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The Devil's Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen» Forums » Sessions

Subject: The Devil's Cauldron, Campaign 1. rss

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David Hughes
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The Devil’s Cauldron seems to have struck a chord with the gaming community. Highly rated, widely praised, it is held in great affection by its devotees - the fanboys’ fanboys. As many of you know, this has been something of a mystery to me.

Well, mysteries are there to be solved, so Geoff Phipps and I devoted the entire CanCon weekend to a campaign of The Devil’s Cauldron. Three days later, I’m still mystified.

In the interests of balance, I’ll start with the good bits. The map drew praise from literally hundreds of onlookers (ie, people who didn’t have to play on it.) The system is simple enough to make completing the campaign in a single lifetime a realistic ambition, and it does not feel overly dumbed down. And there is enough inherent history that we created a plausible narrative, and both felt we learned something from the experience.

Geoff’s Allies made a well executed dash for the bridge, got the rub of the green on the A/B events, and fought a single 1st battalion company through adjacent to the bridge before nightfall on September 17th. I tried to cut it off, but Geoff just managed to keep a corridor open (subsequently expanded.) His first assault at night suppressed the defenders, who clung on by the skin of their teeth (rolling a “0” to stand, and therefore repulsing his charge.) At first light, KG Grabner appeared on the scene. Now, I had spent much of Day 1 gleefully gloating that, as I held the bridge, Grabner was going to make mincemeat of the paras, and by no means repeat the historic death ride. However, by dawn on the 18th the situation was desperate, Grabner’s were the only units in range, and so a company of halftracks had to take one for the team.

Next turn, I fed a second company in through the burning wreckage of their comrades. By this time Geoff had maneuvered a company of 17 pounders adjacent to the bridge, and they made short work of Grabner’s halftracks. Geoff made a second assault on the bridge, only to be thwarted by another “0” from the valiant defenders. Better lucky than good.

Down south, Geoff decided to take Gavin rather than Browning’s advice, and so sent the better part of two PIR’s straight to Nijmegen, On what we saw, Browning was right. Geoff underestimated the strength of the German forces entering from Groesbeek, and by mid-morning on the 18th Korps Feldt had fought its way through to Nijmegen. On this one playing, I’d say that the 82nd isn’t strong enough both to hold the heights AND take Nijmegen. In fact, it may need XXX Corps support to take the town even if that is its main effort.

So, not a bad way to spend the weekend, all things considered.

However….

The game was plagued by warts which diminished the experience. First up, for anyone with red-green colour blindness, the colour choices make the game a nightmare to set up. The British drop zones are invisible, necessitating a hex by hex look up for every unit placement – and that on maps with hex numbers in only 20% of hexes.

The missing hex borders may help the look, but they sure don’t help the play in woods – and you WILL be counting MPs through woods much of the time.

And the tiny font unit IDs make digging out reinforcements a nightmare.

All this contributed to a pretty slow game – we managed 6 full turns in just under 20 hours of play. Much of this was wasted, frustrating time, time spent NOT playing. Of course, the campaign is perfect for four players, and if we had thought ahead we could have pre-picked the reinforcements.

Many players before me have commented on the rulebook deficiencies – suffice it to say, cleverness at the expense of clarity achieves neither. At the very least, I hope the next games in the series have a comprehensive index.

System-wise, the assault process delivers less than its intricacy promises, and the inability of a company 500 metres away to help out its colleague in an assault is implausible, to say the least.

More seriously, the chit pull system had an enormous influence in how our game developed. Now this may be a function of inexperience- but then, how many times am I going to play the campaign game?

So there you go. On the strength of this game, I will buy NQoS and WED. But you’d never mistake me for a fanboy.
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Pete Atack
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First up, for anyone with red-green colour blindness, the colour choices make the game a nightmare to set up


I see this as a growing complaint from a small, but vocal group, against wargames. Since I'm not colorblind, it's not an issue to me. But in general - do color blind folks complain to say, TV makers or other companies that produce unfriendly products that offend their color blindness? And I'm honestly not trying to be mean, but I'm just still kinda amazed this is a big complaint used to bash games. Is this on the increase as more games use better artwork and have more color-related options? Or is this just another way of saying "I don't like the artwork"?

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and the inability of a company 500 metres away to help out its colleague in an assault is implausible, to say the least.


So what is your big issue with this? Is it that the system just won't let you do it? Or are you convinced a WW2 rifle company has an abundance of weapons that are effective at 500 meters or more in all cases? I just ask as I've seen this mentioned before, but I've not yet seen anyone make a valid point as to what is really wrong with this. I mean - that other company could be busy with other tasks (i.e. watching their our sector, improving their own positions, defending dispersed positions that make supporting a sister company impossible, etc...).

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I hope the next games in the series have a comprehensive index.


Yeah - this would have helped. I "think" there's an index out there that can be downloaded.

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but then, how many times am I going to play the campaign game?


At least one more time since I expect to see an AAR from you linking TDC with WED.

thanks,

Pete
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David Hughes
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OK, re Color blindness

Your analogy doesn't really hold up all that well. Speaking for myself, I enjoy TV, movies, books etc without any issue. I enjoy hundreds of games without any issue. Devil's Cauldron's poor colour choices make it difficult to play for between 7% and 10% of males. Without meaning to be mean, aren't you just instinctively defending a game you enjoy?

re inability to opportunity fire against an adjacent assault. Again, your argument doesn't get to the heart of the matter, I think. Of course, an adjacent company needn't ALWAYS fire in support of its neighbour, but surely it might SOMETIMES do it. That uncertainty is one of the things represented by random combat results. The point is that if the enemy unit was MOVING into the hex, the adjacent unit would ALWAYS opportunity fire at it, as there is no downside to op fire (another absurdity.)

You might argue that the presence of an adjacent friendly unit inhibits fire during assault because of fire control / blue on blue issues (but you didn't.) You might even think that an assaulting enemy is moving more cautiously, and so is less vulnerable to distant small arms. Neither argument really convinces.

re the combined Campaign, without seeing WED, you'd want at least six players I think, and probably 100 hours. It might happen, but I'm not holding my breath. On the other hand, as I spent the better part of four years in Eindhoven and Best, I am certainly interested in that part of the campaign
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Todd Pytel
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Pete Atack wrote:
I see this as a growing complaint from a small, but vocal group, against wargames. Since I'm not colorblind, it's not an issue to me. But in general - do color blind folks complain to say, TV makers or other companies that produce unfriendly products that offend their color blindness? And I'm honestly not trying to be mean, but I'm just still kinda amazed this is a big complaint used to bash games. Is this on the increase as more games use better artwork and have more color-related options? Or is this just another way of saying "I don't like the artwork"?

I think those are pretty insensitive and thoughtless comments, Pete. Last figures I heard were that about 10% of Caucasian males suffer from some form of color-blindness. I'm not one of them, myself. But given that the wargaming hobby is almost entirely Caucasian males, and given that some form of acceptable accomodation is often possible for a modest bit of effort, I don't think it's at all unreasonable or whiny to admonish a publisher for ignoring 10% of their market. Consider also that such comments may save another individual from investing hundreds of dollars into a game that might only prove frustrating to them.

Scotty Dave wrote:
and the inability of a company 500 metres away to help out its colleague in an assault is implausible, to say the least.

It is worth noting that having a nearby company in support allows for the possibility of Op Fire (with a significant bonus) should the defender run away. That may not be quite enough to satisfy David, but it's something. However, I think we're really reaching into grognard territory (in the proper sense of the term) to take minor mechanical quibbles such as this too seriously.

Pete Atack wrote:
I "think" there's an index out there that can be downloaded.

There's not. What there is is a very slightly expanded Table of Contents, barely any better than the original one. I would have also appreciated a proper index. The lack of one feels very shoddy for a "serious" game system. Hopefully this will be remedied in future versions of the GTS series rules.
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David Hughes
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tppytel wrote:
It is worth noting that having a nearby company in support allows for the possibility of Op Fire (with a significant bonus) should the defender run away. That may not be quite enough to satisfy David, but it's something. However, I think we're really reaching into grognard territory (in the proper sense of the term) to take minor mechanical quibbles such as this too seriously.


Todd, my issue is more than a mere quibble, I think. On the face of it, it's inconsistent to let a unit op fire at an enemy who moves into a hex, but not to op fire when it assaults into the hex. There's something not quite right about whole assault system, and to a lesser extent about the whole op fire mechanic. Even if we leave aside the perceived "grognarditis" of my complaint, there is also the disproportion between player decision-making and game mechanics in both sub-systems.

In the favour of the mechanics as published, they are easy and for the most part unambiguous - nothing there to make your head hurt.
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Colin Hunter
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It is funny some people really, really like the rule book, other hate it. I can see it is definitely a polarizing rule book. I prefer more structure and clarity myself, but thats personal taste.

Chit pull, well thats always a hard one. It can make a bit of difference, especially if you loose a divisional chit because it was drawn last. I generally find over the course of a longer game, it becomes a lot less of an issue. It doesn't quite have the elegance of the OCS double turn mechanic (which initially I thought was silly), but it does work in the bigger scale.

My biggest problem with the campaign game is that it take a long time for any kind of interesting situation to really develop. This isn't a big gripe frankly, but it is a small niggling thing for me.

Having said all this, I think some of the Advanced Scenarios are really good and quite fun, the campaign is an intriguing beast. I have a kind of love hate relationship with the game, there are a couple small things that bug me, but overall I really like it.
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Roger Munk
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I'm one of those colorblind folks. One thing that helps me a lot in games is if the publisher uses a symbol in addition to the color to differentiate things. I know this is a not-super-relevant example, but in Ticket to Ride, the colored cards and routes also have symbols I can use to tell which is which.

Considering the sheer number of different units and divisions in this game, I think they did a pretty good job of using a color scheme that is better than most for us chromatically challenged people. When punching it out, I was careful to keep the units organized by division when putting them in the trays. Now, I've only played the two first intro scenarios, not the whole campaign, but I was able to see which units I could activate pretty well.

Just the same, using the same symbol as a background or somewhere on the chit would help. They did this to some extent, but it could be done even better.
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Robert Wilson
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I agree on the opfire rules, they do stumble a bit as I believe only the unit being assaulted can opfire against the assaultING unit , Ill have to recheck

The assault system is a little unwieldy too
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Pete Atack
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Without meaning to be mean, aren't you just instinctively defending a game you enjoy?


Nope. What I'm getting at is that to expect wargaming (and it's small profit & customer base) to make sure all colorblind folks are not put off is pretty silly to me especially when no other industry seems to do this (be it TVs, traffic lights, clothes, whatever...). But yes - assuming something could be done - fantastic.


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Neither argument really convinces.


Agreed. But does the system really need to be a catch all for every possible situation & condition on the battlefield? I can't speak for the design & development team, but I'm assuming what was done was a compromise to keep the rules light and the game flowing or less process intensive?
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Pete Atack
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I think those are pretty insensitive and thoughtless comments, Pete.


Forgive me then if I don't feel bad as I don't agree with you.

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But given that the wargaming hobby is almost entirely Caucasian males, and given that some form of acceptable accomodation is often possible for a modest bit of effort, I don't think it's at all unreasonable or whiny to admonish a publisher for ignoring 10% of their market.


So your assumption is that 10% of wargamers are colorblind? Seems to be a bit of a stretch. But let's asasume you are correct - how many is 10% of wargamers? Likely not many - and ASSUMING there's a cost to fixing the issues - I have no issues if a gaming company decides not to take this into consideration. That's not being thoughtless - that's called making a business decision that ain't killing or hurting anyone.

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There's not. What there is is a very slightly expanded Table of Contents


Thanks for clarifying. I had not downloaded it so was not sure what it contained or if it was "worthy".
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Roger Munk
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This is how I see it (pun intended ). I wouldn't say the 10% of wargamers are colorblind. I would say that 10% of potential wargamers (not trying to be sexist here, vast majority of people I know who play wargames are male) are colorblind. I'm sure there are a number who have self-selected out of certain games due to color frustration.

As far as not taking color palette into consideration being a wise business decision, I'll give you a specific example of poor decision making regarding colors. I'd heard great things about Bang!, it's a well-regarded game here on the 'Geek. I played it at a con last year, and spent the whole game showing players to either side of me my hand to differentiate the two colors for me. Do you think I purchased that game or have played it since? So let's assume that have of players of Bang! are male (only 0.5% of females are colorblind). They've lost 5% of their sales to those colorblind males, plus the sales to regular opponents of said colorblind players.

Everything I've read is that the gaming business is not a high-net endeavor. The net in my business (not gaming) isn't so great that I wouldn't miss a 10% drop in revenue. If someone told me that by making a relatively simple change to my product, I'd earn even an extra couple percent in sales, I'd jump at it! I can't imagine the art design or ink would be a huge increase in price of development or production.

Once again, having said all this, the color choices they used in Devil's Cauldron are not horrible to me, and optometry school testing has shown I have no red color receptors whatsoever. I am wondering how they are going to address finding enough different colors for divisions in Where Eagle Dare to allow me to tell the difference in them (when I'm retired and have enough time and space to play the grand campaign).

Here's a list of Euros that do/don't make the grade:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/20738

-Rog.
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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Pete Atack wrote:
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Without meaning to be mean, aren't you just instinctively defending a game you enjoy?


Nope. What I'm getting at is that to expect wargaming (and it's small profit & customer base) to make sure all colorblind folks are not put off is pretty silly to me especially when no other industry seems to do this (be it TVs, traffic lights, clothes, whatever...). But yes - assuming something could be done - fantastic.


Going off on a personal tangent here. Pay no attention, but it may amuse some...

I have a mild form of red-green color blindness. It has never affected me except when tested—that I am aware of. Color blindness as a complaint may be amplified by the fact that hobby gaming—and wargaming in particular—is dominated by men. And up to 10% of those have varying degrees of color-blindness. So that means, as you note, a vocal minority of players will crop up that they have difficulty with the color combos of their games.

Another reason that this may be a growing problem is that lavish color production now goes into many wargames. The old Avalon Hill and SPI titles were very sparse in color and simple in appearance. Boards were white with thin gray hexsides, blue squiggly rivers; green splotchy forests; sketchy brown hills/mountains; black roads and cross-hatched cities; yellow deserts with some stippling, and red start-lines. Counters were often simply red and blue in stark NATO symbology and san-serif type. Simple colors, shapes, and letterforms.

Compare that to today where some publishers really try to out-do one another in colors, type-faces, subtle shading and Photoshop effects. Many counter sets (too many, IMO,) have soldiers in colorful uniforms on 1/2" - 1" counters. Does a tiny painting guide on a counter really make a game that much more interesting or fun? To me, it usually does not. In the old days, soldier and vehicle silhouettes were as fancy as a game got! It's no wonder that nowadyas some people complain, sometimes justifiably, that all that color and glitz interferes with play!

I'm not saying that publishers shouldn't make games with art that helps to propel the theme and engage the player's attention. They should, but they should take some care when they do it. That isn't always easy, I admit. I would rather that the writing, rules, and organization for a game be better than is often the case in first editions.

But what I really wanted to say regarding color and games is that the lighting conditions we play under also has an impact. Colors that look great in daylight will look odd under a yellowish, incandescent light. And may take another appearance under blue-white florescent lights. When possible—which is rather rare—I like to play in a room indirectly lit by sunlight. The worst conditions often exist in convention halls where the staff is used to having the lights turned down a bit so as to 1) assist with directing attention to a power-point presentation or spotlit speaker and 2) to save money. As gaming and conventions are becoming more popular, it is not unusual to realize that a lavishly produced game is often dark and muddy under bad lighting.

To summarize: Colorblindness was not so much a problem in the old days: simple color schemes with common shapes and symbology carried over many games—even from different publishers—largely precluded problems. As game publishers cranked up the colors and artistic embellishments in their games, the more that the men who dominate the gaming hobby and are predisposed to be color-blind started to register complaints. Finally, be aware that different lighting conditions will have an effect on how the colors in the games we play will appear. The more colors, the greater the potential for variance. Bad lighting tends to make lavish, colorful games look muddy.


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David Hughes
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Just to clarify, I'm not a lobbyist for Monochrome Australia. Poor colour choice is only one of the issues with the TDC graphics. Tiny font sizes for essential information, tiny hex dots which are also meant to convey important information, inconsistent conventions as to the meaning of colours on the counters. the much-vexed question of the watermarks, poorly designed, cluttered play aids, and others.

The TDC graphics actively hinder play in a number of ways. Whenever I have pointed this out before, fans of the game (many of whom seem to have done little more than fondle the components) have taken it as a personal insult, as if my not agreeing with them somehow demeans them. It's part of the mystery of TDC to me.

My conclusion on the graphics is that some inexperienced designers were determined to be innovative, and weren't actually as clever as they thought. This philosophy unfortunately extended to the rules too.

The real test is whether they can learn from their mistakes, or if they will continue to think they know it all and reject all criticism.

I'd also stress that some of the innovations are unequivocally excellent.
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Dave Langdon
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I'm red green colourblind, i didn't have any problem setting up TDC scenarios...but then maybe i just didnt notice that i hadn't set up properly. That said it was zero issue for me. Overall the whole look of TDC gets a massive thumbs up.

I struggled a bit with the system in constantly having to refer to the rulebook, i never reached the point where i could get unbroken play and just feel the game.
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Yeah, it's not a bad-looking game at all. And the fact that there are almost zero map and counter errors, on a map and counter print of this size is amazing.
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David Hughes
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From the perspective of someone with red-green colour blindness, here's a list of the graphic problems in TDC:

1) Problems caused by red-green colour choices:

- The 1st Airborne drop zones are invisible, so the drop location of every stick needs to be looked up. This is VERY tedious

- The Britsh and American event chits are extremely difficult to differentiate. Once you have them sorted, it's less of a problem if you take care not to mix them up

- The counters for 1st Airborne are not easy to differentiate from those of the 43rd Division, except in a VERY strong light. For the vast majority of the time, this won't be a big issue. It was an irritant when sorting the bore sight markers for the two divisions

- There are a number of kampfgruppen in both von Tettau and Hohenhausen which are pretty well impossible to differentiate. This is a genuine and ongoing problem in play. It is especially serious as some of these KGs play a vital part in the defence of the Arnhem Bridge, and so feature in many of the most played scenarios

2) General issues arising from poor graphic execution

- Unit designations are printed in very small font. Those for German units are printed in Gothic script. You need to identify individual units for reinforcement purposes. Trust me, for the campaign game this is a major pain in the ass, and a major waste of time. You will spend hours, literally, picking out units. Granted, you can pre-sort reinforcements prior to play, but (a) we did not do this and (b) that just transfers the task to another time

- The missing hexsides in woods, combined with the fact that the woods hex dot tends to disappear, makes counting movement in woods harder than it needs to be

- Some assault factors are hard to read; e.g., those with dark pink factors on a slighly lighter pink background. This problem is exacerbated by the very small font used. Not a major problem, though.


In addition, there is the vexed question of the watermarks. So far as I can tell, about 1 in 3 gamers find them cluttered and over fussy. I am in that camp.

On the other hand, there does seem to be across-the-board agreement that the maps are first class. I agree with this view.

So, on balance, at least for me, all the hype about TDC's graphical excellence is misplaced.
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all the hype about TDC's graphical excellence is misplaced.


I would agree. Again, as I said earlier, it's certainly not a bad-looking game, but neither is there anything stunning in the graphical concept or execution.

In my experince, people tend to rate larger games higher. Noy sure why, but it seems to be true. Streets of Stalingrad was considered a graphical coup de grace by many. I never got it. The counters were very late-seveties, and the maps, well...the maps were just maps...glossy, big, and a lot of them, but nothing earth-shattering in either concept or execution. Again that isn't to put down the game. I bought it, and I'm glad I did.

As far as unit designations on the DC counters...there's only so much room on a counter. Everything has to fit.Or you could go to a .75" counter, which would also make the maps 15% bigger, which is impossible since 22" x 34" is the largest practical print size, so you would then need to place less terrain on each map, which would mean more maps, which would have delayed game production and raised the retail price. Or maybe, just maybe, the font size could be increased by 1 point. Problem there would be the lengthy German formation names. About the only way to improve the formation naming problem would have been to drop the militaristic font, which is way cool and everything, but more difficult to read than something like Ariel or Ariel Black.
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John Kantor
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Everyone in your group can't be color blind.

It is stunning graphically - both esthetically and from an ease-of-use standpoint. It is a quantum leap forward in graphic design for gaming. The combination of hex vertices, and color-coded center dots is brilliant - and eliminates almost all of the problems of traditional hex map design.

The only time the unit designations are important (rather than the formation color coding) is when pulling reinforcements. I have terrible vision, but I have no trouble reading them with glasses with my correct prescription.

And finally, the system is brilliant and extremely well-explained (but there is still no excuse for not having an index or a searchable pdf of the rules).

Almost all of the "complaints" are nothing more than meaningless gripes from people so fixed in their ways that they really are nothing more than "fuddy-duddys."

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David Hughes
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Watch out, here come the fanboys...

Oooh, it's stunning. My, it's brilliant.

And woe betide you if you don't agree - you're a fuddy duddy
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John Kantor
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Wow, you understood exactly what I was saying.

The problem with boardgaming is that it is populated with gamers who are set in their ways. (I won't say "old" because I'm 52 and have been a board gamer since Panzerblitz came out. It's a mindset, not an age.) The last thing gamers like that want to do is learn a new system (or a new design esthetic) - even if it is a quantum leap forward.

But if you don't like DC there's always Stalingrad.
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David Hughes
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What's the point of this post?

You may well sincerely believe it, but merely stating your view without justifying it, and denigrating anyone who doesn't agree, ill becomes a 52 year old.
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Robert Wilson
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I think TDC looks stunning too, but lately I've been playing a lot of ASL instead , I do wish the ASL counters had watermarks and the big counters though, I think they are cool and greatly add to the art-style of TDC

If you look at the examples for NQOS, they do NOT have watermarks, and I find them a tad plain

PS I know you said youd have to defer the task to another time, but what I do when playing a game with reinforcements, I do that ahead of time and put them into little ziplock bags and grab a sharpie , I guess it appeals to the OCD in me! and its always nice to say

" Oh its turn 5 reinforcement phase, here is my bag of 13 German companies, and your bag of, oh wait, no paras today....."


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David Hughes
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dude163 wrote:


PS I know you said youd have to defer the task to another time, but what I do when playing a game with reinforcements, I do that ahead of time and put them into little ziplock bags and grab a sharpie , I guess it appeals to the OCD in me!


I think this is fair enough. If you are going to devote 50 hours or more to playing a game, it makes sense to do some organisation ahead of time.

If I ever play the campaign again, I will certainly do this.
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Harald
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If all of you want great and clear graphics? Why don't just play Conflict of Heroes
 
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Yeah, they aren't bad. Until you put them next to something from the Lock 'n Load series.
 
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