Pevans's Perspective

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?

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EPIC Napoleonics at MidCon

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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For the second year in a row, Mark B brought his Commands & Colors: Napoleonics collection to MidCon and set up an EPIC game on Saturday afternoon. (For the rest of my report from MidCon, see November Derby (part 1) and November Derby (part 2).) The best thing about playing with Mark's set is the terrific terrain tiles that a friend made for him. They really add to the look of the game, while being cunningly designed so that the wooden blocks of our units fit on easily.

This year we had five players, which is an awkward number. So we mixed the 4- and 6-player rules: Mark and I were the two commanders-in-chief, but I had two subordinates (each commanding a section of the battlefield - I took the third as well as being CinC) while Mark just had one, with a floating brief.

Our battle was Vimeiro, early on in the Peninsular War and Mark drew the French, leaving my team in charge of the plucky Brits and their gallant Portuguese allies. Hence my photos are taken from the British side of the battlefield. Below are the starting positions. The river running across the battlefield can be forded but there are impassable hills (left of centre in the photo) and an impassable, but bridged, river in the bottom right corner. The town of Vimeiro is worth victory banners - more for the French than the British - as are Ventosa (on the British left) and the river bridge.
From gallery of Pevans

The first attack was in the centre by a couple of French cavalry units trying to get to Vimeiro town. Initially beaten back by British light infantry, the cavalry was reinforced and continued attacking on the French left wing. This persistence put a dent in the British right wing, including the light infantry and an artillery unit, with one French unit eventually making it into the town (just right of centre in the photo).
From gallery of Pevans

A general advance on the British/Portuguese left flank chased off some French units and culminated in the light infantry pushing forward.
From gallery of Pevans

However, determined French resistance meant the allies' advance stalled, despite French losses. However, the British did occupy Ventosa.
From gallery of Pevans

Meanwhile the British infantry on the right finally saw off the French cavalry, but only after significant losses. Then the French infantry columns advanced (thanks to a useful 'Forced March' card) on their outnumbered foe, some of whom were still in square.
From gallery of Pevans

And the final French attacks on the British right sealed the victory with the fall of Vimeiro...
From gallery of Pevans

...and no progress on the left with the French needing just one more banner for the win.
From gallery of Pevans

You'll have noticed that there was no action in the centre at all! But it was a convincing win for Mark's French forces 13:8.

Historically, this was a fine victory for General Wellesley (not yet Wellington) as the French commander, Junot, made a series of unco-ordinated attacks. However, two elderly Generals took over command at the end of the battle and allowed the French troops to return home with all their equipment and weapons.
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Mon Dec 9, 2019 10:51 pm
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November Derby (part 2)

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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See part 1 for my introduction to MidCon and the games I played on the Friday.

The hotel coped well with the pile of gamers wanting their breakfast at the same time on Saturday morning. After which I joined a succession of old friends to play games. Bliss!

First up was Fantasy Realms, which I'd not come across before. This turned out to be a clever little card game. It has a fantasy theme, of course, but the key is that your cards are worth points or penalties, depending on the other cards in your hand. Hence your score is constantly fluctuating as you endeavour to make the best combination out of what's available.

Play is simple: draw a card, discard a card. However, you can draw from the discards - spread out on the table - and the game ends when the discards reach a certain number. Thus, drawing from the deck shortens the game. Instead, players could spend a lot of time cycling through the available cards, trying to find the optimum set. The other corollary is that you only use a fraction of the cards any time you play. Which also means you're heavily dependent on the initial deal.

I thought I was doing reasonably well, for a first game, but Angela and David both easily doubled my score. Despite this I enjoyed the game and would definitely play again.

It was clearly a morning for three-player games, as my next was Piepmatz with more old friends: Roo and Tina. This is another game that had passed me by. This time the cards are a collection of garden birds. And collecting them is exactly what you're doing - the biggest collection of each species scores points (the eggs shown on the cards) at the end.
From gallery of Pevans

The really clever bit is the way you get cards. This involves the numbers on the cards and some calculation. Get it right and you add a bird from the table to your collection (and pick up seeds, for bonus points, possibly getting a thieving crow or squirrel into the bargain). Alternatively, you may be able to play a card from hand, though this is quite tricky.

It's a clever game, but I found it very abstract - despite the attractive bird pictures on the cards. One I'd play again if someone put it on the table.

We were then joined by a couple of Roo and Tina's friends, David and Rachel, who had Wingspan with them. It takes five, so why not? While David and Rachel, at least, were experienced players, this was only the second time I'd played it.

A quick refresher on the rules - 4 different actions, adding effects as you add birds to each row, goals to score at the end of each round and points for stuff at the end - and off we went. Last time I played, I concentrated on birds that produced food. The idea being that this would let me play lots of cards. The result was that I had more food than I knew what to do with.
From gallery of Pevans

This time I decided not to bother with food-producing birds. Of course, this meant food was tight right the way through! Even after I'd added a couple to that row. I also kept an eye on what we were scoring each round, only to find David piling in to it as his last action every time and relegating me to third - though I did manage a second place in one round.

At the end it was clear who the experienced players were, but the rest of us had had fun. It's still a 6/10 for me - a perfectly good game that I'm happy to play.

This ended at just the right time for me to join Mark B for this year's EPIC Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, which I'll cover in a separate post. That was a fun afternoon at the battle of Vimiero.

After dinner at the Italian restaurant across the road from the hotel, it was back for MidCon's Saturday evening quiz. This is run by the irrepressible David Norman and my recipe for success is to be on the same team as Chris Dearlove and Mark Jones. It almost worked this year, as we romped home in second place - so near and yet... Still, it was a hugely entertaining evening, with plenty of banter between teams and with David, who did his usual excellent job. And so to bed.

There was the same crush for breakfast on Sunday as Saturday but this time it was chaos. Different staff on Sunday?

Anyway, Sunday morning was my opportunity to try Tapestry and find out what all the fuss is about. So, it's a kind of civilisation-development game, which is right up my street, designed by Jamey Stegmaier, whose games I enjoy (those I've played). Sounds good so far.

Key to the game is progressing along the 'advancement' tracks. This costs resources, but lets you do things - such as increasing your income, exploring territory or developing new technologies. This is the first oddity in the game: the technology cards are completely random, so you may be discovering nuclear fusion before writing.

Players can carry on taking actions until they run out of resources, so different players will have different numbers of turns. Eventually, however, you have to take an 'income' turn, to get more stuff. Your fifth of these ends your game - though other players may well be carrying on. Especially, it seems to me, if they've played before.
From gallery of Pevans

And then there are the buildings (a couple of which are on my board in the photo above). These are gorgeous, very detailed and painted models. You get them when you build/achieve specific things and they occupy spaces on your 'capital city' board, which may get you bonuses. But that's all they're for; they don't do anything (unlike the not-quite-so-over-the-top mechs in Scythe). Like a lot of people, I'd be happy with a decent cardboard tile.

I rather liked Tapestry, though it seemed quite a light game on first acquaintance, and I'd certainly like to play it some more - particularly as there are plenty of different powers to try.

Discussions of what fo play next ended when I put Dawn of Mankind on the table. My turn to do the teaching and we used the standard set-up I'd played before. I clearly did a good job of emphasising the importance of the 'Study' action as everybody piled through the route with both of these. Thus everybody quickly had a full set of improvements and bonuses and then it was a question of generating the resources to score points with.
From gallery of Pevans

The photo shows just one more card available to buy, so now everyone's avoiding the 'Study' actions. I found the game less fun than the first time I played, but it was definitely a hit with everybody else.

We finished off with a few rounds of Perudo (better known in some circles as the variants, Bluff or Liar's Dice). I demonstrated once again that I'm rubbish at this (apparently even my tells have tells).

And then it was time to head for home: an uneventful train journey.
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Tue Dec 3, 2019 11:38 pm
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November Derby (part 1)

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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A couple of weeks after Spiel is MidCon - an open gaming (mostly) convention in the Midlands city of Derby. It's a prime opportunity to play some of the new games people have brought back from Spiel.

I arrived on Thursday evening, in good time for the con's official start on Friday morning. Needing a beer, I hit the bar and found gamers Malcolm and Adam in the lounge looking for a third for Tulip Bubble, which they'd not played before. How could I resist? It turned out to be an odd game as the different colours of tulip appeared in groups and prices were high almost all the way through. Hence it was relatively easy to predict which tulip would be most plentiful each round (and thus drop in price), but expensive to invest in anything. Final scores were low, but I'd managed to stay ahead of the newbies. More importantly, they seemed to enjoy the game.
From gallery of Pevans

Having breakfast in the hotel on Friday morning meant saying hello to a lot of people before the con even started. And then it did. I inveigled James Faulkner and Steve Massey to try Vejen with me. This had been burning a hole in my shelf since I picked it up (before Spiel) - it looked like my sort of game.

James described it as a sort of pick-up-and-deliver, but it's actually a proper trading game: buy low, transport goods and sell high. The gimmick is that the board covers both sides of the Danish/German border and uses two currencies: Danish krone and German thalers. You use the appropriate currency in each country but, at the end, both krone and thalers are worth a point each. Thus, if you can buy fish, for example, for 1 krone, run them across the border and sell for 3 thalers, you're definitely making a profit. The photo shows positions in round 4 with prices still at 1 in both countries - note the blue pieces are blocking places where you can only build in a four-player game.
From gallery of Pevans

However, the price for selling goods also depends on how far you've moved them. Clever. And then you can use goods to upgrade your storage and transport and add new facilities - such as the shipping that will let you transport goods from one end of the board to the other in one move. On top of this, there are events to take into account each round and goals to score at the end of the game. It is my kind of game. It's no surprise, then, that I was last, James edging out Steve on the third (!) tiebreaker.

Vejen had clearly taken quite a while to play as it was now time to set up the afternoon event I was running with Mark Jones. This was in memory of our old friend and MidCon regular, the late Keith Rapley, and took the form of a Silly Drive - playing quick, fairly trivial games and moving table according to the results. We had a dozen participants playing vintage games such as Der Ausreisser, Die Heisse Schlacht..., Le Paresseux and Pit plus the odd new game - notably Wormlord. Great fun was had by all and Mark B and Laure were celebrated as the people who moved the most tables during the afternoon. The photo shows a fast-paced (?) Sloth game: Ben's putting his sloth to sleep before Mark B can think about moving it.
From gallery of Pevans

Having packed away, Mark invited me in to a game of Everdell and I leapt at the chance as I'd not played it before. It looks impressive with stuff arrayed on the different levels of the 'tree'. Of course this has no effect on the game, but it does add to the whole effect. Enhanced even further, I feel, by the addition of a couple of pints of beer, as this photo shows.
From gallery of Pevans

The game is fairly straightforward: get stuff to build cards to get more stuff to build more cards to score points. And it's nicely done, but it's the woodland theme that makes it stand out. It's also clear that you need to pay the game a few times to get the best out of it - knowing the potential synergy between the cards. I was impressed with my introduction to Everdell so I'm keen to play it some more.

One of the impressive things about MidCon is how many good places to eat there are within walking distance. Friday evening saw a group of us hit the Viceroy for a fine Indian meal. Replete, we staggered back to the hotel where Mark insisted we should all play Letter Jam - despite being one or two more than the game's listed maximum players.

Apparently the idea is for everybody to guess all the hidden letters in front of them. They do this by standing the first one up so that everybody else can see it. Players then propose a word using the letters visible to them. Hopefully, the chosen word tells people what their letter is and they can move on to the next one. However, you only have a certain number of word proposals. Once they're used up, the game ends and everybody loses.

At least, I think that's what we were playing. I didn't take any photos that might remind me. Drink having been taken, the rules were never completely clear to me, nor, I suspect, to several others. Still, we muddled through until we'd lost (only just!) and then decided it was bedtime.
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:21 pm
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The rest of MidCon

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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MidCon has been going for decades now, taking its name from the Midland Hotel in Birmingham which was its original venue. It now takes place at the Midland Hotel in Derby, so the name is still apposite. I like it because it's in a comfortable hotel and takes place just after Spiel, so it's an opportunity to try some of the new releases that people have brought back.

My first game was with occasional Swiggers visitor Mark Benson and his other half, Marianne, who I inveigled into trying City Explorer: Tainan - a game the publisher had thrust upon me at Spiel. It's essentially a deck of cards showing tourist locations in the eponymous city. For the game, each card has a suit and a type. Depending on how many are playing, a number of cards are laid out face-down. At the start of each round, two cards are turned up and the game ends when all cards are face-up. This is something to keep an eye on as players need to take their scoring opportunity before this happens.

From gallery of Pevans
In their turn, players take a look at any face-down card and then move a column up or down, shifting the displaced card to the other end of the column. Alternatively, they may take a row of cards, which they will score at the end of the game. It seems the idea is to manipulate the cards to get a high-scoring row. The game also ends once all players have taken a row – and you must take a row if you’re the only player left.

Thus, the game is all about the scoring. Players score according to who has the most cards in each suit. Players then get bonus points for the different types and for having all suits. It's a simple little game and I now know more about the city of Tainan than I did. In our game, I blinked first, taking a row with a couple of good cards, but mainly unknowns. This left Marianne and Mark playing chicken before grabbing their own rows. Scores were close, but it was victory for Marianne.

Memory games are so not my thing that I doubt I’ll be playing City Explorer: Tainan again. If you do like this sort of thing, it makes a nice filler though. It gets 4/10 on my highly subjective scale.

From gallery of Pevans
I then met up with Keith Rapley, one of my regular gaming buddies, who was in search of a game. I suggested Skull Port, the pirate-themed dice-rolling game I picked up at Spiel ’17, and Keith was happy to give it a go. We were joined by Iain Alexander and John Boocock, all of us MidCon veterans.

My first impressions of Skull Port are in my Spiel ’17 report (www.pevans.co.uk/Reviews/Spiel17.html). I made a bit of a mess refreshing myself on the rules, but we got the hang of the game and a good time was had by all – especially by Iain, who ended up winning. It gets a solid 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.

After my EPIC Commands & Colors: Napoleonics that took up most of Saturday (see EPIC MidCon), I joined Pete Card for a quick two-player game before dinner. The game was D-Day Operation Overlord, sequel to the same designer’s and publisher’s Western Front, which Pete and I enjoyed at the UK Games Expo back in 2016.

As with the original, this is a simple game at heart. The two players have a hand of seven ‘Battle’ cards, each with a numeric value (both players have the same set of values). Each plays a card face-down and, when revealed, the higher value wins. Best of the seven wins that invasion beach and whoever wins the most beaches (of five) takes the game. This is a fine little package with the esteemed central mechanism of out-guessing your opponent. It makes a good filler for two and I give it 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.

From gallery of Pevans
Post-breakfast on Sunday morning, I found my old friends Lee and Mark setting up a game of Cottage Garden with Keith Rapley and grabbed the fourth seat. This is (just) my favourite (8/10 on my highly subjective scale) of Uwe Rosenberg’s trilogy of flora-themed puzzle games. The game is about fitting polyomino flower tiles onto your flower beds to score points when you complete a bed. It also involves cats.

Mark’s spatial awareness is something else: he was able to simply pick a tile and place it. The rest of us spent a while each turn working out how best to fit in each tile. It was no surprise that Mark won this one – by nearly 20 points. The rest of us were separated by just one point each. For more on Cottage Garden, my review of all three games is in the latest Gamers Alliance Report: www.gamersalliance.com

From gallery of Pevans
We followed this with my introduction to Azul. Gameplay is straightforward, but involves careful decisions right the way through. Players take sets of tiles from the central areas and place them on a ‘feeder’ row on their own board – any that don’t fit are penalty points.

When all tiles have been taken, players put one from each full feeder row onto their scoring grid to score points, getting more for adjacent pieces. The game finishes when someone has a complete scoring row and players add bonus points for complete columns, rows and sets. It’s neat, attractive and plays in less than an hour — I can see why it won Spiel des Jahres. Despite Mark’s famed spatial awareness (see above), I won this one with two complete columns and a set. That’s a provisional 7/10 on my highly subjective scale.

With the drive home still to come, I called it a weekend at this point. MidCon is a fun convention in a comfortable hotel in the centre of Derby – conveniently surrounded by good restaurants. Many thanks to t’committee for another excellent weekend and I expect to be there in November 2019 (probably the second weekend, but keep an eye on the website for updates: www.midcon.org.uk). My full report of the 2018 event is in the February 2019 issue of To Win Just Once: www.pevans.co.uk/TWJO
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Fri Feb 1, 2019 11:53 am
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EPIC MidCon

Paul Evans
United Kingdom
UXBRIDGE
London
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The Saturday of MidCon was my date with Mark Benson to play EPIC Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. That is, we were using the EPIC expansion to provide a larger battlefield than the standard game. Several other expansions were involved to provide the troops needed for our re-fighting of the Battle of Austerlitz (Napoleon’s France versus Austria and Russia). We were also playing with the terrain models (cunningly sculpted to allow blocks to stand up) made by a friend of Mark’s – they really added to the look of the game as I hope the photos show.

I was first surprised by the sheer number of units on the board. They were practically shoulder-to-shoulder across the battlefield at least twice on both sides. The second surprise was how close the two armies were to each other. Usually in C&C: Napoleonics, there’s some initial manoeuvring before the armies engage. That clearly wasn’t going to happen here (apparently the historical battlefield was misty and the two armies were almost engaged by the time the mist cleared). Here are the starting positions (from the Allied side): note the two French units holding the town on the left (from this side) and the various Russian cavalry units on the right flank.
From gallery of Pevans

The random draw for sides gave me the French against Mark’s Allies. The initial fighting was on French right, where the allies were trying to capture a town, plus cavalry skirmishing on my left. I withdrew the advanced French units behind the river on the right, while bringing up some line infantry to support them. (Very historical, I’ve since discovered.) The cavalry skirmishes on the left saw a Russian cavalry unit eliminated and the Cossacks chased off. That’s a good start.

Then the Allies made a massed cavalry charge, throwing in even the Russian Guard Heavy, against the French left flank. The French cavalry counter-attacked to even the score and the surviving horsemen retired to lick their wounds (not literally). On the right, Allied infantry assaulted across the river. The French line infantry stood firm and forced them back. This gave us eight victory banners apiece – first to 19 (!) wins this scenario. Then Marshal Davout went down in the continuing firefight on the right flank: 10:8 to the Allies.
From gallery of Pevans

A bit of a lull followed, with some more skirmishing as the two armies manoeuvred. It was broken by a French bayonet charge in the centre, which initially lost two units, but then, thanks to some lucky dice, cleared the hill in the centre. The Russians moved across on their left to reinforce the hill on that side, while the Austrians counter-attacked. The French moved more forces into the centre, but not fast enough as the Allies retook the hill.
From gallery of Pevans

Bringing up the Grenadiers, the French attacked the hill again. The battle raged back and forth on the hill, both sides losing units, while skirmishes continued on the flanks. However, the French gradually crept ahead and finished the battle with an attack by their rallied cavalry on the left to snuff out an exposed enemy cavalry unit (see below). The final score was 19:16 to the French.
From gallery of Pevans

The game was enthralling, keeping Mark and me engaged for some six hours of play. (There goes Saturday!) I really do enjoy Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, despite this not having been my period in my wargaming days.
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Sun Jan 27, 2019 10:47 pm
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