Bloodpact: Twelve For 2008
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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I was chatting with Good Ol' Nate Merchant (the resemblance to Charlie Brown is purely superficial, I am told) and we rapidly came to the conclusion that we must play more games together. Thanks to the convenient timing of a new year starting soon, we're going to take a page from my structured WNW approach and schedule one game a month for the coming year. Thusly was the Bloodpact established. Per SOP, we'll post anything from a brief writeup and review here to full-on session reports with commentary and deleted scenes.

We will be updating this list throughout the year. Stop by once in a while.
Items are not listed in any particular order at this time. As games get scheduled and played, we'll reorder them.

Without further ado, here's our Twelve For 2008.
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1. Board Game: Clash of Giants II [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:2895]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Galicia. Already a classic.

Dateline: 26 January 2008, Chelsea

My instructions to Nate were that he got whatever side sets up first. I was an hour late arriving, so he had an extra 59 minutes to fuss with his initial Russian deployment. I took a couple minutes to strew about some Austrians, and it was off to the races.

Please disregard the lack of specifics in this AAR, as I can't guarantee I'll remember any of the placenames or even the correct army designations. Fie!

I took the roughly historical approach of sending 1st and 4th AH armies right into the fire against the weakened Russians in Poland. 3rd army outside Lemberg also moved aggressively to cover the victory hexes, hoping to grab them before the Russian hordes did, and bank a few points starting turn 4 (or 5, we didn't really decide whether to play with the "balancing" rule).

Fortunately, the Russian 8th army (and to a lesser extent also the 3rd, or whichever was adjacent) blew its first several movement rolls, which meant no combat effectiveness and no real threat to the weak Austrian right flank. I knocked off some flanking cossacks in Poland and pressed towards the two knots of VP points (two each). By turn three I had gotten to them, but Russian casualties were so light that I was only able to take one, and that for only one turn before the counterattack began. I have to emphasize that far too many Russians were escaping unscathed, even at reasonable 2:1 odds.

I used my first offensive chit on turn 3 to make the final push for VPs, but didn't get enough bang for my buck. After some desultory follow-up attacks on turn 4, I decided we'd had enough and began to run for better defensive territory. By this time, 1st and 4th armies were pretty well chewed up - most of the units were flipped, and I had been concentrating replacements on the hard-pressed 3rd army. I had the foresight to start sending extra divisions eastward early on, and they arrived just in time to get pummelled by the surging Russian armies driving on Lemberg. Though my defense was (somewhat) skillfully planned, there just weren't enough forces and on turn 5 I began abandoning forward positions, after having scored 6 points (3 using the balance variant).

We had to call the game on time, halfway through. I projected "ringing the bell" at 8 points if we played with the original rule of counting from turn 4 on. However, I would probably have no more than 6 or maybe 7 if we disregard turn 4's points. Given the weakness of the forces on the Austrian left, and the overwhelming advantage the Russians have on the Austrian right, I felt like Nate was going into the second half with a slight advantage (using the balance rule).

Although the game mechanics are dead simple, it still took us not quite an hour to play each turn, which is a pace I am OK with. Eight army activations at five minutes per, plus the usual food and baby and chit-chat time = five turns in about five hours. I'd certainly do it again.

My rating: (8)

Nate's rating: (7) Stylistically very much like A Victory Lost, but I like it better. Very simple, very elegant, with lovely bits of chrome here and there. I really like how the early battle army preparedness is dealt with in a non-invasive way. And I love how both forces roll for casualties, not for damage dealt.
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2. Board Game: Prussia's Glory [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:5082]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Rebirth of the quad.

23 February - Flatbush

See the initial After Action Report here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2106463

Me: (8) Finally got this to the table, and though we had cut our way through the morass of rules, under the muck we found a pretty simple engine that seems to reflect the tactical realities of the battles in the Seven Years War. I look forward to seeing more of this, and graduating to the full, approach-battle scenarios.

Natus: (6.5) Neat system that could easily rise in ratings if the ruleset were streamlined. There's just a bit of wargame fiddlyness and needless limitations that detracts from the experience. However, there is some lovely chrome hidden in there which is NOT fiddly and quite welcome considering the sometimes dry combat system. But it really WORKS, and I'd love to play more of the scenarios. Lovely maps and counters.
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3. Board Game: Men of Iron [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:2478]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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29 March - Chelsea

The Battle of Najera: Lots O' Pieces, Not So Much Hope (If You're Spanish)

My Rating: (5)
I wanted to like this. The basic engine works as well as any other playable medieval battles game, and better than many. Unfortunately, the rules are spotty, incomplete, and make far too many assumptions that the players will know what you are talking about. For instance - there are no rules for terrain in the basic book, only in the playbook for each scenario - but the terrain rules for the scenario we played didn't specify how elevation worked, and the only mention of streams and bridges was on the play aid chart. Another problem is lack of ZOCs and weird hexgrid anomalies lead to relatively easy flanking of segments of nearly any line - admittedly this flaw is shared by nearly every battle game that thinks hexes are better than squares for pre-gunpowder warfare. The final nail, Men of Iron also suffers from every battle being a bit of a dull strategic situation, with one side favored heavily when playing the historical version. With better scenarios, and a much tighter and more complete rulebook, I would give this another try.

Natus: (7)
Played the Battle of Najera, myself as the hapless Spanish and Scott as the English. The battle was of course longer than the three hours advertised, but surprisingly competative, even with the historical scenario. The English longbowmen are a terror on the battlefield; it was supremely hard to charge home against them even with mounted knights. There are some finicky melee drms that make figuring out a conflict a bit of a pain, much like, in a bizarre way, Illuminati and AVL. There are absolutely NO terrain rules in the rulebook itself; they are all covered--supposedly--by the Terrain Effects Chart. It is also very easy to get into a flanking position, even in front of masses of the enemy, and why the zero on a ten-sided die is zero instead of ten as it is in every other game I will never understand. The worst part of the game for me were the Command rules, which I found very frustrating. Yes, Spanish leaders of the time were pathetic, but it's truly hard to spend half the game in agony because you can't activate troops that are being destroyed by arrow fire. Basically, it comes down to the fact that you are not being allowed to play, however historical the mechanic. But, in spite of these flaws, we really had a great time with the game, and even the Command mechanic has an nelement of "push your luck", which is fun when it works. I look forward to the next installment in the series, and I hope that the terrain and Command rules, among others, are tweaked and expanded a bit.
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4. Board Game: Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:1016]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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15 April - JR's Kriegspiel Haus & Gentlemen's Emporium

Napoleon is one of the original trilogy of block games released by Gamma Two (precursor to Columbia Games) in the early 70s. Avalon Hill published a 2nd edition of the game (largely unchanged, from what I understand), and a 3rd edition is currently in print from Columbia (with substantial changes and more numerous components).

The game covers L'Empereur's campaign in Belgium in 1815 at a scale not generally scene. The sites of the actual climactic battles (Ligny, Quatre Bras, Wavre, Waterloo) are in a tight knot in the center of the board. The map is expansive enough to cover the mid-term objectives of the campaign - the cities of Ghent, Brussels, and Liege. It begins with the French about to cross the Sambre, while the Prussians and Anglo-Allied (primarily Dutch and German) armies are still assembling in the area. Napoleon must use his local superiority and central position to defeat both armies in detail before "time runs out" (about a week or so).

In preparation for this month's sacrifice to the Bloodpact, I prepared a frankenstein ruleset which took what I thought were the best features of the 2nd and 3rd edition rules and mashed them together. Essentially, we used the 2nd edition components (except the battle mats from 3rd edition), and the overall rules structure of 3rd edition (execpt for most of the battle rules.)

I omit here a lengthier discussion of these hybrid rules; perhaps I will make them available and "show my work" then.

In any case, once we were ensconced at one end of JR's Big Table of Much Gaming, drinks in hand, Nate elected to take up the Allied cause for his first game of Nappy Blocks, leaving me in the driver's seat.

Nate's free setup spread the Anglo-Allied forces over a fairly wide area, with some pickets along the rivers, and the Prussians a bit more concentrated and deployed forward. Seeing this, I concentrated nearly the entire French army against the Prussians and struck immediately, forcing a small battle at Dinant which went poorly for Bluecher. The next couple days saw the French regroup and advance on Namur, while keeping the accumulating Anglo-Allied forces at bay west of Charleroi. The Battle of Namur was fearsome to behold, involving most of the French army, and not quite enough of the Prussian army. Powerful combined arms tactics by the French collapse a flank and the Prussians quit not only the field, but the theatre of operations.

Wellingtonatus surveys the reports from Hal. The French took fairly heavy casualties in the fighting, particularly on their infantry, and while no units were left fresh, many were still at good strength. Splitting into three corps, the French wheel their right flank to surround and fall on Brussels. Although a force march could put them in Brussels by nightfall, Napoleons smells a trap with the roving Allied forces in the vicinity and decides to wait until the stragglers can be brought up.

At dawn, he makes his move on Brussels. The entire French army surrounds the city and presses against the Allied lines. Not all the Allied troops have made it to the city environs in time, but they are fresh.

As the cavalry vanguard holds the field while the rest of the army filters in, Napoleon forms a grand battery on his right and gradually pounds the troops there into submission. The Allies surprisingly charge the vanguard, and the French are sorely pressed to hold their lines. Eventually the weight of numbers holds the French positions and the grand battery does its job. With his flank turned, Wellington falls back at dusk, and the French sack of his depot at Brussels puts the army in dire straits, forcing his withdrawal from the continent. French victory!

Me: (6) Third edition introduced some wonky combat changes, although I think most of their other decisions were correct.

Natus: (5.8) Played 2nd edition, which was quick, but one or two lopsided battles decided things in an unpleasant way (aside, of course, from my own unpleasant loss.) Too much AP regarding roads and the game has not aged well, methinks. Will try 3rd edition to see if that's an improvement.
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5. Board Game: Britannia [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:541]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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17 May - Chelsea

At the table: Nate, Conrad, Matt, and myself.

Short version: We wrapped the whole thing in about six hours, with brief rules coverage and plenty of trash talking, cajoling, and other revelry.

Nate's Saxons alone scored over 180 points, and he won by a 50% margin with a score over 300. Matt's Picts dominated the north, but it wasn't enough to make up for his sad Angle performance; second place around 210 or so. Conrad (green) and myself (yellow) brought up the rear with around 180 and 190 respectively.

Me: (5) Scripted play leads to low replayability. Still kinda fun, and you do learn something about British history. Kings and Castles is a worthy replacement.

Natus: (9) My kind of game! Helps that I won by 100 points my first time out, which is akin to Robert James Waller winning the Pulitzer for Literature. The rules are fairly simple, but with enough zing that there are real tactical choices to make. It's a very long game, but that's expected. The only question is about replay value, but I want to re-play it now, so that's a good sign.
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6. Board Game: Charlemagne [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:9721]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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ACCEPTED for June July shenanigans.

Although we missed June, Nate and I will try to make it up before the summer is through. Assuming our brains aren't baked by the ridonkulous NYC heat.

On the table today (20 July 2008) is Charlemagne, from Strategy & Tactics #189. Charlemagne is from Joe Miranda's unnamed Operations Points series of games, starting with the area-based Byzantium, and continuing with Xenophon: 10,000 Against Persia and Belisarius, as well as close cousins like Khan: The Rise of the Mongols.

Basically, one player (moi) plays Charlemagne at the head of the Frankish Empire, trying to expand civilization throughout central Europe, and incidentally lay claim to the ancient title of Roman Emperor. Opposing him (Nate) is a "shifting coalition" of various tribes, rival kingdoms, and other powers, mostly determined by random event. Chuck starts with about 36 points in burgs and provinces, and needs at least 60 by the end of nine turns to go down in history as truly Magnus. The Tribal player mostly grunts and pillages, trying to deny him his historical due.

We got through five turns (out of nine) in about five-six hours.

The game begins with only the Lombards and Saxons opposing our hero. I won't give away much to say that despite numerous "successful" campaigns, neither region was subdued by the end of the game (though the Lombards were throughly occupied and neutral, and the Saxons had been wiped out twice over).

I opened with a campaign in the East, taking over Bavaria and moving against some restless Slavs there. Military success was not followed by political success, and the East would remain restless for the remainder of our game.

A plague on turn 2 wiped out many garrisons, which disrupted both our economies enough that we were able to do very little again until turn 4. By then, despite getting the Byzantines on my side, a number of "revolts" had added the Emirate of Cordoba, the Anglo-Saxons, and more Eastern tribes to the anti-Carolingian melange. The marches of the Empire were raided on a regular basis, with a half-dozen burgs pillaged at any given time (infrastructure repair, then as now, lags a bit behind).

Chuck got his Roman crown by taking Rome itself on turn 4, followed by an attempt to pacify the Lombards with the Donation of Constantine. However, an unnamed rival claimant held the Crown of Pavia and the vassalage attempt failed. One of the primary features of this system is that military control gets you taxes, but only political control (through vassalage) will get you the manpower you need to secure your gains.

Further uprisings from Denmark and the East put a good deal of Germany in flames on our last turn, and Chuckie would have had his work cut out for him had we gone on. Those Bloodbath results on the CRT can really put you behind the eightball for manpower!

Me: (6) I enjoyed the game to a certain degree, thought it is a bit long. Like most Joe Miranda joints from this time period (a sort of golden age) it could stand a bit of polish and development, and the physical systems design is rather poor (all the charts and tracks are nearly useless). Overall, the system delivers on what it set out to do - provide a chaotic backdrop, with King Chuck putting out fires not quite as fast as the Tribal player can set them. I had fun.

NateRates: (no rating) What a neat game with neat theming and neat concepts! A shame the interface is so clumsy and that so much time is taken up with book-keeping. Also, the turns are half fun, half torture: one side beats up on the other, and then the punishment is returned. There is virtually nothing you can do during your turn to react, so meaningful decisions are few. And while the game may replicate the raiding and burning and conquesting, it isn't all that much fun, although it's a hair away from being really, deeply cool. But for that, it needs an overhaul, and we really have hardly any Charlemagne games in print now.
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7. Board Game: Medieval [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:4889]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Getting Medieval at Fun City - 19 August 2008

Five of us broke out Herr Berg's Medieval at JR's. First time for Dr. Rob, Bill T, and that rabble-rouser Nate. Chris was also a novice, while I was the hoary old veteran with two whole games under my belt.

Opening choices saw Chris get the HRE and Ayyubids, Rob snag France and Byzantium, Nate Spain and Venice, moi England and Latin Kingdoms (?!), and Bill picking up the Almoravids and Hungary.

Hungary quickly falls to Chris' HRE which puts Bill in a hole he never recovers from. Spain is not whole until the end of the game when Nate manages to put it all together, only to have Rob's French cross the Pyrenees and take the northern half at the end. A mad scramble in the Scandinavia saw Chris and Rob steal most of the spoils, and the Knights of Christ set up in the Baltics as usual.

The Mongols threatened to come early, before all the buffer states had come out, but a little bribe here and a little cajoling there got more map cards on the table in time. In the end, the Mongols ate five cards, taking chunks out of Russia and the Near East.

Many Crusades were called, but only a couple resulted in anything worthy of being called booty. [(c) Straight Line Emporium]

When the smoke cleared, Chris had a clear lead at 36, followed by Rob at 28 and myself at 27. I'll spare Nate and Bill the embarrassment of posting their scores (Nate's Russia suffered worst at the hands of predators both Mongol and otherwise...)

Out of my five powers, four were in Civil War on the last turn...

As always, we did get a couple rules wrong. You only get the bonus VP for multi-province powers at the end, I'm sure we scored that wrong. Also, you cannot play Civil War on a power unless it started the turn eligible. This would have changed a couple of combo plays.

Otherwise, I think everyone agreed that while it's a bit long and very chaotic, it was a reasonably good time in good company. I'd certainly play it again as is, but I have a laundry list of changes I'd like to try out sometime...

Me: (6) Not a game for control freaks. Your hand of cards is not a menu of options, but rather a mechanism for acts of God to enter the game. Players must be unafraid to make spoiling attacks to keep money spent, and table talk is a necessity. A fun game in the right mood, but it can also be insufferably chaotic.

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8. Board Game: Frederick the Great [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:2923]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Get Fred at Fun City - 26 August 2008

Since we are one month behind, this almost counts as a double-header. Two consecutive weeks fulfilling our Bloodpact at JRs...

This time up it's the 1975 SPI classic Frederick the Great (AH edition). Frank Davis synthesized a number of simple concepts that evoke well the maneuver and supply considerations of 18th century warfare as practised in Central Europe.

We're playing with a couple house rules; variable strength needed for depot construction, and a new combat system based on a fire table instead of an odds-based CRT. Very simple changes, we'll see how they play out.

[replay goes here]

Me: (8) 29 years old (in 2007) and still kickin' it ye olde schoole linear stylee. Frank Davis takes a simple set of rules that must've turned heads in the 70s (die roll for movement, leaders with initiative ratings, tight supply restrictions, sieges) and formulates a concise package that makes you think in terms of risk, lines of communication, geography, and morale. Perhaps not "chess-like" as the cliche would have it, but a true thinking man's wargame.

Natable: (5.6) I have lots of respect for the games of yore, but it can't be denied that most classic wargames have been made obsolete by designs in the past ten years. FtG is a case in point. At the time, the use of leaders, die rolls determining movement, and supply rules were fairly unorthodox. Not so now.

If I'm going to Seven Years War it on this scale. I'm going to break out Friedrich, no matter the endgame issues. In FtG, die rolls dominate *everything*. So, since I am cursed with Unluck, in my first game as Freddy I rolled numerous "1's" for movement and had numerous disastrous battles. To be fair, some of these were due to the Fog of War ("ooops, I attacked a stack of 16 with one of 10"), but even Fred rolled badly in a battle he should have won, and remained Demoralized (with most of his generals I might add) for most of the game.

Hmmmmm...random movement, random siege results, random battle results, random depot creation [house rule -ed.], random retreats, random morale recovery, wrapped in a 1970's chocolate coating? Thanks very much, but this one needs to stay in the retirement home.
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9. Board Game: We the People [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:1032]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Reds! The Russian Civil War 1918-1921

We the People!

I was shocked SHOCKED!! to discover Nate had never played this classic we rectified it right quick.

We played to a well-fought draw, ending with the fall of Lord North's government in 1779. My Brits taught those pesky Yankees how to disperse Congress... twice! That and a mutiny kept American PC placement to a minimum. Also, Burgoyne proved to be Washington's bane, defeating him twice in battle, once on a very lucky counterattack! However, the Americans were able to lock up the South and most of New England, and British military power was sluggish as ever to be exploited.

We followed up our three hour game with two quickies of Columbia's War of 1812, which the less said about the better (I like the game, but I can't play the Brits worth a damn.)
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10. Board Game: This Accursed Civil War [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:2702]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Justice was done at Edgehill in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nate, Twenty-ninth November.
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11. Board Game: Feudal Lord [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:8318]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Lots of pasteups and other prep needed for this one, but it MUST be played. Probably a multidude experience as well.
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12. Board Game: Empires of the Middle Ages [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:2501]
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Will also require more peeps. And a head examiner.
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