As year two of The Great Pandemic wends to its weary conclusion (are we halfway through yet?), I thought I'd round up the year from my point of view.
For me, though, Covid-19 takes second place to my own medical journey. That is, diagnosed with bowel cancer at the start of March, operated on to remove tumour (and install ileostomy) by the end of March, three months to recover from op, 12 weeks of chemotherapy, three months to recover from that and second op early in December to reverse ileostomy. With a following wind, it looks like I'll be pretty much recovered by the time I reach the anniversary of my initial diagnosis. I am stunned: diagnosis to recovery in 12 months. Against the backdrop of the pandemic. I feel very fortunate.
But what does that mean for my games playing in 2021? Well, rather like 2020, it's almost all been solitaire or online. I did get one period, in September, when nephew Tom and I were able to explore Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles - as reported in Samurai battles - even more of them and linked posts.
With several regular sparring partners, the Commands & Colors family dominates the games I've logged on BGG through the year. Memoir '44 is at the top of the pile with 55 plays - that's over one a week! Most of these have been on the Days of Wonder app (also available via Steam), which means you can blast through a scenario in 30-40 minutes and thus play both sides of it in a short evening.
However, the app only supports "standard" scenarios - I much prefer the larger Breakthrough board - and has not implemented the more recent expansions, such as New Flight Plan. Hence, several of my M44 plays have been on Vassal where these are supported, though games take longer.
Vassal is also the venue for the other C&C games I've played: 37 Napoleonics battles, a couple of The Great War and just one Ancients. I thought I'd played more Ancients games, but clearly not. Something to do a bit more of in 2022. A highlight of the Napoleonics was re-fighting Austerlitz in La Grande Battles format with a full team of four players a side (ably organised by Mark Benson). It may be slow, but I really enjoy the team play. Here's the end of the game: there's still fighting around the vineyards of Stare Vinohrady in the centre, but Bernadotte has broken right through the Allies' positions. Vive l'Empereur!
With C&C out of the way, the next game I've played most is Scythe: 9 times in the latter half of the year. This time the platform is Steam - three-player games (plus the odd bot) with a couple of regular opponents. I do enjoy Scythe, but if you want to win you really have to focus on optimising your plays rather than just enjoying the game.
I have played Viticulture five times since BoardGameArena implemented the Essential edition - I just wish they'd add Tuscany. This does leave out the turn-based games - I only log real-time plays (whether face-to-face or online) on BGG. A quick check on BGA and the total plays jumps up to eight in 2021. Viticulture is another game I really enjoy playing - and it's one I can win (three from the eight) while enjoying it.
The other game I've played five times, according to my BGG log, is the first new (to me) entry in the list: Lucky Numbers. This is a simple but strangely addictive little game (available on BGA again) that has made an excellent filler for Swiggers' Wednesday evening sessions and gets a solid 7/10 from me.
Sticking to the new games now, I've also played Carnegie five times (on BGA). Kudos to Quined Games for making this meaty new title available online - it's certainly whetted my appetite to try the physical game when I get the chance. In the meantime, I'm struggling to find a winning strategy but enjoying myself thoroughly - it's a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale. There's a fuller account in Business and philanthropy.
Returning to physical games and thus solitaire play, I fitted in several games of Rocketmen - see I'm not the man they think I am at all - and Coffee Roaster (reported in Man versus Bean). Rocketmen is another game I'm waiting to play against real opponents, but somehow I have no urge to play the solitaire-only Coffee Roaster again.
Another physical game I've had on the table is Hallertau - above is the final position of my third solitaire game with plenty of sheep. I have to say I'm just finding it tedious now. As a solitaire game, anyway. As far as I can see, there's only one way to play this game: amass the goods you need to upgrade your five 'Craft Buildings' so that your 'Community Centre' can move across your board (as shown above) to give you more actions and, later, more points. (The 'Boulder' obstacles that make moving more than once more costly magically move further away at the end of every round.) Since you always need the same stuff, you're always doing the same things. Yawn. Perhaps playing against real people would show me something I'm missing, but I'm not holding my breath. Sorry, Herr Rosenberg, but that's a provisional 5/10 from me.
I'm struggling, too, with Ted Alspach's Maglev Metro. Again, it's a physical copy, so it's solitaire play only. The first time I set it up, I was immediately stymied as I couldn't see how I was going to progress at all. It was on my second try that I realised there are certain things you can do without paying - they're not on the "things you need to pay for" table (I may not have the correct terminology here). Having resolved this, I still found the game impenetrable, though I did at least make some progress. Further research required, I think.
Thanks to Yucata, I've been able to try Vladimír Suchý's Praga Caput Regni. Another hefty, complicated game - right up my street! After three plays, I think I've got my head around the mechanics of the game. Now I just need to double (!) my score to be competitive. That's a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.
I'll finish with a couple of older but new to me games, played online. I was introduced to Grand Austria Hotel back in January and have now been thrashed seven times on Yucata - twice during Swiggers sessions. I'm really sorry to have missed this one when it was published as I'm very taken with its tight gameplay (seven rounds, two actions in each and an awful lot of things to do!). This is another game I'd like to try face-to face, but it's a solid 7/10 from me in the meantime.
The second game is Villagers, which I'd been intrigued to try since I saw how popular it was at the UK Games Expo in 2019. Its implementation on Yucata gave me the chance to play it. However, half a dozen plays in quick succession was enough for me. It's a pleasant enough game, but I just don't find it challenging (yes, I was winning too often and without effort). It's a 6/10 on my highly subjective scale.
It's been a minimalist year in games for me and I'm disappointed not to have made more inroads on the unplayed (and largely unopened) games piled up in my home office. Something to look forward to in 2022, eh?
This was the title of my board games column in Flagship magazine, so I thought I'd resurrect it, 8 years after Flagship's demise. The idea is to get down my musings in a more contemporaneous way - expect things to appear later in To Win Just Once (www.pevans.co.uk/TWJO) in a more considered form. Now, can I manage a less formal style?
- [+] Dice rolls
A couple of weeks ago I had my first spat around a virtual games table. A turn-based four-player game of Pax Porfiriana on yucata, to be precise.
As we moved into the mid-game, player A posted that I "need to" do x to prevent player B from winning. (Making sure other players aren't in a position to win is a key part of Pax Porfiriana.) Now I don't take being given orders well to begin with and I broke my usual habit and responded as soon as I read this, getting more annoyed as I wrote and culminating in telling player A to SHUT UP. (I have since apologised for SHOUTING.)
Thinking about my reaction, I felt I was being belittled: too stupid to spot the position or to know what to do about it. Hence my response.
Analysing the position, I saw that B did indeed have an opportunity. My first impulse was to ignore A's instructions and let B go for it. However, I had a more constructive move (for me) that also reduced B's position.
From the ensuing exchanges, A clearly viewed their intervention as nothing out of the ordinary. And the other players seemed to consider it just 'table talk'.
This got me wondering why I reacted this way. It has always annoyed me when players give unsolicited advice or suggestions to others (except when teaching newbies, of course), but I usually keep my annoyance under control. This is true even when it's couched as strategic observations. And particularly aggravating when it's directed at me (or messes up my plans!). Thinking about it, I can find three elements to my emotions. Apart from finding it belittling, I'm being manipulated (follow orders or rebel? Either way I could be doing what's wanted) and, thirdly, I feel it's interfering in the 'natural' flow of the game.
To expand on the last of these, if a player makes a mistake, that's up to them. Hopefully they'll learn from it. I don't see any other player ia justified in sticking their oar in, even if it means they'll lose. That's just how the game goes.
So, was this unwarranted interference or just table talk? Discuss.
(In a further twist, I've analysed the position again and spotted that A would have been able to stop B's attempt to win. Which suggests I was being played - now I'm even more annoyed!)
- [+] Dice rolls
Nephew Tom and I have comprehensively christened my copy of Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles and I've given my first impressions of the game in my earlier post (Commands & Colors goes to Japan) after working through early scenarios. I've already reported what happened in scenarios 1-3 (see Samurai battles - lots of them), so here are scenarios 4 and 5.
Number 4 is Koriyama Castle 1540 AD (Enokawu River). So we're 23 years after the previous scenarios (but no arquebuses yet) and the warring clans here are Shishido (red) and Shinguto (blue) - clients of Mori and Amako respectively. As I was already on the blue side of the board, I took Shinguto first. Here's my view at the start of the game.
The river is impassable, but the fords are so shallow that they're effectively open ground. The hills either side of the Shinguto forces are also impassable - the troops are coming across the Bingo pass into Shishido territory. The defending troops are almost all archers (some mounted) and mainly samurai, but there are some spearmen on the right in the photo and another further back centre-left. Oh, and Shinguto gets a (temporary) victory banner for each unit on the other side of the river at the start of their turn.
I was able to attack on both flanks. On the left it was an archery duel. I brought up my mounted samurai bowmen, but Tom did the same, making it three Shishido against two Shinguto. Hmm... But I really didn't want to march my spearmen slowly forward against the bows.
On the right, the Shinguto forces massed against the ford just right of centre. My samurai foot spearmen led the charge, forcing Tom's defending ashigaru (down to a single block) to retreat and seizing a bridgehead. Tom hit them with his samurai foot spearmen, supported by the samurai archers from the centre and the Samurai bow cavalry that were in reserve. Bye bye my samurai spearmen (and that's 0:1 to Tom) as the ford was occupied by the Shishido samurai.
Bad news on the left flank, too, as my mounted archers took 4 hits to the 2 I inflicted on their opposite numbers. That's 0:2.
With a lead in victory banners, Tom then played his masterstroke. With plenty of Honor and Fortune chips built up, he played the "Turncoat" Dragon card. For the fourth time in six battles. However, this time I managed to roll some 'Honor and Fortune' and the Turncoat failed. Phew!
My ashigaru and mounted bowmen pressed the attack on the ford, eliminating the Shishido samurai (1:2) and again getting across the river. Tom threw everything he had on that flank (including the one-block ashigaru) into a counter-attack. A lucky die roll removed my mounted archers and I lost an ashigaru unit as well, while I took out that damaged unit and Tom's foot samurai. (3:4)
The Shishido mounted bowmen stormed across the ford to chase down my ashigaru, eliminating one unit, whose leader took the honourable course of seppuku (I didn't have enough Honor and Fortune chips to pay for a retreat!). On top of this, Tom's archers took out my bowmen on the left. That's 3:6, which is when we spotted that he only needed five victory banners to win. Oops!
We re-set the scenario and played the other sides, which went pretty quickly. We both started with lots of left section cards and Tom charged his left flank forces up to the river. With no cards to do anything on my right, I just had to stand there and take it. My archers were engaging his archers on my left (to little effect) and I had some archers in the centre just in range to support my right. Tom powered through my defenders, destroying two units and getting his first one across the river. (0:3)
I got one back, taking out an ashigaru spearmen unit (1:3) but Tom had moved another unit over the river (1:4). Finally, he brought two more units across the ford and eliminated a third ashigaru unit to take the score to 1:5. Those extra units across the river mean it would have been 1:7 on his next turn. Sigh. Here's that final position.
Scenario 5 is Koriyama Castle 1540 AD (September), continuing the spat between Amako (blue) and Mori (red) directly, rather than through their clients. Here's the set-up from the Amako side. Historically, they are chasing the three ashigaru units on the right, only to be ambushed by the main Mori force.
In game terms, the red player gets a banner for each of the ashigaru that they move back across the river (and out of the game). This leaves them with six units to 'ambush' the 10 Mori. I'm not sure I like those odds. Particularly as I'm playing Mori first. However, with only four banners needed to win, the Mori just need one more if they retreat all the ashigaru.
Run away, ashigaru! I managed to get two of them acros the river, but Tom's ashigaru and mounted samurai archers were in pursuit and took out the third, along with the attached foot leader. (That makes the score 2:2) I actually had the Turncoat card this time, but not the advantage (ahead in banners and Honor and Fortune chips) to use it successfully.
And I'm now outnumbered, so I went defensive. Tom's archers engaged in the centre, killing my remaining leader. (2:3) His ashigaru swung across from his right to join his central forces and I lost another unit for no reward. That finished the game. (2:4)
For the re-match, I started with low-powered right section cards, so I couldn't pursue Tom's retreating ashigaru in any numbers. The units I did send after him got battered and he got all three ashigaru across the river. (0:3)
Exchanges of archery in the centre made little impression. Then Tom snuck his samurau through a wood to attack my battered ashigaru on the right. Removing them gave him the win in short order. (0:4) Ouch!
So we'd played a total of nine battles and I'd won a whole two of them. I'd blame bad luck, but Tom beats me consistently. I need a different opponent. Hmm, I believe Deon is free later this week...
- [+] Dice rolls
Nephew Tom and I have comprehensively christened my copy of Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles and I've given my first impressions of the game in my previous post: Commands & Colors goes to Japan. This was the result of working through early scenarios and here's what happened in them.
The first scenario is "First Samurai Skirmish" and is explicitly "non-historical ... to introduce ... the basics". Thus the two sides have the same units: a mixture of samurai and ashigaru, mounted and foot, bowmen and spearmen. And an arquebusier unit each. Here's the starting set-up (from commandsandcolors.net) - note the almost-square board.
I attacked with the right-hand half of my army. In particular, launching my mounted samurai spearmen into Tom's ashigaru and killing their leader (1:0 to me). This quickly developed into a pitched battle as his mounted samurai spearmen hit my ashigaru in turn. Meanwhile a long-range archery duel centre-left saw my bowmen damaging his.
The right flank melee ended with me having lost three units - only the arquebusiers and archers left - while Tom had lost just one. Plus another leader - my cavalry leader committed seppuku rather than suffer disgrace. (3:3) Meanwhile the left half of my force had attacked, the samurai foot spearmen finishing off one unit of archers, but being badly battered in the process (the first sign that marching up to bowmen is costly). (4:3)
Tom eliminated that samurai unit to take the score to 4:4. However, he had several one- and two-block units just waiting to be finished off - as can be seen in the photo above. My ashigaru (note two of these are down to 2 blocks but still have leaders attached) pressed the attack on his one-block samurai unit and took it out for the win (5:4). This was a close battle that did its job of introducing us to the game and most of the different types of unit. It took about an hour to play. Given the two sides are essentially the same, we didn't replay this one and moved on to the next scenario.
Scenario 2 is Arita Castle 1517 AD (Phase 1 - Takeda Vanguard). Red, representing the Mori clan, has four mounted samurai bowmen with a mounted leader against seven infantry (one samurai archer, two ashigaru archers and four ashigaru spearmen) and an infantry leader from the Takeda clan. This looked like a quick scenario as it's only three banners to win and eliminating a leader counts as two. As I was sitting on the blue side of the board, I took Takeda first.
Tom immediately attacked my archers in the centre, one cavalry unit charging in, while the others stood back and used their bows. I managed to bring up my spearmen to support the archers, but lost one while battering the Mori cavalry in close combat. (That's 0:1 to Mori)
Tom then played his masterstroke. With plenty of Honor and Fortune chips built up, he successfully played the "Turncoat" Dragon card. My left flank spearmen changed side and attacked the archers they were supposed to be supporting! I was not happy, but managed to extricate the archers.
In the centre, Tom retreated his battered unit and assaulted the ashigaru with another one - with archery support. That's the position shown above. I battered this unit as well, pursuing it with my spearmen. Tom then flung his third unit in and destroyed the Takeda samurai led by Motonao, killing him into the bargain. That took the score to 0:3 (0:4 if you ignore that a player can't get more than is required to win) and demonstrated the huge advantage of mounted samurai over ashigaru.
Thus I felt hopeful when we swapped sides. Ignoring history (the two sides "engaged in a heated archery exchange"), I sent my three cavalry in the centre into close combat with the Takeda archers - Tom had got two of his spearmen up as support. I demolished the samurai unit in short order, Motonao committing seppuku to avoid being ridden down, and the ashigaru archers shortly after - though not without casualties. (2:0)
Tom then played his masterstroke. With plenty of Honor and Fortune chips built up, he successfully played the "Turncoat" Dragon card. Again. My right flank unit switched sides and attacked its erstwhile comrades from behind. With ashigaru spearmen on one side and their own cavalry on the other, my men fought valiantly. However, I lost one unit (2:1) before getting rid of the turncoats. (3:1)
Now there are 40 Dragon cards and only one of them is the Turncoat. With us using less than half the cards each time, what are the odds of Tom getting it twice? Be that as it may, this left the aggregate score for this scenario at 3:4 to him.
The third scenario is Arita Castle 1517 AD (Phase 2 - Matauchi River) and is more substantial. Here's the set-up from the Takeda side. The Mori (red) forces have crossed the river centre-left with mainly samurai archers, one unit mounted (the river is fordable, so the fords are effectively open ground). More cavalry lurks at the rear while a mixed group tries to out-flank the Takeda right. However, the Mori are facing a larger (just) Takeda army.
Tom seemed to have all the left section cards as he moved up archers and was shredding the Mori troops that were across the river. So I moved in to attack at close quarters, hoping to eliminate the cavalry unit that couldn't retreat. Probably not a good move as my units were mostly archers too. In the fighting that followed, I lost three (out of five) units, while removing only one of Tom's six (there were only four when I started the attack). However, I also killed the (unnamed) infantry leader with them to make the score 2:3. As the photo below shows, I still have two units across the river facing most of the Takeda army. My out-flanking force on the left hasn't moved, but has been engaged by Takeda soldiers.
By now I had left section cards and nothing to rescue my two advanced units, so I tried to make something with that flanking group on my left. I eliminated one Takeda unit, while Tom removed my two stranded units right and centre. (3:5) My remaining units in the centre moved out of bowshot, hoping to tempt the Takeda forces up to the river so that I could play my "Blue Dragon" Dragon card (1 die against each unit on or adjacent to water).
Instead Motoshige and his mounted samurai spearmen hit my left, pushing them back across the river. Except for my samurai archers, who hid in the woods. But not for long as a mixture of archers and ashigaru spearmen finished them off. 3:6 and another win for Tom.
Switching sides for the re-match, Tom was careful not to charge in. I tried to emulate his approach, attacking the Mori advance force with archery. I was not as effective as Tom had been. Again, he had left section cards and advanced the outflanking group to start an archery duel with the Takeda bowmen centre-right. He won this exchange, with my archers eliminated, his reduced to one block and retreated back to the river. (0:1)
With a lead in victory banners, Tom then played his masterstroke. With plenty of Honor and Fortune chips built up, he successfully played the "Turncoat" Dragon card. For the third time. The samurai foot spearmen on my left flank switched sides and attacked the archers alongside them. D'oh! Here's what that looked like. Note Motoshige taking his cavalry to bolster the right flank.
The renegade samurai started towards the Mori side of the battle, taking out the ashigaru archers in the way. (0:2) Another ashigaru archer unit fell to the arrows of the opposing Mori. (0:3) Time to attack! As part of my general attack on the advanced Mori forces, I went after the turncoats with mounted samurai (bowmen). My attack did not go well: I removed an ashigaru unit, but some lucky dice by Tom destroyed the samurai lynchpin of the attack, their (unnamed) leader fleeing. (1:4) This picture says it all, I think.
Tom counter-attacked with Mori cavalry advancing across the river. I brought Motoshige back to make it two cavalry onto one in the centre while my brave right flank ashigaru charged the one-block samurai archers on the river, taking them out, and my mounted samurai eliminated the renegades. 3:4 looks a much healthier scoreline.
The fight in the centre took one of my ashigaru, while my cavalry could only chase off the Mori horsemen. (3:5) Motoshige went after them, but some ashigaru got in the way. Between them and the arrows of the retreating mounted bowmen, Motoshige fell to give Tom another convincing win: 3:6. And that makes the aggregate score for this scenario 6:12 to Tom. Sigh.
There's more to come, but I think I'll make them a separate post. Watch this space.
- [+] Dice rolls
01 Oct 2021
Commands & Colors: Samurai Battles, so it's about time I gave my first impressions. I was intrigued that it's billed on BGG as a re-implementation of Samurai Battles. I tried this at Spiel when it launched and it did not use the Commands & Colors system. Turns out it has two sets of rules, one of which is C&C. D'oh! Peter and I clearly played the other set. So bear in mind when reading this article that I don't know what is new to this game and what has been brought forward from the previous one.
[For anyone who isn't familiar with the Commands & Colors family, it's a series of simple wargames with the same core mechanisms. (Strictly speaking, only the games published by GMT Games, like this one, are titled "Commands & Colors", but the phrase is used to encompass the whole family.) In particular, players' actions are limited/powered by the card they play each turn. Military units are groups of models or wooden blocks, which are removed as a unit takes hits - the result of rolling dice. Players get victory markers for eliminating units, seizing geographical objectives and so on. Designer Richard Borg has done an excellent job of building on the core system to produce games - from several different publishers - that cover warfare from the ancient world to the future. As the name suggests, this game covers mediaeval Japan.]
Anyway, the new game: it certainly looks the part and the wooden blocks mean a hefty box as usual. Plus several hours work applying stickers. The two sides are generic red and blue rather than specific Japanese clans. Who they represent depends on the scenario and these span nearly a century: from Mori versus Takeda in 1517 to Osaka versus Tokugawa in 1615.
I was pleased by the good solid dice (a bugbear of mine is the poor quality dice in many of the C&C family) and that there are 12 of them: 6 for each player means no reaching across the table. The cards are good quality, too. The first quirk I noticed is that the board is 12 hexes wide by 11 deep - almost square. Most C&C games are 13x9 (widescreen!) and this board even has space where the 13th column would go. I don't know whether there's a reason for this, though I do like the extra depth. (As far as I'm aware, the only other C&C board that's 12x11 is The Great War, though several have boards 11 hexes deep.)
Blocks have the red square/blue triangle/green circle designations familiar from other C&C games, but they are not explicitly heavy/medium/light units. Red squares are samurai (infantry and cavalry), blue triangles 'Ashigaru' (foot soldier) spearmen and green circles Ashigaru archers and arquebusiers plus the peasant levies. Effectively, heavy, medium and light units. Especially as red squares are slow with lots of attack dice, green circles are fast with few attack dice and blue triangles are in the middle. Here's a scan from the rules showing a sample of the units.
Turning to the rules, the most obvious new feature is the 'Honor and Fortune' system. Like Lore (magic) in BattleLore and HQ tokens in The Great War, players (mostly) acquire chips when they roll the Honor and Fortune symbol on the dice - this side of the dice has no other effect. Chips can be spent to power 'Dragon' cards, which provide bonuses and special actions (just like Memoir '44's Combat cards or Commands & Colors: Napoleonics's Tactician cards). So far, so standard.
However, players also lose Honor and Fortune chips when a unit retreats - more if it's a samurai unit. And, if you run out of chips, there's the possibility of additional losses for the retreating unit and others. Effectively, the army's morale is damaged and soldiers flee. What a brilliant way of enhancing the game's setting and giving players something else to worry about.
As well as military units, Leaders (single blocks) feature in this game and, unusually, come in three types. Foot leaders attach to infantry only, while mounted leaders can command infantry or cavalry. As well as allowing their unit to ignore a retreat, they can use Honor and Fortune to add a die in close combat. The third type is the Army commander (and his bodyguard), whose presence on the battlefield boosts some effects, but takes no active part in the fighting (unless attacked). I have yet to play a scenario with an army commander, but their main purpose seems to be to provide a target for your opponent.
The usefulness of your Leaders is somewhat balanced by your opponent gaining a victory banner for killing one. And, as mediaeval Japanese commanders led from the front, Leaders are easier to kill than in other C&C games. In keeping with the setting, a lone Leader who is forced to retreat (and lose Honour) can commit seppuku (and gain Honour) instead. However, this also means the player reduces the number of Command cards they hold, so it's not an automatic decision.
There's also a difference in the way terrain can protect units (which I first saw in Commands & Colors: Medieval). Take forests for example. In most C&C games, attacking a unit in a forest means subtracting one or two dice from what you roll in attack. Thus, ashigaru archers, who normally roll two dice, might roll just one when attacking into a forest while samurai spearmen, normally four dice in close combat, would roll three. However, the rule in this game sets a maximum number of dice the attacker rolls. This is two for a forest, so those ashigaru archers would attack with their full two dice, while the samurai spearmen would only get two, too. This is a subtle change and I'm still seeing how this effects tactics.
As a cautious player, I keep a few Honor and Fortune chips in hand to cover units forced to retreat. However, there doesn't seem to be any need to hoard lots of them - Tom and I were generating plenty of them in every game. So spend them to add an extra die to attacks involving leaders. This does make a difference. Bear in mind, though, that your leaders are more likely to be killed if they're in the front line. (Tom is particularly miffed that he'd not managed to kill a single leader of mine in our first seven games, while I'd polished off several of his.)
Scenarios are generally quick to play (so far) as they don't require many banners to win. In fact, one only needs three banners for a win and killing the enemy leader gains you two. So be aware of this when you start a scenario or it could all be over before you realise.
Coming next: reports from Tom's and my battles.
- [+] Dice rolls
Fancying another go at Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr (well, I am in Norn Iron* at the moment), I checked when I last played. It was two years ago! That was a Swiggers session, when we got through scenarios 1 and 2 (as reported here: Can we all play?). It had better be scenario 3 then (there's no continuity between scenarios - so far, anyway).
A quick intro for those unfamiliar with the game. You have a straightforward cooperative game of nursing staff looking after a dying patient. On its own this would be a bit of a challenge, but nothing special. However, on top of this, you are trying to prod your bolshie patient (well, he is an Ulsterman) into sharing memories of his life - a clever and frustrating mechanism - so that you can resolve the troubles (ahem) of his past.
There's no official solitaire option, but it's easy enough to play the three-player game solo. However, I was immediately missing the discussion between players - the game is more mechanical without this.
Scenario 3 proved to be a tough one, with a big luck element. You have to find 10 specific memories (cards) out of the 30 and then retrieve their 'clear memory' equivalents (from the second deck). Which involves much drawing of random cards. And I was blighted by drawing 'Event' cards far too often, reducing the number of cards I was picking up. I ended up with 23 memories, only 7 of which were in my target set and just three of them clear memories. And then Billy died, just as I was about to run out of time. A quick reset and I can kill Billy off again...
Now, if I was unlucky in my first game, Lady Luck was definitely on my side for the second. To start with, I drew a much higher proportion of the cards I needed to win - even before using the "Steer the conversation" option. This was particularly useful now I knew which timelines to concentrate on and when it came to finding the last couple of cards.
Billy was also obliging, his health remaining good - in the green section of the track, which meant the event cards had minimal effect. Checking at the end, I found half the 'Emergency' cards (three) were still in the deck (down to 9 cards) so my nursing staff definitely had an easier ride.
And the bottom line was a straightforward win. I had completed two whole timelines (12 memories/cards out of the 20 I'd drawn), explaining a large section of Billy's life. But there's a lot more to come - on to scenario 4...
I was in two minds about including a photo - I wouldn't want to give anything away to people who haven't played this scenario. I've compromised by blotting out bits of the clear memories. You'll see Billy's health track at the top is still (just) in the green. The blue nurse has pulled a double shift (hence the empty space on the afternoon shift), allowing me to keep one nurse in the break room to generate extra 'care' tokens (in case I needed them). In fact, none of my nurses got stressed enough to require time off, though they're all on the limit now and I've used both 'on call' nurses. The target markers show the 10 memories I needed to get.
* How the locals pronounce "Northern Ireland".
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When I play Memoir '44 online, I usually do so on the Days of Wonder app (also available on Steam). The advantage of this is that the software implements the game, so you can't do anything that would break the rules. And it's quick to play, too - though an undo option would be so useful (for those occasions when you click the wrong thing). However, the app doesn't support more recent expansions to the game, notably my favourite, the Breakthrough expansion, or the terrific New Flight Plan.
Conversely, the (excellent) implementation on Vassal does include Breakthrough (and New Flight Plan). However, it's essentially manual play - you have to know and apply the rules, just like a face-to-face game.
For my latest encounter with regular opponent Evert, I persuaded him to use Vassal and try a Breakthrough scenario. (If you're not familiar with Breakthrough, it uses a larger board - the same width, but much deeper - and a revised deck of Command cards where Section cards let players move - but not battle with - units in addition to those they've ordered.)
We decided to try "Counter-attack of the BEF". A mixed French and British force is trying to stem the German blitzkrieg in northern France in May 1940, pre-Dunkirk. The Allied force is on the attack, with the Germans spread over half the board and defending. Here are the starting positions (from Vassal), Allies at the bottom. Note there are also two British units holding Arras (left centre edge), which is a victory medal objective for the Axis.
Evert plumped for the Allies as he prefers attacking. No problem for me, I'm a defensive General (my wargaming days also taught me I'm a better commander of infantry than cavalry/armour). While Evert started moving units forward - a slow process even with the extra movement options - I attacked Arras. Some good shooting, along with long-range fire from my mobile artillery, eliminated a defending unit and I was able to occupy the town for a second medal. [That's 2:0 to the Axis]
The French troops on Evert's right wing moved fastest and engaged the forward German units. However, I had brought up some tanks. They removed two French units and inflicted damage on the other flank. Evert's attacks caused casualties (and forced my battery of 88s to retreat), but didn't eliminate anything. [4:0] (The movement lines show the advance of the German tanks and removal of French units. I've also retreated a battered infantry unit - with panzerfausts - to the woods. The red markers indicate the British infantry I targeted on the left.)
Allied armour in the centre and right moved up in force to engage the German forces. The exchange of fire between the French and German armour on the Allied right saw the French tanks destroyed. [5:0] But the British armour claimed two German tank units [an "Armour Assault" card] in response and advanced across the railway to surround the town of Agny. [5:2]
The Germans counter-attacked strongly, removing two of the British armour units in turn. [7:2]
[After two hours play, we saved the game at this point and came back to it a week later - Evert reckoned he had a strategy to try.]
The first thing that happened was that I finished off the third British armour in the centre [a "Behind Enemy Lines" card]. [8:2] The British infantry moved forward. I continued long-range pot-shots with my mobile artillery. First, this damaged the last British tank unit, then it finished off the British infantry in the Arras fortress. [9:2]
Time for the Germans to attack. Moving up my remaining tanks in the centre, I took out an advancing British infantry. [10:2]
However, the British artillery was now in range of Arras and eliminated my infantry holding the town, depriving me of that medal. [9:3] Quite rashly, I continued to press the attack.
I lost two infantry and one armour in exchange for the last British tanks and regaining the medal for Arras. [11:6] With nothing much left of my right wing, I switched my attack to the centre. German infantry advanced across the railway track, forcing back the last French unit. British infantry and artillery supported the French, but the German infantry continued forward.
However, the end came when German planes ["Air Power"] took out a heavily damaged British infantry unit hiding at the back of the battlefield. [12:6] Here are the final positions with the target of that air strike (bottom left) about to become the 12th medal. Time for the BEF to retreat to Dunkirk.
That was a total of three hours playing time - much longer than a standard M44 scenario. Luckily, Evert agrees with me that the Breakthrough expansion adds depth and subtlety to the game, it doesn't just take longer.
Now, how well can I do when we swap sides to play again?
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I've been meaning to get back to Forgotten Waters for some time. Not least because I've yet to complete the initial scenario, "Beyond the Ocean's Edge", successfully. Without cheating, anyway.
So I set up the game on Bank Holiday Monday and gave it a go, using the solitaire rules provided by the app. Having failed the scenario several times, at least I have a good idea of what's waiting for me.
One of the key things is to avoid triggering 'Threats' too often. Reaching the last of these is one way to lose. And the Threat level rises almost every time you move, so you can't afford to hang about. Hence I took the direct route to Precipice Island, the scenario's first goal. Here I am en route (the ship should be pointing the other way).
The problem with this is that it involves visiting the ocean's edge on the way and that's a dangerous place. As I found out. Zero points left on the ship's hull means a one-way trip to Davy Jones's locker. Sigh.
Re-set and try again. This time I kept encountering Royal Navy frigates, but managed to escape them, survived my initial encounter with the Ocean's Edge and got to Precipice Island (963 on the board). Armed with the vital information found here, it was on to the next destination, successfully collect the MacGuffin (only needed a roll of 5+ on a d12) and head back to the Ocean's Edge.
Despite not having moved from his starting position, the dread Cap'n Razor and his man o' war were suddenly on hand for the final showdown. Thanks to the excellent gunnery skills of my team, the man o' war was sent to the bottom as I fended off Cap'n Razor.
Here's the final position - there's a lot of information here. The blank space to the right of the shop is actually where I've just moved from - the tile was removed after resolving the encounter. You can see the removed tiles to the right of the board: ship after ship after ship. The boards on the left would be with the player taking each role in a multi-player game. From top to bottom you can see I have 5 crew (requiring 3 food) with no discontent. The fight has left me with just one point of hull - that's close! I have plenty of supplies; a check would trigger the next threat event and my infamy is in the middle. The dials are used for various things, but here the 0 on A means I've sunk Razor's ship, while the 1 on C means my Captain is still alive (just!). And below that are the ship's cannons - two of them still loaded! That's a win - what's more, having completed five 'stars' on my 'constellation', that's a 'good' result for my character.
And then the world changed. Yes, I've unlocked the other scenarios.
I'm pleased that it is possible to complete the scenario without cheating. You do need to know the particular skill required to find the MacGuffin - and have a character who's strong in that skill. Hence, you'll need a few plays to work that out.
Which is no hardship as far as I'm concerned as the game is a whole heap of fun along the way. Despite having played half a dozen times, I was still encountering new things this time. The one thing that would make things better is playing with a team rather than solitaire. The times I've done this have been terrific - and the remote app (plus Discord) enabled a group across the UK (and abroad) to play together.
I'd love to get a group playing this, but will have to settle for the solitaire game for the time being. Forgotten Waters gets a solid 9/10 from me.
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Nephew Tom and I are both fans of the Commands & Colors games and thought we'd try out the Vassal module for The Great War as our latest outing (a few weeks ago now). And a splendid implementation it is, too.
I'm still impressed by the way Richard Borg tweaked the Commands & Colors system to reflect trench warfare - particularly as all the units (until you add the Tank Expansion) are infantry. Essentially, the dice are much more deadly, but trenches provide good protection. However, you can't just hide in your trenches if you want to win... The downside is that many scenarios are much the same: one side with lots of units in their trenches to attack with, the other with a few units to defend its trenches. The two major expansions provide more variety, though.
Tom was amused by the idea of fighting over a dead man, so we played scenario 246 Verdun (Le Mort Homme) from the French Army Expansion. This uses some of the extra unit types introduced with this expansion, adding to the variety. And the scenario is interesting with two hills (one of which provides the title) for the Germans to occupy as well as the French trenches. The Germans are also "racing against time" - the French player can use a 'Recon' card to gain a victory medal.
Tom drew the French, giving me the job of attacking. And I had several useful cards to do just this. First, though, I thought I'd soften him up with my (off-board) artillery. As usual, this had no effect - you have to be lucky for the artillery to do some damage, but it can be devastating when it succeeds.
So I threw my right wing forward to sieze Hill 304, as shown below (my right is left in the picture - the colours aren't clear in the picture, but the black German units have icons facing right while the dark blue French face left). I got the French out of their 'Fortified Positions' initially, killing two units. Tom gained a medal for a Recon card, hence the 2:1 score shown (righthand edge of the picture). Fighting went back and forth for a while before the Germans could claim their medal for there being no French units on the hill.
Time to try and do the same on my left wing by attacking Le Mort Homme in the same fashion. The French defenders here held on while their remaining troops gathered below Hill 304. I finally cleared Le Mort Homme but, before I could get the medal at the start of my next turn, the French attacked Hill 304. Eliminating a German unit and taking away my medal for Hill 304 saw the French win 6:3, as is about to happen in the picture below.
It was actually much closer than that scoreline suggests, with Tom getting two medals for "racing against time" and that two-medal swing at the end. Well, that's my excuse.
Switching sides left me trying to repeat Tom's defensive success. Again the German attack came in on Hill 304. My French threw them back, albeit taking casualties into the bargain. Here's that position with six French units left to defend against 11 Germans.
German troops had also been advancing on the French right to threaten Le Mort Homme. They were joined by soldiers from the centre trench to make six German units facing two French. When the attack came, the Germans eliminated the one French unit on the hill and got into the French trench. However, they were deprived of their two positional medals by sneaky card play (sending the German troops on Le Mort Homme back to base) and a carefully positioned machine gun.
The battle for Le Mort Homme continued for a few rounds, but the hill was eventually taken by Tom's Germans to win 6:5. Here is that final assault - the Germans just need to wait for their next turn to get their medal.
It was a much closer score this time - and only one "racing against time" medal for the French, I might add. But the French need to do better than exchanging a unit for a unit. And a convincing win for Tom overall.
There's a more detailed account (but without pictures) on commandsandcolors.net.
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Yes, I've had another go at Martin Wallace's Rocketmen - you can find my first attempt in It's gonna be a long, long time.... I got in two solitaire games this weekend, in fact, including my first win. I felt surprisingly triumphant after that, given my only opponent was a simple 'AI'.
First off, I upgraded the 'AI' to 'Normal' difficulty since I now know the basics. My goals (you have to achieve all of them to win, as well as beating the AI) were relatively easy: get a rocket to all three destinations (Earth orbit, the Moon and Mars). I played it too safe last time, so I took a riskier approach to my missions. This resulted in several failed launches. The main problem with this is losing the time (turns) taken to set up the mission.
Here's the final sad, sad situation. I (yellow) have just completed my sixth mission (and third goal) to end the game with only three turns remaining (signified by the 'Asset' cards still on the track bottom left). But the AI has beaten me by a point. Grr. And is only two steps/turns away from adding a hotel on the Moon.
Along the way, I've seen off two of the 'Threats' to humanity (three of them in the solitaire game), but the AI got the third - and two valuable points. Despite losing, I was proud of my achievements (I've got a Moonbase, and a hotel in Earth orbit!), suggesting the game isn't as dry as I first thought.
On Saturday, I made my third attempt, still against the Normal AI. I drew a goal card that included establishing a base on Mars - the most challenging (and highest points scoring) mission in the game. I was a bit miffed at getting this again until I checked and found that it's on four of the 11 (in a solitaire game) goal cards.
So I went for a different strategy: first, establish a base on Mars. NASA would have a fit. The advantages I saw were getting the hardest goal out of the way first and building up a deck that should then allow me to complete other missions quickly (and also removing from my deck the 'Base' mission card that has no other use). The disadvantages were that I might run out of time and I was missing out on the useful 'Achievements' (bonuses like increasing hand size, extra rocket engines) gained by completing missions. Here's the final board.
So off I went, first adding money cards to my deck, then buying powerful engines and other cards to boost my mission. Playing cards to my 'Launch Pad' also reduces my deck size, re-cycling those money cards more quickly. In the meantime, the Asset deck was running down and the AI was scoring points. I definitely felt I was running out of time.
Finally, it was time to launch. Given the importance of the mission, I threw everything at it, including the one-use 'High-Efficiency Booster' that gave me two steps on the mission track. The 'Radiation Shielding' converted a zero 'Mission Success' card to a 2, the 'Spacesuit' let me re-draw a card and I reached Mars. Just. Phew! And suddenly I'm competitive with the AI's score.
My deck was pretty hefty once all the cards from the mission were back in it. But this allowed me to launch new missions every 2-3 turns. And I successfully raced the AI to put hotels in Earth orbit and on the Moon to get the extra point for being first each time.
I completed my sixth mission (photo above shows my player board and cards at this point, including the long line of successes and removed cards) to end the game with a couple of turns left. All my goals were done and getting all three Mars missions gave me a satisfying 36 points against the AI's 19 - I saw off all three Threats this time. And a real feeling of triumph. Next time, it's the 'Hard' AI...
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