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Subject: Musings on my new boardgames and D&D 4e rss

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Merric Blackman
Australia
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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I'm a mad keen boardgamer. About eight years ago, I was introduced to a little game known as The Settlers of Catan, and that set me on a path to become very interested in Eurogames.

I've also become more interested in wargames of late. You may have read a few of my ASL reports, but I also play a few other wargames with my good friend Randy. So, it's not much of a surprise that any order of boardgames that I make includes at least one wargame. And, given that MilSims is having a boardgame sale, I couldn't resist. Eurogames and Wargames in the order.

Finally, I haven't abandoned my fantasy role-playing roots. In the order is one fantasy-rpg-like boardgame.

So, what did I order?

Prophecy - Z-Man Games - This is the fantasy adventure game for 2-5 players. It is an descendant of Talisman, although, from what I can gather, significantly less random. Characters are seeking to become powerful enough to recover four (of five) artifacts from the guardians. All characters are members of guilds that provide training; you can train from any guild, but it costs more from guilds you don't belong to. Movement is non-random: either you move one space, or pay gold to move further. That's one of the key differences from Talisman! My main concern about the game is that it may take 3 hours to play, which is longer than I'm often willing to spend. Most boardgames I play take 1-2 hours. (Talisman only takes about 1 hours when I'm playing!) Prophecy is rated a 7.1 and ranked #417 on boardgamegeek.com.

Combat Commander: Europe - GMT Games - When you come to modern boardgames, it's hard to go past Combat Commander. This is a game that Randy's owned for some time and I've played a few times with him. The game is a hex-and-counter wargame (like ASL), but differs from its older cousin significantly in mechanics and complexity. CC:E is much simpler, for one thing. The other major difference is that it uses a card-based action and resolution system.

In CC:E, you have a hand of (generally) 3-6 cards that detail certain orders: Move, Advance, Fire. You play the cards on individual units (or small groups clustered around a leader) to activate them. If you don't have a particular card in your hand, you can't issue that order. Cards also have modifiers on them; for instance you may play one card as a Fire action, and then another card which otherwise would be used to Move to give a +2 bonus to the Fire action. When you would roll dice in other games, you instead draw a card and use the number printed on it... but the card might trigger some special effects as well, such as reinforcements, a sniper firing, or a gun jamming.

The game is brilliant and is a lot of fun to play, and I really wanted a copy for myself. So I've ordered one. If you like World War 2 wargames, this is one to investigate. 2 players, and generally about 1-2 hours.

Combat Commander: Paratroopers - GMT Games - This is just a small expansion with more maps and scenarios for CC:E. It was cheap, so why shouldn't I get it as well?

Cuba - Rio Grande Games - A classic form of Eurogame has you as the "ruler" of a small village or city and trying to build up your community in the most efficient way possible. Pillars of the Earth, Caylus, Agricola and Puerto Rico are all examples of that sort of game. Cuba is simply one of the more recent (although Agricola is getting a huge amount of good press... alas that I have to wait for it to come out in an English version!)

I'm a very big fan of Caylus, and fond of PR and PotE. Cuba has you in pre-Castro Cuba overseeing a small village. You ship off your produce and improve the village with buildings, but progress does come with a cost: you never just build over 'empty' land; you're always losing access to something. Like Pillars of the Earth, Cuba is a limited-turn game; after 6 turns, it's over! For 2-5 players and taking 2 hours, this looks quite interesting.

Command and Colours: Ancients - GMT Games - I don't know if you're familiar with Memoir '44 or BattleLore, two hex-and-card based wargames, but C&C:A is the third in the trilogy... only published by another publisher than Days of Wonder, and using wooden blocks instead of plastic miniatures. In fact, Richard Borg's C&C system also includes BattleCry (AH), which preceeds the others IIRC, which means it is [imore than a trilogy of related games.

C&C:A sounds superficially similar to CC:E - even the names seems similar. Both use hexes and cards. However, the mechanics couldn't be further apart. Whilst CC:E is much closer to a traditional wargame, C&C:A goes for simplicity. The battlefield is broken into three sections (left, middle & right), and you play one card a turn, which dictates how many units you can activate and on which sections of the battlefield they must be. Once you activate a unit, it may move and then fight. Combat is also simple - you roll dice equal to the strength of the unit and the symbols on the dice indicate whether the opposition loses men or must retreat (or is unharmed).

Compare this to CC:E - in CC:E you can activate any units, but the orders that you can give them are limited by the cards in hand. In C&C:A, the units you activate are limited by your cards, but they can undertake any order... well, within the more limited format of the C&C rules.

The "Ancients" this wargame refers to are mainly the battles of the ancient romans from 406 BC through 202 BC. Carthage vs Rome! Beware! Expansions to the game expand its reach, but I'll be getting just the basic game. 2 players, and about 30-60 minutes a game. Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam!*

In the Year of the Dragon - Rio Grande Games - The final game that I've ordered is another recent Eurogame release. In another year, Dragon might be getting a lot more buzz, but it's been swept aside by the much heralded Agricola. For 2-5 players and taking about 75 minutes, I expect this game may see some play at our boardgame days. Assuming it arrives - heh.

The setting for this game is China around the turn of the Millennium (1000 AD). Each player is a ruler of part of China, attempting to protect their subjects from attack by the Mongol hordes, whilst building a nice series of palaces. The game is played over 12 months (turns) with the winner having built the best palaces whilst not having their ability to do so eroded by the constant attacks.

Brief turn summary:
* Choose Action bonus
* Recruit Worker
* Resolve Event (Mongol invasion, plague, fireworks, etc.)
* Decay & Scoring (palaces without inhabitants lose their roof!)

As is standard in a Eurogame, we're talking about fairly simple mechanics that lead to an interlocking mechanism of great interest.

So, when is Z-Man games releasing Agricola?

*: Yes, I know that the scenarios in C&C:A don't actually quite take us up to the third Punic War which Cato the Elder helped provoke by using (and reusing) that famous quotation, but you've got to use it any discussion of the Punic Wars!

Postscript - the games have arrived. I realise I forgot about Roma, a cool 2-player game with dice & cards that I also ordered. Randy got 11 new games, including the excellent Thebes - a game where you explore for antiquities. Great fun!

Later Postscript
I've just finished punching out counters and other "some assembly required" actions for my new games. It's funny; some people enjoy painting miniatures, I enjoy punching out wargame chits.

The two wargames in question were, firstly, Combat Commander: Europe. GMT provided a bunch of small ziplock bags to put the counters in, but there weren't quite enough. Off to my supermarket-bought ziplock bags. That took an hour or so, but they're all separated and bagged now. Secondly, Command & Colors: Ancients. This GMT game uses wooden blocks with stickers on them. You've got to apply the stickers. Over 350 wooden blocks with stickers! That took about 3 hours. I did most of them while watching the cricket last night, humming happily to myself.

Of course I'm strange; I'm a gamer!

Randy and I got a chance to play two of our new purchases yesterday. Randy's choice was Thebes, a really fantastic Eurogame about going on archaeological digs. You spend time researching the sites in the cities of Europe, and then you go off to Greece, Egypt or wherever and draw a number of tiles from a bag - the more research you do and the more time you spend on the dig, the more tiles you draw. Some of the tiles have treasures (artefacts) on them worth points, other tiles are blank (sand!). The sand tiles get replaced in the bag, so subsequent digs have less and less chance of finding artefacts. However, if you dig early, you probably haven't researched as much. Keep an eye out for this game (2-4 players), it really was fun.

The game I chose was Prophecy, which is really a Talisman variant. The major differences from Talisman come from movement (you move one square, or pay money to move more), and the guilds: there are five guilds that provide training in special abilities. The object of the game is to become powerful enough to enter the magical vortices and retrieve four of the five magical artifacts you need to become ruler of the world. Our 2-player game took 90 minutes; it'll probably become quicker as we become more experienced, but a 5 player game may well take too long. The game suggests 3 hours on the box. Hmm. Talisman may still be my preferred fantasy adventure game.

Lots of news coming out about D&D 4e now that the D&D Experience convention is underway. So much that poor old EN World has crashed. A few things of note:

* Yes, fireballs are now square. Honestly, it bothers me less than I thought it would. The saving on placement time will be well worth it IMO.

* Defenses (the old saving throws - Reflex, Will & Fort) now gain a bonus from the higher of two ability scores. Willpower is either Wisdom or Charisma. Fortitude is either Strength or Constitution. Reflexes is either Dexterity or Intelligence. Woo. This one is going to be good.

* The sleep spell is unusual - it causes those affected to become slowed, and if they then fail a saving throw (as an ongoing effect), then they become unconscious. Nice way of doing it, IMO. Note that saving throws in 4e aren't the Defences. No, for ongoing effects you make a saving throw on a d20, with a 10+ saving and a 1-9 failing.

* Oh, random hit points are gone. Your initial HP are based on your Consitution score plus a bonus for your class. After that, you get a flat number each level (based on class - it's 5 for the rogue), and probably not modified by Constitution. On that note, the number of skills you have isn't modified by Intelligence either. Multi-Attribute Dependency seems a thing of the past, and Paladins everywhere will be very happy.

* Fireball is really interesting. Apart from being square (see above), you make one damage roll. Then you roll your attack vs each opponent in the area of effect to see if you hit them for full damage or half!

* Action Points. You begin each day with one Action Point. After every two completed encounters, you get another one. You can use them to gain another Standard or Move action (as well as other things, I expect). When you go to sleep, you wake up the next day with just one.

* Healing. Boy, this is interesting. There are these things called "Healing Surges". You can use a number per day determined by your class and Con modifier. Each will heal you for some value - possibly a quarter of your hit points. During an encounter, you can use only one (Second Wind) unless you have other abilities. Between encounters, if you rest for 5 minutes you can use any number of them, plus you regain all your per encounter powers. When you rest for the day, you automatically heal back to full hp and regain all healing surges. (The Paladin's Lay on Hands ability allow them to use their healing surges to heal other PCs!) Note that Second Wind is now a standard action (not swift like it is in Saga), so it'll be pretty much your only action in the turn. OTOH, I don't think you have to be on half-hp.

Anyway, I'm now really, really interested in 4e. Regular old Ulek (D&D 3e campaign) tomorrow...

Post, Post, Postscript
I own...

...21 AmeriTheme boardgames
...19 Collectible card games
...39 Eurogames (boardgames)
...4 miniature games
...14 wargames
...5 "classic" style boardgames
...45 expansions to those boardgames (AmeriTheme, Euro & Wargame)

Actual board/wargames? 74. Getting towards that 100 figure!

RPG numbers? Fairly low. Lots of D&D 3e and 1e supplements, though!

Cheers,
Merric
 
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