The Great Unplayed

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What if

Unpopular opinion: I'm not a big fan of Quentin Tarantino.

From gallery of shammois

not Tarantino, I know


Or to be clearer: I'm a big fan of how cinematic and absorbing his movies are - I'm rarely bored (exception: Kill Bill) and it's some achievement that one can come out of the cinema after watching Django Unchained having not realised several days have passed. But after his opening salvo of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown for whatever reason Tarantino began asking a series of what if questions:

plot spoilers


Spoiler (click to reveal)
Inglorious Basterds: What if we'd stopped Hitler?
Django Unchained: What if a slave had escaped and the world turned into a Hanna Barbera cartoon?
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: What if Quentin Tarantino Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio had prevented the Tate murders?


I don't get the point of it all. It feels like little boys whispering Cor, imagine and running about going peyow peyow with finger guns. That's without even getting into how Inglorious Basterds has its heroes behave like its villains, or Django tries to make throwing off the literal shackles of subjugation cool, or how Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, whilst as watchable as hell, doesn't actually seem to be about anything at all.

But that's just me, and I'm sure plenty will disagree. The reason I've been thinking about it though is that plenty of games do a similar what-if thing. There's a billion war games and a million euro games that ask the players to relive the past and see if things turn out differently. Why do I find it okay in a game scenario, but obnoxiously immature in cinema?

From gallery of shammois


I think it's because games give you a scenario to explore, and your input has ramifications. You take a (sometimes moral) position and explore how to meet your objectives. Even the most gruesome battles are also at least one level removed from the reality of it - In Magnificent Style, for instance, relives a dementedly deluded military charge with catastrophic hopes of success. Every turn is is a bloodbath to greater or lesser degree, as your objective of breaking through Union lines disintegrates before your eyes.

But although it doesn't have the same visceral immersion of cinema, it doesn't have the relish either: the relish of violence, the relish of supposedly holding the moral high ground, and the problematic mixing of the two. The real-life violence of war, of course, is far more horrific than even the most Saving Private Ryan-y type scene.

But games generally aren't doing the same type of what-iffery that Quentin is. They're giving you a slice of history and, via the mechanics and narrative, immersing you in a slightly different way - you can exit the game feeling like you learned something, rather than thinking Wow, that had ultimately nothing to do with what actually happened at all - even if how your game turned out was spectacularly different to the real-world past.

In fact what Tarantino is doing, I'd say, is painting a beautiful surface - but it's something to behold, whereas games get you under the hood. Or, to turn one incongruous analogy into another, I've never come out of a Tarantino film thinking 'that was nutritious' the way I might out of another movie. He makes hamburgers.

Although my not-hugely-considered pondering is comparing a specific film-maker to games, rather than cinema generally, I guess I have learned a lot from games - particularly about the grand sweeps of history over the (generally more cinematic) character stories.

My memory retention is pretty crap but I now know about the ancient civilisations in the Med, glass-blowing in Murano, bridge construction in Prague using eggs, aggressive corporate airline expansion in Pan Am and Italian frogmen in Gibraltar riding torpedoes from games. What has Tarantino ever given me other than a slightly teenage feeling of escapism and lingering shots of Brad Pitt's admittedly-impressive torso?

Eight Tarantino Films ranked, by me

1. Jackie Brown - I actually care about the characters.
2. Pulp Fiction - not sure if the current me would find it watchable, with the constant drip of machismo, but at the time it felt really exciting, paradigm-breaking stuff
3. Reservoir Dogs - see Pulp Fiction, although even less nuanced
4. The Hateful Eight - although I can barely remember it now, I do love a B-Movie set-up of everyone trapped in a place and things getting out of hand (see The Thing)
5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - still have no idea what the point of this movie is, but it looks great
6. Django Unchained - visually gripping, morally unhinged. Falls apart in the final reel.
7. Inglorious Basterds - spellbinding opening, thereafter moronic
8. Kill Bill (I) - I was so bored by the look-at-me-isms of it all I avoided Tarantino for several years, skipping both Kill Bill II and Death Proof.

Eight What If games

1. Black Orchestra. Rather than a teen's wet dream, this plot to kill Hitler is based on a real-life (doomed) campaign. The Black Orchestra was what the SS called the plotters.
2. 878 Vikings. Here they come! The Vikings arrive in England in the titular time and you can be the Vikings, or try and stop them.
3. Brave Little Belgium. Play the Nazis Germans, intent on reaching France, or Belgium, understandably not liking their back yard used as the route.
4. History of the World. This gets a poor press on BGG as an over-long, over-diced confection of chaos. But what it also does is paint a picture of how every empire eventually falls, succumbed, subjugated or subsumed by the next.
5. Leaving Earth. Is it a game, or your maths homework? The closest thing, bar perhaps High Frontier, that I've encountered to a genuine simulation of space flight. The what-if here confirms that NASA did well not to hire me, even though I'm pretty good in interviews.
6. Orbit. I mention Orbit as often as I can because I think it deserves a publisher. If Leaving Earth is beautiful curio, this is the family version: the space race told in an hour.
7. The Road to Canterbury. Not so much a re-telling or what-if question as a dark joke about morality, but very much based on the actual shenanigans of pardon-sellers in medieval Kent. I spent five years of my young life in those shires, so maybe that's why it resonates...
8. Merv. There's no way life in Merv progressed as it does in the game, with stately perambulations of the city walls, multiple building activations and geometrically-compromised Mongol horses. But I'd never heard of Merv the city - once the biggest city in the world - until I'd played it. Not so much a what if as a what, but still. No baseball-bat wielding fantasists in sight.

And - thanks to Nick, who assiduously blogged his exploits with By Stealth and Sea, I'm embarking on the campaign for that game soon. Mad Italian frogmen sitting on torpedoes? That actually does sound like a Tarantino film... one I'd watch.

From gallery of shammois
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Fri Apr 9, 2021 1:58 pm
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Little Hand Grenades

I really like SpaceCorp, but then I'm the ideal audience. It's got narrative, albeit from a kind of corporate distance. It's got tension, albeit of the made-it-there-first kind. It's got interaction, albeit of the borrowing-of-each-other's-resources kind. And it's got moments of randomness. I appreciate some gamers detest this, how the flip of a card or roll of a die can blow up in your face, but for me it does a critical job of giving the game surprises. What's on this planet? We won't know until we open the airloc----YOW. Though I love games, I'm not actually that brilliant at them, and these little hand grenades can sometimes act as potential catch-up mechanisms for the less calculating amongst us.

Mainly though they're funny.

The other thing SpaceCorp does really well is pace. The first time we played it, it was very long, but it was a. the first time for four players and b. I placed out far too many colonies on the final board, meaning we should actually have finished far sooner than we did.

From gallery of shammois


With a little familiarity it's a very deftly-engined series of races, as over three boards (Mariners, Planeteers, Starfarers) players set out from the home planet and begin to expand across the cosmos, beginning with the cosy nearby orbs of Jupiter and so on, and then further afield (Planeteers) before finally traversing vast distances on the Starfarers map, setting new colonies in motion and bringing that great human trait of (irony alert) conquest to the stars.

From gallery of shammois


Everything funnels through cardplay, via a kind of deck-glimpsing mechanic: you begin with a paltry couple of cards, can generate a lot more by researching, building your hand as big as you like. If you end a turn with 4 cards or less, you get to draw a card for free.

When cards are played, they're gone forever - unless you upgirade your infra, which is where you can keep up to four cards ad infinitum as permanent boosts to specific actions.

From gallery of shammois


The catch with Infra is that opponents can also use it. The catch to the catch is that if they do, you draw a card for free.

So what are these actions? Well, you begin with two teams on Earth so one of the first things you'll be doing is moving. Should you reach a planet, you can explore there, and uncover some hopefully-helpful thingy you can use to build a base on, and maybe produce. What are you producing? Ultimately, cash, which is also the game's defining currency when it comes to victory.

From gallery of shammois


As the boards go by other elements are introduced: breakthroughs and genetics can lead to significant power to your space elbow any time the wheel of progress completes a full rotation. I know it sounds like these details are starting to spiral fractal-like into space themselves, but it really is a very accessible game, with a mere 7 pages of rules for board number one.

Planeteers introduces a few extras but nothing overwhelming. Where SpaceCorp, if not jumps exactly, then pats the rump of the proverbial Cetus, however, is the Starfarers map. When we played a couple of years back, my errors on both putting out too many colonies AND the wrong side of the Contracts Board (rewards for doing stuff) meant our initial play lost momentum. Played correctly, it felt to me like the fastest of all three, albeit I'd still say the thematic immersion of space exploration is mildly compromised by some of the euro-style colony rewards, such as cash when an opponent builds a colony. Maybe you're supplying bricks though. I certainly enjoyed my solo excursion on this final board more than our 90minute four-player one, but as I said, mistakes were made...

From gallery of shammois


Overall though, despite my current desire to purge purge purge and get the library down to the kind of number where I don't think to myself 'These will never get played' SpaceCorp is still a keeper. A long game, for sure, but a fast-moving one, where the idea of reaching for the stars and most likely gloriously failing comes through loud and clear. Plus - the winner is the richest. I don't mind losing on those terms - give me the joy of exploration over a bank-balance pissing contest any day!
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Wed Apr 7, 2021 2:29 pm
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The Picture of Durian Play

I like Oink. Not only do they pack a big - or moderately-sized - game into a tiny box, they do so with a graphic style I like and a quirky sense of design. Time is precious - don't waste it playing loads of rubbish games (like I do)

Top Ten Oink Games


Insider
I have to put Insider top. We've played it nearly a hundred times since I started logging plays, probably another hundred before that. Son number 2, with a wisdom I fail to summon at my wisest, will invariably - as I bring yet another new game to the table - say "Why don't we just play Insider?"
A Fake Artist Goes to New York
Insider with felt-tips. Possibly even more fun at times, but slightly faffier to play.
Startups
Bananas set-collection. I'd like to play this more than we do, which is never at the moment.
Deep Sea Adventure
I managed to stop myself backing Moon Adventure by an unlikely show of willpower, as it takes what I like about Deep Sea Adventure - individual aims, shared resource (oxygen!) and put a co-operative spin on it. I dunno if that will be quite as much fun, though I'm intrigued to find out.
Maskmen
Climbing game where the strength of suits varies depending on the order they're played. I really like it, but I'm also terrible at it.
Tricks and the Phantom
This might be higher up if we'd managed to play it with more players. A second-guessing luck-pusher of hidden cards and secret roles.
Troika
Flipping tiles for the win. Set collection through the quirky minds of Oink.
The Pyramid's Deadline
Underrated game of building a tomb for the Pharaoh. There is a slight sense of 'what did I just play?' about it, but I prefer that to 'oh this game is like x, y and z'.
Flotsam Fight
Points for critiquing greed.
Nine Tiles Panic
Clever in that it pitches two ill-fitting mechanics together: you want time to conjure the best town layout, but it's a race. I didn't find it as fun as I thought I would though.
Zogen
Straightforward pattern-recognition at speed; Dobble with a bacterial flavour.
TomaTomato
Say syllables at speed. Hilarious on a first play, rather less so afterwards.

I'm not sure where Durian comes into this, yet. Son 2 and I played head to head and found it okay. It came far more to life with four, and I suspect it's best with at least five.

From gallery of shammois


The pitch is the players each have a fruit card, and collectively these cards make up the inventory at your grocery store. The catch is that, a lá Hanabi, you can only see everyone else's cards - not your own.

From gallery of shammois


On your turn you can either:

flip a new card and add it to the orders list. Orient the card so the order the customer wants is on the right-hand side (the left side becomes irrelevant)

or, if you think we collectively cannot fill the orders, you ring the bell - it comes with a bell! - to call the manager. In this case, everyone adds up all the inventory cards and sees if they cover the order. If it can, whoever called the manager gets the points (bad) for making him angry. If it can't, whoever played the previous card gets the points instead.

That's it, except for the three gorillas. The manager is a gorilla too and three of his family work in the store. If they come out as an order, the active player must flip one of the existing orders around, changing, say, a safe strawberry into a risky three bananas. If a player is dealt one - ie they don't know they have it - the gorilla comes out in the inventory: one of them does nothing, another eats all the '3' fruit orders, and another eats all the banana orders. So, they're both a risk but also a potential life-saver.

From gallery of shammois


That's it. As soon as any one player goes over seven points the game ends, with the player on fewest points winning. Note also that the point-punitivity climbs: losing round one only costs you a point, but fifteen minutes later on round seven it's a hefty seven points.

What was hinted at in our two-player game became far more prevalent in the later four-player affair with Sally and the boys: it pays to be decisive. If you call the manager early, it might be that your own card fills the order itself. So if you pull a banana order, say, and all you can see are non-banana inventory cards, then it's better to place it with a confident flourish than hesitate. Not only can you escape your uncertainty, you can also plant misinformation in the minds of the other players (...so I must have bananas....)

When I play if I can hear Martin or Katy in my head cackling evilly/shrieking with outrage, then I feel it's going to be worth a visit with the Tuesday Night Club, and I definitely had that sensation last night. Fun, funny, and only takes up 20 minutes of your precious time. Tentative rating: 8
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Thu Apr 1, 2021 9:45 am
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C-beams glittering in the dark

Comedy in games is a strange beast. Comedy anywhere, in fact. For instance, in our house

*trigger warning* - poop


...the boys still find poo and bums hilarious. I blame myself: this was an easy out many years ago, when you could diffuse an emotional bomb by squeezing bums into the conversation, or just making a fart noise. Maybe I leaned on it too much: ten years later attempts to change the default of What's Funny fall flat. When child 1 was making yet another joke about poo, I tried to step in:

"Hey, you know what the secret of comedy is?"
"Your butt"

Meanwhile child 2 regularly changes the lyrics of songs to a more scatological bent. I try to reassure myself it's just boys of a certain age, but I do worry. It's poo! It's cylindrical and falls out of you!! I regularly catch Sally's expression, looking like a sad-eyed Buster Keaton amongst a troop of demented clowns throwing dubiously-filled pies.

For me, humour is a key component of a games night - both in the table-talk, joshing, occasional insults and general ribaldry of the players (caveat: not bantz, which in the UK at least has come to mean a kind of supposedly-hilarious dickheadedness rationalised away by the fact it's just a joke), and the games themselves, which dovetail into that ambience, ideally fuelling it in fact. I consider myself lucky to have fallen in with a lovely bunch of often-funny people, who play often-funny games.

Just so I don't start harping on about my love-hate relationship with euros again, I'll get this back on track: I've found when a game grabs you by the lapels insisting how funny it is, it often dies a death on the stage that is the gaming table, having over-hyped itself with an abundance of exclamation marks and claims of hilarity. Some massively-subjective examples:

Robo-Rally.
Now I did enjoy Robo-Rally back in the day, but I think even in the late 90's its success was a mixture of the undoubted fun it did occasionally provide with the paucity of our gaming catalogue and - mainly - the glimmering possibilities we all felt when we laid out the boards, chose our robots, looked at our cards, and began scheming. Half an hour later everyone would be scratching (or orienting) their heads over their cards and bemoaning their fates: it's a 20minute game that lasts for 2 hours, basically, telling the same joke.

Exploding Kittens
There's a school of thought that if you don't like Exploding Kittens, Unstable Unicorns, Existential Elephants, Unemployed Cumberland Sheepdogs or whatever then you're a gaming snob - in which case, peel me a grape. These have two things I struggle with: the rules are defined by the cards turn by turn, and the alleged hilarity is of the you-shat-your-pants variety: here, in fact, the comedy is that I played the card that made you. Ha ha! How does it feel? - Oh no, you played the Falling Piano.

There's more, but I can't remember them.

On the other hand, there are games that are just funny by their nature. Obviously my fun may be exceedingly unfunny for some, but:

Flip Ships replicates the alien invasion of Space Invaders, but with cards, and cardboard discs you flick from the top of a wooden block. It shouldn't work, but it does: there's a tension that juxtaposes with the silliness of what you're doing to make the entire escapade so absurd, it just seems inherently funny. (I've played a lot of co-ops but this is the one where people are really rooting for each other the most too)

Cube Quest and Flickfleet are both flicking games where what you flick (dice/cubes) have the unfortunate tendency to do the unexpected. Unfortunate in that things can and do go spectacularly wrong, especially if both sides play aggressively. Fortunate in that Cube Quest in particular is really funny to play. Flickfleet I think is a lovely balance between that comedy, and tension: it's a more nuanced game than Cube Quest in fact, but not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious.

If you absolutely detest flicking games - I didn't start out writing about comedy realising that's where I'd go - then I'd recommend 6Nimmt for the simple beauty of watching plans go wrong over and over again. Or Tales of the Arabian Nights for a tale of drama, absurdity, and rug-pulling events. Or A Fake Artist Goes to New York for comedy and suspicion. Or Decrypto for the double-take of misunderstandings. I dunno, the longer I go on the more elusive the idea of what works for humour in a game gets... except to say if anyone has played a comedy euro, I'd be interested to hear about it. In my experience, euros are good at a lot of things (-things I like) but instigating laughter is not one of them.

Anyway all that was supposed to be a brief preamble to my encounter with The LOOP, which populates its rules and cards with a comic tone, as well as presenting you with an extremely silly conceit to undertake: saving the Universe from the wicked Dr Foo.

From gallery of shammois


Dr Foo is simply a despotic evil person, and his shenanigans are causing rifts in the time-space continuum. Too many rifts create a vortex - bad - and too many vortexes lose you the game - really bad. But! We may yet be saved, thanks to the efforts of our era-travelling renegades, specifically in my case the Time Prowler and Cztwyzzek, being from another dimension probably.

You know the drill. It's a co-op. The game conspires against you, and you conspire right back. Clever cogs whirl, things appear and must be dealt with, and in the end fate will decide...

From gallery of shammois


Fate definitely plays a part. Faster than you can say 'Pandemic' Dr Foo is duplicating himself and proliferating around the board, which represents the eras of time itself: from pre-history to end-days. His duplications are what cause the rifts, and the rifts in turn the vortexes, so your job is two-fold: remove as much of Dr Foo as you can to stop this happening, while completing Missions to defeat him for good.

From gallery of shammois


This is just the basic game by the way: there are a number of variants in the box.

At the start of each turn, the original Dr Foo - that pink thing in the middle - turns to orient himself toward a new era, and a number of rift cubes drop out of him, in three possible directions. A fourth rift cube in any one era causes a vortex, removing a 'sabotage' piece from the board in the process: potentially, an active mission as well.

Then you come in with your cards, which are pretty straightforward: move around, remove rift cubes, push duplicates about. The pushing of duplicates is key, because they are unstable: get one into an era it doesn't like and it explodes out of existence. As the number of duplicates influences the number of cubes being added, you kinda want them to explode as much as possible.

From gallery of shammois


Although it's very pandemic-y in the managing of current-problems whilst trying to achieve longer term objectives, the game it reminds me of most is Burgle Brothers (which I like a lot). It has a similar tone: a kind of farcical heist, with quirky illustrations to boot. I'm not (yet) totally convinced it's quite as madcap as it thinks: ultimately you are solving a puzzle, and what everything actually represents in the game story can sort of melt away as you engage with the problems at hand. It's not funny per se, but like Burgle Bros, the absurdity is a combination of farce and tension, rather than laugh-aloud moments. There's only so many times the Hairpiece of Power will raise a chuckle, because let's face it, it's not even cylindrical.

From gallery of shammois


But some games have a sense they were made with love - that the creator enjoys the game a lot. The LOOP is one of those. It's so bananas I can forgive it the fact at times I forget the theme (because aren't all games abstract etc) and I like the fact a bad draw or an unlucky roll can have game-changing or even game-ending properties. I like the Looping option where you can take some, or all, of your turn again by spending energy, and how you can keep looping as long as there's enough energy out there, like some kind of time consumer so greedy you can't stop using your big roll of duct tape, and all your energy consumption may turn out to be the dumbest move ever. I like that it's swingy and unpredictable. In fact, those idiosyncrasies are the kind of things that help make a game fun/funny... because predictable and ultimately-negotiable aren't qualities that make anyone laugh, except perhaps Michel Barnier, in surprise.

It's not as elegant as, say, Pandemic: Rising Tide. There's less control. You can look at a hand of cards and wonder aloud how the hell these help. But again, elegance isn't inherently funny either. What The LOOP is is... kinda silly. Kinda foolish. And if it's not quite as out-there as it might have you believe, it is fun - and yes, a little funny too. Of recent family-oriented co-ops I have encountered, I'd put it ahead of Terror Below, Horrified and Escape, all of which I enjoyed to various degrees for various reasons. In a crowded market of family co-ops, this is certainly the most lunatic of them - it can end by stumbling into triumph, or having a pie flung in your face when you least expected it.
Tentative rating: 8
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 1:44 pm
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Defeat me, you shall not. - I'll do it myself.

This is really long. Preposterously so. Feel free to skip it all and just write 'that was fascinating' in the comments. Apologies for shabby narrative coherence in the pictures too.

* * *


As promised/threatened, I returned my attentions to Freedom! after recent sally left me re-energised, freshly curious, and determined to play a little better. I remain all of those things, having attempted the solo game with the kind of attention to strategic continuity you might get from an internet Random Tactical Order generator. I played this so badly, they should have recorded it to show to spotty-faced military recruits worldwide.

I also Forgot Things, as we shall see, the most pertinent being thankfully optional but also: an option I should have taken.

OVERVIEW OF THE GAME

Spoiler (click to reveal)
In the solo version of Freedom!, one cannot play - as I would like, to be honest; I don't find myself generally siding with historical empire-builders in the main - as the besieged city of Messolonghi. Instead you must represent the invading Ottoman Empire, hell-bent on breaking the wall and getting military units into one of the four Fort spaces atop it.

You can lose by failing to do this by the end of six rounds.

Either side can lose if their morale hits zero.


A ROUND

Spoiler (click to reveal)
There's a bit of troop-shuffling opening phase, and then:

Players - or player and AI - take seven turns playing cards, either taking the event on the card or the action points. Events are side-specific: you can only use the event if it 'belongs' to your side. And your opponent (clarification: in a two player game. The bot never does this) can, for their turn, discard a card to activate the just-discarded event of the enemy, should it be 'their' event.

After cards, cannons fire - something I had been playing mathematically wrong, as we'll see - and then there's a brief replenishment phase of supplies arriving from your support areas. But during cardplay, these may have changed hands... both sides need feeding, but the Imperialist army also demand wages.

Once per game - or once per game successfully - the Insurgents can get support from the government.


A TURN

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Cards have action points from 2-4, but you can 'set aside' action points for a future turn by preparing them: the Imperial Ottoman forces can prepare up to six AP; the Insurgent Greeks only three.

Assuming you're not preparing, the AP can be spent moving and attacking, building cannons, support (increasing your own, or decreasing/flipping the enemy's), raiding (a night-time guerrilla attack) or training new recruits for the Insurgent side, and Plea-ing for Funds on the Imperial side, although this is a costly process in terms of AP for a not-hugely exciting three cash. It can, however, be critical to morale.


PERIOD CHANGE

Spoiler (click to reveal)
After the third round an influx of recruits arrive on both sides, along with supplies. Cards are dealt from a new deck, and play continues.


THE SOLO BOT

Spoiler (click to reveal)
I'm choosing what cards to play from my hand. The Insurgent bot flips over the top card, then follows a flow chart to decide what it does.


THIS SESSION


Mistakes:
For the first round, I forgot to do the Opening phase, which, to be frank, hindered me far more than the city defenders.

I had misunderstood Cannons Fire slightly, and realise my mistake halfway through.

My biggest mistake was tactical. I simply kept forgetting I could use the AI bot's discarded Imperial cards for the event by discarding any card in my hand.


Imperial cards are red; Insurgent cards blue. Neutral cards are what appeared to be grey but has subsequently revealed itself as kind of mauve. In the heat of battle I often forgot to record the cards anyway.

Round One - April, 1825


Turn One
I. as the Imperial Forces of the Ottoman Empire, aren't mucking about. I open with a an insurgent card and use three action points to get my guys right up against the wall, near the bombard cannon.

To my chagrin, the Insurgent AI automatically plays the event on the card (Victory in the Lagoon) without having to discard a card to do so, as a human player would. They get +2 support at sea, and kick my guys out of the lagoon. But they're not in the Lagoon, so nyah nyah nyahnyahnyah.

The Insurgents draw an Imperial card and simply attack the units by the wall. Three attempts at cutting me down, all pissed into the wind thanks to the bot's inability to roll higher than a 5 on a D8. So far, it's just like being there.

From gallery of shammois


Turn Two
I elect to play the Capture of Prokopanistos; but not for the event. I have a plan, and spend another three action points getting another three guys up to the wall. Let's end this war early, and save everyone from having to read an endless wall of text about what I did in my early fifties.

The Insurgents flip over Lambros Veikos. It's an insurgent card, but the AI never plays the event. But to reflect the card favouring them they roll for extra action points, and get one. Four action points total: they attack four times, and once again their/my shabby rolling means nothing occurs. I picture the insurgents looking at each other sheepishly: maybe the Turks aren't that bad? Shall we call it a day?

Turn Three
My early aggression manifests into more than just looming ominously: I play Banousis Sevranis for the event, and launch an attack: four guys can attack with +1. Each attacker rolls 2D8, and I normally need to roll an eight for a hit. Now: just a seven! Eight chances to make an early breakthough. I succeed in a paltry single hit, but I do at least eliminate the guy manning the bombard cannon, which is like the best cannon you can buy circa 1824. As he was the only guy there, the insurgent morale drops by one.

Now the Insurgents. They play three action points and respond in kind, finally inflicting their first casualty after multiple attempts.

Turn Four
My hand is overflowing with Insurgent cards and the fact every single Insurgent event I reveal will be activated by them make my choices a little bleaker than previously recognised. I decide to play my only remaining Imperial card, Kütahi Resid Mehmed Pasha, but for the points: I attack again, this time spending a coin (and an action point) to Reward Attacks: each roll gets +1. Another hit - another loss of morale. This is easy!

Suddenly stirred into life, the Insurgents make two attacks, and hit with both, sapping my morale in the process. Hmm.

Turn Five
My cheek still stinging, I spend two points Preparing: putting points aside for the next round. I'm forced to play an Insurgent card though (Sacred City) so my opponent automatically adds +1 to the pressure government for help table. Then:

Fleet's Departure. It's an Imperial card, but still gives the Insurgents four action points! They train a civilian into a die-rolling, killing machine, and re-man the bombard cannon. Balls.

Turn Six
I play Panagiotis Sotiropoulos: 3 action points. Two are spent killing the new recruit - Insurgent morale drops again - and I spend the third preparing: I plan on building some cannons in round two.

The forces of Messolonghi first activate the event on my discarded card - removing all of my guys from just outside the wall - then draw an Insurgent card, and roll themselves an extra two action points - five total. They train a civilian to replace the unlucky soul who just gave their life, and deplete Imperial support at Gouria.

Turn Seven
I merely prepare - I now have five action points in the bank for round two.

The Insurgents further remove support from Gouria, and spend their remaining point (of three) on preparation.

* * *

The card phase is over! Now Cannons fire. Me first: I have two cannons, and they both miss. Sometimes this passage feels more like a circus show than a war. The Insurgents fire four cannons, and inflict damage with two of them.

Replenishment! Both sides take delivery of bread, new recruits and a side-helping of morale for the defenders, courtesy of Anatolikon. The Insurgents also get to to pressure the government - not successfully on this occasion (2D6 + current space on Plea track must equal 12 or more) but the wooden spoon here is that they move up the plea track as a result.

Round Two


Opening: - I send an expeditionary force towards the coast, hoping to sneak around the back of the wall and enter the city via the beach, defended only by the sea itself. The Insurgents feel like they should send an extra unit to the soon-to-be-threatened Isle of Kilsova, but the AI insists I place it with a cannon. Makes sense. OR DOES IT.

Turn One
I'm delighted (i.e. not delighted) to look at my hand and find it has a single Imperial card in it, along with three neutral and four Insurgent. That said, it makes sense to play Night Raid (Insurgent removes Imperial units from row 4, beside the wall) while I have no units in said row. I build a cannon instead, using one of my prepared action points to stick it in row 5 - not at the teeth of the wall, but close enough.

But then the Insurgents get themselves 4 action points. They wipe out my units manning the brand new cannon, and prep with the remaining AP.

Turn Two
I play Capture of Petrochori for the points. I re-man my cannon and send one unit to the outskirts of Klisova. Let's give these guys a bit more to think about.

It does mean that the Insurgents activate the discarded event, and I lose three support at Petrochori (a source of both food and units). But it's still broadly pro-Imperial, for now. The Insurgents draw Abandoned Cause, which is a card I could have done with , and use 4AP to carry out two raids against my cannon guys. Both are successful. Where's my crappy rolling gone???

Turn Three
I play Reinforcements for the event, banking up support in the wavering Gouria and Petrochori.

The Insurgents build a cannon on Klisova. They have an AP left over, but their prep ability is maxed out. I guess it evaporates. I later realise I should have spent it.

Turn Four
Defectors Return. It's costly but I get a unit up to my row 5 canno, a unit up to the wall and another unit to the shores of Klisova. I feel I've been focusing too much in one place and need to spread my imperialist tentacles around the city.

From gallery of shammois


The insurgents get to do the defecting in question: I lose a unit from my camp; they gain one on the wall. Then: Siege of Anatolikon. Three action points, which are spent eliminating my unit at the wall. The downside of my tentacle tendencies is morale: every time an area is emptied of my units, it drops.

Turn Five
I've been trying to play Stone Cannonballs for some time, and I'm finally able to. I fire my Row 5 cannon, and the bastard misses. I then move a unit from camp to in front of the space I fired at, but I'm already having misgivings. He's going to be attacked, and if he succumbs, that's another drop in morale. It's a good job I'm not a strategist in real life.

Insurgents draw Ally Deserts and roll and extra two action points! They eliminate the unit at the wall, Raid the cannon unit... morale is sinking fast.

Turn Six
Reinforcements for 3 action points. I re-man that godforsaken cannon with two units, shuffle further toward Kilsova and attack the insurgent there. I fail.

Insurgents draw Ismael Pliassa - another 4 action points. I'm starting to have Stilicho flashbacks, this is so punishing. I remember I'm supposed to be using up the prepared action points - not that they need them - so after wiping out my unit at Kilsova. They reduce my support at Gouria again.

Turn Seven
Arrival of Supplies - Another unit sails (or swims?) out to Kilsova. Two shuffle forward to that blasted cannon spot. Then I use my preparation to build another cannon. Let's see if the wall stands up to this!

Insurgents have got yet another of my powerful cards - Captain Mahmud (4AP). They Raid twice. They are successful, twice. I consider hurling that ridiculous cannon out the window.

Cannons fire!
I shake my head at the uselessness of my cannons, then checking the rules I see cannons need to roll a six from the sum total of 2D6, not just a six on one of them. I've been playing that wrong for ages. I shake my head at the uselessness of my head, then roll again.

Finally playing the cannon rules correctly proves a paradigm-shifting experience. Suddenly they are no longer scattergun weapons of enormous potential. They are now weapons of almost guaranteed destruction - the wall is damaged in one section, crumbled in another. The insurgents return fire and my troops are obliterated, causing a huge drop in morale. Freedom! just changed from a tightly-contested, eye-narrowing chess match into a massive bar-room punch-up. Game on!

Replenishment takes place. Messolonghi's plea for assistance goes unheard. I cackle.

Round Three


Opening
I shuffle my units, pushing a couple towards Kilsova. The correct Insurgent response is a bit muddy from the solo rules, with both damaged wall sections at maximum capacity. I leave things as they are.

Although Imperial morale is now lower than the besieged defenders, which normally determines turn order in the solo game I still act first.

Turn One
I have FIVE Insurgent cards. Silly game. I play Georgios Karaiskakis and move up to Kilsova, paying a prepared action point to attack twice and paying money to give myself +1 on rolls. I miss.

The Insurgents instantly (thanks to Georgios) gain 1 suport in two areas controlled by the Empire. they flip Gouria to their cause in the process. Stupid game. Then they draw Nikolaos Stournaris and roll an additional... zero action points. Finally, something goes right. They spend all 4 AP repairing the wall.

Turn Two
Seafight at Kafireas gives me two action points, and I smash Kilsova over the head. The unit is defeated, Insurgent morale drops, I see a path to the beach. I also see my wallet is empty, and I'm going to have to Plea for Funds from the High Porte if I'm not to have a mutiny on my heads.

The insurgents first activate the Kafireas event (I lose 2 supplies) and then draw... another 4-pointer in Kitsos Tzavellas! What's more, they roll another two extra AP. They not only repair the wall by the bombard cannon, but regroup on Kilsova and attack my units there, who are foolishly splashing about on the beach in their swimming trunks, singing songs.

Turn Three
I play Unequal Share of Money and fail miserably to return fire at Kilsova. I push another unit that direction though, I'm sick of the bloody wall.

The Insurgents activate the event, but I have no money to remove. They do kick a unit from the shores of Kilsova though. They draw Night Works for 2AP and kill my other unit threatening Kilsova, before preparing.

Turn Four
I'm starting to panic about low supplies. I plea for funds and fail, and move another unit towards Kilsova. This was all done at great expense - Fire Ships in Methoni cost me three supplies, thanks to the event.

The insurgents get Rickard and add prepared AP to fix the last bit of wall. Having knocked it down, I did nothing but focus on a surprisingly obdurate island somewhere else. D'oh!

Turn Five
Oh well. Support from the High Porte gets me three money.

Messolonghi get Reinforcements and combine it with prep to train another civilian.

Turn Six
Tahir Abiz lets me move units forward from the camp. I have plans.

Kutahi's Retreat plus an additional action point, lets them Raid (and eliminate one of my Row 5 units) and prepare. It feels to me like there are more blue cards than red, even though there aren't.

Turn Seven
The event on Bonus for Filling the Moat lets me play a flanking manoeuvre, ready for the next round.

From gallery of shammois


Aqueduct Destroyed gives the besieged 3 AP. They spend all of them, plus the prepared 1AP, going after my forces who's just arrived west of the city. To no avail!

Cannons Fire
Disaster! I break the walls of the city just twice. The insurgents seem to aim better, and hit me for four damage. Morale drops.

During Replenishment I'm a little short for payday. Morale drops further on the track. I realise with chagrin that my fantastic west-flanking plan didn't take into account I can't hit the wall there with my cannons, and if the wall is unbreached, all they're basically doing there is being living targets. Not only am I not a strategist, I'm not even remotely intelligent.

What's more the Insurgents successfully pressure the government for help, receiving an influx of food, insurgent units, and a morale boost to boot. This is bullshit.

PERIOD CHANGE


As we reach November 1825, Messolonghi's holding out against the Turkish forces, Asterix-like, has reached many ears and they receive an wave of new civilians rushing for sanctuary. More people to train - but also more people to feed. Meanwhile for me it's like Christmas, if Christmas was all about money, supplies, and new arrivals, which in a way it is.

From gallery of shammois


Allied troops - who have good aim - arrive en masse. So does money, and bread, and my plea track gets a boost. Maybe things aren't so bad after all. We also move to the new deck for...

Round Four


Turn One
I open with the Fall of Dolmas for the event, reducing Insurgent support at Anatolikon and moving two Allied units from the camp, to the Isles of Vasiladi and Marmarou respectively.

From gallery of shammois


The Insurgents draw Civilians at Arms and roll and extra 2 AP. They attack my guys at the wall thrice, but fail each time.

Turn Two
I counter, playing Konstantinos Lagoumitzis for 4AP, and spending one of them (plus one money) to Reward Attacks. I miss anyway, and kick the table leg, forgetting that I'm wearing slippers. Such is war. The last AP I spend moving two Allied Units to my doomed cannon in Row 5.

Here come the Insurgents! After activating the event courtesy of Konstantinos (above) to remove my failed western flanking flailings, they draw Money Transfer Arrives and spend 3 AP to Raid (unsuccessfully) and prepare.

Turn Three
I notice that Gouria, Anatolokin and The Sea are all flippable to my cause, so rather than flinging myself in random directions around the city, I should focus on that. I play Husrev Mehmed Pasha for three support at sea, plus a bit of cash.

The Insurgents draw Captain Abbott and get a paltry 2AP. They raid my Allied Troops in row 5, this time with some success.

Turn Four
A last unit removed anywhere will put my morale - already critically ill at two - down to the nearly-flatlining one. I move units forward, playing Cavalry for the AP, since the event is no good to me: it allows me to move 3 units from the camp, but I only have one there. Sad face.

Pestilence is the Insurgent play, and they repair the broken wall I seem to be ignoring again.

Turn Five
I flip Gouria to my cause.

The Insurgents raid twice, taking out another Allied unit.

Turn Six
With a sudden change of heart/plans/focus I push on to Kilsova and attack. Nothing doing.

It's a gamble that backfires. The Insurgents wipe out my solitary unit in the shallows, reducing my morale to one.

Turn Seven
I feel the end is looming. Although my Allied forces are about to blow this wall into gravel, there's no way I can see morale will survive the cannon phase. But I must play the numbers game, so bolster forces where I can.

The Arrival of Refugees can't be copied by me, as it's too late, but I've been forgetting this power throughout anyway. In what will undoubtedly be the final nail in the coffin, a successful raid reduces the units on a cannon space to one.

Cannon Phase
Its' all over. Though I break the wall again, giving the Insurgents much to do in the grouting department, the response catastrophic in terms of morale: three spaces are empty and morale not only hits zero, it goes into The Upside-Down and inhabits my waking nightmares.

I played this stupendously badly. Partly to be fair because I kept stopping to jot down notes. Partly because I undid myself with opening and cannon oversights. Mainly however a combination of poor decisions and forgetting to consider discarded opponent Imperial events. I overlooked some of my strongest plays with the latter, instead fiddling around with 2 or 3 action points at a time.

As much as I enjoyed recording and telling the tale, my next attempt will be more focused, and merit perhaps a paragraph only somewhere - hopefully telling of my crushing victory. I'm not as sold on Freedom! for one as I am for two, but I enjoyed this a lot - and I love a challenge.
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Fri Mar 26, 2021 3:26 pm
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Morale Victories

Times have changed. Once I was as likely to go for a bike ride as solo a game. But last year (or was it this year? I can't remember now) I played a trio of light wargames that all left me impressed: The Shores of Tripoli is a deceptively fun - deceptive, at least, compared to the sombre box - dice-chucker. Stilicho is an openly brutal solo game for hairshirt-lovers. It bashed me over the head in defeat so many times I had to put it onto the shelf just to get my breath back. And Freedom! is a two-player game of the siege of Messolonghi in the Greek War of Independence.

I would like to have played it more before now, but I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to deep-dives. Even if I love a game to bits I can get distracted, like a kid in a sweetshop. Or a meeple shop.

To be fair these are times when deep-dives aren't easy. (Plus, what do you consider a deep dive? Two plays is enough, right?)

From gallery of shammois


Yesterday/today I returned to Freedom! (I'm italicising otherwise that exclamation mark will keep confusing me) and although I've talked about it on the blog before, I thought it worth doing so again in a bit more detail - because I was reminded what a great design it is, if, like me, you like asymmetry, narrative, tactical play over (but not at the expense of) overarching strategy and some good old-fashioned dice-chucking that leads to cries of Yessssssss and No f*****g Way! and of course, not forgetting Remember, we're better than them because imperialism is a good thing.

From gallery of shammois


Each round represents three months in the story of the siege. The Imperial forces (red) are knocking at the door of the city - which is military parlance for trying to break down the fuckin' walls. If they can get on the walls, the insurgent forces are in trouble: should the action (card-playing) phase of any round end with Imperial forces occupying one of the four fort spaces on the wall, the city falls and it's Goodnight Vienna Messolonghi. In contrast, all the defending Greek forces have to do is hold out for long enough (ie the sixth round) that the Ottoman forces lose interest.

But! Both sides have another way to lose, which is if their morale reaches zero. Morale starts at fifteen for the incoming Turks, and a paltry ten for the Greeks. And - ignoring the cards for a minute - it drops in two ways: when the last troop is defeated in any one space on the board, and when your people can't be properly fed at the end of a given round. In fact, for the Imperial forces, it's not just a matter of food: their soldiers demand payment too. And in a siege, cash is hard to come by, especially when your leiutenants are using it up incentivising your men to aim a bit better.

From gallery of shammois


Before that possibility though (the replenishment phase) we have each side's cannons firing. The insurgents can pick off opposing forces, but for the Imperial side the focus is predominantly the wall of the city - only when it's broken (flagged by tokens) and the troops atop a section subsequently picked off, if necessary, can they access the wall and - assuming they're not ejected into the next life - victory.

But before cannons come the cards. Each card has a number of action points that can be spent doing the moving, attacking, raiding, training of civilians, repairing of wall, building of more cannons etc, and you simply discard a card to spend these points however you like, following some easy rules: Insurgents can attack as many times as they like; Imperial forces only once per card. Some spaces demand slower movement than others: getting on the wall, for instance, or across water to attack the city from the beach.

From gallery of shammois

later, Allied forces (green) show up to assist the Imperial forces


Or you can play the event on the card, if the event is one that applies to your side of the war (or a neutral event). If it's not, you can only play it for the points, and now your opponent has the option to discard a card from their head to activate the event you just discarded.

There's two decks of cards as well, so although we're not following the timeline of the original battle to the nth degree, there's a loose sense of choreography.

From gallery of shammois


Finally both players can Prepare (saving action points for future rounds) and have a sort of special move: the insurgents can, just once per game, appeal for help from the government (which they did last night at first attempt, when needing a 12 I rolled two sixes) and the Imperials can Plea for Funds from the High Forte. They can do this as many times as they like in order to receive cash, but the more you plea, the less likely you are to be heard, as top brass start wondering why you've not broken the city's resistance yet.

Outside of the combat, Freedom! is keeping a watchful eye on the outside world - or to be more accurate, the outside world watches. Both sides can spend action points dredging up support from the surrounding areas, looking to guarantee a flow of supplies and recruits into your armies whilst simultaneously - because support can flip - suffocating your opponent's supply stream.

That's what the Imperial forces did yesterday early on, allowing the insurgents to deal some moderate damage whilst they devoted early card play to flipping both Anatolikon and The Sea (who start off on the insurgent side) to their cause.

The insurgents trained civilians. The invaders built cannons. The insurgents won their early bid for government support. The red forces began to make superior numbers tell, as they surged forward and - at the end of round one - broke through the wall.

I had an idea of doing a more detailed session report, as I was revelling in it from early on, but to be honest I was mostly pondering events and occasionally checking rules. What I can say is it always looked to be heading the Imperial forces way, but their preposterous leader - I - neglected to keep an eye on the purse strings and right when the city was on the verge of collapse - forces atop the wall, adjacent to an empty fort space - they ran out of cash with morale teetering. Seeing their imminent victory wasn't enough - like so many men of yore, the common soldiers felt used, and not even a surfeit of food could change their minds: morale dropped to exactly zero, and the insurgents, a moment ago their backs to the wall, mentally preparing last words about liberty/kismet, found themselves celebrating an unlikely win.

Really fun. I'd love to play this versus a person, but for now I intend to go back and revisit the solitaire game.

Other Games


Joe and I played The Lost Expedition, and nailed it. Usually we just try and navigate across seven cards, but this time we did all nine and the whole thing took about fifteen minutes.

Sally and I played sweet and simple Tinderblox...

From gallery of shammois

build a fire, with tweezers


...and trusty old favourite Take it Easy. We play this using our Tuesday gang's variant, which is where tiles are called, bingo-style. The player revealing tiles (-everyone adds the same value tile to their own board) announces the number according to a topic. This started out as bingo-calling, then rhyming couplets, and now is just whatever. It makes zero difference to the gameplay, but it's interesting to hear Ian's list of 1990's computer games, say, or people Chris hated at school. There's a flimsy idea that the thing you announce relates to the value of the tile too, but as I was doing 'friends' I had to abandon that very quickly. Sally did recipes, and I successfully identified 'Afghan Aubergines' before she revealed the number.

From gallery of shammois


This was part of an interesting Saturday night after I had my Covid jab in the morning and - stupidly - sank my share of a bottle of wine in the evening. I woke in the night with aches all down the back of my body and stayed like that pretty much all of Sunday, mostly in bed except to make food for itinerant children (Sally was away). I slept a lot, and watched a lot of The Terror, which is surreal enough already without the additional fog of vaccination/inebriation/fatigue. But I am nothing if not hardy, so by the time the evening came I had the energy to browse the internet at length to no real end. Times have changed.
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Wed Mar 24, 2021 1:35 pm
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Broods on a Map

Golly, it feels good to finally get The Fog of War played. It's one of the Great Unplayed Foggy Dog series - they've sat on shelves for so long now they almost feel like old friends; or would if I actually knew anything about them: Fog of Love, Fog of War, Dogs of War. The former needs a willing volunteer that Sally currently isn't (we've still got two games to go on My City from weeks ago!). The latter needs a crowd. Fog of War needs two, so even though playing for two in a game of bluff and brinkmanship is a bit like trying to tickle yourself - or more thematically, punch yourself in the face - it is at least easier to manage logistically, play-through-wise.

From gallery of shammois


Although clearly meant as a lighter, more accessible war game than many, Stronghold took the wacky decision to lay out the rules (we'll explain those actions later/don't worry about that bit now) in a way that grognards may find as inoffensive as a fresh slice of cucumber, but befuddled my little brain to the point where I nearly packed everything away after repeated searches for the point of Industry led to nowhere (- it was, of course, the only sentence in bold in the whole rulebook, so it seems at least some of the fog was self-inflicted).

Anyway, here we are. It's 1940, and the Axis and Allies face off against a marginally congested map of Europe and their very own spinning roulette wheels of doom. Whereas some war games have dudes on a map, Fog of War merely has tokens denoting whose in control of a province, as the shenanigans you may or may not be up to - and sometimes you can shenanigan by not-shenaniganing - all funnel through the medium of card play, and the aforementioned wheels.

From gallery of shammois


Both sides begin with a number of provinces under their control. Both want to expand: the Axis to generate victory points (70 is the target) needed for a win; the Allies to - well, stop them. The Allies can also win by grabbing control of both halves of Germany - The Ruhr and Berlin. Elsewise, when 1944 comes to a close, the Allies win if the Axis haven't reached the seventy-point mark. BUT the Axis can still win if they control both of their objective provinces - in yesterday's case, Poland (which they control at the start) and Yugoslavia.

How are these cards played? You draw three each round. Defensively, they can simply be added to the province spot of any territory you control (or is currently being contested). Offensively, however, you need to plan ahead - which is where the wheel comes in.

From gallery of shammois


At the start of each round, the wheel rotates one section clockwise. You can place cards into the 'active' space to plan for manoeuvres in the future, or you can add more cards to previously-planned spaces. You can also - as you might expect - go off into battle, using previously-planned segments that have cards occupying them. Each card has a battle strength (some are zero!) that apply to land, or sea, or both. Battles are a simple matter of comparing strength - but the resolving of battle is a mite more complicated. If the attacker is weaker than the defender - they lose. If they're twice the strength - they win. Anywhere in-between, and the region falls into quagmire: now it will continue to be contested, with further strength added by both sides in the future (and attritional damage taken) until it's finally resolved.

From gallery of shammois


So what's at stake are the provinces, then, but Fog of War doesn't then wash its hands of the whole thing and leave you to kick lumps out of each other. Instead, there are wrinkles.

Some wrinkles are about time, and what happens at the end of a specific year (when your cards run out). Some are about space, and what happens with specific regions. Some are about knowledge: you can spend Intel tokens to look at the enemy's hidden cards; but crucially, never all of them. And some are about momentum, and how you keep it. It's possible to simply spend your opening few turns planning shit-hitting into European fans, for later. But you'll get more cards to play in subsequent years the more you (successfully) attack. Hedge-betting is all well and good, but meantime the other side may be expanding, scoring points, and all that stuff. Watch out for the Balkans! If the Axis don't attack them, they're so pleased they sign up for the Nazis.

From gallery of shammois


Like I said at the outset, playing a game for 2 is all well and good but Fog of War, as befits its name, clearly thrives on the elements of unknown. That action wheel isn't just a corkboard of plans - it's a fanning of cards in poker; a dropped shoulder in soccer. An entire operation could be a bluff. It's a really interesting system that is atypical of the (admittedly short list of) war games I've encountered before. My reservations are about presentation and management: the board seems a little too small, a little too busy (very easy for the province spaces to become obscured); the rulebook a bit unintuitive in places. The cards need a lot of moving, shuffling, comparing, and for a lazy-ass like me, well, I pine for pushing a cube and rolling some dice (or just playing a single card). It's very clever though, and I wish I'd played it against a real person. It deserves that at the very least. (Not a Nazi though)

Tentative rating: 7
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Sun Mar 21, 2021 10:13 am
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The Noisy Majorities

Yesterday I set up SHASN on my all-new, marine-ply gaming space. Designed for a single player, it's both a celebration of my freedom to solo games I enjoy, and a fatalistic acknowledgement that I'm now That Guy; the guy the younger me mocked. But the younger me was a prick, so whatever.

Although SHASN feels like it really wants you to play with 4, there are a couple 3-player set-ups so I went with the particularly devious Deep State version: in a standard game, Conspiracy cards can be bought. With Deep State, they're all dealt out to the players at the start, so you can begin screwing with each other from the get-go.

From gallery of shammois


OVERVIEW OF GAME


SHASN begins every turn with an ideological question being asked of the active player. Their answer - of two possibles - defines what resources they gain on that turn, of Funds, Trust, Media, and Clout. Basically - which part of the voting populace are you attempting to appeal to? In that respect, it's kind of like Question Time: The Game, although without the opportunity to do the classic politician tactic of not actually answering at all.

The resources come in, and then go out again as you 'spend' them on influencing voters: pay for a voter card, and then add those voters to the map.

From gallery of shammois


If you have a majority in any region, get gerrymandering! If you have 3 or 5 cards of the same time, use your Idealogue powers!

From gallery of shammois


And don't forget those conspiracies. Whereas Headlines (grabbed by putting a voter on certain volatile spots on the board) are a risk - they could be good or bad - conspiracies always work in your favour.

WHAT HAPPENED THIS TIME


Deep State gave me a bit more to think about with three hands of conspiracy cards to track, but I didn't really mind. What was evident on my first play of SHASN reverberated strongly here, when the Pink player (predominantly an idealist) didn't need to appeal to the liberal bourgeoise any more and flipped from caring and sharing to Trump-esque empathy-voided approval of: Playing the national anthem in cinemas, implementing a one child policy and taxing sanitary products.

From gallery of shammois


Not that it helped. Blue's more fist-clenching, rabble-rousing approach from the outset as the mostly-Supremo-minded populist got them to a place where they were stealing resources from the other players and spending them to dump voters off the board. Even with Purple's predominantly-capitalist assistance...

From gallery of shammois


...Blue branched out with promises, promises, harnessing the support of naive idealists (they'll believe anything!) as well as a media friendly presence (the Showstopper) to rapidly gain majorities in two unexploited regions and finish the game:

Blue (coldly exploitative throughout) - 26 points
Pink (started with good intentions, fell from grace) - 23 points
Purple (tried to run a realistic, balanced campaign) - 20 points

Of necessity, SHASN's version of electioneering is simpler than the real thing. But it's interesting, as I noted last time I played, how it forces everyone into compromise. And also worthy of note here that Blue played the fewest conspiracy cards, and was twice targeted by the other parties in attempts to rein them in.

From gallery of shammois


The Supremo powers are perhaps the best - they're certainly the most destructive - but maybe Pink and Purple could have done more to stop them. I didn't do any myself, but SHASN does allow for player trading (resources, conspiracy cards) in any ratio at all, as long as something travels in both directions.

I remain slightly wary that it's a little longer than it needs to be, but I thoroughly enjoyed my second venture into this world; it's simultaneously enlightening and thoughtful - albeit in a pretty dark and dystopian way - and simultaneously nasty and funny: the place where dreams and nightmares clash, and bullshit is king.

From gallery of shammois
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Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:26 am
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Jumping off point

Leaping Lemmings arrived yesterday and got played within minutes. Or hours, anyway.

Your task is to get your lemmings to jump off a cliff, as far as they possibly can, because the further they jump the more glorious their demise. Glorious demise: points. Gloriouser demise: more points.

From gallery of shammois

death and glory tracker


The thing is though you need to get to the cliff edge first, and that means running the gauntlet of the game board, above which two eagles circle, waiting to drop down and turn you into eagle chow.

From gallery of shammois

gauntlet starts on the left, eagles circle


It works like this. Players take turn being the Eagle player: roll the red and blue dice and move the red and blue eagle those number of spaces around their hunting grounds: clockwise or anti-clockwise: it's up to you. Having this choice is helpful, because if an eagle stops circling in a zone with lemmings in, it'll eat one of them and scatter the others - and when you're the eagle player, that's your choice too.

Then a movement card is flipped and everyone - starting with the eagle player - moves one of their lemmings that amount of spaces. You can go left to right, or up and down, but never backwards. Hiding in the bushes is handy (you can't be eaten, though you will be scattered if the eagle arrives), but doing so costs you two movement points. Picking up pellets is handy too: they will either end-game points or Favor tokens, which can be cashed in for special moves.

Each player also starts the game with some special cards as well: unused, they will score points at the end of the game. But they're very handy to use as well.

From gallery of shammois

moves


That's pretty much the game. Except lemmings can share spaces too - stacking as they do. Landing on top of another lemming prevents them from moving until you've moved first. But on the other hand, if the eagle arrives, you may be eaten - they won't.

From gallery of shammois

chow


It's a fairly procedural affair, but fun with it if you like your fun kind of... nasty. After I got the red eagle to eat Joe I felt morally obligated to not eat him with the blue one. As a result of this and other kindnesses, he won. Convincingly. But it was fun! Although there's a sense of repetition with every round following a very similar pattern, and a lot of luck involved, there's also a modicum of strategy: one lemming at a time, going gung-ho for the cliff and hoping your luck holds? Or sneaking various lemmings from bush to bush in a more cautious approach? There are no guaranteed points, though: even the most risk-averse lemming has to make a run for it when they reach the cliff.

And you're invested in your lemmings: sure, they're all going to die. But *METAPHOR ALERT* you want them to do it on their own terms - it's the least they deserve.

Not the best game ever, but more accessible, easier, quicker, and (opinons etc) considerably funner (and funnier) than Jaws of the Lion. 7
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Wed Mar 17, 2021 9:32 am
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It's All Over bar the packing away in various envelopes

When Stan and I started playing Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion I wondered if we'd found our grail game - emphasis on our, as dungeon-crawling isn't really my thing - but after scenario 4 last night (the first five are introductory) we both looked at each other and decided we'd had our fill.

Mild Spoilers


Jaws of the Lion's strength is in the cardplay: the simple heart of choose two cards to activate, follow initiative order and do your things. The image it conjures, for me, is a kind of Edgar Wright rapid-cutting whip-panning crash-zooming choreographed fun of these gang of assassins dancing their way past hapless bad guys, who, like almost every single bad guy in season 1 and 2 of Jack Ryan, can't shoot for shit. I mean, whilst you're finding your feet you take a couple of hits, but in these early stages the task of surviving is easily managed.

Jaws, over these five (okay, four in our case) scenarios, gradually introduces more and more tactical nuance - your cards improve, your fighty dancey options expand, and some inexplicable elements manifest from nowhere. If you're gonna play all 25 scenarios this is good, because obviously repetition is the enemy here.

The problem we had was the sheer management of everything out on the table. Here's scenario four for example. The physical space itself requires not one book, but two, carefully aligned. Each player has a potential number of piles of cards - hand cards, discarded cards, active cards, lost cards. Then your flipped and unflipped attack adjustment cards. Don't forget any item cards you bought at the shop! I had a healing potion, a spear, and found some mana on the floor amidst the killing. You also have dials to track health and experience.

Over here are the monster initiative cards. They do a different thing every turn, so each monster only needs a pile of unflipped and flipped. Thankfully every monster uses the same attack cards, so there's only two piles of those.

There's also a kind of smorgasboard of chits, out on the scenario itself (traps, coins, treasure) and a bank of in-play effects to draw on: you might be calling on poison, strength, muddle, or - my favourite - the chit chit, where you get a free hit on your enemy while they're checking the rules on something.

I forgot the player chits as well, so small as to be virtually invisible to my unglassed eyes. And the elements chits, which surge and fade like cardboard farts from a giant, jaded troll across a polished tabletop. And the monster reference cards which track damage taken from players.

I've probably forgotten some other stuff.

From gallery of shammois

Yeah? Come across this ring binder if you're so hard


So each round involves a few things. Choose cards, flip Monster cards, establish initiative, run through each player and monster turns, factoring in such things as focus, push/pull, and any in-game effects from the chits. Keep tabs on your health and experience, for want of not dying/getting wiser and leveling up. Assign damage, keeping in mind any active cards as you play. Activate the monsters in initiative order; they may do different things on different turns. Don't leave your played cards there Stanley! They go in the discard pile. When a monster dies it turns into a coin. Try to pick it up. Manage the elements. Get treasure. Destroy the thingies. Wane the elements. Oh no, some more monsters have spawned! We were looking forward to watching Stranger Things.

All of which is to say to our minds although Jaws of the Lion is undoubtedly clever, any images of Edgar Wright-directed fighting sequences were subsumed by the sheer process of running it all. This is where I not so much part ways with BGG as go running in the opposite direction, crying let's play two hours of Jump Drive instead.

To wring the joy that Jaws of the Lion undoubtedly offers, you need to be much happier than we are to spend as much time referencing and managing as you are actually making decisions. Both of us really enjoyed the card system from the get-go, but the circus around it gets busier and busier until our initial excited forays just seemed to run into auditing territory.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I've always felt I should try the original Gloomhaven at least once, because I have the stupid completist gene some gamers are afflicted by. But I think I've been cured.
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Tue Mar 16, 2021 9:49 am
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