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Subject: ANGOLA! A First Session and Reasons to Pre-Order rss

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the scrub
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ANGOLA: Impressions from a First Session


INTRODUCTION

This past weekend I was able to attend Niagara Boardgaming Weekend for a second time. As the date approached the frenzy of game sessions being organized in the ConsimWorld folder ratcheted up fast. Luckily I was able, early on, to sign up for a game of Angola with Bob Titran.

Bob graciously mailed me and the other participants photocopies of the original Angola rulebook in preparation about a month before the con. It was my first personal exposure to the game and eagerly anticipated as I had signed up for an MMP pre-order blind. Perusal of the rulebook revealed a few interesting mechanics and promised that, if nothing else, the game would be memorable.

Long story short, the game was about seven hours long, with three out of the four players brand new to the game. It felt like an hour. I forgot to eat lunch. Angola turned out to be a highlight of a very fun weekend of games.



THE SESSION


Essentially, Robin and I, playing as the MPLA/FAPLA (think communists) were able to control the interior of the country, holding out along the coast and in Cabinda long enough to repeatedly drive tough victories against UNITA (think dirty fascist, South African supported jerks), played by Bob and Kevin.

The set-up of the game may have had something to do with our success. Each player starts with a given set of towns supplemented by a handful of random ones. As the MPLA we were traditionally powerful along the coast. However, in our game, the interior of Angola ended being our safe backyard, unthreatened by UNITA.



The Ragnar Brothers production could only be charitably called coarse. The components would never stand the scrutiny of modern gamers. However, the game itself was quite engrossing and any issues with the papery counters, garish colours or amateurish cards were easily put aside.

The game flowed beautifully from an awkward, lurching start for the nascent military powers into a full-fledged battle royale by game's end. Soon enough, our small columns were bursting with brigades, foreign-aid equipment, Cuban and Zaiois mercs and jets everywhere.



The game concluded on about the eighth turn as we had driven down our Victory Point threshold to 11 requiring a simple turn victory for the win. The final battles on that turn to hold what we had and gain just one more territory were quite exciting.


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE GAME or... Reasons to Pre-Order

Going into the game I had a few reservations about my pre-order. Now, I'm pretty happy to be on that list. Here are some reasons why:

1. The simulation of command and control maturing for both alliances was very neatly encompassed in the Operaions Deck mechanic. Essentially, the game ramps up both the numbers of cards you can play per turn and the type of cards -- where in the beginning you are basically getting only a few impulses with a few columns, by game's end you are getting multiple impulses with multiple columns.

2. In a neat analog of our real-life experience mirroring our individual faction's growing experience in military matters, our management of our Operations decks became more nuanced. Where blanks seemed to be a waste early on, later they provided opportunities to see what your opponents were doing so you could respond. Command Operations, though confusing at first, soon revealed themselves to be super useful in allowing you to be flexible with later column activations.

3. Our piddly little stacks started growing from simple infantry and armoured cards into much more sophisticated forces. Bob made a good point about the game's combat system rewarding a "combined arms" approach where a good, balanced stack (and yes, those small stacks ended up almost an inch high by the end) could throw artillery, tanks, mercs, engineers, AT/AA missiles and factional aircraft into a huge brouhaha. That picture above of the "Mother of All Battles" was, ironically, dwarfed by battles we had even later in the game.

4. One fascinating mechanism in the game is how the pendulum swings between alliances. Losing a turn, sometimes badly, often yields a fantastic cornucopia of goodies in the next turn. Direct Aid from your allies, logically, proceeds only when you're getting hammered. Add to this the neat mechanism for bidding up reinforcements and the punishment of being too greedy (your rivals' propaganda machine goes into overdrive if you ask for more than they, reducing their VP threshold) and you have a great built-in balance.

5. Combat can be summed up in one word: FUN. It's outside the scope of this session to explain but suffice it to say, Angola has a unique Combat Sequence of Play that allows you to make logical use of air, land and armoured forces together.

6. Much has been made of the time commitment required for this game. As mentioned we played for about 7 hours. And as mentioned, it didn't feel that way. Though I could see AP being an issue if you had the type playing, that's true in any game. I do not see this game lasting longer than 4 hours with people experienced in the rules. Word has it that MMP will include a short scenario for even less time commitment...

7. The Victory mechanic is interesting and deserves a little explanation. Each faction/player has five VP tokens at the start of each turn. As you lose towns and cities these are passed to your opponents. At the end of the turns, each side/alliance counts up their VP tokens and wins if they meet the target threshold. On turn one, the VP threshold is 20 -- basically you'd have to capture five towns from each opposing player to win. Most likely you merely "win the turn" and your VP threshold is reduced permanently for the rest of the game. In addition, any faction that outbids everyone else lowers their opposing alliances VP threshold -- you may get more neat hardware to shoot with but your opponents will find it easier to win thanks to the propaganda victory you've given them. Sooner or later, the side that pushes all in to get to their VP threshold will get close enough and win. However, miss on that turn and you'll be giving your enemies more Direct Aid!

8. Replayability seems to be a non-issue. The random assignment of towns at the beginning of the game and dice ensure that no two games will be alike.

In the end, there's enough there as a wargame to bring me back for more. Go out and pre-order this thing!

Thanks to Bob Titran for bringing the game and being a great guy to send us the rules ahead of time. Thanks too to Robin and Kevin for a great session. Angola was a hit for me and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy and play again.


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robin goblin
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And thanks to Ernie for being such a good Ally, clearing the running dog lackeys of the capitalist imperialist system from the interior of the country, allowing me to concentrate on clearing the Zairean backed scum from the coast road of Angola!

Great game, can't wait for the new edition to come out!

I'm thinking we should make this an annual contest at NBW.....

Robin
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Bob Titran
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Great write-up Scrub, glad you guys enjoyed the game. It was a blast, and if it wasn't for that #&%@! Cuban Air Force, we would have crushed you all like bugs!
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robin goblin
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Brave Cubans, they were like the death star!! laugh

Robin
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Nate Merchant
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Nicely done! Glad I pre-ordered and hope there are more Angola supporters out there.
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Lance McMillan
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I've been on the fence about pre-ordering this one for a long time. The situation is one that I'm interested in and all the reviews/AARs I've read have been fascinating. The only thing holding me back is the length of time it seems to take to play the game. You note that your game took about 7 hours, but that with experience you're guessing that could be dropped to perhaps as little as 4. Even then, it strikes me as a bit long... Do you think there's anything that might be done to help streamline the process at all?
 
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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Lancer4321 wrote:
I've been on the fence about pre-ordering this one for a long time. The situation is one that I'm interested in and all the reviews/AARs I've read have been fascinating. The only thing holding me back is the length of time it seems to take to play the game. You note that your game took about 7 hours, but that with experience you're guessing that could be dropped to perhaps as little as 4. Even then, it strikes me as a bit long... Do you think there's anything that might be done to help streamline the process at all?


There's also a shorter scenario, I think, to be introduced that was not in the original game. For a deep, multi-player wargame, 4 hours seems reasonable to me. And from my limited experience of the game, it seems that reducing play time has more to do with learning the mechanics; diplomacy is unlikely to hold up the game as the two sides are set and cannot change.
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J. R. Tracy
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Great writeup, Scrub! Thanks for the effort.

JR
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the scrub
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Thanks for the kind comments.

Lance, the playtime of four hours is probably accurate. And honestly, it really did not feel like some long drawn out thing. Even in the end, there was a chance that Robin and I would not win that turn and present Kevin and Bob with a huge swing in momentum.

Finally, the selfish guy in me wants this thing redone with the MMP/IGS treatment. It should be awesome.
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Steve
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Really awesome, thanks for posting. Can't wait for this to be produced, if MMP can get enough orders.
 
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Ryan Powers
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OK. OK.

I've been on the fence on this one, now I'm sold. Going off to pre-order now...
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Carlos O.
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I pre-ordered some time ago and I am really happy about it from all the positive reviews and comments.
 
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