Archive for J. R. Tracy
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J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players to start off the new year with a bevy of card games, wargames, and a co-op.
Natus and Jim dipped their toes into Wilderness War. They went with the tournament scenario, with Nate taking the French.
A becalmed Montcalm
Nate used his Indian allies to harass Jim along the frontier, but to little effect. Meanwhile, Jim pieced together a large expedition of regulars to hit Louisbourg. Nate barely fought him off, with heavy casualties on both sides. They then spent several cards picking up the pieces, and look forward to returning to action next week.
Action in the Adirondacks
Mitch, Manfred, and Renaud tried Star Trek: Ascendancy, with Mitch taking the Federation, Manfred the Klingons, and Renaud the Romulans. Contact was quickly established between the Federation and the Klingons, with the Romulans joining the party a little later.
Reaching toward the Romulans
A big fight between the Feds and the Klingons went Mitch's way as he pelted Manfred with photon dice. Renaud extended a helping hand to the Klingons in the form of a favorable trade deal. With his less-helpful hand he then choke-slammed Manfred's fleet, making good use of the Romulan first strike ability to sweep the field. With the evening drawing to a close they called it a win for Renaud's Romulans.
Heghlu'DI' mobbe'lu'chugh QaQpu' Hegh wanI'
All three enjoyed the game - the theming is strong and there was a good narrative to the action. Caveats include downtime (turns get longer as the game progresses) and the power of the build/move sequence (players build then move in sequence, rather than all build, then all move). The latter allows a player to ramp up and attack an unprepared opponent. This sounds less like a problem than something you simply have to keep in mind as you plan your own builds and dispositions. Overall, though, it is a strong new addition to the rotation.
Smitch, Scott, Dr. Rob, and Campoverdi took Pax Renaissance for a spin. Dr. Rob, ever the experimenter, pushed for a religious win from the start but was working under a couple rules misapprehensions which led to some wasted moves. Campo had a more productive vision as he pursued dreams of empire. However, he couldn't quite close the deal as Smitch kept picking off pieces of Campoverdia until the deck ran out, with Smitch capturing a Patronage win.
Players are starting to form opinions about strategy, some of which may even have merit. A suspicion is emerging that the Imperial strategy is easiest to prosecute and tends to shape the game. Rob is skeptical his ecclesiastical approach has legs, due to a lack of supporting cards, and Republic may have the same problem. Still, it's early days, and the safest advice so far is to let the board guide your choices and don't try to force a strategy against the card flow. I'm sure this will see a lot of late-night action at Winter Offensive this week.
They then followed with House of Borgia about which I know nothing beyond the fact Smitch notched another win.
Hawkeye, Bill, and I finally got to try the co-op Thunderbirds and had a blast, which is only natural since we were playing on our very own Tracy Island. Each player is one of the Tracy brothers or one of their daredevil colleagues, working together to combat crises around the globe while frustrating the plans of The Hood. The map is divided into land, sea, and space areas, and we get all the iconic Thunderbird vehicles (supersonic 1, cargo-carrying 2, space-faring 3, submersible 4, and space station 5), plus of course FAB 1, Lady Penelope's sweet pink amphibious Rolls-Royce. Each character gets a bonus if he or she is in their vehicle of choice (Virgil can draw a bonus token when piloting Thunderbird 2, for instance) but any character can fly/drive any vehicle.
Virgil drops off some gear
There are two clocks in the game. The Hood track has a series of events and schemes, and as The Hood moves down the track the events are revealed and applied. Events are generally Bad Things that make life hard for the FAB crew, but if The Hood reaches a scheme before it is defeated, it's game over. The current scheme is always revealed, so the players work to foil it before The Hood can kick it off. Along the opposite edge of the board is the Disaster track. This starts primed with three disasters, and at the end of each player turn a new one is drawn. If the eighth and last place on the track is filled, the team is defeated. If the team beats the last scheme before losing by disaster, the players win.
Picking our poison
A scheme card specifies the conditions for its defeat - once the conditions are met, it is discarded. Disaster cards are beaten by a die roll, with various conditions for die roll bonuses as well as rewards for success. So, you might get a +2 if Scott Tracy is involved and another +2 if Thunderbird 4 is in the neighborhood. Many schemes and disasters need the presence of one or more pods - these are specialized bits of equipment built on Tracy Island and transported to the scene by Thunderbird 2.
Back home for a refit
Players get three actions per turn - you may move, attempt a rescue (roll to overcome a disaster), plan (draw a special-power FAB card at the cost of advancing The Hood), or scan (push a disaster back down the track). You may also perform an unlimited amount of operations, which including building pods, defeating schemes, transferring characters between vehicles, or loading and unloading equipment. To optimize your turn you have to assess the threats and decide whether you're going to deal with a disaster yourself or set up your teammates. The rescue die roll is 2d6, but the dice have a Hood face that advances the villain, and some of the disasters have very high values so you really need the modifiers to have any confidence of success. So, burning a turn building the correct pods and/or positioning personnel may be necessary even though the disaster track is relentlessly advancing.
A popular brew in these parts
We proved to be horrible FABsters, losing five times in two games (yeah, we cheated, but it was in the name of Science and Discovery). I then learned I was a worse rules-reader than FABster - we had been adding disasters to the end of the queue, when by the rules you slide all current disasters one to the right (toward doom) and add the new one on the left. This was a major screwup, because the way we were playing it was very difficult to defeat the right-most disaster (i.e., the one that will ultimately defeat you) because by the time we optimized our deployment, a new disaster eclipsed it as the greatest threat. Playing correctly, we had a chance to plan and defeat the right-most disaster when we needed to, giving us a lot more flexibility. So, we played two more games, losing one and winning one - hurrah for humanity! 1-6 looks pretty good to this Browns' fan.
House party on Thunderbird 5
Even without our rules gaffe, the game is very challenging. We were playing at the basic level, facing only three schemes, but you can add more to increase the difficulty. We learned a lot in our desperate losses in terms of harnessing synergies and getting the most out of the bonus tokens. These are vital for defeating schemes but also have in-game effects (building pods, +2 DRMs, free FAB card draws, rerolls, and extra actions). We randomly drew characters, which are all useful, but some less so. John Tracy enjoys hanging out in orbit on Thunderbird 5, where he can negate Hood die rolls, but we found the space station to be the least-used bit of kit. If you're playing John, you are likely to head to Earth where you'll have plenty to do but without access to your special ability. On the other hand, Virgil in Thunderbird 2 is the hardest working man in International Rescue. Bill had a good run as Lady Penelope in one game, playing a hand in several key rescues.
In general, I'm not a big fan of co-ops, but I had a lot of fun with this. All three of us were very familiar with the shows, which added immensely to our enjoyment. There are three expansions which add characters and cards, which should enhance replayability. As noted above, it's starts out hard and has a couple dials to increase difficulty if you start beating it consistently. I'm glad we finally got to try it - a handsome package, and a system that does justice to the elaborate presentation. Highly recommended to fans of the show, though it will resonate less with youngsters unfamiliar with the backstory. We will see more of this soon.
J. R. Tracy
We closed out the year with a slew of great gaming, with a mini-session on the 26th and a crowd for our regular Tuesday evening.
I introduced Natus to Hands in the Sea Monday night, with Hawkeye in attendance to cajole, organize games, and add a general air of sophistication. I've played HitS once already, so this was really a teaching game, though Nate at least had some experience with A Few Acres of Snow. I took Carthage to Nate's Roman Republic.
Early on I grabbed the Strategy card that expands your hand from five cards to six. I then expanded across western Sicily, settling and fortifying Agrigentum; I fortified Panormus as well. Despite subtle hints on my part <cough>SYRACUSE! TAKE SYRACUSE!<cough> Natus worked his way along the northern coast and we constantly raided back and forth. Nate kept picking off Thermae while I unleashed my hounds on Tyndaris.
A pondering proconsul
Meanwhile, I moved up through Sardinia toward Corsica, but Natus beat me to the punch and settled Aleria by sea before I could get there. This proved to be the theater of decision, with multiple sea battles off the coast as I tried to blockade Corsica while Nate fought to keep his supply lines open. In the first battle, I committed a mercenary general to win the fight right before a campaign card came up, denying Nate the VPs. After that, Nate had the advantage in ship count (thanks to a sweet ship-building Strategy card) but had terrible dice, so we saw three stalemates in a row. Before he could fortify Aleria I sank the Roman fleet, raided the town, and then settled it myself. Meanwhile, I was winnowing my deck where possible and cycling cards at a blinding rate to make the most of my VP advantage.
Though I was working the clock, I shifted strategy when a Storms at Sea sank my eight-point(!) fleet. With Corsica vulnerable, I built my remaining two towns to end the game before Nate could take advantage. Rome outscored Carthage in a couple game-end categories, but between existing VP lead was too much to overcome, so Carthage prevailed.
Nate loved the game and I learned quite a bit myself. In our first game, Campoverdi and I struggled to spend all our cash, but Nate and I did a lot of card-drafting and card-cycling. We both invested heavily in cav and therefore saw a lot of raiding, but strangely, no land battles. It feels like beyond a couple obvious early moves (SYRACUSE!) there are several promising options for both sides, guided in part by the Strategy cards but also by players' individual predilections. There's a lot more to explore, and with five players with at least one game under their belt, we are developing a good base for further study.
Cut off from home
On the 27th, we crammed in fifteen gamers, including three father-son pairs. Jim and son Brandon, Natus and son Aeneas, and Mitch and son Eliot somehow made room around the card tables for a six-handed session of Evolution. Nate developed a hard shell but the other players just flipped him on his back and left him baking in the hot sun. Mitch's pack-hunting carnivores dominated the savannah, scoring another all-too-common win for the Stein clan.
The father/son crew moved on to The Resistance and had an absolute blast. The volume quickly rose to a din and stayed there through three games, with accusations and denials flying back and forth. The Spies won all three games, but I think all the players managed to find themselves on a winning side at least once.
A nest of spies
Spencer, Sean, Herr Fuchs, and Bill laid down some HellRails, a train game set in Dante's Inferno. Herr Fuchs proved to be the best infernal engineer as he conducted sinful souls to their designated circles for an eternity of suffering.
Next stop: Penn Station
They then played an entirely different sort of train game, First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express. Here players run their own railways, competing to offer the most prestigious luxury accommodations to attract wealthy passengers and their ready cash. The game is a sprawling beast, with displays, cards, and bits strewn everywhere. The designer also did Russian Rails but this looks like a very different animal. Spencer had the best knack for hospitality, taking the win.
David then broke out The Dragon & Flagon with his groovy Reaper miniatures. Sean's pirate immediately leapt up on a table and shouted a Boast, which boosts VPs but rewards other players for attacking you. The last player to try this caught two mugs and a chair for his troubles, but Sean lived up to his words. He managed to seize the Dragon Flagon and make good use of it, building a lead and hanging on for the win.
Last up, Hawkeye, Afghan Rich, Dr. Rob, and I were joined by the feared and reviled Ignacio Catastrophe, our Columbus correspondent in town for his annual debriefing. We chose Terraforming Mars, familiar to all. That familiarity raised the game to a new level, with a much higher degree of interaction.
I had the early settlement corporation, so I kicked things off with Mars' first city. I also had the Media event, which confers a cash bonus when playing further events, so I got a few of those out as well. Otherwise, I had a very attractive but slow-developing hand: cool critter cards that needed oxygen, and some hefty space cards that just needed a ton of cash and/or titanium. Despite a mental pre-game commitment to developing the surface, I found myself drifting into yet another VP-engine card strategy.
The inimitable Ignacio
To my right, Dr. Rob had the heat corporation and the blessing of some heat-production cards, and quickly established a humming economy. If he wasn't already Public Enemy Number One, his burgeoning engine would've made him a marked man. Hawkeye had the choice of two crappy corps and took the slightly less crappy one, settling in for the long slog. Afghan Rich had either the Earth of Jovian corporation - either way, no one was playing cards that helped him so he was on his own. I didn't see Ignacio's corporation - the ecology corp, maybe?
Seulowitz Consolidated Enterprises
I retained my entire initial hand and added a few cards later, so I quickly captured the Dreamer milestone. Rob however grabbed the next two, Builder and Gardener. The award race was a little more cagey, with no one committing until the late game as one would expect. On the map, we all made a point of jamming each other - "Nice little city you have there - mind if I set off a nuke right next door?" "Lovely view from your new town - you can see my strip mine!" Ignacio busied himself stealing resources from everyone but at least had the decency to spread the pain around the table. My own tableau had minor developments, mostly science cards, but I was engineering a big animal combo when I realized the centerpiece had an 11% oxygen requirement rather than 8% (the former is predators, the latter herbivores, I think). So, I spent a couple cycles boosting my Terraform Rating and rejiggered my plans.
Down the stretch Rob funded the Thermalist award (a no-brainer) while Ignacio sealed the Banker. I gambled by funding the Scientist at a whopping 20 credits - I had five science tags on board to Hawkeye's four, and I had two more in hand. Little did I know Hawkeye had four more in his own hand - ugh. However, I did manage to get three whopper space cards into play - Interstellar Travel and two big convoys, including a shipment of bears for my new Predator compound. My predators also wandered over to Ignacio's buffet, I mean tableau, to snack on a couple free range Martian sheep. Hawkeye steadily built out his own tableau and surface presence, and had great success with the Mars Rover. For the record, I've played that card in two different games, drawing over twenty cards with it with zero signs of life. Hawkeye? Three microbes in six draws. Where is the justice?
A couple of us made good use of an extra turn when we couldn't quite close out the terraforming, but when we tallied the score we weren't surprised to see Dr. Rob on top - two milestones and an award were more than enough for a win. Hawkeye and I were in close race for second, but I edged him by a couple points, while Ignacio and Rich weren't far behind. It was a good, competitive game, but we need to develop some tactics to slow someone who opens with an obviously superior engine. It's tough to deny awards, but I think with some focus we could've kept Rob off the milestones. Regardless, every game is a learning experience, and I picked up a few pointers this game. I think my strategy worked for the most part, but I disregarded a couple microbe cards early on that would've fed the oxygen level and helped my overall aims and boosted my TR rating (and income) to boot. Also, I *still* haven't done much on the board. I guess I'm just going to have to try it again.
Ready for occupancy
Thus ends a great year of gaming, with one of the highlights of the year - the father/son table. We saw many new games played and continued to enjoy old favorites, made a lot of big plans and even followed through on some of them. I hope you had a good year of gaming in 2016 as well, and wish you all the best for 2017.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers the week before Christmas for a couple multiplayer titles and a glorious two-player.
Bill, Renaud, Scott, and Afghan Rich tried the new Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne card game, a re-skinning of the classic Cosmic Encounter. Players represent the different houses of Westeros, using their major personalities to engage and destroy their opponents. Each house and individual has system-altering powers and variable strength, but diplomacy is a key to success as you build temporary alliances for short term advantage.
In the first game Renaud's House Tyrell looked dominant and seemed to be about to run the table but Bill's House Lannister and Rich's House Stark teamed up for an alliance win (shocking, I know). I'm not sure who came out on top of the second game. It was well received, with good depth and a moderate playing time.
West of Essos
Smitch, Mitch, Natus, Jim, and Eliot realized a long-standing dream by finally getting Die Macher (Valley Games edition) to the table. This venerable classic recreates a German national election, covering the Federal Republic in the original 1986 edition but encompassing a reunited German in the latest iteration.
Each player represents a party and play proceeds through seven regional elections until the overall winning party is determined. Players manipulate local issues, their party's stance on said issues, media coverage, and so on to secure as many votes as possible in each region. Regions are resolved one at a time, but four are always 'in play' - if things look hopeless in the current Bavarian election you can lay the groundwork for the upcoming Rhineland-Pfalz contest. The VPs for the regions vary substantially, so you can either save your bullets for the elephants or try to sweep the small fry.
Eliot and Smitch were strong in the early going, maxing out in Bavaria, while the other players looked further down the election cycle. Their lead held, however, and it developed into a two-party race. Eliot had the advantage but a minor misstep in the late game cost him a couple VPs, and when the final scores were tallied, he found himself splitting a coalition government with Smitch. Not a bad performance for the lad! It was great to see this warhorse put through its paces - it has been a grail game for us for some time, and it lived up to its rep.
Inside the sausage factory
Last up, Hawkeye and I did some playtesting for MMP's upcoming ASL Journal 12. We played A Real Barn Burner, set in France in late May, 1940. The French 14th Infantry Division has been giving the Germans a hard time, counterattacking to disrupt the offensive. In this scenario, a French platoon is isolated in the board 43 Koresh Compound, and the balance of the company is trying to fight through in relief. Hawkeye's French had just two and a half squads in the compound, but they're all Fanatic by SSR, and ten squads coming to their rescue. I had nine and a half squads to hold them off, along with a 37mm ATG, a medium machine gun, and a pair of LMGs.
Ready for the next bound
Chas was concerned the Germans might be able to totally ignore the compound and just focus on stopping the relief force, which only has five turns to break through. With this in mind, I set up my force to make the most of interlocking fire lanes, with the medium on my right side side and one LMG and the ATG on the left, neatly covering the open ground on the approach. I used the balance of my force to screen the attackers as they came through the board 72 woods.
The happy warrior
Hawkeye's attack was methodical, reaching the tree line en masse to confront my 8-0/LMG/467 garrison in O1. He also sent a flanking force with a 60mm mortar to harass the MMG on my right. Many French halfsquads were broken in the assault on O1, but the position fell and the supporting squad went Berserk, charging to its doom. On my right, the mortar broke my MMG team, but I had another halfsquad ready to take over in the nick of time. My center screen was gone, but the clock was ticking - Hawkeye had to run for it. The MG34s did their job, along with some lethal HE rounds from the PaK. No Frenchman crossed the Line of Death, so Hawkeye threw in the towel.
The center falls
I believe we demonstrated the viability of a cordon defense, but it's no sure thing. My deployment was very fragile - loss of the leader directing the MMG would have been a real problem, and more aggressive use of the compound Fanatics might have disrupted my defenders on either flank. The French have just enough time to develop a couple lines of attack, with the opportunity to apply overwhelming pressure against one point of a diffuse German defense. I think Chas decided to leave the scenario as is, and we should see it in print in a couple weeks.
Not gonna make it
J. R. Tracy
We had fourteen players for some multis, a couple two-player games, and some fresh Eklund.
Smitch rolled out the third edition of Fury of Dracula, playing the eponymous Count with Tenno, Natus, Mitch, and Campoverdi in pursuit. Smitch toyed with the hunters, who were always within a couple spaces of his current location. Smitch occasionally turned and caught a lone hunter for some bloodletting before flapping away into the night. The clock continued to tick and the encounters became bloodier, with Dracula consistently getting the better of it. Smitch was doing a great job anticipating hunter combat cards, either neutralizing strong attacks or counterpunching effectively. They reached the point where Dracula was going to peg out the influence track without much trouble so they called it a victory for old Bitey.
Preparing for the chase
I think the hunters enjoyed it but were frustrated by their repeated failures in combat. Smitch suggested he knew the cards a little better than the pursuers and therefore had a much better sense of the interactions and distributions. The hunters went heavy on weapon cards, which deal the most damage, but lack the disabling characteristics of the supernatural cards. Next time I'm sure they'll use a more balanced approach. I've only played the first two editions, and would like to try this one just to see how much has changed.
Ill met by moonlight
Scott and Jim wrapped up their game of Festung Europa. Scott's mid-game commitment to degrade German infrastructure finally paid dividends, as he had a fistful of options compared to the meager pickings in Jim's hand. Scott wedged his way into a crack in the line on the North German Plain and leveraged it ever wider. Jim had a couple powerful engaged, but Allied zones of control kept them locked up and unable to do much more than inflict heavy but bearable casualties. With German industry a shambles and the front line swinging open like a gate, the Third Reich closed up shop 988 years early and Scott claimed a win for the Allies.
The stark fist of justice sweeps across Europe
It was nice to see them finish the game despite mismatched schedules over the past several weeks. They definitely feel the game is worth struggling through the graphical and ergonomic issues. Mike started with the familiar POG chassis but made substantial changes and additions to reflect the topic - this is a unique experience quite distinct from its CDG cousins. In terms of strategy, the Allies naturally have a broader range of choices but the German has some options of his own as he responds. Overall, four thumbs up and worth a look.
Knocking on the door
They followed up with Bios: Genesis, Phil Eklund's look at the origins of life. Players seek to shepherd their fledgling organisms through the hazards of the primordial soup and set them on the path toward higher forms of life to come.
A glimmer of life
Scott's little microbes shook loose of Jim's pesky parasites to take an early lead in the race for ecosphere domination. They managed to learn and play to completion in under a couple hours, not bad for a pretty funky title. I'm a sucker for all the BIOS games, so I look forward to this one. There's even talk of playing them all in sequence, perhaps capping things off with a session of High Frontier!
Afternoon of the third day
Rich and Stefan ze Basque enjoyed an great game of Up Front, playing the basic Meeting of Patrols scenario. Rich spread his Soviets out into four groups, which seemed rash but ultimately worked out. He struggled to keep a cohesive group of four men intact for the advance, but he also mitigated the impact of Stéphane's powerful firegroups.
Somewhere near Kharkov
Rich kept patching up his broken groups while plinking away with his Moisin-Nagants, dropping Landsers one by one. He worked Stéphane to within one casualty of a broken squad, but Stéphane felt confident with a small stack of Rally cards in hand. They proved irrelevant as Rich simply killed the sixth German outright for the win. It was a good, hard fight, going deep into the third deck.
Past the tipping point
Last up, NewSteve, Hawkeye, and I took another crack at Terraforming Mars, joined by first-timer Mark. Drew jumped in after the third turn. I drew the eco and Jovian corporations, opting for the latter since I've already played with the farmers. Unfortunately my special ability proved pretty lame as Jupiter cards rarely hit the table. NewSteve played the heat corporation, which may use heat as money, and did nothing the first turn, saving up to deploy card that boosted his heat production on turn two. Combined with his native production, this netted him an extra ten credits a turn in addition to whatever his Terraform Rating (TR) paid. This made NewSteve an early threat and I directed any negative aspects of my cards toward his end of the table.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye and Drew developed cities and greenery, while Mark quietly rolled out a couple beauties of his own. One accumulated micro-organisms that he cashed in three at a time to boost his TR. Another was the planetary defense franchise, which also steadily bumped up his TR. I was doing a good job increasing my income with an eye to roping in some asteroids and other pricey space cards, but did little in the way of board position. When our engines started to accelerate, we discovered Mark had some scary curvature to his development and was suddenly pulling away from the pack. Even NewSteve couldn't catch him and Mark won by a healthy margin, based on his TR rating and a tidy collection of milestones and awards. NewSteve placed second, while Drew, Hawkeye, and I were well back, all within a point of each other.
The leaders share a laugh
Once again, a solid gaming experience, but I'm still struggling to find the right approach. I spend too much time chasing cards instead of going for incremental achievements. My lack of board position was appalling - I think you can win without much on the board, but tiles link into several milestones and awards, so you'd better have a screaming VP machine in your tableau if you forgo developing the surface. I think I'll take a page from NewSteve's book and just sit on my hands for a turn now and then - the accumulated cash gives you a lot more freedom of action, and might be the best/only way to pursue a heavy card strategy.
J. R. Tracy
We had a mellow crew of eight this past week so we could spread out a little.
Scott, Bill, Natus, and Smitch broke out Pax Renaissance for a second run. Natus quickly got a stranglehold on the East and used his ever-growing tableau to dominate proceedings. Scott did what he could to stem the surging Ottomans, installing the charismatic Vlad Țepeș on the throne of Hungary with orders to defend Christendom. Nate sent Radu, Vlad's own brother, to overthrow him, taking Hungary and sealing an Empire win.
High praise all around for this one. With Scott guiding the action there was a lot more coherence this time around, and some real strategies had a chance to develop. Nate was the man to beat from early on, but everyone remained in the running. We're still playing with the basic kit, but there's an expansion deck to be explored as well.
Maynard and Dave tried Terraforming Mars two-handed. Maynard had a good start, setting off a few nukes to make things a little more cozy. Dave slowly built a VP machine, however, with great plant/critter synergies. Dave's VP harvest reached the point he wasn't really interested in completing the terraforming, so Maynard was doing most of the work in that department down the stretch. They didn't add up the points at the end but Dave was up by a healthy margin.
Ready for a Martian winter
The players enjoyed building their engines, but found two player mode almost overwhelming as their tableaus grew. I think they had well over 40 cards in play each. It became a lot to process each turn and as a result the game took much longer than our five-player sessions. I think the activity is more tractable parceled across five minds instead of just two. Of course, when you play solo you are responsible for *everything*, but at least you have that mindset going in. It looks like two-player requires a similar mentality to some degree, and certainly a little planning to make sure you have enough space to deploy your cards!
Hawkeye and I settled in for some ASL playtesting for the upcoming Journal 12. Taskmaster Chas assigned us Belgian Blitzkrieg, depicting an action on the Lys River line in late May, 1940. My plucky Belgians had to deter a large German infantry assault on Board 71 long enough for reinforcements to enter play. The Germans had to either take building Z6, well forward of the Belgian main line (hexrow S), by the end of turn two, or two multihex buildings by game end.
Ready and waiting
Hawkeye started with thirteen squads and four leaders, along with copious support weapons, and received a pair of 37mm antitank guns and their transport on turn two. He could set up on map, with the option of setting aside a portion of his force to enter play close to the middle of the board on turn three. Also, by SSR he could pick two building hexes to rubble pre-game, with the possibility of falling rubble blocking a road. I started with seven and a half squads and a couple leaders, with a medium machine gun, a light mortar, and a 47mm antitank gun. As reinforcements I received three and a half bicycle-mounted squads supported by two small tanks that I suspect were pedal-powered as well. Overall I had good leadership (including an armor leader) and 40% of my force was elite - not a bad order of battle at all.
The biggest question I faced was how much force to commit to the forward building. Two turns isn't much time to clear a two-hex two-floor building, but if I was too stingy I'd lose the game before Nate's dinner arrived. I put the ATG in AA7 to cover the direct approach in case Hawkeye went for an all-out rush. I added the MMG and the 9-1 leader, putting them upstairs along with two squads, in case the Germans infiltrated toward town across the hedges on either side. Finally, I put a pair of half squads in the wooden buildings up front. In town, a half squad manned a mortar in the newly-rubbled J7, covering that flank, while a squad was upstairs in M6 peering over the hedges to the southeast. My other leader was with a squad in O4, looking to deploy for more flexibility, and my last squad sat in L4 watching the road. I had enough concealment left over to create a dummy stack to disorient and discombobulate the invaders.
Les carabiniers-cyclistes sont arrivés
Hawkeye opened with a cautious assault on the Z6 building, trying to draw as much fire as possible. With several German stacks lurking with intent on the periphery, I held my fire until they moved. Sure enough, they attempted to skitter up the map edges toward town. Low rolls and rate of fire put paid to that, leaving Hawkeye's broken and licking their wounds. The German 8-1 led a squad with an MMG up to CC5 where they commenced a duel with my 47mm ATG. It was not to end well for the Germans.
Despite the fate of the MMG team, Hawkeye landed several solid blows against the Z6 building. However, I always had someone upstairs in good order to interdict his flankers. When he entered his delayed units (five fulls squads, an ATR and a leader), he was forced to peel a couple squads off to support the assault on Z6 while the rest headed toward town. My town garrison held on as best they could, but Hawkeye managed to contest the H5 building with help from the northern flank. About this time the German 50mm mortar landed a round on the breechblock of my ATG, knocking it out of the game and compromising Z6.
The situation looked superficially grim for the Belgians when my reinforcements pedaled into the fray. Bicycling into battle is more foolhardy than brave, but the J7 rubble conveniently blocked German lines of sight and my troops got all the way to the center of town unscathed, reaching the J5 building in the Advance Phase. The AFVs tucked themselves in behind the wall in K5 and L4. Hawkeye had a couple squads, a hero and a leader in the H5 building, but I had a couple squads of my own hiding in the upstairs linen closet. He had to throw me out and hang on. However, my counterattack booted out one German squad while a squad and a half of Belgians got inside. That was enough for the Germans to call it a day.
I think this scenario has a nifty central concept with related puzzles for both sides. How much do the Belgians commit to the forward building? Do the Germans go for the gusto and an early win, or head for town and win there? Hawkeye had a sound plan but was undermined by mediocre dice and some execution issues as he climbs the learning curve. If he drew a little more fire with his screening force, he might have had a couple squads in town well ahead of my reinforcements, in position to interdict my BMX team. That in turn would've allowed his delayed reinforcements freedom of movement, and he might even have gotten his own ATGs into action. The playtesting concern is the timing of the Belgian reinforcements. Early plays showed turn four to be too early - we entered them on turn five which felt about right. There may yet be some tweaks but the structure is sound and this has the size and curb appeal to see a lot of play.
J. R. Tracy
We had sixteen players just before Thanksgiving for some crowded gaming and a birthday celebration!
Smitch, Maynard, Natus, and Tenno broke in our fresh copy of Inis. This is a Celtic-themed card drafting/area control game with great looking components. Players draft their hands and set out to build and expand. The cards are all interesting and attractive so deciding what to pass is tough; further, you may opt to lose cards instead of figures to fulfill combat losses, adding to your card anxiety.
With all the cards flying around, many with rule-bending abilities, the game requires you to announce when you've reached a game-winning condition, giving the table a chance to rein you in. I like the idea of it, but it had no impact on their game. Smitch seemed to be out of the race, but had a whopper final turn. With the rest of the table out of actions, he managed to stitch together a sequence of winning a battle to pick up a VP, which in turn satisfied a couple more conditions allowing him to pick up two more for a come-from-behind win. Giving notice to the table of imminent victory doesn't mean much when they're out of bullets!
Opinions varied. Natus offered little more than Nate-hate beyond some soft coos over the pretty pictures; he still prefers Blood Rage for dudes-on-a-map gaming. Tenno, Maynard, and Smitch were more enthusiastic. The game is indeed beautiful, and the combination of card management and positional play looked appealing from the middle distance. I look forward to trying it myself before year end.
Dave, Herr Fuchs, Mitch, Dr. Rob, and NewSteve set out to do some Terraforming of Mars. All were new to the game, but after a blurry hand-waving explanation session from three different teachers, they were ready for liftoff. They went with the advanced game, and Herr Fuchs picked the corporation that played Earth cards at a discount. He made the most of this to build out a low-cost card-playing machine, and rode it to a win. Hawkeye stepped in to replace Dr. Rob after an unfortunate airlock incident, but could not stop our new Martian overlord.
The winning board
Amy Muldoon made a surprise appearance with cupcakes in hand to celebrate another turn around the sun for husband Scott. They were joined by Jim and Bill for a session of the new Pax Renaissance.
The birthday beer of choice for giant robots everywhere
As with the other Pax games, the learning process is part of the experience, as players try to figure out what the hell is going on. The Muldoons ruled the east, with Amy sitting in Byzantium while Scott grabbed the Ottomans. Scott was working toward a Holy victory when Amy hit him with a peasant revolt that slapped him to the back of the pack. Jim and Bill were busy running trade fairs with some success, though Scott overthrew Bill's English kingdom to get back into the game. Sadly they had to adjourn without finishing but they had a blast and are eager to return to it.
GorGor and I got in a quick tuneup before the upcoming ASL tournament in Albany. We picked BFP 138, Outgunned, from Bounding Fire's Poland in Flames. This depicts a Polish counterattack against the Soviet bridgehead on the Dniester, on 18 September 1939. My Reds started with half a dozen squads, a heavy machine gun, an LMG, and a couple flak trucks, while GorGor attacked with 18 squads (2/3 first liners and the rest green), four FT-17s, a pair of twin-turreted 7TPdws, and a couple of armored cars. I received six more squads plus six BTs as reinforcements on turn two. We both wanted the Poles, but Steve bid more so I got some extra concealment counters and my inexperienced AFV crews were upgraded to normal.
Thin on the ground
The Poles score points for buildings near the river as well as for any units on my side of the Dniester at game end. Setting up, I was afraid to defend too far forward for fear of being swarmed, but I figured I had to contest the approach. I anchored my right flank with my AA trucks lurking in the woods with good enfilading lines of sight, and concentrated my infantry in the center, three to five hexes beyond the far bank. I used dummies to represent other possible flak truck positions. I hoped to slow the Poles a bit and then fall back on my reinforcements.
Rock and a hard place
GorGor focused on my left flank, meeting my main line of resistance and rolling right through it. I broke a couple halfsquads but my MGs missed all their attempts to knock out Polish armor. With my infantry rolled up, it was up to my armor to stem the tide. I sent all my gun-armed BTs to the left and my MG-armed BT-2Bs to the center, supported by the AA trucks. I had thicker armor and better armament, so would have the upper hand in the tank battle. Unfortunately, Steve was already in position and thus had the defender's natural advantage. A furious exchange left one Polish armored car burning in exchange for four BTs. With two thirds of my infantry down, along with all my gun-armed AFVs, I threw in the towel. I did at least manage to kill the unluckiest 7-0 in the Polish Army!
Not even breaking a sweat
I made a couple mistakes in my setup, one obvious at the time and the second in retrospect. I needed to either have a flak truck on my left or a convincing fake, to prevent Steve from establishing himself so easily on the river's edge. However, I had the other flank to worry about as well - a couple trucks only go so far. Having played it, I'm not sure the Soviet can afford to put much at all on the far side of the river; the Polish assault is just too overwhelming. Preserving force to contest the crossing may be the way to go. Even with the the setup errors, I had a chance to shake things up with more aggressive armor play, perhaps sending my BT-2Bs on an overrun rampage. All that said, we think this is a pretty pro-Polish card. Cool AFVs, and a neat situation, but the Polish victory condition feels within easy reach, particularly if the Soviets suffer from Inexperienced Crews.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers last week for just two games, but they were good ones.
Manfred, Bill, Dave, Dr. Rob, Campoverdi, and Smitch sat down for Kremlin, choosing the 1928 scenario. Young Iosif Dzhugashvili was quickly shipped off to Siberia to study forestry from the perspective of a cross-cut saw, while his comrades got on with the business of shaping the future of the young workers' paradise.
Enjoy the taiga, Comrade!
Despite a thirst for blood, purges were hard to come by after the initial flurry. Multiple attempts failed, leaving much of the initial politburo still in the game and moving up the pyramid. Trotsky reached the top and managed to wave twice on behalf of Dave. However, Manfred then took control and got in two waves of his own.
The 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee
As Manfred's third wave approached, Smitch had the opportunity to bump his influence down, but it would've been a pure kingmaking move with no effect on Smitch's own position. He stood pat, allowing Trotsky/Manfred to wave for the third time, presumably the preamble to global revolution. Fun for all, and the youthful '28 leaders altered tactics a bit for a new spin on an old favorite.
The years pile up
NewSteve, Hawkeye, Rich, Mitch, and I returned to Mare Nostrum: Empires. This was the first game for Rich and Mitch, with NewSteve, Hawkeye, and I building on last week's experience. I moved over to Carthage while Hawkeye took my seat on the Nile. NewSteve was Babylonia, Rich was Greece, and Mitch ran Rome. We again used the 'beginner' Hero/Wonder market, revealing five at any given time rather than all seventeen.
With my initial commodity production, I decided to keep my head down and build up my resources for a Wonder win. My cause was helped when the Statue of Zeus appeared in the first batch of Hero/Wonders. I snapped it up and used to assure peace on at least one flank. It was a good thing too, because Hawkeye gobbled up North Africa right up to my borders, tooling across the Sahara in his Toyota technicals. He also grabbed Judea but otherwise paid Babylonia no mind (for now).
NewSteve's biremes plied the Black Sea, taking over Asia Minor and daring Rich to do something about it. Rich and Mitch took the local low-hanging fruit, with Mitch assuming control of Syracuse. With the peaceful expansions out of the way, it was time to see who would draw first blood.
In the second build round, my plan of peaceful resource-gathering was put on hold when I picked up Ramesses II. My rationalization was "better in my hands than in someone else's" - he's a powerful Hero and I didn't want to see him used against me. Of course, once on my council of advisers he seduced me with tales of conquest and glory, and before I knew it my oarsmen were pulling for the Sicilian shore. I held Syracuse for about three minutes before Roman catapults hurled the corpse of my expedition back across the sea. Duly chastised, I returned to my original gameplan and gave Ramesses a PS4 and a copy of Call of Duty to keep him out of my hair.
Hammurabi and Cleopatra agree to terms
In the east, NewSteve's purple legions covered the board, while Hawkeye fleshed out his production. Zeus kept Egypt at bay on my border, and Babylonia's strength gave him pause on the other, so this was his prudent path. Rich's sense of honor got the better of him so he took it upon himself (with judicious encouragement from interested parties) to beat back NewSteve's threat. Thus began a cycle of Greek troops sailing east to kill Babylonians, before dying in turn at the hand of NewSteve's counterattacks. Mitch showed his appreciation for Rich's selfless sacrifice by seizing Greece's western provinces.
A rare Roman eastward frolic
The endgame developed with Hawkeye as both Culture and Military Leader (as befits the man), while I narrowly clung to Commerce Leader (we were tied but I held it by virtue of incumbency). With Egypt's force pool fully built he finally decided to join the Babylonian Wars by seizing Cilicia. My own production was impressive but I duplicated several commodities, and relied on trade for unique items. I managed to build the Hanging Gardens, allowing me to carry two commodities into the next turn. With NewSteve at four Wonders/Heroes, he was a threat to beat me to a fifth, so I made a play for the Pyramids. The following trading phase set up perfectly, and I was able to round out a twelve-commodity set for the win.
Egypt, top of the charts, number one in our hearts
In our post-mortem, we found Egypt had an 11-coin income, and on the previous turn had opted to claim control of the province rather than pillage the city in Cilica. Pillaging would've earned Hawkeye a coin, which combined with his production would've given *him* the Pyramids. Thus I think we have to give him credit for the win, or at least slap an asterisk on my own. This game illustrated the neighborly responsibilities of the game - Rome needed to launch some spoiling attacks against me to trim my production, and Babylonia and Egypt can't afford to leave each other alone. Rich's altruism was admirable, but I don't think Greece can afford to be the board's policeman given her vulnerable central position.
We picked up some subtle points this session - Crete holds a rare commodity, making it a highly desirable conquest for empires doubled-up in trade goods. Also, turn order can be used against the Military Leader, who usually moves last. If someone other than the Military Leader is a threat to win, the rest of the board may leave it to him to take care of things while they tend to more selfish concerns. We will likely continue with the limited market - it adds a needed element of randomness to the planning. Two games in, this feels like a winner. We should have five experienced players next time out, yielding a tighter five way game, I expect. Looking forward to it!
J. R. Tracy
We had ten gamers on The Day After, trying a new release of an old title, some card gaming, and a continuation of the liberation (?) of Europe.
Rich and Smitch paired up for two-player Innovation and one learning game followed by two very close matches. In the first, Rich had no answer for The Pirate Code, which steadily drained his score pile and laid the foundation for Smitch's win. They split the next two games, which were classic examples of leapfrogging technologies as they struggled to gain and retain the upper hand. I've never played it two-handed, but it seemed to work fine. Nice to see it back on the table - Innovation really improves with experience. With four veteran players you can go deep into the decks, with really interesting and complex endgames. Nothing like engineering a victory for the Robot Overlords!
Edging toward enlightenment
Scott and Jim finally returned to Festung Europa: The Campaign for Western Europe, 1943-1945. Scott had just clawed his way ashore in France when they suspended play, and this week he expanded his drive into Northwest Europe. First, however, he tried to smash his way into Rome. An attempted flanking move via Anzio was stymied. Scott followed up by throwing a ton of resources into a direct assault, only to have Michael Wittman appear in his Tiger astride the Via Pontina, turning aside the attack.
Nicht heute, mein Liebling
Things looked better for the Allies in France, where the British and Americans expanded into the countryside and swept toward the Rhine in a broad front attack. When they wrapped up for the evening, it looked like Scott was behind schedule but the Germans are stretched thin. This may come down to a narrow drive for Berlin, depending on how well Jim can maintain a continuous line. I'm glad they didn't just tear it down, as it is proving to be a fun, tense game for both sides.
The view from the Chancellery
Hawkeye, Mark, GorGor, NewSteve and myself tried the sorta-new Mare Nostrum: Empires, Academy's overhaul of the 2003 title. This is an empire-builder set in the Mediterranean basin, loosely based on the historical ancient powers of the region.
Players collect resources, buy units and buildings, recruit Heroes and construct Wonders, and of course move about the map bashing shields. Purchases are made by paying a price either in coins or in sets of unique commodities. There are thirteen distinct commodities, and to construct the sets required for the more expensive items, you need to either trade for or conquer the source of needed goods.
Half sunk a shattered visage lies
You win Mare Nostrum by either controlling four capitals and/or legendary cities (Troy, Syracuse, and Jerusalem), being the first to purchase a fifth Wonder and/or Hero, by building the Pyramids (paying 12 coins or unique commodities), or by controlling all three Leadership roles (Commerce Leader has the most markets and caravans, Culture Leader has the most cities and temples, and Military Leader has the most legions, fleets, and fortresses).
Leader roles carry benefits beyond a path to victory - the Commerce Leader conducts the trading round (not the sexiest power), the Culture Leader determines the order of builds (allowing some players to observe their neighbors' intentions before building), and the Military Leader sets the order of movement (usually the most powerful role). The *first* player to do something wins that category and the game, which is where the Culture Leader has an edge down the stretch. As folks close in on the Hero/Wonder target or get enough income to stack some limestone by the Nile, the Culture Leader can make sure he nips in front of a rival for the win.
Taking back what's rightfully mine
In our game, GorGor was Greece, NewSteve led Rome, Hawkeye ran Carthage, Mark was Babylon, and I ruled Egypt. At Mark's suggestion we had a peaceful first turn, building and expanding. I moved into Judea and built up some defenses, while Hawkeye built up Carthage's already-impressive caravan fleet. Rome grabbed Syracuse, and Greece expanded into Dacia. Babylon gave my Judean incursion the hairy eyeball before turning north and west into Asia Minor. Things got chippy on turn two with a Roman expedition against Egyptian Cyrenaica, and from there we saw constant warfare across the Med.
Hawkeye focused on building up Carthage's resource income, while Mark collected the various provinces in his corner of the map. I spent the midgame recovering Cyrenaica and grabbing a couple combat-oriented Heroes (Ramesses II, good for fighting, and Spartacus, good for building legions). Rome fortified Syracuse while Greece grabbed Crete. We saw a brief Greco-Babylonian war over Troy, but Greece withdrew and consolidated her power. Carthage maintained her status as Commerce Leader, but Greece gained and held both the Culture and Military Leader roles.
Loading up the landing craft
Carthage and Rome reached four Heroes/Wonders each, just one away from a win. However, Carthage itself was weakly held, as was Syracuse. With Jerusalem in hand, I saw an opportunity, and sent expeditions against both cities. I succeeded, and for a brief moment victory was in hand. However, I had to hold them through the end of the turn. GorGor was prepared for such a move, unfortunately, and closed out the turn by kicking me off of Sicily. In retrospect, I had no chance of holding both cities against anything but a sleeping table, and should have focused on grabbing the Military Leader role before making my move.
On the following turn, remorseless collusion denied Hawkeye the commodities he needed to close out his Hero/Wonder track, and NewSteve was a commodity short for Rome as well. Mark and GorGor both grabbed their penultimate Heroes. I again captured Syracuse, and was again thrown back into the sea. In what proved to be the final turn, I detected the ominous clink of coinage piling up in Nineveh - Mark had quietly collected enough cash to purchase his last Hero. GorGor, however, used his Culture Leader power to build first, grabbing his final Hero and closing out the game with a win for the greater glory of Greece.
The game was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Play was crisp, aside from some stumbles during the hinky trading phase and minor misunderstanding of the conquest/pillage options. The powers are ostensibly generic beyond the dictates of geography, but every empire starts with a Hero with a specific capability that shapes their play (my Cleopatra gave me flexibility during the Build phase, while Greece's Pericles provides a defensive benefit to mitigate her monkey-in-the-middle position). You further customize your capabilities through Hero/Wonder purchases - these provide rule-bending abilities, often alongside bonuses for the various leadership roles. GorGor wisely picked up Perseus early on. Perseus' special ability allows his owner to trump the Culture Leader during the Build phase to grab his final Hero or build the Pyramids. If Mark had had him in his stable, he would have pipped GorGor for the win.
One possible knock on the on the game is scripted gameplay. Having witnessed Babylon's economic potential, I now know Egypt has to apply some pressure to keep her in check. Similarly, Rome should be harassing Carthaginian commodity production. I don't know how much that dominates strategy as players gain experience, as the dice and more importantly Hero/Wonder purchases can shake things up. Also, the Mare Nostrum itself provides terrific strategic mobility, so once some fleets are in play, every power is within reach of the others. We used the 'beginner' option for the Hero/Wonder market - only five are revealed at any one time, with a new tile exposed with each purchase. Normally, you see and choose from all seventeen tiles. However, the beginner option might be preferred if you want more variability from game to game, as players must adapt to the options at hand. Next time out we'll try an open market. The history is little more than a nod to the subject matter, but the theme rises above the generic - another solid option in the field of fighty multiplayer games.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players to open November with a new title, a new favorite, and some old standbys.
Tenno, El Rios, and Campoverdi popped open Star Trek: Ascendancy, a new 4X game set in the universe of the venerable franchise. The playing area develops as the factions discover and link star systems in a clever freehand manner, until they come in contact with their rivals. Three powers are represented - the Federation, taken by Tenno, the Klingons, represented by Campo, and the Romulans, under El Rios' rule.
The Romulans roll out
I didn't get any read on the fundamental mechanics, but the players said the factions are distinct and strongly themed. The Klingons are fighty, the Romulans are sneaky, and the Federation is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Tenno's adherence to the Prime Directive meant he was at a disadvantage initiating conflict, so he steered his exploration away from the other two. Meanwhile, Campo and El Rios smashed head-on into each other while half-heartedly sending tendrils toward Federation space. The Klingons and Romulans predictably nullified each other in combat, leaving the Federation to clean up in culture points for a win.
Thumbs up from all three players - they felt it was true to the source material and a fun game besides. The game looks good on the table - simple but evocative minis, and as mentioned above, the 'board' looks very cool as the three webs spread out and eventually meet. The one complaint they had was that it felt less than complete with three players. Obviously Campo and El Rios erred by leaving Tenno alone for too long, but even with experience it may be susceptible to "let's you and him fight" outcomes. Two new factions are due out soon (the Kardashians and the Ferengi), so a more crowded table may help the game reach its potential.
Popping by for a cup of sugar
Rich, Jim, and Mitch were joined by Mike Hammond (in town for the week) for Stone Age. Rich risked a starvation strategy, which was working well but Mitch closed the gap down the stretch by eating gold and wood to keep his people happy. Rich managed to sweat out a hard-fought win.
Quest for fire
The same crew turned to Smash Up, but I have no details other than pirates were involved!
Too late to parley
Maynard, Bill, Hawkeye, Drew, and I gathered for Terraforming Mars. Hawkeye played it once before, so he was our grizzled veteran. We opted for the advanced deck with random draws (no drafting).
I was the Helios Corporation, which allowed me to expend heat as money, and gave me some modest initial heat production as well. Unfortunately, my initial draw was mostly events and asteroids, though I had a couple small useful cards that I immediately put to work. My best card favored plant production, so my short term plan was to plant loads of shrubbery while I got my more fancy stuff on line.
Welcome to the Terradome
To my left, Drew was Interplanetary Cinematics, blessed with a pile of steel, and had some sweet building cards in his initial draw. He got these out quickly, and was soon enjoying reduced costs on retaining cards and building projects. Bill's head was in the stars, while Maynard turned his powerful finances (he had the big cash corporation) toward scientific research. Hawkeye, to my right, had a balanced strategy, pushing cities out and keeping an eye on awards and milestones. Both he and Drew collected credits and/or resources whenever a city was built, so they had a nice periodic income boost off the back of our honest labor.
Try as I might, I could not get any real production down - I was hoping for some energy production, as energy converts to heat which in turn would help me buy cards. I found myself playing a lot of events instead, including some minor gotcha cards, mainly at Drew's expense. I had my eye on the Mass Transformer, an energy-cranking beast, but first I had to deploy five points worth of science; sadly, I never got past three. I did at least roll out the Mars Rover, and spent most of the game searching for Dejah Thoris, or at least her single-celled equivalent. My tableau was the the weakest of the five, but I kept myself in the running by doing more than my fair share of terraforming, using card driven powers to boost all three indices (water, oxygen, and temperature).
Down the home stretch, a couple milestones were claimed, so I pressed and won the Green Thumb; I think Hawkeye took the Mayor and Drew the Builder. Awards went unfunded until the final turn, when Drew and Hawkeye funded one apiece once they were confident they had them locked up. I finally built my first city, but it wasn't even on Mars - I developed the popular space-brothels of Phobos. I tried to end the game on turn nine but came up a megacredit short; Drew or Bill stepped up and spiked the temperature before we extended into one more generation. Adding up the scores, Drew was way out in front, with Hawkeye a comfortable second. I just edged Maynard in the middle of the pack, and Bill came in behind.
Looking at the board we could see ample room for improvement - Bill actually had a very productive game and a great engine, but he didn't build much next to greenery, denying himself a few VPs, and was in range of an award or two had he focused on that aspect. My obsession with unachievable goals probably doomed me - I scratched out a decent finish but I fought my hand all game rather than let it guide my decisions. The drafting option helps the planning aspect, but for the time being we enjoy the challenge of managing the chaos of the random draw.
Land of the Glass Pinecones
Despite our stumbles we all really enjoyed the game. The engine-building is challenging and absorbs most of your attention, but we felt it had a surprisingly high level of interaction. I had no cities to build but took great joy in plunking down greenery in choice locations eyed by urban developers Hawkeye and Drew. Hostile events can really jam up your opponents, and jockeying for awards and milestones is a tricky little subgame, occasionally forcing you to suspend longer term goals to avoid getting shut out. Best of all, TF's theme is aces - every action and project feels appropriate and in the spirit of the game. It has the feel of an Eklund/Wehrle effort in the sense that you read a card and say, "Cool - is that really a thing?", and make a note to look it up later. That aspect helped pull me in, and left me eager to take a crack at it again soon. It promises to be in the four- and five-player queue for some time, and as others have noted, it makes for a very good solitaire experience as well.
J. R. Tracy
We had a baker's dozen for four of the latest and greatest plus an old classic.
Manfred and Renaud paired up for Hands in the Sea with Manfred taking Rome to Renaud's Carthage. As in our game last week, they split Sicily between them while Carthage took Sardinia and Corsica. Manfred spotted a looming Campaign card and sailed over to Corsica in time to deny Renaud a few VPs (settlements must be in supply to score), but Carthage still built up a healthy lead.
Rome flipped things around thanks to a cavalry raid into Lilybaeum, followed by the Roman fleet arriving offshore. Renaud rowed his own warships over but Manfred sent them to the bottom, before methodically rolling up the Roman possessions on Sicily. Both players had to head home before they could reach a formal conclusion, so Renaud gracefully conceded the game to Manfred, who with equal grace declared it a draw.
A day late and a shekel short
This was Manfred's third game and Renaud's first, and some basic strategies and 'must' moves are emerging. The Carthaginian fleet has to protect Sardinia and Corsica, or at least respond to a late-turn Roman threat; Lilybaeum needs a fortification as soon as possible, and so on. Events and Strategy cards shape and alter the flow of play so any strategy is subject to disruption. You can't completely protect yourself from the fickle finger of fate, but you can at least position yourself to react and recover when the gods are having a laugh.
Time to brush up on your Latin
Dans VIII and IX showed up with a sack of games (and tried to kill us with a handle of Fireball); joined by Herr Fuchs, they fished out Cry Havoc for some futuristic planet-conquering. This is a fighty area control game with very asymmetric powers. Dan VIII played the Pilgrims, Dan IX the Humans, and Herr Fuchs the Machines. Opposing all three were the indigenous Trogs, an ape-like species that can also be player-controlled in a four-handed game.
For the first two thirds of the game the players just beat on the Trogs, harvested crystals, and upgraded their forces by buying and activating special powers. The Trogs fell back on their mountain enclave, a tough nut to crack. This forced the players to finally turn their attention to one another and the fur really started to fly. Backed by the powerful Human artillery, Dan IX steadily built a lead until it became a fight for second. Dan VIII's Pilgrims took the silver, while Herr Fuchs drowned his sorrows with a case of 10W-40.
You're a persistent cuss, pilgrim
I like the look of the game. Each faction has a wide range of options for customization beyond their organic distinctions. There are several ways to score points, some unique by faction, and the board's wraparound topology means everyone can reach each other without too much trouble. I thought this was a co-op but now that I know otherwise it's in the might-buy queue.
Fury of the Trogs
Spencer sat down to A Feast for Odin along with Smitch and Dave. Each player leads a Viking village, developing it from humble beginnings to a thriving town through trade, farming, and knocking over the occasional monastery. As a Uwe Rosenberg title, it squeezes your head by offering a vast range of options and a pittance of actions. When you finally decide what to do, you are often rewarded with a tile which you use to cover a bit of your playmat. Tiles provide income in various resources, and by covering up spaces on your mat they help you avoid game-end scoring penalties.
Each player begins the game with a particular skill or advantage which guides their early play. Dave had a raiding skill so he set out in his longboats, while Smitch apparently majored in animal husbandry, and starting building feedlots. I don't recall Spencer's initial skill. Dave focused on raiding the whole game, while Smitch supplemented his cattle-ranching with an expedition to Newfoundland (another big mat with resource benefits but which also needs to be covered to avoid VP penalties). Spencer stuck closer to home, building a nice longhouse to impress the locals.
Given all the moving parts, it was hard to tell who was ahead, and in fact the three scores were very close at game end before the mat penalties were applied. These hit Spencer hard and Smitch harder, while leaving Dave untouched. Dave closed with 92 points and a solid win, with Spencer and Smitch both coming in at 81. It's a simple game conceptually but derives its richness from the host of choices. Theme-wise, there is an appalling lack of blood-eagles and skullsplitting, with interaction limited to snagging a critical action ahead of your neighbors. However, for fans of engine builders and those who've enjoyed Rosenberg's previous games, this should be a hit, and she's a beauty to boot.
Brave new world
Scott, Rich, and Hawkeye rocketed off to our next door neighbor to try their hand at Terraforming Mars. This is a strongly themed engine builder, as players work to tame the planet's surface while expanding their own corporations in the process. The game ends once the surface temperature, oxygen level, and water supply all reach liveable levels. Players improve their 'Terraform Rating' (TR) by contributing to this process, which helps determine income and baseline VP scores.
Fear of a Red Planet
Each turn represents a generation, with players performing actions around the table until everyone passes. 'Standard' projects are always available and are relatively inefficient ways of performing essential actions, such as building cities, expanding the oceans, planting shrubbery, and so on. By playing cards to your tableau, however, you gain access to sexier choices and create internal synergies for more efficient actions. Cards may have persistent or once-per-turn effects, and many may only be built in particular environmental conditions. This forces long-term planning from the outset, as you map out the timing necessary to get your various cards in play. Players are rewarded for hitting particular milestones first (owning three cites, for instance) and may fund 'awards' which score bonus VPs for meeting end-game conditions. The catch is, just because you fund an award doesn't mean you'll get it, so choose wisely!
Energy man loves energy
They opted for the extended ('Corporate') game, which adds some cards and emphasizes the economic aspect of the game. They used a straight draw for Research rather than the optional draft, however. Scott started out as the resident expert in forging space steel, so he worked that angle as he built out his board. Hawkeye had a more energy-production bent, and Rich was the civic-minded of the three. They managed to render Mars habitable in eight generations, with Scott taking the win with 66 points to Rich at 54 and Hawkeye just behind. I think they all enjoyed it, with the theme proving to be very immersive. I did not get a sense of the level of interaction, though I'm sure competition for awards and milestones must contribute to it. Good looking game, and reports indicate it plays well solitaire too.
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Dr. Rob and I paired up for some Albany ASL prep, choosing Initial Skirmish from the Yankee ASL (YASL) group's pack. This is a small engagement taking place in May 1940 in the Gembloux Gap, on the edge of Hannut. I defended the town with five French squads armed with assorted support weapons, including a 37mm Puteaux infantry gun of WWI vintage, an ATR, and a light machine gun, with a couple leaders and a crew to man the Puteaux. Everyone's favorite theologian was attacking with a biker gang of eight elite squads with a pair of LMGs, an ATR, and two leaders, with three PzIBs and a couple PzIIAs providing some punch. He had five turns to kill Frenchmen and take buildings; I also scored points for CVPs and buildings controlled. A pair of Panhard armored cars arrived to stiffen my defense on turn one, with an 8-1 armor leader in charge.
Prepped for panzers
The German map edge is defined as hexrow T so Rob could be on top of me and even into the town on his opening move. Grain is in season by SSR, so he had some cover on his approach. Given that, I set up at the forward edge of my deployment area, with a plan of focusing on the thin-skinned German AFVs to rack up CVP. Rob's infantry had the upper hand in both numbers and quality, but I felt between my SWs (even my LMG could penetrate the German armor) and the Pan-Pans, I had a chance to win the armor battle, where far more CVP were at stake.
I concentrated my support weapons in the southern half of the board, with my 8-1 directing the Puteaux from the obvious (to me at least) position of the J5 stone building. The ATR was across the street in I7, while the LMG was in H8 covering the southern board edge. I paired a half squad with a full squad in J1 to give the illusion of a support weapon protecting on the northern flank. I was hoping Rob would buy the ruse long enough for my Pan-Pans to deploy some genuine tank-killing firepower on that side of the board. My infantry and dummies were distributed to support the above.
Rob opened cautiously, attempting smoke dischargers with his PzIBs before bringing on his infantry. Though all three PzIBs were in LOS of my anti-tank assets, I held fire until the PzIIAs moved. Being the sensible sort, Rob realized this and got all his infantry on unmolested, dismounting most of them but leaving a squad and a half on their motorcycles in case an exploitation opportunity revealed itself. The PzIIAs moved last, carefully parking out of LOS of all my SWs.
Pan-Pans to the rescue
At this point we had a nice, tense match - Rob's caution created some time pressure, but he was on board and in my face with zero casualties. Then I started rolling dice. The Puteaux killed one PzIB and shocked a second. My Pan-Pans made their way to the flank, sweating a PzIIA shot at my CE crew before zeroing in on the shocked Panzer. The rest of Rob's fire was ineffective.
He opened turn two with a direct assault on my Puteaux position. A PzIB rolled up only to die a fiery death. I lost rate of fire on the infantry gun, but the crew KIA'd Rob's 9-1/468 when they ran up on the follow. With his armor dead or about to die, and his best leader face down in a flax field, Rob calmly bit down on the cyanide capsule he carries for just this sort of situation.
Puteaux problems, peut-être
It's hard to look past the luck factor on this one - as I've always said, any piker can dice his opponent with snake-eyes, but a real artist works with fives and sixes. That was more than enough to stop Rob's panzers in their tracks. I think his attack was well planned, if maybe a tad off the pace. However, my hit/kill rate was way ahead of the curve. The 9-1's final move was rash, but even that need not have been fatal if not for the armor fight going pear-shaped. I would be happy taking the Germans in this one, and despite my French win I'd like a little help if I took them again, or at least a similar run of die rolls. Still, a tight little card and perfect for a weeknight game.
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