Recent gaming: Up Front, Down in Flames, Kingsburg, Attack of the Clones, Codenames, and three wargames about Wake Island!
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Jan 1-10, 2016

First list of the new year! I started posting these lists in 2015 and had so much fun I want to keep going this year, too.

I managed more wargaming than usual, as well as a regular boardgame night.

-Mark

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1. Board Game: Up Front [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:337]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Yes, I'm one of the sorry souls that lost money on the infamous Kickstarter reprint. I'm also one of those that already owned a copy of the original, which I purchased back when it was new in the 1980s. I've played it once in a while ever since, amazed that I bought it (I don't prefer tactical games), and even more amazed at the design. I suppose I'd seen elements of chaos in wargaming before (more than simple die rolls), but this made chaos a design feature. Some wargamers embraced it, others didn't. Even though this started life as the Squad Leader Card Game, I was never tempted by SL or ASL. Not my thing. This incredible design, though...THIS is the wargame for me.

We played the good ol' Meeting of Patrols scenario A, and I was rusty on the rules. (This was a quick demo game after our main event, the next one on this list.) Up Front has its quirks, with that infamous rulebook and card design that was intended to aid play (but perhaps doesn't?). Still, it's one I'm so happy to own.
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2. Board Game: Zero! [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:2002]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Forget the dogfights, you've got to play the campaigns in Down In Flames. If that sounds daunting, realize that a full campaign only takes a couple hours. We played the Malaya campaign, December 41 option, and I was really excited to see the Hudson patrol mission that actually predated Pearl Harbor by more than 12 hours, as well as the Force Z mission. My only gripe is that the VPs awarded for bombing missions seem out of whack with the points for shooting down or bringing home the bombers themselves. Likewise, the flak seemed incredible, and no way to recreate what really happened in the Force Z attack. That's the only reason I kept it from 5-stars.
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3. Board Game: Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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My prejudice against expansions is vindicated! I'm not 100% consistent on this, but generally find diminishing returns when it comes to boardgame expansions, and prefer the original game. That was the case here, where we tried a couple expansions that are offered within this multi-expansion box, only to find they didn't seem to be balanced or developed very well by the publisher. The Events deck was ok, but was a drag on the players' resources, holding the game back. The Character cards were worse, having interesting effects but ones that were very badly balanced.

On top of all of that, we got a key rule wrong in the base game that threw out the whole experience. (And that rule error doesn't exonerate the problems with the expansions.) Kingsburg is never a favorite of mine, and unfortunately, this didn't help anything. I'll still give it 3-stars out of consideration for our rules error, hopeful that if we'd got that right it would've been better.
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4. Board Game: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones Card Game [Average Rating:5.79 Overall Rank:9167]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Kind of frustratingly, this is a game that should've been better, but wasn't. I've owned & enjoyed it for years, but this time, we stumbled over the rules. I did a poor job with the simple rules, and the players weren't all paying attention anyway. Not that we got a rule wrong (as in Kingsburg, above), but the whole experience was slower and less fun than it should've been. Maybe we'll get to try again some day. It really is a pretty cool, little game. It's from Knizia, and is a close cousin of Zirkus Flohcati, just with a little Star Wars spice added from Episode 2.

Is there a good game from Episode 7 yet?
 
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5. Board Game: Codenames [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:35] [Average Rating:7.84 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Whew! Thank goodness we ended our boardgame night on Codenames, a known commodity and superstar of a game. Once again, it didn't disappoint. We had two exciting finishes.
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6. Board Game: Wake Island [Average Rating:6.63 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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The first of three(!) games about the December '41 invasion of Wake Island that took the Japanese two tries. I played them all solo. This one is a small-format hexmap wargame from 1981! It was my favorite of the three, with explicit but simple rules & counters for air forces, ships, and the island defenders on land.
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7. Board Game: Struggle for Wake Island [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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A $2 pnp wargame from wargamedownloads.com. This time it was a point-to-point map, and the ship parts of the invasion were abstracted. Still pretty good.
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8. Board Game: Islands of the Damned: Wake Island and Peleliu [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:6915]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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The only designed-for-solo Wake Island wargame of this trio (the others I was playing both sides), and the one that looked the best. In gameplay, though, it was the least compelling, telling a pretty good story that matched history, but doing it in a way that felt like a shooting gallery on autopilot. Not too much for the human player to do, just react & watch.
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