling negative feelings. I hope you enjoy it too.
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Thu Nov 25, 2021 1:17 am
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I am Colder than You ...

Thumis Dalidalisa
United States
Falls Church
Virginia
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From gallery of Kolumel

Mountains Outside Almaty

I have been watching news of the polar vortex in the United States with some bemusement. You see, where I live -20F is an average winter day. Wednesday night, the forecast here is for -36F and by the weekend it may fall to -40F. And don't forget the wind off the steppe, which blows horizontal snow that cuts like a razor blade.

So don't tell me you are cold.

From gallery of Kolumel

Thanksgiving Weather in Astana

I grew up in Buffalo and I know about snowy winters. Still, I've learned a lot about freezing weather living here. For example, did you know that when it falls below -20 or so, walking on snow makes a different sound? I can only describe it as more musical. Did you know that a person can easily freeze to death outside, but a dog with enough food generally won't? In Astana, stray dogs live outside straight through the winter.

From gallery of Kolumel

Snow Ninja

Many people say that when it gets below a certain temperature, it doesn't make any difference if it gets any colder. This is simply not true. You can shovel snow outside with no gloves for a half hour in 20F weather. At zero, you can't -- if you want to avoid frostbite. At -20F, dressing to go outside becomes a matter of safety not comfort. And at -30F, it gets surreal. Even a short walk outside will turn exposed skin hard.

From gallery of Kolumel

Great Patriotic War Memorial

Of course, dressing for the cold is important. I have two dogs that need to be walked. I wear wonderful heavy boots and wool socks that do a good job keeping my feet warm. Long underwear is a must though I don't usually wear snow pants. A t-shirt, shirt, and sweat shirt go under a good parka. Scarf and balaclava under a down hood. I find my hands hardest to keep warm. Even nice gloves with moveable fingers leave my hands stiff and cold after about 20 minutes. I suppose I should look into glove liners. Or those finger warmers they sell.

Anyway, a shrink I know says that bragging rights are a key tool of resilience under extreme conditions. So, thank you for bearing with me.

From gallery of Kolumel

Some of My Unpainted Miniatures

You'd think the long cold evenings would make an ideal environment for boardgaming. Unfortunately, my job is very busy and my gaming has been pretty sparse. I host a monthly gaming get-together for mostly non-gamers. However, that involves hosting more than playing. Still, the guests have fun playing party games and simpler Euros. King Domino was a big hit as was TIme's Up and Codenames. This past session, Medici turned out to be very popular.

When Anak Sulung was home over the holidays, he and I got in some games of Combat Commander and Twilight Struggle. I have also lost a bunch of Twilight Struggle games on Steam. And I have been playing a wonderful PBEM game of Fire in the Sky with wifwendell. That's about it. I am thinking of painting some miniatures in the evenings.

Keep warm and keep gaming. And stop complaining. You don't know how lucky you really are.
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Mon Feb 4, 2019 5:15 pm
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Recap of the Past Year; Thoughts on the Birth, Death, and Rebirth of a Game Club; and My Big Move

Thumis Dalidalisa
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Falls Church
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From gallery of Kolumel

The Glittering City on the Steppe

Has it really been (well) over a year since I posted on this blog?

Recap of the Past Year
In September 2017, I started a new one-year assignment at work, which I thought would be intellectually taxing but would afford me more time to pursue gaming. Boy, was I wrong. Between work and preparations for my big move, the time melted away. I played some games but never found the time to write about them.

Recollecting upon the past year and a half, gaming and non-gaming, I most vividly remember my 2017 vacation in the beautiful Faroe Islands:

From gallery of Kolumel

Huldufólk do not Appear in Photographs

I did not manage to find any gamers in the Faroes, but I had a number of fun adventures -- some of which are recounted here and here. The chilly Faroes would foreshadow my move a year later to another cold destination.

From gallery of Kolumel

Kevin, Suzy, and Rich Try Kevin's New Project in 2017

Turning to gaming over the past year or so, my WBC 2017 experience was wonderful. Seven straight days of non-stop gaming. By this point, people are recounting WBC 2018, so I won't bore anyone with too many warmed over memories of 2017. The high points were the gracious Jim Eliason's coaching me through Fire in the Sky -- a game I adore; getting ground to dust by the also gracious Bob Heinzmann in a few games; the Conquest of Paradise final; where I scored my first and only laurels in my two WBCs; and the epic Saturday night Facts in Five experience, where everyone feels on the verge of remembering a lot more than they actually do.

From gallery of Kolumel

An Epic Day of HiS

Another gaming highlight was a session of Here I Stand with designer Ed Beach at Susie V.'s. Thirteen hours (with ample breaks and dinner and teaching) and I never felt fatigued or bored. As England, I thought I engaged in some clever diplomacy but it wasn't enough.

From gallery of Kolumel

Final Position at Pseudocon

Jason's Pseudocon 2018, shortly before my departure, was another great game of HiS, this time with sharks Justin and AJ. As the Protestant, I started off with a bang but peaked too early. AJ took it as Austria, capturing a slew of keys in one turn for the AV. A session of Mansions of Madness with Paul A., Suzie, and Rich was a nice parting gift. As was chatting with Paul D. over Hands in the Sea.

Of course, the remaining sessions of my regular Boardgaming in Falls Church group were also a blast though as the year progressed they got further and further apart.

From gallery of Kolumel

Bob Grapples with the Immortals at BFC

The Birth, Death, and Rebirth of a Gaming Club

I started the Boardgaming in Falls Church group just after the new year in 2015 and it last met in my home in April 2018. Altogether there were:

128 sessions
975 attendees & 79 unique attendees
361 games played & 162 unique games played
Our most played games were Time of Crisis (which came on strong after summer 2017) and Maria (which I love and always pushed to play).

The group waxed and waned over the 3+ years, but by the time I left had become almost moribund. (Luckily, under new management it is reviving -- see below.) I wanted to share some thoughts and lessons learned on running the group in case anyone else is thinking about founding a group.

Basic Context
I read about a lot of groups on BGG that seem to have some serious issues. I was lucky that our group did not have any fundamental problems. No one ever stole anything. Everyone had good manners and hygiene. For my part, I treated people as my guests as well as gamers. I did not try to tyrannically dictate the game or kick anyone out for not liking the games I like. Basically, if you come to my house regularly, you're my friend and get treated as such. In three plus years, I was only tempted to be angry twice and in both cases I had simply misheard something (in one case, I thought I overheard an anti-Semitic remark and in another I thought someone was saying something bigoted about Muslims). On the other hand, we were almost all professionals and often were late or had to cancel at short notice because of work. I did not get hyper about that either. I was relaxed about eating and drinking at the table -- all games can be replaced but friends cannot. I had only one rule -- no politics (because this is DC) -- and that rule was routinely broken with no rancor beyond an occasional rolling of eyes.

Where to Meet?
Where to meet is the most fundamental issue of running a gaming group, I think. I wanted to hold the meetings in my house because I knew that would be the best way to ensure I gamed regularly. Between work and other RL, I'd always find a reason not to attend a gaming session outside the house. As host, I always found a way to make it.

I took care about inviting people to the home I shared with my wife and children. My policy on this was very much colored by a past experience with "C." "C" gamed with me at the Games Parlor in Chantilly back in the day. He later murdered three people not quite at random. "C" was not the weirdest person that came to that Chantilly group either.

So, I always screened those who who wanted to come to my house. The original invitees were by recommendation or were well-known local gamers. Others were usually by recommendation of existing members, though I occasionally accepted "cold calls" if I could get a clear fix on them. However, contact me with just an Internet name (which when googled turns up posts on a pornography forum). No.

This is the main reason why a public forum (church, game store, community center) has an advantage; i.e., no need to limit attendance. In addition, if the organizer can't make it, they can pass the hosting duties to someone else rather than cancel. But, overall, I was happy hosting at my house and there weren't any major problems.

What to Play
Deciding on the games to play was the biggest headache of the group. Partly, it was just the difficulty of decision-making in a large group with disparate tastes. Partly, it was the uncertain attendance and a "no gamer left behind" policy. Have that 3-player game of Maria set up? What if someone extra comes? Or someone doesn't show? We eventually began to use a spreadsheet to list everyone's preferences and an algorithm to narrow down our choices. That helped but did not always solve the problem. One thing I'll note is that at a group like this there is a bias toward multi-player games. I rarely was able to play a 2-player.

What Happened?
My goal was to get 12 people every time we met. Twelve people can break into three or four groups according to taste and few would have to play a game that is not among their first choices. I rarely achieved this goal. The median attendance over three plus years was eight. Sometimes, we'd fall to 3-4 several weeks in a row.

I found that keeping up attendance took my constant attention. Only a handful of people came regularly over the whole three years. Most people were too busy or would drift away eventually. Quite a few people seemed to like the idea of playing games more than actually playing. They'd eagerly ask for invitations but never show. So I tried to identify new people, asked existing attendees for ideas, and basically beat the bushes.

Attendance peaked in Winter 2016/17 but by Spring 2018, had fallen quite a bit. By the time I had to stop hosting in April, the group was moribund. Part of the reason for this was that I no longer had the time to recruit new members. The regular weekly schedule had eroded, which also hurt attendance. Another reason was that the group included both Grognards and non-Grognards, who had little common ground when it came to gaming. I enjoy both Euros and wargames, but most people like one or the other.

Postscript
Luckily, the group came under new management after my departure and is now doing very well. New recruits and a few other factors seem to have made it more attractive and it is going strong. \

My Big Move

From gallery of Kolumel

The Kazakh Look

But of course my personal big news was my move to Astana, Kazakhstan. I have yet to break into the gaming scene here. There is a small club, though the city's sole game store (for our kind of game) went bust earlier this year. I was hoping to get in some solo gaming, but today the weather was gorgeous and, given that this city usually has a six-month winter, I just had to go outside while I could still enjoy it.

From gallery of Kolumel

Skies over Astana

Astana is the frigid Washington of Kazakhstan while Almaty is the slightly less frigid New York. They're both beautiful. Astana is new and sort of like a Dubai on the steppe. Almaty is a bit more organic, with nice cafes nestled in tree-lined streets with a view of snow-capped mountains.

From gallery of Kolumel

Beautiful Almaty

The national dish is horse and I have eaten many a plate of it already. Not bad at all.

From gallery of Kolumel

The Boundless Steppe

Anyway, I have optimistically renamed the Blog "Boardgaming in Astana" ("Астанадағы үстел ойындары" in Kazakh). Stay tuned.

My Unplayed Solo Game cry
From gallery of Kolumel
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Fri Aug 31, 2018 4:50 am
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April 2017 Roundup: Gaming in Berlin, Pericles, Twilight Struggle, Black Orchestra, Pandemic Legacy, Tannhauser, Battlestar Galactica

Thumis Dalidalisa
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Falls Church
Virginia
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From gallery of Kolumel

I Don't Need to Say it, Do I?

Berlin
Far from the cruelest month, April was not even unkind, though in Washington there were definitely some shoures soote. The high point was my trip to Berlin, where I had a chance to spend a couple of free evenings with some great gamers in a great city.

From gallery of Kolumel

The Room on a Wednesday

Benito and Anja graciously host a weekly gathering at a community space near Leopoldplatz, where they hooked me up with a game of Mare Nostrum. I had not played before but got a thorough English explanation and a steady stream of hilarious trash-talking.

Mare Nostrum is another game that was released during one of my gaming hibernations abroad, so I did not have much of an impression before I played. I enjoyed it a lot. There was enough conflict to satisfy a wargamer combined with some clever Euro mechanics. The elements of player order, economic engine, combat, and earning VPs interlocked well without causing brain burn. The theme hangs well on the mechanic and the plastic bits look good. I'd buy it if I didn't already have so many unplayed games.

From gallery of Kolumel

A Game that Rewards Subtle Diplomacy

In our game, I sat as Cleopatra on my barge like a burnished throne. Luckily, neither Hannibal on my left nor Hammurabi on my right threatened my borders. This being my first time, I did not start with perfect efficiency, but I got an engine going and thought I was doing well. Apparently so did Caesar, who launched an attack on my home territory. I could not repel the Roman military juggernaut but I was able to negotiate a peace (perhaps because I had agreed to betray my precious Marc Antony?).

From gallery of Kolumel


At this point, having secured peace with Rome, I plunged my dagger straight into the back of Hannibal by landing a large force in his home territory. My saying "sorry" did not seem to help a lot and the other players rallied to prevent me from accumulating the 11 different resources I needed to win. They became so intent on stopping me that they did not notice that Caesar could get 12, which he did and claimed the victory. Great game!

From gallery of Kolumel

Games and Snacks at Urbanstraße

From gallery of Kolumel

Railroad Barons

Another evening, Bjorn, the just-as-gracious host of a gathering on Urbanstraße, helped me find a game of Railroad Revolution. I don't know if I was tired or am just generally stupid, but I am afraid that I did not do much to uphold the reputation of American gamers. Another very nice bunch of guys, but it was not even close. Somehow my brain burned but with a very dim flame. I came in dead last and way behind Steffen. I enjoyed the game though it did have an unforgiving chain-of-points mechanism.

From gallery of Kolumel

Not my Own Photo but Still True

I have lived and traveled abroad most of my adult life, so I am lucky that I generally regard wherever I am at the moment as the nicest place I've ever been. While the ubiquity of techno music was unfortunate, I especially loved Berlin. The place has a young, down-to-earth feel and, even better, there are no open container laws. In fact, it seems to me that the local government must issue free bottles of beer to drink on the U-Bahn at night since pretty much everyone has one open past 9:00 p.m. ... MUST MOVE HERE!

From gallery of Kolumel

Thanks Paul A. for the Noodles!

Pericles
Back on the home front, we in Falls Church heated up some Korean noodles and cracked open a copy of the new Pericles by Mark Herman. We'd played previously with Wendell's lovely playtest copy made from scrap paper and post-it notes, but this looked much better. Our was definitely a learning game and we made some errors. Dell and I cooperated well as the Athenian side, but I wrecked our chances by trying to take on Sparta head-on on land, which I should have realized would be futile and put us hopelessly behind. Looking forward to the next time (soon).

From gallery of Kolumel

David Thumps Kip at TS. Pandemic in the Background.

Twilight Struggle
David had succeeded in clicking through to the GMT website when the Deluxe Twilight Struggle went on sale recently. He brought it so we could all ooo and ahh over it. I hate to be negative about GMT, which makes so many great games, but I absolutely did not like the collector's edition and would actually refuse to play with it next time. Whereas the coloring of the counters on the regular edition makes clear at a glance whether a region is dominated or not, the collector's edition does this with a fiddly cube. I also found the printing on the blocks a bit faint for these old eyes. Anyway, good luck if you got one and score a profit reselling it, but it's not for me.

(And I should say that David is a shark at Twilight Struggle and beat us all easily.)

Speaking of Twilight Struggle, I advanced to the Final of the BPA PBEM Tournament with a win in a very exciting semi-final game. With the benefit of good luck, I built up some points in the mid-game as the US. My opponent was skilled, however, and fought back like a lion. By Turn 9, I still had a largeish VP lead but my position on the board had collapsed. If the game had gone to final scoring I would have lost. My opponent played Wargames for Ops, so that hope seemed lost until I saw I could play Ortega to the Space Race (luckily I made the roll), then play One Step to leap ahead of the USSR who was on "Animal in Space," and then "Star Wars" to take Wargames out of the discard pile for the win. Rare to hear my heart thump in PBEM play ...

From gallery of Kolumel

Another Win

Black Orchestra
Black Orchestra got another three plays at our group in April. I am not sure I can explain why this game is so popular, as I have not played it myself. Two of the three games were wins for the conspirators.

Pandemic Legacy
We continued our Pandemic Legacy campaign. Still fun and still enjoying the story line. I won't reveal any spoilers here.

From gallery of Kolumel


Tannhauser
Paul had recently acquired Tannhauser and some expansions. I have wanted to play this game since it came out ten years ago. Cool figures and art. Indiana Jones-ish theme. We gave it a try and it was OK but not all I had hoped. I'd want to try story mode rather than death match next time, but in our play-through I didn't feel any narrative emerged.

The mechanics were simple and clean but did not seem to give us much opportunity to apply tactics. Run to an opponents LOS and fire. Endure his counterfire. Repeat. No flanking and not much differentiation.

In our game, Paul's Germans proved unbeatable. As the Union, I couldn't stop their psychic attacks. Paul wore me down and I lost badly. Though maybe not my favorite, this is not a bad game, so it's a bit mysterious that it's been completely abandoned by FFG, no longer appearing on the website in either the products list or the community forum.

From gallery of Kolumel

A Loose Bolt Caused Kate's Cylon head to Tilt

Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactic, which was never played in the group for our first two years, is another game that somewhat mysteriously racked up a lot of plays in 2017. With a full six player crew and explaining for two newbies, the group couldn't quite finish by quitting time, but the consensus was the game was dead even.
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Sat May 6, 2017 12:49 pm
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March 2017 Roundup: Fields of Despair, Pandemic Legacy, Triumph & Tragedy, Churchill, Maria, Espana 1936, Thunder Alley, Terraforming Mars, Black Orchestra, 1846, Bios Megafauna, Clash of Cultures, Road Kill Rally, Roll Play, and Tash-Kalar

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From gallery of Kolumel


Well, for BFC, March both came in like a lion and left like a lion. In the two year history of Boardgaming in Falls Church, this past March was the best single month of gaming so far, with five sessions and over a score of great games played.

From gallery of Kolumel

The Kaiser Surveys the AP's Counterattack

Fields of Despair
I'm not a WWI hound and was only vaguely aware of this game's release. However, both Mike W. and David had bought it and I got in two very enjoyable plays.

In my first game against Mike W., we played the introductory first scenario. This scenario skips the 1914 opening move, instead stipulating a median starting position for the two sides. Mike busted through the Belgian and Luxembourg fronts efficiently, capturing Namur right away and then moving on to Manbouge, Rheims, and subsequently capturing the two VP hexes on the Marne. At this point he was knocking on the gates of Paris but stretched thin. I managed to pinch in from Dunkirk and Verdun to put the Paris spearhead out of supply on the last turn, thwarting any offensive movement for those units. At the same time, I had built up a "secret" force in the south and I attacked from Nancy and Espinal to capture my own Plan XVII VP hexes. It worked out to an exact tie, which in this game means a draw. A great first game.

From gallery of Kolumel


David and I the following week tried the Mobile War scenario, where the CP player plays the opening move (turn 0). By the end of turn 1, David had seized all three Belgian spaces to net 3 VPs. I subsequently launched a similar counterattack at the base of the CP "bulge" and succeeded in recapturing Namur and Liege and contesting Antwerp. However, I was so infatuated with this counterattack that I neglected to do anything in the south to capture Plan XVII hexes. David was able to reestablish his position in Belgium and I lost by a lot.

This is a clean design that uses simple mechanisms like a draw from a cube bag to achieve sophisticated results. The tech advances, naval war, and reinforcement rules all dovetail well with each other. The use of economic points and logistics points both present agonizing choices.

From gallery of Kolumel

I Love the Look of this Game; the Art and Graphics are Attractive and Well Thought Out

Most block games do not provide a lot of fog of war as there is not much difference in block strengths and it is not so hard to remember the positions of blocks previously revealed. Fields of Despair gets around this problem by having blocks that can vary from 1 to 20(!) strength points, liberal rules on shuffling strength between blocks, and a once-a-turn ability to shift strength with almost no restriction. This makes the disposition of forces much more hidden and there is great scope for bluff and feint.

From gallery of Kolumel

Germans Cut Off at the Gates of Paris

Some comments have noted there is a horizon effect in the Mobile War scenario that causes the AP to launch risky attacks on the last turn. I'd agree but observe that it is this horizon effect that balances the game. With semi-cumulative scoring and the Germans roaring through Belgium in the first two turns, the Allies need the possibility of these "horizon effect" VPs to have a chance to win. Still, I'd like to try a longer scenario that extends into trench warfare and gives a chance to move further along the tech tree.

This one's a clear buy. For me, it was an unexpectedly great game.

From gallery of Kolumel

Tom Developed a Slight Fever and Chills During the Course of the Game

Pandemic Legacy
I had wanted to put together a group to play Pandemic Legacy and Tom G., Paul A., and Paul D. volunteered. Paul D. found the game not to his taste but the rest of us have enjoyed it and are continuing the campaign when all three of us are able to make it. I won't reveal any spoilers but our games so far have all been nailbiters and often won (or lost) on the last card. I have found the game does provide interesting strategic decisions and the storyline holds my interest across several games. I don't agree with what seems to be the BGG consensus that this is one of the best games of all time, though.

From gallery of Kolumel

Suzy Tells Andrew that its Important to Attack the Soft Underbelly of Europe First

Churchill
One March evening we had dueling games of Churchill. Churchill has proven to have good "legs" and still gets a lot of play well after release.

In one game, Andrew was Stalin, Rich was Roosevelt, and Susie was Churchill. When they called it at the end of turn 9, they had failed to conquer Germany or Japan. Churchill ended the game with the most victory points, having claimed both global issues (Colonialism and Free Europe) as well as winning 3/4 of the conferences. Rich had not played the game before but caught on quickly, and made it to the Rhineland before the group had to quit. Andrew (Stalin) made it to Prussia, and won one conference. Had the game finished, the axis powers might have been defeated but Susie would have likely been able to preserve her considerable lead over the other allies.

From gallery of Kolumel


In the sister game, Liam played Churchill, Asher played Roosevelt, and Apollo played Stalin. Liam was the only one who had played the game before, but the others picked it up quickly. Liam won a close victory due to his ownership of the global issues, but Asher's United States was only a point away. The most notable part of this game was its historic outcome. Germany fell to a simultaneous U.S and Soviet invasion, while Japan surrendered after the U.S completed the Atom Bomb research. The game finished at the end of conference 9 after four very quick rounds.

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David Plots his Mediterranean Invasion

Triumph & Tragedy
Churchill is one of the group's most played games, but Triumph and Tragedy is the group's most played game. It's been a hit with us ever since WBC 2015. One weeknight in March, Tom took the Germans, while I channeled Stalin, and David gave long ponderous speeches in an Etonian accent. The sides concentrated on building their economies and diplomacy for two years. Tom eventually went after France after I promised not to attack German soil on the East Front. David and Tom went at it hammer and tongs. I temporarily lost my mind and kept my word not to attack Tom even though a quick stiletto in his back would have earned me the win. This partly owed to complacency as I thought I probably still had it in the bag, but David quickly invaded Italy and drove up to take the Ruhr before I could grab my two capitals. Good game.

From gallery of Kolumel

Prussians Cutting the Heart Out of Austria? Who cares?

Maria
Bob and I are big Maria fans and always on the lookout for a game. Part of the reason I founded the group initially was in fact to find opponents for Maria. In March, we roped in newbie Jan for a a game. I took Austria, Bob Prussia/Pragmatics, and Jan France/Bavaria.

One of the best gamers I have ever known is Jon Brier.
Jon offered me the excellent piece of strategy advice for Austria in Maria: you only have to win one turn ahead of your opponent. That is, don't be afraid to leave your home territory vulnerable if you can seize enough fortresses for the win with an offensive strategy. (European diplomats will sort out the ownership of all those peasant villages later -- what we need are glorious military victories.)

Accordingly, I tried to place my generals in Silesia only so as to frustrate Prussian expansion. In Maria a general within three spaces prevents capture of a friendly fortress so I snuck a general or two on the edges and then behind the Prussians, Bob was able to take two Silesian fortresses immediately but struggled to get more in the first few turns. I barely defended core Austria from the French as those lost fortresses do not lose me any VPs. I managed to use Arens to take a French fortress on the western map and I won a VP from the imperial election. The French tried to bite into Southern Austria, but then reduced military objectives. I rested for a bit and then managed to take Cham in Bavaria, winning a VP also for the battle. At this point, the Prussians had given up chasing me around in Silesia and instead were moving down to tear the heart out of central Austria. However, I was able to defeat Jan in another battle in Bavaria, which gave me the battle VP and the win.

This was not really a legitimate victory because as a new player Jan did not yet well understand how to play his tactical cards to lose by 1 point and frustrate my strategy. In fact, Prussia was well poised to take enough fortresses in the next turn for a good shot at a win. Still, a fun time that illustrated some of the subtleties of maneuver and tricky play of this great game.

From gallery of Kolumel

Kate Tells Jan for Whom the Bell Tolls

Espana 1936
on a different Thursday night, Kate and Jan tried out Espana 1936 for the first time. A simple game, midway between a Euro and a classic wargame, Espana 1936 covers the military portion of the Spanish Civil War. After giving the rules a quick once-over (missing a few details, as it turned out), they played the short scenario that covers the second half of the war. Using area movement and straightforward "handful of dice" combat, Espana 1936 still has subleties that make it interesting after one has learned the basics. Though the tabletop war, like the historical one, tends in favor of the Nationalist (rebel, fascist) faction, the victory conditions make it possible for a determined and experienced Republican player to win if she can hold out long enough. Basic troop units are supported by tanks, aircraft, and leaders, who alone enable offensive combat. Jan and Kate did not use any of the optional rules, to include the naval portion of the game, which commenters on BGG suggest adds rules complication without commensurate flavor. They finished the first playthrough in a little over two hours and started a second game which they didn't have time to finish. The verdict was it's a fun game worth trying again, though it didn't grab them immediately.

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Who's Your Chief?

Thunder Alley
When my cousin worked at McDoanld's, the over-eager boss told him on his first day that he was "crew chief material." Hearing this, my cousin quit immediately. I thought of this story when Mark led a group in Thunder Alley using the new crew chief expansion. Which one would be crew chief material?

Mark reports it was an exciting game, although some players had a difficult time with the expansion rules, which may have owed to the effects of the awesome craft beer that Kate brought. Inebriated or not, Dell had two cars at the front of the race, but put Paul in a position to put one of his cars across the finish line first. Even with the strong position that Dell had, Paul won the game by two points. Apollo also ran a smart race and made some strategic decisions which paid off and he came in third when the points were totaled up.

The group liked the expansion. Each player has his or her own identical deck of crew chief cards. Before each round, each player deals three cards off the top of their deck and picks one to play for that round. The card usually an ongoing effect that assists a player's cars in some way. In addition, before the race begins, each player designates one car as their star driver. The star driver can take advantage of certain bonuses at the bottom of the crew chief card in play for that round. There is also a new rule added that allows the most recent lapped car to get back on the track and attempt to improve his position for the finish.

These rules add some variety without overwhelming what our group already thinks is a great game. I am sure we'll see this back on the table soon.

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They Did it

Black Orchestra
Black Orchestra is one of our group's hot new games and is getting a lot of plays recently. I only received a report of one of the two games played in March. In that game, on March 11, 1943, German dictator Adolf Hitler boarded his Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor in Vienna to make a surprise visit to supporters in Nuremberg. The trip was seen as a morale-building undertaking, as Germany had recently suffered several back-to-back military defeats that had seriously eroded confidence in the country's leader.

As his plane climbed over the Austrian landscape, the pilot of an escort fighter reported witnessing a large, orange fireball erupt from the plane's fuselage. The Condor plummeted to earth, landing in a dense section of forest near the Danube river. There were no parachutes and no survivors.

Immediate speculation focused on the actions of the Black Orchestra, particularly on two Abwehr personnel (Bob and Mark), who had shared confidential details concerning Hitler's Vienna trip. They were supported by Wermacht and civilian agents (Kip and Paul D.) noted for their wavering loyalty and occasionally detained by the Gestapo for questioning. However, in the ensuing confusion after the ultimate German General Staff coup that overthrew Hermann Goering, the conspirators escaped to Switzerland, and were later hailed as heroes by the Allied powers. One historian later noted that General George Patton, on learning the details of the assassination, said, "I'd like to shake the hands of those four magnificent bastards."

I have not yet joined in any of the Black Orchestra games (there have also been three in April). Eavesdropping on the table talk, it's clear that this coop presents a challenge and many difficult choices.

Dominant Species the Card Game
The other Black Orchestra game, from what I gather, also ended in victory after a sniper nailed Hitler with a head shot in Berghof. With some time on their hands, Dell, Kip, and Mark tried a game of Dominant Species - The Card Game. Dell took an early lead and Kip caught on to the game quickly and Mark was left to catch up, which he did by about turn 4 or 5. At that time only three points divided the players. However, after that, Dell pulled away with Kip winning another round or two as well, leaving Mark way behind at the end. For now, this is a go-to filler for us. However, this is the second time Dell has dominated this game and the general consensus is that he should not be allowed to play it again.

From gallery of Kolumel


Terraforming Mars & 1846
Bob is a gaming saint and most generous about teaching new games, even if that ends up not being a completely satisfying competitive experience. He introduced Terraforming Mars and 1846 to various players in March. Neither game was complete but it was a good introcution and hopefully forms the basis for more serious play later.

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Bios Megafauna
Rich, Suzy and Paul decided to recreate the epic mammal vs dinosaur battle with a game of BIOS: Megafauna. Paul described it as Phil Eklund’s most-accessible game, which still meant there was much consulting of the rules and scratching of the heads during the session. Rich’s archtype species was the two-tusker synapsid, Suzy’s the dino-croc archosaur and Paul’s the lovable little dog-face cynodont. Rich got off to a slow start when he made the strategic error of listening to Paul’s advice and taking some DNA that forced him to remain a tiny little insect eater that couldn’t move anywhere. Suzy took a more aggressive path that ultimately led to the spread of nocturnal, underwater, squid-hunting birds, while Paul’s dog-faces grabbed some cultural advances that allowed them to use their hunting skills to feast on nocturnal, underwater, squid-hunting birds. There were many twists and turns, and wrongly played rules, as is the case with all Eklund games. The trio called the game after a major CO2 burp caused many of the specialized on-board species to die off. They all had a great time and this one will see the table again soon.

From gallery of Kolumel


Clash of Cultures
Kip, Mark, and Paul played a close game of Clash of Cultures, a fun game of empire building set in a yet to be discovered world of variable terrain and big, bad barbarian hordes. A three-player game sets up as a big triangle of face-down four-hex terrain tiles plus each player's face-up home tile. Besides the home tile, each player has a starting settlement, a settler, and two random cards (one action and one objective).

You know the drill. Expand and build things, like armies and ships. Attack another player when you see an opening, and trash the barbarians. If they let you, sit back and get culture, lots of culture.

The game is played in six rounds of three turns each; at the end of the third turn of each round is a status and scoring phase. Central to game play, and especially scoring, is the accumulation of cultural advancements. Each player has a score card of available advancements, which are marked by a cube as they are acquired. All players have identical scorecards, and fairly uniform early game strategies of accumulation (irrigation, sanitation, storage). However, things typically diverge wildly by mid-game as players pursue different goals. The advancements comprise a matrix of compounding effects; they get easier to accumulate and provide more profound game effects as they go down.

There are several card decks including objectives (scoring), actions, events, and wonders. Actions and objectives are awarded at the beginning of each round and often acquired with advancements or by an event card. Depending on circumstances, these cards may or may not be useful. Events trigger (predictably) as players move their markers ahead on their resources tracks. Once sufficient resources have been accumulated, and the specific, preconditional advancments achieved, a wonder may be built if there is one available.

From gallery of Kolumel


A player has three actions per turn. Rather than review the minutiae here, you should follow the link to Grimnir's rules summary on BGG and give it a quick read:

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/97533/clash-cultures-rule...

This game developed with a strong Barbarian presence in and around Kip (blue) and blocking Mark (green). Paul (red) was Barbarian free throughout the game, but he didn't exploit that advantage. Proximity to Barbarians can be beneficial if you can hammer them and win gold and/or take their cities. Blue and green played a lot of whack-a-Barbarian to very good effect.

There were few sea hexes/tiles. Red fairly early built a port and then a fleet, but used the latter only as a passive threat to intimidate green and blue. Green embarked on an aggressive fortress building program to offset the red menace and accumlate VPs for the end game.

Blue accumulated advances and compounded them into large advantages in resources, taking one wonder for his exclusive building rights and building the first wonder on the board. Red placed the second wonder a round later. Green didn't go for the wonder business and just kept fortfying and improving his cities, adding multiple ports.

Blue was just one point ahead of red at the end, with green trailing further behind. However, the group then remembered to score the points for two nasty earthquakes that occured via event cards early on. Both quakes had rattled green, but only the first quake hit blue and red was not affected. Earthquakes are very annoying when they happen, knocking down cities in hexes where they occur, but those losses are recorded on the triggering event card and tallied as VPs at the end. Green scooted ahead of red, but fell short of blue in the final tally.

All three had a lot of fun. Red's only prior play through of Clash of Cultures [CC] was in a game with Grimnir, who also provided the exceedingly rare expansion, CC: Civilizations, which adds 14 historical civilizations (Greece, Rome, Phoenicia, etc), with three leaders each, and new pieces such as cavalry and elephants. Too bad it is so difficult to procure these days, but basic CC stands up pretty well by itself.

From gallery of Kolumel


Road Kill Rally
Early in the month, Mark, Dell, and Eric braved the moral ambiguity of playing Road Kill Rally. Mark was at the wheel of the "Black Death," Dell drove "Hell-O Yellow," and Eric was at the helm of "Cannibal Eight." The game is essentially "Death Race:2000 - The Board Game" and lets drivers score points for shooting at each other and running over pedestrians.

The race started off slowly, with Dell in pole position, and the other racers hot on his tail as they worked their way through a rockslide area, and then through a traffic jam caused by an accident. Mark surged into the lead using his car's jump jets, and responded to Dell's rocket barrages with a flurry of grenades. Eric brought up the rear, combining his psychopatic driver with a sawblade launcher to annihilate any pedestrians that got in the way. Eric briefly took the lead as the cars passed through a forest fire (using nitro for a burst of acceleration), but crashed in the mountain switchbacks en route to the boy scout camp, allowing Mark and Dell to catch up. Dell continued to shrug off attacks from other cars with his Tough as Nails skill card, routinely giving better than he got.

As Mark took a commanding lead, Eric tried to turn off onto a shortcut, but his bloodthirstiness led him to take a potshot at a pedestrian instead of deploying a defensive smokescreen, and Dell's rocket strike forced him to crash yet again, letting Dell take the shortcut and catch up with Mark. Dell and Mark approached the finish line neck and neck, with Mark rallying back from a wipeout caused by Dell's taking a high speed jump and slamming into his rear (as he'd slowed to maneuver around a cow) and crossing the finish line first, with Dell only seconds behind. Eric, left far behind, cruised slowly into third place, making sure to bag every single pedestrian on the road.

While Mark got a 100 point bonus for finishing first, Dell had mountains of 10-point chits for attacking other cars, and Eric had by far the most pedestrian kills. When the final score was totaled, it was a near photo finish - Eric: 330; Mark: 320; Dell: 310.

Roll Play
It's a clever idea to make a boardgame out of the funnest part of most RPGs; i.e. rolling up your character. Paul had wanted to try out Roll Play, as it has been getting rave reviews on the Solitaire Games on Your Table geeklist. Suzy obliged with her copy. Roll Player is a dice-placement game focused on the process of rolling up a player character. Much of the game's fun comes from the initial random assignment of race, class, back story and alignment info. Paul had something like a Persecuted, Lunatic, Halfling Ranger. Suzy had a Protector, Cleric, Dragonkin who was also the Chosen One. Each player assigns one d6 die each turn to stats such as Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, etc, with the goal of achieving certain scores by the end of the game. Players can also buy traits, skills and gear to provide bonuses and points. As players cumulatively assign dice, the weight of earlier decisions grows, leaving fewer options for future turns. Paul and Suzy enjoyed it, but decided it was not worth a purchase solely for solo play.

From gallery of Kolumel

Suzy Shined the Light in Paul's Eyes until He Surrendered

Tash-Kalar
Paul and Suzy played Vlaada Chvátil's Tash-Kalar, which did not look like it much resembled Mage Knight. Suzy described it as "Battle Othello." Each player gets two actions per turn. Initially, these two actions will usually be placing common troop pieces onto the chess-like board. Later, players will get the chance to spend actions to summon stronger troops, which depend on matching a pattern of pieces on the board with a card in hand. Often, these deployments will also trigger special moves or abilities that allow players to attack and kill enemy pieces. There are a lot of dashed hopes, as one's perfect next-turn move will be disrupted by the enemy's killing off a key piece in the matching pattern. Paul was impressed by the different feel of the various factions. In the second game, he played the green faction which might also be called the Faction of Scantily Clad Forest Babes (FSCFB). Suzy played a plains barbarian tribe. She was able to summon troops almost every turn, while Paul’s more complicated patterns meant his summons were few and far between. But when he was able to get a stronger being onto the table, it usually had more devastating effects. Paul was very impressed with the game, and could see it being worth the investment of multiple plays to get to know more intimately each of the different factions.
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February 2017 Roundup: South Pacific, Nomad Gods, Imperial, Napoleon, A Victory Lost, Vegas Showdown, Galaxy, Cosmic Encounter, Descent, & Dominant Species the Card Game + Intimations of Gaming Mortality

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Note Original D&D "White Box Version" Dice to the Right

February was the first month in a long time in which we enjoyed a full gaming schedule with no real-life interruptions, though unseasonably pleasant weather affected attendance, I think. It was a mix of old and new, but mostly old.

Nomad Gods
Tom G. and I had been wanting to get Nomad Gods on the table. I bought the game when it first came out and have had my copy (still complete) for 40 years. This was just the second time I had played it non-solitaire, which was an intimation of my gaming mortality, leading me to contemplate how much of my collection will be unplayed or underplayed when I die and my kids sell it. (This was not my most extreme example: When I was around 10 years old, my mother bought me a copy of AH's Nieuchess at a garage sale. I carried that game around the world for over 40 years before I sold it a couple of months ago without ever having played it even once.)
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For Some Reason, This is My Only Picture of This ...

Anyway, Tom G. had to drop out at the last moment, but Jan, Bob, Mark, and I pressed on. Nomad Gods is set in Glorantha and is the sequel to "White Bear, Red Moon," which was the genesis of the Runequest RPG and its descendants. The mechanic is a hex and counter wargame with chrome loosely drawn from a Plains Indian mythos. Each player takes a tribe. Bob was the capable but easy to attack High Llama people. Jan was the smaller, but squat and tenacious Buffalo Tribe, Mark had the antlered cavalry archers of the Sable people, and I was the four-legged Morokanth who use herds of grazing humans for support.

Our scenario was a fixed length of ten turns and VPs were based on herds and magical items that generate support like herds. (Herds are non-combat units that provide supply and allow units to stack on the barren chaparral hexes that make up most of the board.) A key mechanic is the capture of the ten altars on the board, which are mustering points for magical forces drawn from a cup of chits. Not all the chits are helpful, though, and you might summon something that will immediately attack you. The middle of the board is a demilitarized watering hole where you can muster powerful spirits, but if your unit tarries too long, it goes in the cup. Finally, a mystical battle wanders around the board like an ASL spotting round. If it moves adjacent to a unit, which can often happen, it will usually eliminate it.

In our game, Mark had initially set up too close to the wandering battle, which plowed through his forces on turns 1 and 2. Mark could only regroup, but the rest of us tried to seize altars and muster units. I initially planned to attack Mark, but perceived he was too weak to be a threat and moved my attention to Bob. This was probably an error; I should have swooped in and taken Mark's herds for the VPs. I did get lucky with the chit cup and drew a counter that provided 5 VPs. Bob, however, had his elite High Llama forces and seized a herd from me and a herd from Jan. On turn 8 I was still winning, but I had ignored my own advice about not stacking near the wandering battle which of course homed in on me like a MIRVed ICBM. After three of my herds were destroyed, Bob took the win.

If it all sounds like a random mass of chaos, it was -- at least among newbies. The randomness divided our group's opinion. I loved the game, which played smoothly and created a fantasy narrative well. Jan liked it and would play again. But Mark and Bob did not like the chaos and were a pair of big thumbs down, though Bob did agree to play after another 40 years.
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Admiral Halsey in our First Session

South Pacific
Paul D. and I got the new South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier on the table twice. The first time we just pushed some counters around to limber up. The second time, we got in a full game though we still had a few rules wrong. The game is a scenario of Empire of the Sun, with a partial deck of cards and small excerpt of the full map. Paul D. and I both enjoyed the game, which we want to play again. It also succeeded in whetting my appetite for full EotS, which I have started with a patient Vassal opponent.
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In our game at the second session, I as the Allies launched Operation Watchtower and seized Guadalcanal at the expense of the pinning Northampton. Paul D. opted not to use the Savo Island counter-attack card. He tried to seize Gili Gili but I rolled some hot dice to repulse him. I killed Yamamoto and repositioned some infantry. In the second turn (i.e. turn 4 in this scenario, which starts on turn 3), I launched an overland attack on Lae. I did not succeed but I did grind down some of his Japanese infantry. I also ended ISR. The Japanese traded blows in New Guinea and played an event to move the China progress card. The Allies had not made enough progress of war to avoid losing political will. On turn 3 (i.e. turn 5), I made progress in the War in Europe, which was lucky as I was suffering a lot of reinforcement delays with bad rolls. (We misplayed this as I did not realize that USN reinforcements were not subject to delay.) The Japanese and I again traded blows in New Guinea and I again ground down his infantry but also again failed to make my progress of war requirement and lost political will.

On Turn 4, my big influx of reinforcements allowed me to launch across the whole board and I had inflicted enough attrition on the Japanese to finally take Lae. We ended the game at 11-10 in Allies favor, which was a draw in a very close game.
From gallery of Kolumel

Bob Tries a Backhand Blow

A Victory Lost
I also bought A Victory Lost when it first came out, before I stopped buying MMP stuff. Again, it's hard to imagine that was over a decade ago and I have only played the game several times. Anyway, Bob and I got it on the table. We were not able to finish before we had to call it. Bob's Germans had collapsed in the center, but I had made the strategic mistake of letting a large group of Russian forces get caught in the southern funnel on the wrong side of the Don. I'd say at the end it was maybe a 60% chance for me. Any pride I took in that result was eliminated when Roberto obliterated my Germans in just three turns in a Vassal game a week later.
From gallery of Kolumel

I love A Victory Lost. It's a perfect example of a designer reducing a central mechanic (i.e. the chit pull) down to a few elegant elements. The rulebook is another masterpiece of concise precision and clarity. I will play this any time and would also like to try A Victory Denied, which David Stoffey told me is even better.
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Imperial
Mark and Bob had been advocating for a game of Imperial for quite a while. While Paul D. and I played South Pacific, they took up a game with Kate and Asher. As their Secret Society of the Illuminati hunched over a map of pre-WWI Europe, control of nations was fairly evenly spread during the early game. Asher maintained Austria-Hungary and Germany for most of the game, while Kate and Mark took turns exchanging Italy and France. Bob held Russia and, for a time, England, until these were wrested from his control mid-game. (Some accounts, no doubt revisionism, claim that Bob should not complain since England had been "viciously stolen" from Mark early on.) Italy made great strides in securing the Mediterranean and fighting for supremacy in the Balkans with Austria-Hungary. A rogue Italian brigade was even sent to quell factory operations in Vienna.

Ultimately, Italy's adventures proved in vain, as France's resurgence in the late game quelled the Italians: sic transit gloria mundi. Britain fought Germany for the North Sea, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries, and Russia's slow but steady rise to power in the Baltic, Black Sea, and Turkey went largely unnoticed. Eventually all of the Investors had multiple shares in the Tsar's ventures, and Russia was poised to end the game. Unfortunately, intervention by a Higher Power (Kate's mom came to pick her up) meant a premature cessation of hostilities with the outcome uncertain, though the players generally agreed that Mark would have been triumphant. Mark himself thought Kate had an equally good chance, however. Noblesse Oblige.
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I am quite intrigued by Imperial and was sorry not to be in this game. Mark later said he had been pursuing a strategy of not controlling any countries and had pulled of a decent spread of bonds in four countries, which gave him good income. The various paths to victory sound quite interesting and I hope this will get back on the table soon, though I always say that.
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Why do they Like this Game?

Cosmic Encounter
Another Oldie played in February was Cosmic Encounter. It's rare that I absolutely cannot abide a game, but Cosmic Encounter falls in that category. Nonetheless, it has some occult power to bewitch others and the sound of laughter and fun was audible across the whole house when Tom, Asher, Mark, and Dell played two games. They claimed to have enjoyed the quick playtime and the varied juggling of powers and artifacts cards, at least until Asher had to split early.
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Memories of the first game seem to have been lost in an interstellar nebulae. In the second game, Mark had fun with the Masochists. While I am quite prepared that only a masochist could enjoy Cosmic Encounter, it does lead one to ask, "if a masochist has fun, is he ruining his own enjoyment?" Anyway, the Masochists' special ability is that they win if they manage to lose all their ships, setting up a self-destructive incentive structure contrary to that of every other alien race. Dell's Philanthropists had the ability to gift cards to other players, while Tom's Hate could force other players to discard cards from their hands or lose ships. Asher's Vulch could recover other players' discarded artifacts and add them to his own hand. Asher wound up winning a close game: there were three players tied at 4 before someone made it to the winning fifth point. The Vulch card pickup power complemented a flare card that Asher lucked into that allowed him to add the number of cards in his hand to his attack points.
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Who Loves Ya baby?

Vegas Showdown
Our group has always found Vegas Showdown (yet another Oldie) to be a good 3p pick. So, after Asher took off, Mark, Tom and Dell began constructing Vegas casinos. Tom, who was the only one who had not played the game before, ended up winning, which Mark credited to his own excellent teaching skills. Tom won a bid for the 12 VP theater, which turned his slight lead into a significant lead, and he never looked back. Meanwhile, Dell and Mark see-sawed back and forth for second place, which Dell eventually took. Dell's was the only casino that had one little empty spot on his board, meaning the trio was close to having three perfect layouts, which is pretty rare. After all these years, all agreed Vegas Showdown is still a fun game that we always enjoy playing.
From gallery of Kolumel

Nappy vs. Blucher Main a main
Napoleon

At our latest session, Mike W and Jan broke out Napoleon, yet another Oldie, though in this case it was a relatively recent reincarnation (4th edition). I recall that the AH version (which I still own) was a fun game, but quite a challenge for the French. I am not sure if the current game has tweaked the balance.

In the event, the Prussian and British armies placed screening forces along the frontier, ready to slow the French advance wherever it occurred and then fall back. Behind these screens, larger concentrations of forces occupied mutually supporting positions. The brave Prussians were closer to the frontier, while British enjoyed Mussels and french fries close to their headquarters in Brussels.
From gallery of Kolumel

The French deployed with their strongest concentration of troops on the Phillippeville-Brussels axis, feinted at three crossing points equidistant from that centre line (Mons, Charleroi, and Dinant), and then began a concerted attack on Prussian forces along lines north and south of the Sambre. Prussian forces lost heavily at Dinant to an advancing French corps then fought back and in turn crushed the French at Ciney. The main French army marched boldly through Ligny and Namur, the cagey FM Bluecher falling back to Huy as he gathered his forces. French cavalry scouts reached the outskirts of Liege but were repelled by Prussian dragoons after a brief skirmish. Meanwhile the slowly consolidating British forces launched raids that struck the French line of communications, a cavalry attack reaching as far as Nivelles or Quatre Bras. Having taken substantial losses and being uncertain they could defeat both Allied armies before other Allied armies could begin to threaten Paris, the French withdrew to consolidate their army and bring units up to strength with new volunteers. In other words, an Allied victory over the Corsican tyrant.
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Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Paul A. and Suzy had planned to play the new Delve mini-campaign of Descent 2e. In the end they couldn't come, but some in the group still thirsted for a dungeon hack, so Eric curated a session of the first edition of Descent. I have never played this game but the loud rolling laughter was unmistakable. The group, including Kate, Misha, and Dell used a modified format of two four-hero teams with the option to either help or hinder each other. The evil Overlord (Eric of course) had kidnapped and imprisoned a princess, who I hope was named Zelda. The elves (Kate) and orcs (Dell and Misha) had nefarious, or, in the case of the orcs, culinary, reasons to send rescue teams.

Either team could grab the princess, but no one could exit the dungeon until the Master Dragon was defeated. The quicker elves seized the princess from her cell, and started slaughtering monsters in the prison area. The orcs focused on grabbing treasure, including a chest right under the elves’ noses, leaving the elves with nothing but basic weapons. This theft ended the Orcan-Elven Peace Pact (OEPP). Elvish retaliation forced the orcs to retreat and sort out their new weaponry. The elves then opened up a new corridor, where gargoyles along the walls sang an unsettling song. The song turned out to be “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and hordes of beastmen swarmed through the doorway. Several elves went down and the truce among the two teams was restored in the face of this new threat.
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The elves carved their way through the beastmen in the corridor with some “help” in the form of orcish sniping. Meanwhile, other orcs explored a new corridor lined with foul smelling fungus and crowded with skeletons and hellhounds. When a pair of lava beetles appeared, the orcs slammed the door shut and retreated again. Despite their poor equipment, the elves managed to clear their corridor and set off towards a treasure room. Opening the door revealed master sorcerors, skeletons, and a master ogre guarding a gold chest. The heroine Tetherys won the MVP award for her team by sending her soul shadow past the defending monsters to land on the Gold chest, at which point she used its special power to switch places and open the chest, arming the Elves with powerful new weapons, while the Orcs had to make do with copper equipment.

Our brave heroes now fled back to town to shop, exchange weapons, and have a few brewskis. The princess could wait. Feeling the balance of power shift to the elves, the orcs (who had died repeatedly – including once when a strong but bewitched orc hero split a comrade in two) went to the other treasure room. Lacking the elvish shadow soul, they sought to seize the treasure by brute force. The room’s master ogre survived the initial onslaught, and his return blow sent the battered corpse of an orc skittering down the corridor. Meanwhile the elves tried to beat back a torrent of monsters swarming out of the other treasure room. In a bold move, Dell (who had taken over for Kate) sent his elvish hero into the middle of a swarm of monsters and spun around in a circle, his knives flashing (using the Sweep ability to attack all adjacent targets). Regrettably, he whiffed, and quickly fell before the (highly amused) fangs and claws of the beastmen, allowing the Overlord to retrieve the princess.
From gallery of Kolumel

The game concluded on that dark note due to the late hour, though both orcs and elves had Conquest Points remaining and would soon all have gold weapons, so the outcome remained in doubt. All the new gold weapons would have made the Overlord’s monsters largely inconsequential, but the two teams then would have turned on each other making it problematic to defeat the dragon and get the princess to the appropriate glyph.
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Galaxy: The Dark Ages
I am not really that good at games of skill, I have an unlikable personality, and I smell a bit, which are all reasons why I never seem to do well at this kind of multi-player game. Paul D., Mark, and Dell took turns kicking my unconscious body till the end, when Paul D. eked out a 13th point to beat Mark's 12.

This Oldie is a trusted standby of the group's. I don't think it'll ever be my favorite but I enjoy it as a fun short game. Mark is actually the long-time WBC GM for Galaxy.
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Dominant Species the Card Game
The card game version of Dominant Species was new to the group and they gave it two tries on a nice February evening. Mark won the first game easily, though some rules mistakes gave that win an asterisk. Dell then won the second game just as easily. The players enjoyed the game, though both Asher and Mark noted that the Survival Track VPs overwhelm the importance of the biome specific-specific VPs. In the second game, Dell concentrated exclusively on that mechanic on the way to his win.
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Sun Feb 26, 2017 7:41 pm
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Chinese New Year Edition: At the Gates of Loyang, Middle Kingdom, Chinatown, Age of Empires, Victory or Death, Android, Triumph & Tragedy, Star Wars the Card Game + More thoughts on Pacific Fury

Thumis Dalidalisa
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手工饺子

We tried out a Chinese theme to celebrate Chinese New Year two days ahead of the real Chuyi. Asher, Jan, Kate and Mark tried out Chinatown and Middle Kingdom, while Rich, Matt, and I played At the Gates of Loyang. And we all ate too many dumplings.

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中国城


The intense negotiations of the Chinatown game could be heard across the length of two rooms. (Paul A. and I at first thought the other group had decided to play the cooperative Ghost Stories and we couldn't quite parse the intense and often threatening table talk we overheard.) With limited space available on the board, the group haggled their way toward mutually beneficial deals. Kate got lucky from the start, probably because she had chosen the lucky color red for New Year, and managed to snag a good spot and full set early in the game. The game progressed with many hard bargains and it seemed to onlookers that they might be negotiating literally every square and every shop. In the end Kate took it. 恭喜 Kate!

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The foursome then followed up with Middle Kingdom, a card game where players bid on a limited set of cards shown each round and try to obtain the most victory points or special abilities through their selections. There are five types of cards, each denoting a person from a particular caste in historical Chinese society. Kate played a little carelessly at first and fell behind Mark, Asher, and Jan. Mark, the only one who had played previously, knew what to do and was first to obtain almost all the available special abilities. Kate's falling behind proved a blessing in disguise, however, as the last-place player receives the Celestial Dragon card. This card allowed her to save future bids by guaranteeing she could select first from the shown set for a limited time. Meanwhile Asher slowly built up his collection of warriors, while Mark and Jan warred over farmers and nobles. When they counted final VPs, Kate had won a very tight game. They should never have let her pick red as her color again.

These were a little lighter and Euroish than our normal fare, but Asher observed that both games are great introductions to the sort of board gaming that we do. Both are intuitive, engaging, a manageable length, and have not terribly steep learning curves. Chinatown has the added feature of a nice interactional dynamic.

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咯阳之门


Rich, Matt, and I tried another Chinese-themed game: At the Gates of Loyang. Rich was the only one who had played before and it would be fair to say that Matt and I stumbled through the rules a bit. (I believe I unintentionally broke the rules to my advantage a couple times.) I used my cards and actions effectively but peaked mid-game. My high point was moving from 5 to 8 on the path of prosperity in one mid-game turn. Rich bided his time and timed the peak of his engine a little better and ended with two strong turns. Final score was Rich 18, Ted 17, and Matt 16.

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Matt Washes the Cards


I enjoyed the art and components and the game does make you agonize over strategy. For example, it's much easier to move multiple spots up the VP track early on, but only by sacrificing infrastructure for future turns. It was an enjoyable evening but overall, to my taste, the theme sits a little lightly on top of a point salad mechanism.

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Chinese Trader Sees a Wookie


Paul A. and Suzy celebrated Lunar New Year in a a galaxy far, far away with a play of Star Wars the Card Game. I did not get a detailed report, but it sounded like Paul won a close one and both players called it a great game.

From gallery of Kolumel


Earlier in January we had another session where we got in some heavier games.

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The German Plots His Charm Offensive


Jason and Owen taught Eric Triumph and Tragedy. The Communists went with a "leaflets, not factories" strategy that led to an initial surge of influence across Europe, including a fully communist Turkey. But, in the end, the Axis factories were able to produce both pamphlets and goods and the Axis were able to win an economic victory (25 points) at the start of the 1942 turn. The only shots fired were a 1938 invasion of Czechoslovakia with some of the more "aggressive" German diplomats.

Triumph and Tragedy is one of our group's most played games. It hits a sweet spot by being wargamey but with innovative mechanics, playable in an evening, and featuring some but not too much diplomacy.

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Eric Chooses Victory


After that quick and peaceful takeover of Europe, Jason, Owen, and Eric then played two games of Victory or Death, which uses the Quartermaster General system in the setting of the Peloponnesian War. Jason ran both of the Oligarch powers (Corinth and Sparta). Owen played the Athenians and Eric played the Delian League. The first game saw an amphibious assault on Sparta early and a Delian fleet in the Gulf of Corinth. Quickly the Demos players jumped out to a ten point lead in VP, giving them an autovictory.

The second game started differently, with a massive troop surge by the Delian League. Normally, this would be a great opportunity for the Spartans to harvest some victory points by removing Demos pieces. This time, however, the Spartans did not draw the right Victory Point producing cards, while the Delian League again helped its team immensely by helping keep the Spartans landlocked so that the Demos side could harvest victory points of its own. Again, Sparta fell, but, with time and patience, Athens fell, too. Unfortunately for the Oligarchs, the very turn that Athens fell was the same one that the Demos took the victory-generating ten point lead. Somehow the two brains of Eric and Owen were better able to coordinate their cards than the one brain of Jason. We suspect borg influence.

In Jason's view the Peloponnesian incarnation of the Quartermaster General system is deeper than the World War II game. The original WWII game is a great introduction and has some subtlety but is a bit simple. Victory or Death throws in enough extra nuances to make the system shine. Time will tell if there are really balance concerns.

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James Colonizes


James and Nick Pei made a rare visit and got together a game of Age of Empires along with Rich and Mike. Rich pursued a Discovery strategy since he had extra soldiers and a captain after some early purchases. Nick pursued a mixed Ship/Discovery strategy as he had grabbed several ships early. Mike pursued a Trading Goods strategy and also earned some money making Capital Buildings. James pursued a Colonizing strategy since he got the special colonist to ship to the New World.

Rich had the early lead with several Discovery tiles, earning $20+ and VPs. Mike was able to grab matching sets of Trading Goods. Coupled with the Taxation tile, he was generating a steady stream of good income. Nick was doing well, getting a mix of Goods and Ships, but he made a crucial error during the mid-game when he did not grab the Privateer tile, which would have given him a steady income by taking money away from all other players. James had actually sacrificed 3 colonists in a bid to stop Nick from getting that 3rd ship, but failed. However, Nick ultimately changed his mind and purchased another Capital Building. James breathed a sigh of relief and continued shipping colonists overseas. It was still anybody's game until James pulled away at the end when the New World was covered by a sea of red.

I am not too familiar with this game and would like to try it myself.

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Suzy Contemplates Rachel's Flashbacks


Android may be my favorite game of all and I was happy that Paul A., Suzy, Tom G., Mark, and I got it on the table. I played Rodney, the android who is trying to find out if he has a soul. Mark played the clone Caprice Nisei, who like all clones strives to find a unique identity. Paul was the moody Louis Blaine. Tom G. was Raymond, who everybody definitely does not love and Suzy was the tormented Rachel, trying to overcome the memories of trauma.

Basically, in Android there are three threads: "solving" the murder (scare quotes because "solving" really means "planting evidence to frame someone"); uncovering the grand conspiracy; and working out one's own personal journey. To solve the murder, you need to get clues and evidence by moving around the board. To uncover the conspiracy, you need to reveal the hidden picture via a clever jigsaw puzzle piece mechanic. One's personal journey revolves around accumulating positive and negative baggage, which propels you along a sort of tech tree of possible results. These three threads intersect and conflict in challenging ways.

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Still Traumatized


In our game, I started on the moon and throughout the game was often alone up there while the other players stayed terrestial. Because of the way that evidence moves around, in the more confined space of the moon I was often able to investigate three pieces of evidence in a turn. I concentrated on the conspiracy and revealed a pile of puzzle pieces, which netted a fair number of points. Almost by accident I laid them down in a way that cut off everyone else, which was also to my advantage. Meanwhile, Suzy did not find a way to get her troubled character to emotional health and poor Raymond seemed to be everyone's favorite target, which gave Tom headaches. (Raymond has a personal storyline that gestates over the whole two weeks rather than resolving his baggage at the end of each of the two weeks in the game.)

Paul, however, had noted the extra VPs for certain favors (derived from the conspiracy) and went on a spree, all the while telling the other players that I had the game in the bag. We couldn't quite finish but at the end he had a big lead, though a fragile one because certain cards, which might have come up, cause you to lose favors.

I once again enjoyed the game greatly but it had mixed reviews from the others. One player who shall remain anonymous though he hosts a well-known podcast and has the initials TG, felt the game has too much going on at once and was too chaotic to be very enjoyable. For my part, I enjoy the baroque experience of these many different details.

From gallery of Kolumel

Roberto Tries to Seize Henderson Field


Even earlier in January, Roberto and Paul D. had played two games of Pacific Fury, taking turns winning as the U.S. player. The game covers the naval campaign for Guadalcanal in 1942 in only four turns, played on a deceptively simple area movement map. Although the game has relatively simple mechanics, it takes some time to work out all of the subtle nuances in the rules. In addition, Japanese play is tricky, as much needs be done in the seven operations, or impulses, the Japanese have in a turn. The players took their turns as the Japanese, but couldn’t quite work out the timing of a winning game turn, despite trying mightily.

The game is all about planning (and a little luck tossing the bones). The player who currently holds Guadalcanal is the “initiative” player. At the beginning of each turn, first the “non-initiative” followed by the “initiative” player divides his fleet into as many as seven task forces(TF). These TFs are organized into an inflexible operations queue; they are deployed on to the map in the predetermined order. Deployment may be delayed, but not reordered.

There are three flavors of TFs, each with a unique mission: (i) carrier strike force, TF-C; (ii) bombardment group, TF-B; and (iii) amphibious assault, TF-A. The non-initiative player, who curiously is the attacker, needs to reduce the defenses of Guadalcanal and ultimately capture it. TF-Cs and TF-Bs attack the defenses; TF-As deliver assault transports to effect capture.

Here’s the catch: There are only seven operations (ops) per player per turn, and the attacking non-initiative side, typically the Japanese, will expend two ops per mission. The first is necessary to deploy a TF on to the map, and the second to effect the TF’s mission action. Objectives are (i) clearing defending naval TFs out of Guadalcanal, (ii) disrupting Henderson Field, and finally (iii) landing an assaulting force or two. Three missions at two ops each means the attacker spends six ops to secure success. Timing is very tight and goes awry easily since attacking TFs return to their home base (Truk or Espiritu Santo) at the end of a combat action whether successful or not.

The initiative player, defending, mostly relies on 1-op deployments to maintain an effective naval force at Guadalcanal. Thus, seven defensive deployments to counter three offensive missions gives an advantage to the, defender. A Japanese attacker, however, does have a much deeper bench of BBs supported by a swarm of CAs. Carrier-based air power actually tilts in favor of the post-Midway Japanese, though the USN has more large, fast fleet carriers and the unsinkable Henderson Field.

Paul D. customized the game by blowing up a scan of the game counters and mounting these on blue (US) and red (Japan) .75 inch wooden blocks. Thus, instead of playing with .5 inch card counters with blank white reverse sides simulating hidden intel, we had the more typical and easier to use wooden blocks.

Roberto and PaulD had a lot of fun playing this little gem, going through the rules and learning it together. After a post-mortem look at the rules, Roberto had two observations: 1) Based on the designer responses in a couple of BGG threads, it would appear that damaged ships go back to the base after the first round (we were doubtful about this but eventually we implemented it incorrectly); and 2) In our first game, during the 6th operations of the last turn, Roberto had a TF-A in The Slot. Paul attacked and allocated losses to a Transport unit. Rules actually say that losses cannot be allocated to transports unless every single other ship in the TF has received a hit.  Doh!
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Sat Jan 28, 2017 11:05 pm
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Fourth Quarter Roundup & Two-Year Anniversary: Deluxe Conquest of Paradise, Hands in the Sea, FAB: Golan, Black Orchestra, Forbidden Stars, Mage Knight, Pacific Fury, Cry Havoc, Red Winter, Wars of the Roses, Dominant Species, and BSG + TS Tourney

Thumis Dalidalisa
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Microbadge: I love Kazakhstan!Microbadge: Tékumel fanMicrobadge: Triumph of Chaos fanMicrobadge: 15 Year Geek VeteranMicrobadge: GO!GO!7188 fan
Two-Year Anniversary


From gallery of Kolumel
From gallery of Kolumel
From gallery of Kolumel

A Year of Napping

Just after the New Year, Boardgaming in Falls Church celebrated our second anniversary with pupusas, pasticcio, and prizes. Dell won the award for most faithful attendee and Volko won the annual quiz in a tiebreaker.

Due to personal and work reasons, I was forced to cancel a bunch of meetings in the Summer and Fall, but we still got in a fair amount of gaming in 2016:

Meetings: 37
Games Played: 119
Unique Games Played: 66
Games Most Played: Battletech, Wiz-War, Combat Commander, and Triumph & Tragedy (6 each)
Attendance: 288
Unique Visitors: 46

From gallery of Kolumel

Dutch Treat

I personally did not play as many games in 2016 as I had in 2015 (for the reasons above), but I did have some nice gaming experiences. A pleasant evening with the SpelGroep Phoenix in Rotterdam, an epic game of the classic White Bear & Red Moon with Tom G., a down-to-the-last-die-roll CC:E game with Anak Sulung, and a game of Mercs with Adrian in the midst of the Washington blizzard all were memorable.
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1 Corinthians 16:6


What were the best of 2016?

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Best Game of 2016

Hands in the Sea was the best new game I played in 2016. Finely tuned, easy to learn, well-focused, and with many paths to victory, I loved it. If reprinted, best to redo the art, though. Honorable mention to Falling Sky, Red Poppies Campaigns: The Battles for Ypres, MERCS: Recon – Counter Threat, and Terraforming Mars.

From gallery of Kolumel

Wars of the Roses: Best New to Me Game

Best New to Me:
I played Wars of the Roses (the Weuro not the Columbia block game) at a local Con and then with our gang (see below). The simultaneous movement, bidding, and area control mechanisms meshed perfectly, creating a taut game with built-in protections against a runaway leader. The game is also a good example of how well done and well thought-out graphics can add to a game's appeal. Runner-up: During my seven-year sojourn overseas 2007-2014, I missed a lot of games, so I played War of the Ring for the first time just this past year. Not sure I can add much to the great pile of commentary on this game, but FWIW I loved it.

Most disappointing game:
Star Wars: Rebellion did not do it for me -- at all. I'd never want to play it again, or even think about it, though the group as a whole is divided and a few people like it. Mechs vs. Minions was a worse Roborally (see below). Technically a 2015 game, The Dice Must Flow was also a disappointment -- as all Dune games are.

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Светло бъдеще

Special Mention: When I played Bright Future I admit that I didn't much enjoy my first time. However, I have often thought of the art and gameplay since then and will try to convince Paul A. to bring this quirky Bulgarian cardgame back for another spin.

All in all, another great gaming year and I am grateful for the friendships I made or strengthened over the past year of gaming.

Fourth Quarter Update

It's been a long time since I did an update (real life, hard drive failure). Some of this gaming may be lost like tears in rain, but here goes:

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Manus in Mare

Hands in the Sea
Paul D. and I put our Hands in the Sea in October. We both captured towns in Corsica to divide the island. Paul fortified four of his Carthaginian towns in Sicily. I got the cards that allowed an early Roman conquest of Syracuse and I moved on Agrigentum. This gave me a small edge in VPs that accumulated each turn. Paul D. and I have now taken our games to Vassal, and currently have a game underway. (Airjudden has developed an excellent Vassal module.) Each play reveals more depth. The sequencing of the cards, deck management, and the balancing of income and aggressive actions all present difficult choices. I have no perfect strategy but keeping control of the operational tempo seems crucial -- make your opponent respond to you, rather than being reactive yourself. I am hoping this game gets the votes for a WBC tournament.

From gallery of Kolumel

Tutorial

Red Winter
Earlier in the year, I was eager to play Operation Dauntless, which proved difficult to learn. In retrospect, I should have mastered Red Winter first and this game is my top priority to play in 2017. Jan has had more success getting in on the table, playing three times over the last month. He played one week in December with newbie Crawford, who has wanted to jump into serious wargaming and seemed to hold his own as Jan walked him through a tutorial.
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The Combatants Were Cheek by Jowl

The following week, Jan and John V. played the First Day scenario. John conducted a well coordinated and efficient assault, taking the Kivisalmi Bridge almost immediately and wiping out two Finnish infantry companies as he took Kotisaari Island. The Finns slowly gave ground on the east side of the lake but kept the Soviets well clear of the hotel and out of Tolvajarvi village. Finnish losses put the Soviets far ahead on points, however. The lopsidedness of the Russian victory partly owed to Jan's misreading of the values of the victory hexes, but John definitely earned his win. He did an excellent job of organizing supporting fire, even though he rolled some horrible dice. For example, John used infantry to support attacks with ranged fire, rather than always piling units into big attacking stacks, which would have been vulnerable to Jan's mortars. John also deftly rotated his depleted units out of the line so that none of them were killed off.
From gallery of Kolumel

Two weeks later, Jan and John went at it again, this time switching sides and trying the Second Day scenario. As the Soviet, Jan needed gingerly to expand on the gains of the first day, while not losing too much manpower. As the Finn, John started with a VP advantage, so he could let the Soviets attack and then counter-punch. He also positioned some units on the edges to threaten the Soviet lines of supply. If the Soviets countered by extending their flank that would mean diverting units from the main attacks
From gallery of Kolumel

After several bloody attempts to take the Gravel Pits, the Russians gave up on the "central front" and attacked on the left at Tolvajarvi village, while setting out a strong line on their right to deter Finnish attacks. The left hook gained some ground, especially when the Soviet heavy guns became available and were kind enough to recycle swiftly. But the Finns gave ground only slowly, so by the end of the scenario the slow-moving Soviets had gained only one village hex. Meanwhile, the Finns repulsed a late Soviet attack on Hirvasvaara and Finnish bicycle troops (!) found a gap in the Soviet front line and snuck in to cut the supply road overnight, rendering Soviet terrain VPs less valuable. Only the many bonfires that the stolid Russians built to keep the cold at bay (and some lucky die rolls) kept the Soviet "freezing to death in the bloody cold night" losses to a minimum and the Finnish victory to something just short of a thrashing of the poor Reds.

The infiltration of the bicycle troops is the result of a "horizon effect" that occurs in the shorter scenarios but not the campaign game. That Bicycle Unit that sneaked into the rear would be dead the first turn of the next day. Some day (WBC?) I'll try the campaign game.

Our group notes two points to remember when playing Red Winter:

1) There can be no more than three shifts to the combat results for suppressions, but that's the maximum net differential that can apply after all ranged fire has been completed, not the maximum that each side can generate. The attacker in a situation might generate five suppressions, and then the defender generate four. The end result would be a one-column shift for the attacker (5R-4L = 1R), not zero (maxed out 3L - maxed out 3R = 0).

2) Each hex is whatever type of terrain constitutes a majority of the artwork. ALL of the hex, including the hexsides, is that type of terrain, no matter how it's depicted. Veterans of the art-literal ASL need to remember this.

From gallery of Kolumel

For example, the bicycle company in the center of the shot above (the blue-grey 3/PPP7) has a clear LOS to the infantry company directly to its north (half out of frame, with the green infantry symbol). The hexes between them are mostly frozen lake so they count as entirely frozen lake; the coastal promontories, as the designer says, are "for graphical flair and [should be] ignored" for LOS purposes.

I am looking forward to playing this with Jan very soon.

From gallery of Kolumel

That Starlight Look in their Eyes

Forbidden Stars
The veteran Tom (Eldar) taught Forbidden Stars to newbies Dell (Chaos Marines), Asher (Ultra Marines), and Paul D. (Orks). Ultimately, Tom's Eldar won a close game after a series of battles with the Orks. The Eldar and Orks tied with two objectives each, but the Eldar surged ahead in total planets (a tie breaker) in the final battle rounds by devastating the Orks' home system.

As is common in strategic space games, the factions first need to take time to build forces for upcoming battles. In Forbidden Stars, each faction has objective chits scattered around the board in positions more or less, usually less, accessible to them. Building a good economic infrastructure is necessary but independent from the victory objectives. Factions need to acquire resources ("material") and forges ("hammers") to build the factories and cities that can build combat units.

The Chaos Marines had impressive forces on the board, but hadn't really maneuvered into position to grab any objectives. Ditto the Ultra Marines. Nonetheless, the two flavors of Marines skirmished fiercely. Chaos denied Ultra an objective and also built a powerful defense against the Orks.

From gallery of Kolumel

The Full FFG Treatment

In the fixed scenario, there's a symmetry to the starting positions, but the factions have asymmetrical capabilities, based on differing card combinations and pieces. For example, the Orks are slowed somewhat by starting without space ships.

The Eldar struck the first blow at the Orks, aided by the placement of a "warp storm" blocker. Warp storms move around the map channeling movement in ways determined by the players and event cards. The Eldar grabbed an Ork planet that was cut off from the Ork main battle force, capturing in one blow an objective, a 3-material planet, and a factory. The Orks struck back on another front, seizing an objective from the Eldar. The Orks also grabbed an objective via an event card that allowed them to place a unit on any unoccupied planet. Bingo! Planet and objective.

From gallery of Kolumel

The Eldar had some magic of their own, transporting an attacking force across the board to hit the Ork home planet. Adding insult to injury, another card allowed the attackers to split off a task force to bag a second Ork home system planet. The Orks played a card to strike back in an effort to recapture a home planet plus the Eldar objective there, but lost a close battle. Battle cards contribute significant variable effects to combat, making the actual combat units in a fight either more or less than meets the eye. The Orks were less, the Eldar more....

One playthrough was not enough to acquire a full appreciation of the subtle differences between factions. There's quite an appetite in the group for more Forbidden Stars now that the players have a little more knowledge of the asymmetries.

From gallery of Kolumel

Anuraag calculates the Destruction of Asher

Dominant Species
We have had an influx of new players in the last month or so. This allowed me to get out Dominant Species, which is one of my favorite games but not universally popular with our veteran grognards. Paul D. and I had played before, but, as in life, we were outstripped by the young. Paul played the mammals and used his special ability to reap a large tundra bonus. I can't say I ever put together a coherent strategy as the reptiles. In the end, newbie Anuraag eked out a two-point victory as the Amphibians.

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Mark Gazes at the Gullible Humans

Battlestar Galactica
We have had an explosion of interest in BSG in recent weeks, partly because BSG is a great game for new gamers. We played a six-player game on Christmas Eve Eve Eve. I have known Paul A. (the Admiral) for over 20 years and he was not fooling me for one second. He practically clanked when he shifted in his chair but did not give me a lot of specific evidence to use to convince the others. Strangely, though, every jump card was for just one distance. Eventually, fellow humans Kate, Garret, and Crawford also saw the red glow of Paul's spine, but he declared just ahead of our throwing him in the brig. Mark (the President) then surprised us by declaring as well. The two wreaked their mischief and we had made precious little previous progress. With the President and the Admiral starting as Cylons, this was a tough challenge for Mankind. We called it before a formal conclusion but it was a clear Cylon win.

From gallery of Kolumel

Humanity's Last Hope

The following week we played BSG again, this time with five. I drew a Cylon card as President, but was hobbled because Jibby on my right had the ability to see the top card on my Crisis deck each turn, making it very difficult for me to guide the ship toward catastrophe. I did well to disguise my identity and caused some chaos by voting Tom into the Brig and then out of the Brig with feigned contrition. When the sleeper agent phase rolled around, I drew the other Cylon card too, meaning I'd get no help from anyone else. I limped along but in retrospect should have declared earlier. By the time we had to call it, morale had fallen to 3 but the meat puppets needed just one more jump. A victory for humankind.

From gallery of Kolumel

Misha Gives the Secret Cylon Sign


We played BSG yet again the following week. Dell tipped his hand early and we threw him in the brig. His subsequent fake cooperation did not convince anyone of his innocence. The humans made fair progress but lost a dangerous amount of morale. As President I could not find a card in the quorum deck that would recover morale, leading Volko to suspect I was the second Cylon. In the end, though, Misha surprised us all when he declared his metallic nature. Things got close but the humans were able to lead a small, demoralized, and hungry group to sanctuary.

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Wars of the Roses

I had played Wars of the Roses at a local Con previously and really wanted to try it again. Luckily, Paul D.. had it in his unplayed pile and was also eager to give it a try. Volko took a big early lead, allowing the rest of us to use French Aid to boost our finances. Kate was the most discreet in hoarding her sterling and quietly laid the foundation for a last-turn surge. In the end, I elected to go after the point leader, Volko, allowing Kate to ride to victory on a raft of Papist gold generated by her clutch of Bishops.

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The simultaneous planning phase makes each turn of this game very tense. Several balancing mechanisms keep trailing players in the running without making things too chaotic. The graphics and rules all work intuitively. The game's true personality is definitely Euroish but there's enough battle to keep wargamers happy. This is a game I'd always be willing to play.

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Volko Directs his Nettlesome Lieutenants

Epic C&C: Ancients
It's hard to collect the big group necessary to get Epic C&C Ancients on the table, but our Epic games always turn out to be among our favorite events of the year. We were a little concerned we only had six when Kate and Peter showed up unexpectedly, giving us a full set of eight. The details of the game are lost in the mists of time, but it was a close contest only won by turning the Roman right flank. Of course, both sides endured elephant stampedes that ended up hurting their own troops more than the enemy.
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C&C Ancients is the best of the Command and Colors family in my view. The unwieldy infantry lines and slashing cavalry attacks well model ancient warfare. There's a temptation to fiddle with one's lines in preparation a little too long, but launch too soon and you'll be cut up piecemeal. A great game.

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Paul Searches for Monsters

Mage Knight
We recently started keeping a long-term list of "games to play before we die." One of the most requested is Mage Knight, so Tom and Paul led a teaching game of this richly detailed and somewhat daunting game for novices Bob and Kate. They all headed out from the mystic portal, Big Bang-like, occasionally getting in each others' ways. They opted for the friendly variant with no (... er, maybe just a little) blood-letting of player opponents. Bob whomped up on mage towers, Kate jumped to the top of the reputation track, Paul had a knack for finding the worst monster combinations on the board, and Tom just sat back and waited for his opportunity to pounce. By the time the game was called (second daylight, just short of the two full-day goal we initially set), the fame scores were very close, with everyone positioned to start the city assaults shortly.
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Everyone loved the game but veteran Tom did not disagree with Paul A.'s assessment that Mage Knight might do best as a solitaire (2p?) game. With four people, there are a lot of time consuming moving pieces.

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... and Let Slip the Dogs of War

Cry Havoc
This game looked fascinating and there was a lot of whooping and yelling from the table as well as subsequent requests to play again. I regret not getting a more detailed readout. I only wonder if the weird spiral map layout could really work. I guess it must.

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Bob Feels Strongly that the "Express Train" Model Simply Does Not Square with the Evidence

Conquest of Paradise
Volko brought his new copy of Conquest of Paradise hot off the P500 press. As often happens in this game, an uneasy peace gets tenser and tenser before war erupts almost spontaneously. I did not get a report of the game other than Volko won a very close game after a battle with Bob.
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New Components

Everyone agreed the components of this new edition are gorgeous and it is a clear buy even if you already own the game.

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John Looks for the Rafid Gap

FAB: Golan
Volko, who should really take it easy on the preorders, also brought his new FAB: Golan. I own the first two volumes of the FAB system (Bulge and Sicily) and I am embarrassed to say that I have only ever played them solitaire. Volko and John V. pronounced Golan the best yet of the series. Volko's Israeli line looked like it would hold by the time they called it, but his counter-attacking units also looked vulnerable to encirclement from a Syrian counter-counter attack, so the result was unclear. Another GMT winner that I look forward to playing in 2017.

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Note Paul has Accessorized his Copy with Wooden Blocks

Pacific Fury
Paul D. and Roberto played this twice at our last session. I did not get a detailed readout other than each won once as the Americans and that they greatly enjoyed the game. I am intrigued by this small game and would like to understand how this simple map and stacks of counters could possibly work. On the list to play ...

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Black Orchestra
Paul led a game of Black Orchestra. The conspirators did not do well and were detained early by the Gestapo and then succumbed to torture. I did not observe closely but all who played agreed it's a great game worth playing again.

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Labyrinth
In November, Dave beat Mark for the second time at Labyrinth but I had no report.

Wiz Wars and Star Trek Panic
Really? I personally say "meh" to these two. I care not for the labored geek humor of Wiz Wars nor the Star Trek theme. (I will show you the door if you say "he's dead Jim" in my house.) My opinion was not the consensus view, however. The group liked both of these.

Mechs vs. Minions
While Wiz Wars and Star Trek Panic were mediocre, MvM was bad. A game that retains all the annoying parts of Roborally and none of the fun. Derivative art and theme turned me off. A good example of what happens when good people fall for Kickstarter nonsense. The $1000 expansion campaign is probably not far off. (My mistake: It was not a kickstarter -- see comments below.)

TS Tourney
I played in Round 5 of the BPA PBEM Twilight Struggle Tournament, winning in the sixth turn. There's an etiquette in reporting the results of these games in which the winner politely attributes his victory to good luck. In this case, however, I am not just being polite when I say I won by pure luck. I drew four "4" value cards in the first turn. My opponent rolled either "1" or "2" on all his coup rolls and he burned three cards unsuccessfully trying to lift a Quagmire before conceding. That he kept it nearly even for much of the game reflected great skill.
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Sat Jan 7, 2017 2:16 pm
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September Roundup: Best Game of 2016 is Hands in the Sea, Red Poppies, Twilight Imperium, C&C:Ancients, Memoir '44, Last Night on Earth, Combat Commander: Pacific, Terraforming Mars, and Mansions of Madness + Evolution: The Beginning and Twilight Struggle

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"The bell was ringing ..."

Red Poppies

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Eating Fire

On an early September Saturday while the retreating summer was still scorching the arriving Autumnal face, John was nice enough to bring a new production copy of his 2016 release Red Poppies Campaigns: The Battle for Ypres. John did not have time to play a full game, but we experimented with two small engagements.

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British Can't Quite Make It

The first scenario (Eating Fire at Gheluvelt) is a small early war engagement without trenches. The British try to recapture a position to seal a breach that is threatening to turn the British flank. British 18-pounder artillery batteries stand on one side of the position and three infantry companies on another side. As the defending Germans, I tried the unwise tactic of rushing the artillery positions. John destroyed the portion of my forces that attempted this attack. Perhaps it did some good, however, as the preoccupied artillery were unable within the six turns of the short scenario to support a quick advance of the British infantry, which took enough losses to make dislodging my Germans impossible.

After this short play, we tried scenario 2 (The Volcano in Flanders), a trench engagement where the Germans must cross no-man's land to take a strategic hill from the British. My Germans conducted a successful initial pulverizing bombardment, which allowed me briefly to seize the hill, despite the British "hallowed ground" advantage. However the British were able on the last turn to come back "over the top" and retake the hill for the victory.

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Frezenberg

A couple of weeks later, John and Jan broke out the game again and played the medium-sized Frezenberg 1915 scenario. An initial bombardment dispersed the British frontline troops but didn't destroy as many as the Kaiser (Jan) had expected. The Germans were able to make a shallow penetration at the center of the British front. However, the British threw reserves into effective defensive positions, preventing the Germans from penetrating further and specifically blocking them from occupying the village of Hooge. The British were also able to beat back several German assaults on the northern and southern sectors of their front.

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RPC:tBfY has an elegant economy of the design. For example, a single roll of dice determines both initiative and the variable number of impulses (called "command couplets") in a turn. The fundamental tension of the game revolves around the decision whether to deploy units as dispersed or formed. Generally, formed units have better capabilities but are more vulnerable to enemy fire. John then builds on this clean, simple core mechanism to add elements like command and control, off-map artillery, getting lost, poison gas, night turns, etc. The result is a straightforward game that never requires much thumbing through a rulebook, but which well models its subject. The large pile of casualties resulting from what turn out to be modest, indecisive advances certainly well simulates the hopeless lethality of the Great War. After our game, I read some first-hand accounts of the 1915 battles aound Ypres, including this excerpt from a British letter home:

The last two days have been ghastly – the Germans broke through the line. We lost 10 officers in the last two days and yesterday the battalion was less than 200 though I expect some stragglers will turn up. All the officers in my company were lost except myself. All in No 3 Coy and all bar one in No 4. We have had no rest at all. Everyone is very shaken.

All of RP:tBfY's maps are historical and there are actually three maps of the same battlefield (1914, 1915, and 1917) that reflect the changes wrought by extensive shelling and entrenchment over the years. The overall graphics and art are outstanding, As much as I love GMT (four preorders and rising), both Compass and Legion are now far ahead in art and graphics.

Twilight Imperium
This same Saturday was a sad one because it was Adrian's farewell session. He had made the responsible but still poor decision to take a great job in Boston even if that meant leaving his gaming group. To say goodbye, Eric (the Sardak N’orr -- Attack! Attack! Attack!), Tom (the Universities of Jol’Nar -- tech out the wazoo) and Paul (the XXcha turtles -- slow to anger, slow to move, and even slower to win) joined Adrian (the Yssaril Tribes -- Action Card-a-palooza) for what may be the last "Twilight Imperium Saturday" for a while.

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Our Departing Hero

In a four-player TI game, each player selects two Strategy Cards instead of one. The TI guys substituted the Imperial II card from the Shattered Empire expansion for the base game's defective Imperial card and also included two interesting units from the TI expansions: tanks (you can never have enough tanks) and flagships (unique to each race, more or less lethal depending on circumstances). Tanks are helpful if the random planet defense counters are in play, because they are immune to many of the effects that KO ground troops. Flagships extend the themes developed for the individual alien races; the XXcha, for example, are turtles (defenders), so their mother ship packs the wallop of a pair of planetary defense systems with deep space cannon, and it moves; that's a lot of bang for the buck (although the ship is expensive to build).

It was a rollicking game from the start though it proceeded along familiar lines: a prolonged build-up ending in a free-for-all as players went for the win. The U, very dangerous because of the ease with which they acquire technology, was initially hampered by a dearth of nearby quality planets, and a remarkable concentration of Alpha and Beta Warps. A few nasty surprises lurking on neutral planets didn't help either. The XXcha turtles couldn't get out of their own way, and trailed everybody while building up strength. Under the leadership of Eric the Transgressor, the Sardak efficiently built strength and fulfilled their Secret Objective early in the game, helped by a truce with the Universities of Jol-Nar and favorable random events when exploring. The Yssaril also had problems with nasty random surprises and poor local possibilities as they built their usual large hand of action cards.

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Target Mecatol Rex

The Yssaril put the squeeze on the U (experienced players always fear the power of the U), while the pokey XXcha were left unattended. The latter were slowly moving in on Mecatol Rex, and beginning to look dangerous, when the Sardak suddenly launched a lone cruiser and ground force, and grabbed Mecatol Rex preemptively. The Sardak then skillfully outmaneuvered both the XXcha and the Yssaril (where did they come from?), with superior strategy and action card play, locking up a nearly impregnable position in defense of Mecatol Rex. As it turned out, both the XXcha and the Yssaril had secret objective cards centered on Mecatol Rex. Losers! The Universities of Jol-Nar unleashed a powerful attack on the Sardak’s previously peaceful border region, obliterating the bugs’ defenses, but that only served to enable them to rebuild their flagship at Mecatol Rex, making it that much more impregnable.

The TI-ites didn't make it to the requisite 10 VPs before calling the game, but at the end the Sardak were nearing 10, while the other three alien races had 3-4 VPs each.

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C&C: Ancients
I believe that C&C: Ancients is the best of the C&C games. The control system and wide shallow boards seem best suited to the line tactics of the ancients. Apparently Mark and David agree since they played four C&C:A matches back to back on a Thursday night. The first two were Barbarians v. Romans. The first match was a Roman steamroller. The rematch was closer but still saw the Romans make strong moves through the center before their flanks collapsed, eking out the win.

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The second two matches were from the Roman Civil Wars expansion. In the first match one army sallied forth from a siege, cutting the besieging army in two for a victory. In the second match a well-executed counter attack by Julius Caesar himself netted four banners in one turn! The following week, Mark and Dave played another Roman Civil War scenario. The game was extremely close and neither player was ever up by more than two banners as they traded the lead.

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Memoir '44
With their C&C appetites whetted, the two turned to Memoir '44. The Stalingrad scenario was very tight, though more bloodless than they would have guessed, until the end drew near. The Soviets won several medals quickly in the last couple turns of the game, sealing the win. The following week, the pair played another round of M44. I could hear the howls after some unlucky dice rolls but otherwise got no report.

I myself haven't played Memoir '44 since the kids were little but found my interest again piqued. Too bad I already sold all my stuff.

From gallery of Kolumel


Last Night on Earth
While Mark and Dave battled at C&C, Eric, Dell and Paul A. fled zombies in two games of Last Night on Earth. In the first game, the humans had twelve hours to search for tools and parts to repair the radio station, while the zombies could win by destroying the generator or killing three humans. Paul’s zombies spawned the maximum 12 on the first round thanks to a boxcars roll and the swarm made a beeline for the radio station and the tasty generator inside. While the other three humans ran around trying to find the quest items (coming up with tools at the last minute), the Sheriff fruitlessly blasted away with his shotgun, managing to put down only one zombie before the horde arrived on hour six and ended all hope of calling for help. Winner: zombies!

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In the following scenario, Dell played the undead, while Eric and Paul A. sent their humans to find unique items that would solve the mystery of the zombies, with a 17 hour time limit. Dell kept drawing useful zombie cards and rolling an unnatural number of sixes, resulting in the slaughter of one hero and the zombification of Jake the Drifter. The zombies left Johnny the Jock alone after he found a chainsaw, but when the Prom Queen and Bag Boy holed up in the Lumber Yard, it occurred to them that this might be their ... Last Night On Earth! After getting that out of the way, they fortified the walls and battled a steady stream of zombies (including Zombie Jake), who not only chewed through the power cables, but set the joint on fire. Quest items were just starting to appear when time ran out, for yet another pitchfork-fueled zombie victory!

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Zombie Victory

Mansions of Madness
Paul and I had played Mansions of Madness 2e previously and we wanted to try it again. Dell also joined. In scenario 2, we had to try to save a family being hunted by the spirit of an alien [NO SPOILERS]. It was a fantastic game. Dell was (of course) the millionaire playboy. Paul was Agatha Crane and I played the diminutive Min Thi An. We made steady progress but not quite fast enough. Poor Min went insane and actually won a Cylon-style victory after luring Agatha to the woods to be sacrificed to the Black Goat. That was dramatic but we chose to ignore it and play on. In the end, Min needed to roll six successes out of six dice + 2 rerolls. Miraculously, she did it!

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I know the app-only second edition has ignited a lot of gamer angst, but I love this game. The app assists with some bookkeeping and preserves a sense of mystery without overwhelming the game's cardboard Buddha nature. I look forward to playing this again.

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Hands in the Sea
Paul D. had preordered Hands in the Sea and I was eager to try it. This game turned out to be my favorite game of 2016 (as of October).

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Carthaginian Plotting

The game is a mod of A Few Acres of Snow with more variability and conflict. Like Acres, it is at heart a deckbuilder. Players build up their decks from Location cards, which they obtain from controlling locations on the map, and Empire cards, which players must draft. Strategy cards are a little different. They must be bought with silver (generated by playing location cards) and don't go in the hand but rather give powerful persistent effects. The strategy cards are an agonizing choice since they all look powerful but you are limited to just one at a time.

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Final Position

Invasions of the Italian mainland or Carthage are rare so the two sides usually contest Sicily and Sardinia. Syracuse is crucial for extending the Roman supply line onto the island of Sicily. In our learning game, I, as Rome, was fortunate to get a combination of cards that allowed me to conquer Syracuse early. In this first play, Paul and I ended up with bloated decks so progress slowed as the game went on. In retrospect focusing one's strategy intelligently, disicplied additions to the deck, and thinning the deck a little but not too much all are crucial. However, these are tough choice as it is important to get off the starting blocks early and conquer towns. Screw around too long with deck management and you will fall hopelessly behind.

As we both fumbled around, I was able, through luck more than anything, to extend my network of towns in Sicily and fend off Paul's incursion into Sardinia. We later realized that I had won on turn 8 after placing my last town.

This is a great game with agonizing choices, a great theme (though, honestly, I don't like the cartoonish art), and fantastic gameplay that can easily be finished in a single evening. Paul and I have vowed to play this one often in the coming months.

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A Little Sake Fits the Theme

Combat Commander: Pacific
This is one of my favorite games, a feeling that Volko shares. He played Roberto at the last session of the month. I did not get a full report, but understand that both players were brushing off some of the rust on their knowledge of the rules. Another one we have promised to get out often in the next few months.

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Mars Not Yet Terraformed

Terraforming Mars
Bob taught us all this new game, which has gotten a lot of favorable buzz. Players create tableaus of cards that affect their income and production of resources (engine building). These resources are used to place tiles representing plants or cities on a hexboard representation of Mars. The key is to figure out Dominion-style chain reactions in your card tableau to speed development, while making sure your position on the board is optimized for point scoring. I enjoyed the game a lot though I'd caution that a wargamer who scorns "point salad" games might not find it to his or her taste. For me, though, the game mechanisms all came together nicely and were well integrated with an attractive theme and good art.

From gallery of Kolumel

Final Position

In our game, I experimented with specializing in power and heat. This was\ not a viable strategy (at least as implemented by me) and I fell hopelessly behind early. Bob took it easy on us, sometimes forgoing chances to destroy other players' resources. John usd urbanization effectively to generate a three city stick almost completely surrounded with plants (each city scores a point for each bordering plant tile at the end of the game). Dell created a massive tableau but did not focus well enough to get the win. Paul D. generated a good amount of tiles but could not quite reach John's level. As John quipped at the end of the game, "I used to be an accountant."

It's clear that there are many paths to victory and the key is to stay flexible and play the hand of cards that you have rather than pursue a set strategy. An excellent game.

Evolution: The Beginning
Last weekend, I attended the "The Congress of Gamers," a Con in nearby Rockville. I was there mainly to sell some games, but took time to play a round of the new Evolution: The Beginning with an extremely nice North Star guy whose name I did not catch. I really enjoyed this game. I never bought or got much into the original Evolution or the Climate expansion (don't kill me Dom!) but I am going to buy The Beginning right away to play with my family. The two-player version is fun and easy, as a family filler should be, but had tough strategic choices and room for brutal attacking. A great game.

Twilight Struggle
Finally, a couple weeks ago I finished round 4 of the BPA PBEM Twilight Struggle tourney. As the United States, I got some great cards and my opponent got a nasty string of 1s on his coup attempts. Nonetheless, he played well to keep things even through turn 5, though my board position steadily improved. On turn 6, he felt forced to take some risks and played "Olympic Games" as a headline. Unfortunately, I had played "Junta," so it was DefCon suicide for him.
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Sat Oct 1, 2016 6:32 am
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End of Summer Roundup: ASL, Scythe, 1846, Infiltration, Battlespace, I, Spy, Washington's War, and Enemy Action: Ardennes + Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, Bananagrams and Twilight Struggle

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Elegant Storage Solution

"The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer's ending, a sad, monotonous song. 'Summer is over and gone,' they sang. 'Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.'"

Summer was not great for gaming and not great in a lot of ways. There were times when I thought that I too would end up in a crate headed for the State Fair. Still, I was sad to see it end. Another year gone. Not radiant at all.

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Rail Barons

As Washington cooked in the record heat, I managed in August to check a long-time item off my gaming to-do list. Bob was kind enough to lead us in a teaching game of 1846 and I finally got my introduction to 18xx. I made many mistakes in this first game and by the time we had to call it, had lost control of my first company and had my second company cut off from Chicago. It was very early when we ended but Roberto looked best placed to win with the IC. I look forward to a full game soon.

We also finally saw ASL at the group. Since Day 1, I and others have talked about playing ASL but it was always pushed aside by something else. It took new arrival John G. to find the gumption to get it on the table -- two weeks in a row!

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Gavin Buys the Farm

In the first game, John and Tom played the Gavin Take scenario. A platoon of American paratroopers approached the German positions head on, behind the cover of a stone wall, to draw fire and lock the defenders in a firefight. Meanwhile, two other platoons rushed forward behind the cover of hedgerow and hill to bypass the German right flank and then fishhook around Jerry’s back into a position beside the vital exit point. So the Germans started a fighting withdrawal in “mobile pocket” style. The Germans' cause looked hopeless at first. But then well-aimed machine gun fire whittled down a key American fire group and another shot drove Gavin berserk! He took two squads with him and charged a German machine gun nest. Those gunners broke and fled, denying Gavin his vengeance, so he led another charge that ended badly for the Americans and changed history. Behind all this drama, a couple of American squads exited -- followed by one German, so the Americans won just barely. Although the loss of Gavin, in a blaze of glory, was a serious strategic set back.

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Human Waves

The following week, John G. took on Jan in the venerable Guards Counterattack scenario. The teeming Russian waves could not roll high and the Germans could not roll low, giving Comrade Ivan another win.

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This Christmas, John is Getting Tweezers

I am definitely getting in on the ASL action soon and am grateful to John G. for igniting this ASL fire. However, we also want to get his new design -- Red Poppies Campaigns: The Battles for Ypres -- on the table as well.

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Tom Battles the Black Plague

Scythe has had a lot of buzz and I wanted to try it, though I noted that JR had been distinctly unenthusiastic. It's rare that I disagree with JR, but I loved the game. Paul A. and I played a couple of games on a weekend and Volko, Tom G., and I subsequently tried it again. Paul beat me badly both times as he wrote here. In our three-way game, I had the martial Saxons (if I were German, I might be offended by the stereotyping of the Saxons in this game). I first concentrated on upgrades that reduced the cost of producing my mechs to just one metal. My cheap mechs then ran riot stealing resources and pushing back opposing workers. My popularity fell to zero, usually a very bad thing, but I gathered a big enough lead in stars to still get the win.

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That's a Big Board

I loved the clever and intuitive mechanics and components (for example how the upgrade mechanic increases the benefit of one thing and reduces the cost of another with one elegant cube replacement). It's possible to jump in with just 15 minutes explanation. I loved how the pace of the game accelerated as play went on, leaving that tense feeling of always being one or two steps behind. I loved how the game end condition related to but did not equal the victory condition; do I dare place that sixth star? I liked the subtle but significant asymmetry. Different powers not only have unique special powers, they pay different costs for items. And I loved how actual conflict was muted but the threat of conflict was menacing.

Downsides? The game was a little TOO short for us. As Volko cracked, "you put out all these beautiful pieces for a game of only two hours?" Personally, I found the theme uninspiring. And for a wargamer, a game with no actual casualties (pieces defeated in combat are returned to their home base rather than eliminated) is a little too New Age. But, overall, a great game.

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Only One of Them Made it Out Alive

After we finished Scythe we still had some time so we tried Infiltration, a copy of which I had stolen borrowed from Paul A. I love this push-your-luck game set in the Android universe. I basically downloaded a few things and cautiously made for the exit. Tom pushed deep into the building and prayed for an alternate exit, which never materialized. Volko made it out with a prototype but could not top my DF total and I took the (cowardly) win.

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In BattleSpace they CAN Hear You Scream

Eric and Dell took a break from Battletech and shifted to BattleSpace in August. They played a starship miniatures combat scenario using the BattleSpace ruleset and Star Wars micro machines for the ships. Eric commanded a Galactic Republic task force of three Venator-class Star Destroyers (each carrying six fighter squadrons), and engaged Dell’s Confederacy of Independent Systems carrier group of four Providence-class Destroyer/Carriers escorting a Lucrehulk-class battleship, with copious numbers of droid tri-fighters and vulture droids. The scenario began with the two fleets separated by an asteroid field.

The Venators launched their heaviest fighters (ARC-170s) and sent them in through the asteroid field as the Separatists launched their own fighter screen and maneuvered into a defensive formation. A second wave of Republic interceptors caught up with the heavy ARC fighters as they reached the separatist lines. Casualties were heavy among the clone pilots, as they were swarmed by droid fighters and bombarded by heavy volleys of photon torpedoes, but enough clones got through to penetrate the shields on two Providence carriers and inflict heavy damage on their aft weapons and thrusters. A third wave of interceptors joined the survivors of the Republic fighters as they swarmed in towards the Lucrehulk. Two Aethersprite interceptors executed a successful strafing run that knocked out the battleship’s forward guns, and a second squadron of six fighters swooped in to finish the job, needing only to roll a 4 on 2D6. <rattle> <rattle> 3… The Force was not with them, and the fighters quickly succumbed to ferocious enemy fire.

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Lucrehulk Survives

This left Eric’s fleet with just a handful of light, unshielded interceptors and the three carriers. They made another attempt to move in against the damaged Lucrehulk, but the battle’s momentum had shifted, and Dell sent wave after wave of droid fighters sweeping through the asteroid field, picking off Eta and V-Wing squadrons, then swarming in to tear the unprotected Venators apart.

It was a fun, fairly well balanced scenario. The Confederacy had essentially unlimited numbers of droid fighters (the Lucrehulk alone carries 1,500), but had a hard cap on how many could be deployed and controlled at any given time. When one squadron was shot down, the carrier could spawn another to replace it. The Republic could have more squadrons deployed, but couldn’t respawn. Post battle analysis showed that the Republic fleet probably could have won if it had taken the time to launch all 18 fighter groups (Venators could decant one squadron per turn), and then attacked en-masse to ensure that enough ships broke through to take out the Lucrehulk. By attacking in two incomplete waves, Eric gave the advantage to the Confederacy, which was able to wear the Republic down with its disposable droid fighters.

The BattleSpace ruleset lent itself well to replicating the Star Wars feel, which isn’t that surprising. It came out in 1992 as the space-combat expansion for FASA’s BattleTech, but was really just a reskinned version of FASA’s earlier Renegade Legion Leviathan ruleset. Since FASA developed Renegade Legion to make use of material it had developed in the hopes of getting a license for the Star Wars RPG (which ultimately went to West End Games), it’s only fitting that the ruleset designed to be “Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off” fits Star Wars pretty well. BattleSpace doesn’t have shields – just heavy armor, but we house-ruled that the armor boxes represented shields, and any fighter that entered the same hex as a capital ship had “passed through the shield bubble” and could apply the damage directly to the critical damage table, where each box marked off represents increasingly vital systems knocked out of commission. The running lights and docking tubes go first, then the guns, and before long the shield generators are down, the main bridge is holed, and Scotty’s on the horn screaming that his engines cannae take it much longer. Capital weapons can’t target fighters, simulating the “they’re evading our turbolasers” effect, giving the small ships a fighting chance to survive long enough to do some damage – hopefully softening the capital ships up enough for their own carriers to win once the big boys get in range of each other.

BattleSpace’s primary drawback was that, at the time, Ral Partha and FASA didn’t produce any starship miniatures for the line, and the box only included some fugly cardstock counters for generic-looking ships (recycled from Leviathan). Fortunately, Galoob had launched its line of Star Wars and Star Trek micro machines around the same time, so a ready source of better-looking playing pieces was available. Thursday’s engagement featured ships from Hasbro’s micro machine line (continued after it bought out Galoob), with the Lucrehulk courtesy of a repurposed Hallmark ornament set.

From gallery of Kolumel

Spy vs. Spy

One week in August, Bill Koff visited and brought his copy of I, Spy. I, Spy is a game of European espionage set in the years preceding WWI. Each player tries to keep the country they're aligned with secret from the other players. There's a lot of cat and mouse as players try to get things done so their countries will prevail, while keeping their identities secret from their opponents. Eric was aligned with England, Alex and Daniel played Russia, Paul D. was Italy and Bill was Germany.

Bill focused on getting money early so he could hire assets (who allow you to do extra stuff). He tried going to Paris to contact an Austro-Hungarian diplomat, trying to get the others to think he was Austro-Hungarian or French. Unfortunately, Eric didn't take the bait. Since Bill was the only one who'd played the game before, Eric waited and watched and learned from what Bill was doing. Bill, indeed, earned an early lead as players used a travel card which gave VPs to the german.

Another part of the game is manipulating various political figures who can help or hinder each country. Players ignore the politicians at their peril, since they know what effect they'll have when they're scored.

In the second half of the game, Alex and Daniel were able to guide their agent well, but after some tracing, blackmail and extortion, Eric was able to force them to reveal their identity (Russia) to him. So Eric hung around Saint Petersburg, repeatedly contacting Sidney Reilly, the British agent there (thus getting influence points for England), and committing acts of sabotage in the Russian capital. Paul did something similar in London where the Italian ambassador was his contact (so Italy's influence points went up). So their alignments became clear after a while, allowing others to try to put the hurt on them.

Germany wound up winning, with the Russians a close second. Interestingly, at game's end, the last political figure revealed was Gavrilo Princip -- a fitting ending!

From gallery of Kolumel


John V. and Mark M. broke out Washington's War at another August session. Both had only limited experience with the game so the first few turns were relatively quiet as they gained more confidence with the rules. Mark was the Americans, while John was the British. Mark did start the game off with a successful attack on Boston, but Howe and the Redcoats retreated by sea to Norfolk VA (damn that Royal Navy!). John's overall strategy was to dominate the South while holding off American political inroads in the North with Ops political play. Actually most of the action in the game was political with Ops cards played to place control and events to remove control by both players. Only an occasional battle interrupted this game of Go. At the close of the night, (the end of 1780 as I recall) John's Redcoats had a large lead, due in part because the Declaration of Independence event had never been drawn. A post-game check found the Declaration near the vey bottom of the deck, which affected the gameplay.

From gallery of Kolumel

Bastogne Surrounded

One evening, Roberto and I played a great game of Enemy Action: Ardennes. This remains one of my favorite games, both in solitaire and 2p. In this three-turn game, Roberto played few cards for combat tactics or events. Because the German starts with many more cards, this always left him with several unanswered activations at the end of the turn. I bungled my response, wasting cards and not bringing on enough reinforcements. As a result, Roberto broke out near Bastogne and won handily. I love this game and my dream is to play a full game someday -- it would probably have to be at a con.

In addition to play with the group, I had a few off-schedule gaming opportunities. I went over to Paul A.'s house to try Mansions of Madness 2E. I know the apps-driven aspect of the game is controversial, but I frankly loved it. The mystery of what would happen next might wear off after repeated plays but in a first play was immersive. We ran from a mob, searched frantically for clues, and gunned down monsters. However, we took too long to do each of these things and by the end we had no escape from the Ichthian locals.

My family came for a long visit in the heat of the summer and we played A LOT of Bananagrams. It's always a bit humbling when one's younger sister scorches you in a game. (I am sure she had marked the tiles somehow.) I liked the play of this game quite a bit, but found the scoring mechanism (in either official style) unsatisfying. Does anyone have a good house rule?

Finally, Anak Sulung and I split a couple of games of Twilight Struggle. The most remarkable moment was when, at the end of the second game, AS said he was tired of Twilight Struggle and we should try another game -- a moment I thought would never come.

From gallery of Kolumel

"I Said Get Off the Couch"
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Sat Sep 3, 2016 1:55 am
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