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Archive for J. R. Tracy
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J. R. Tracy
We had sixteen players just before Thanksgiving for some crowded gaming and a birthday celebration!
Smitch, Maynard, Natus, and Tenno broke in our fresh copy of Inis. This is a Celtic-themed card drafting/area control game with great looking components. Players draft their hands and set out to build and expand. The cards are all interesting and attractive so deciding what to pass is tough; further, you may opt to lose cards instead of figures to fulfill combat losses, adding to your card anxiety.
With all the cards flying around, many with rule-bending abilities, the game requires you to announce when you've reached a game-winning condition, giving the table a chance to rein you in. I like the idea of it, but it had no impact on their game. Smitch seemed to be out of the race, but had a whopper final turn. With the rest of the table out of actions, he managed to stitch together a sequence of winning a battle to pick up a VP, which in turn satisfied a couple more conditions allowing him to pick up two more for a come-from-behind win. Giving notice to the table of imminent victory doesn't mean much when they're out of bullets!
Opinions varied. Natus offered little more than Nate-hate beyond some soft coos over the pretty pictures; he still prefers Blood Rage for dudes-on-a-map gaming. Tenno, Maynard, and Smitch were more enthusiastic. The game is indeed beautiful, and the combination of card management and positional play looked appealing from the middle distance. I look forward to trying it myself before year end.
Dave, Herr Fuchs, Mitch, Dr. Rob, and NewSteve set out to do some Terraforming of Mars. All were new to the game, but after a blurry hand-waving explanation session from three different teachers, they were ready for liftoff. They went with the advanced game, and Herr Fuchs picked the corporation that played Earth cards at a discount. He made the most of this to build out a low-cost card-playing machine, and rode it to a win. Hawkeye stepped in to replace Dr. Rob after an unfortunate airlock incident, but could not stop our new Martian overlord.
The winning board
Amy Muldoon made a surprise appearance with cupcakes in hand to celebrate another turn around the sun for husband Scott. They were joined by Jim and Bill for a session of the new Pax Renaissance.
The birthday beer of choice for giant robots everywhere
As with the other Pax games, the learning process is part of the experience, as players try to figure out what the hell is going on. The Muldoons ruled the east, with Amy sitting in Byzantium while Scott grabbed the Ottomans. Scott was working toward a Holy victory when Amy hit him with a peasant revolt that slapped him to the back of the pack. Jim and Bill were busy running trade fairs with some success, though Scott overthrew Bill's English kingdom to get back into the game. Sadly they had to adjourn without finishing but they had a blast and are eager to return to it.
GorGor and I got in a quick tuneup before the upcoming ASL tournament in Albany. We picked BFP 138, Outgunned, from Bounding Fire's Poland in Flames. This depicts a Polish counterattack against the Soviet bridgehead on the Dniester, on 18 September 1939. My Reds started with half a dozen squads, a heavy machine gun, an LMG, and a couple flak trucks, while GorGor attacked with 18 squads (2/3 first liners and the rest green), four FT-17s, a pair of twin-turreted 7TPdws, and a couple of armored cars. I received six more squads plus six BTs as reinforcements on turn two. We both wanted the Poles, but Steve bid more so I got some extra concealment counters and my inexperienced AFV crews were upgraded to normal.
Thin on the ground
The Poles score points for buildings near the river as well as for any units on my side of the Dniester at game end. Setting up, I was afraid to defend too far forward for fear of being swarmed, but I figured I had to contest the approach. I anchored my right flank with my AA trucks lurking in the woods with good enfilading lines of sight, and concentrated my infantry in the center, three to five hexes beyond the far bank. I used dummies to represent other possible flak truck positions. I hoped to slow the Poles a bit and then fall back on my reinforcements.
Rock and a hard place
GorGor focused on my left flank, meeting my main line of resistance and rolling right through it. I broke a couple halfsquads but my MGs missed all their attempts to knock out Polish armor. With my infantry rolled up, it was up to my armor to stem the tide. I sent all my gun-armed BTs to the left and my MG-armed BT-2Bs to the center, supported by the AA trucks. I had thicker armor and better armament, so would have the upper hand in the tank battle. Unfortunately, Steve was already in position and thus had the defender's natural advantage. A furious exchange left one Polish armored car burning in exchange for four BTs. With two thirds of my infantry down, along with all my gun-armed AFVs, I threw in the towel. I did at least manage to kill the unluckiest 7-0 in the Polish Army!
Not even breaking a sweat
I made a couple mistakes in my setup, one obvious at the time and the second in retrospect. I needed to either have a flak truck on my left or a convincing fake, to prevent Steve from establishing himself so easily on the river's edge. However, I had the other flank to worry about as well - a couple trucks only go so far. Having played it, I'm not sure the Soviet can afford to put much at all on the far side of the river; the Polish assault is just too overwhelming. Preserving force to contest the crossing may be the way to go. Even with the the setup errors, I had a chance to shake things up with more aggressive armor play, perhaps sending my BT-2Bs on an overrun rampage. All that said, we think this is a pretty pro-Polish card. Cool AFVs, and a neat situation, but the Polish victory condition feels within easy reach, particularly if the Soviets suffer from Inexperienced Crews.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers last week for just two games, but they were good ones.
Manfred, Bill, Dave, Dr. Rob, Campoverdi, and Smitch sat down for Kremlin, choosing the 1928 scenario. Young Iosif Dzhugashvili was quickly shipped off to Siberia to study forestry from the perspective of a cross-cut saw, while his comrades got on with the business of shaping the future of the young workers' paradise.
Enjoy the taiga, Comrade!
Despite a thirst for blood, purges were hard to come by after the initial flurry. Multiple attempts failed, leaving much of the initial politburo still in the game and moving up the pyramid. Trotsky reached the top and managed to wave twice on behalf of Dave. However, Manfred then took control and got in two waves of his own.
The 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee
As Manfred's third wave approached, Smitch had the opportunity to bump his influence down, but it would've been a pure kingmaking move with no effect on Smitch's own position. He stood pat, allowing Trotsky/Manfred to wave for the third time, presumably the preamble to global revolution. Fun for all, and the youthful '28 leaders altered tactics a bit for a new spin on an old favorite.
The years pile up
NewSteve, Hawkeye, Rich, Mitch, and I returned to Mare Nostrum: Empires. This was the first game for Rich and Mitch, with NewSteve, Hawkeye, and I building on last week's experience. I moved over to Carthage while Hawkeye took my seat on the Nile. NewSteve was Babylonia, Rich was Greece, and Mitch ran Rome. We again used the 'beginner' Hero/Wonder market, revealing five at any given time rather than all seventeen.
With my initial commodity production, I decided to keep my head down and build up my resources for a Wonder win. My cause was helped when the Statue of Zeus appeared in the first batch of Hero/Wonders. I snapped it up and used to assure peace on at least one flank. It was a good thing too, because Hawkeye gobbled up North Africa right up to my borders, tooling across the Sahara in his Toyota technicals. He also grabbed Judea but otherwise paid Babylonia no mind (for now).
NewSteve's biremes plied the Black Sea, taking over Asia Minor and daring Rich to do something about it. Rich and Mitch took the local low-hanging fruit, with Mitch assuming control of Syracuse. With the peaceful expansions out of the way, it was time to see who would draw first blood.
In the second build round, my plan of peaceful resource-gathering was put on hold when I picked up Ramesses II. My rationalization was "better in my hands than in someone else's" - he's a powerful Hero and I didn't want to see him used against me. Of course, once on my council of advisers he seduced me with tales of conquest and glory, and before I knew it my oarsmen were pulling for the Sicilian shore. I held Syracuse for about three minutes before Roman catapults hurled the corpse of my expedition back across the sea. Duly chastised, I returned to my original gameplan and gave Ramesses a PS4 and a copy of Call of Duty to keep him out of my hair.
Hammurabi and Cleopatra agree to terms
In the east, NewSteve's purple legions covered the board, while Hawkeye fleshed out his production. Zeus kept Egypt at bay on my border, and Babylonia's strength gave him pause on the other, so this was his prudent path. Rich's sense of honor got the better of him so he took it upon himself (with judicious encouragement from interested parties) to beat back NewSteve's threat. Thus began a cycle of Greek troops sailing east to kill Babylonians, before dying in turn at the hand of NewSteve's counterattacks. Mitch showed his appreciation for Rich's selfless sacrifice by seizing Greece's western provinces.
A rare Roman eastward frolic
The endgame developed with Hawkeye as both Culture and Military Leader (as befits the man), while I narrowly clung to Commerce Leader (we were tied but I held it by virtue of incumbency). With Egypt's force pool fully built he finally decided to join the Babylonian Wars by seizing Cilicia. My own production was impressive but I duplicated several commodities, and relied on trade for unique items. I managed to build the Hanging Gardens, allowing me to carry two commodities into the next turn. With NewSteve at four Wonders/Heroes, he was a threat to beat me to a fifth, so I made a play for the Pyramids. The following trading phase set up perfectly, and I was able to round out a twelve-commodity set for the win.
Egypt, top of the charts, number one in our hearts
In our post-mortem, we found Egypt had an 11-coin income, and on the previous turn had opted to claim control of the province rather than pillage the city in Cilica. Pillaging would've earned Hawkeye a coin, which combined with his production would've given *him* the Pyramids. Thus I think we have to give him credit for the win, or at least slap an asterisk on my own. This game illustrated the neighborly responsibilities of the game - Rome needed to launch some spoiling attacks against me to trim my production, and Babylonia and Egypt can't afford to leave each other alone. Rich's altruism was admirable, but I don't think Greece can afford to be the board's policeman given her vulnerable central position.
We picked up some subtle points this session - Crete holds a rare commodity, making it a highly desirable conquest for empires doubled-up in trade goods. Also, turn order can be used against the Military Leader, who usually moves last. If someone other than the Military Leader is a threat to win, the rest of the board may leave it to him to take care of things while they tend to more selfish concerns. We will likely continue with the limited market - it adds a needed element of randomness to the planning. Two games in, this feels like a winner. We should have five experienced players next time out, yielding a tighter five way game, I expect. Looking forward to it!
J. R. Tracy
We had ten gamers on The Day After, trying a new release of an old title, some card gaming, and a continuation of the liberation (?) of Europe.
Rich and Smitch paired up for two-player Innovation and one learning game followed by two very close matches. In the first, Rich had no answer for The Pirate Code, which steadily drained his score pile and laid the foundation for Smitch's win. They split the next two games, which were classic examples of leapfrogging technologies as they struggled to gain and retain the upper hand. I've never played it two-handed, but it seemed to work fine. Nice to see it back on the table - Innovation really improves with experience. With four veteran players you can go deep into the decks, with really interesting and complex endgames. Nothing like engineering a victory for the Robot Overlords!
Edging toward enlightenment
Scott and Jim finally returned to Festung Europa: The Campaign for Western Europe, 1943-1945. Scott had just clawed his way ashore in France when they suspended play, and this week he expanded his drive into Northwest Europe. First, however, he tried to smash his way into Rome. An attempted flanking move via Anzio was stymied. Scott followed up by throwing a ton of resources into a direct assault, only to have Michael Wittman appear in his Tiger astride the Via Pontina, turning aside the attack.
Nicht heute, mein Liebling
Things looked better for the Allies in France, where the British and Americans expanded into the countryside and swept toward the Rhine in a broad front attack. When they wrapped up for the evening, it looked like Scott was behind schedule but the Germans are stretched thin. This may come down to a narrow drive for Berlin, depending on how well Jim can maintain a continuous line. I'm glad they didn't just tear it down, as it is proving to be a fun, tense game for both sides.
The view from the Chancellery
Hawkeye, Mark, GorGor, NewSteve and myself tried the sorta-new Mare Nostrum: Empires, Academy's overhaul of the 2003 title. This is an empire-builder set in the Mediterranean basin, loosely based on the historical ancient powers of the region.
Players collect resources, buy units and buildings, recruit Heroes and construct Wonders, and of course move about the map bashing shields. Purchases are made by paying a price either in coins or in sets of unique commodities. There are thirteen distinct commodities, and to construct the sets required for the more expensive items, you need to either trade for or conquer the source of needed goods.
Half sunk a shattered visage lies
You win Mare Nostrum by either controlling four capitals and/or legendary cities (Troy, Syracuse, and Jerusalem), being the first to purchase a fifth Wonder and/or Hero, by building the Pyramids (paying 12 coins or unique commodities), or by controlling all three Leadership roles (Commerce Leader has the most markets and caravans, Culture Leader has the most cities and temples, and Military Leader has the most legions, fleets, and fortresses).
Leader roles carry benefits beyond a path to victory - the Commerce Leader conducts the trading round (not the sexiest power), the Culture Leader determines the order of builds (allowing some players to observe their neighbors' intentions before building), and the Military Leader sets the order of movement (usually the most powerful role). The *first* player to do something wins that category and the game, which is where the Culture Leader has an edge down the stretch. As folks close in on the Hero/Wonder target or get enough income to stack some limestone by the Nile, the Culture Leader can make sure he nips in front of a rival for the win.
Taking back what's rightfully mine
In our game, GorGor was Greece, NewSteve led Rome, Hawkeye ran Carthage, Mark was Babylon, and I ruled Egypt. At Mark's suggestion we had a peaceful first turn, building and expanding. I moved into Judea and built up some defenses, while Hawkeye built up Carthage's already-impressive caravan fleet. Rome grabbed Syracuse, and Greece expanded into Dacia. Babylon gave my Judean incursion the hairy eyeball before turning north and west into Asia Minor. Things got chippy on turn two with a Roman expedition against Egyptian Cyrenaica, and from there we saw constant warfare across the Med.
Hawkeye focused on building up Carthage's resource income, while Mark collected the various provinces in his corner of the map. I spent the midgame recovering Cyrenaica and grabbing a couple combat-oriented Heroes (Ramesses II, good for fighting, and Spartacus, good for building legions). Rome fortified Syracuse while Greece grabbed Crete. We saw a brief Greco-Babylonian war over Troy, but Greece withdrew and consolidated her power. Carthage maintained her status as Commerce Leader, but Greece gained and held both the Culture and Military Leader roles.
Loading up the landing craft
Carthage and Rome reached four Heroes/Wonders each, just one away from a win. However, Carthage itself was weakly held, as was Syracuse. With Jerusalem in hand, I saw an opportunity, and sent expeditions against both cities. I succeeded, and for a brief moment victory was in hand. However, I had to hold them through the end of the turn. GorGor was prepared for such a move, unfortunately, and closed out the turn by kicking me off of Sicily. In retrospect, I had no chance of holding both cities against anything but a sleeping table, and should have focused on grabbing the Military Leader role before making my move.
On the following turn, remorseless collusion denied Hawkeye the commodities he needed to close out his Hero/Wonder track, and NewSteve was a commodity short for Rome as well. Mark and GorGor both grabbed their penultimate Heroes. I again captured Syracuse, and was again thrown back into the sea. In what proved to be the final turn, I detected the ominous clink of coinage piling up in Nineveh - Mark had quietly collected enough cash to purchase his last Hero. GorGor, however, used his Culture Leader power to build first, grabbing his final Hero and closing out the game with a win for the greater glory of Greece.
The game was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Play was crisp, aside from some stumbles during the hinky trading phase and minor misunderstanding of the conquest/pillage options. The powers are ostensibly generic beyond the dictates of geography, but every empire starts with a Hero with a specific capability that shapes their play (my Cleopatra gave me flexibility during the Build phase, while Greece's Pericles provides a defensive benefit to mitigate her monkey-in-the-middle position). You further customize your capabilities through Hero/Wonder purchases - these provide rule-bending abilities, often alongside bonuses for the various leadership roles. GorGor wisely picked up Perseus early on. Perseus' special ability allows his owner to trump the Culture Leader during the Build phase to grab his final Hero or build the Pyramids. If Mark had had him in his stable, he would have pipped GorGor for the win.
One possible knock on the on the game is scripted gameplay. Having witnessed Babylon's economic potential, I now know Egypt has to apply some pressure to keep her in check. Similarly, Rome should be harassing Carthaginian commodity production. I don't know how much that dominates strategy as players gain experience, as the dice and more importantly Hero/Wonder purchases can shake things up. Also, the Mare Nostrum itself provides terrific strategic mobility, so once some fleets are in play, every power is within reach of the others. We used the 'beginner' option for the Hero/Wonder market - only five are revealed at any one time, with a new tile exposed with each purchase. Normally, you see and choose from all seventeen tiles. However, the beginner option might be preferred if you want more variability from game to game, as players must adapt to the options at hand. Next time out we'll try an open market. The history is little more than a nod to the subject matter, but the theme rises above the generic - another solid option in the field of fighty multiplayer games.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen players to open November with a new title, a new favorite, and some old standbys.
Tenno, El Rios, and Campoverdi popped open Star Trek: Ascendancy, a new 4X game set in the universe of the venerable franchise. The playing area develops as the factions discover and link star systems in a clever freehand manner, until they come in contact with their rivals. Three powers are represented - the Federation, taken by Tenno, the Klingons, represented by Campo, and the Romulans, under El Rios' rule.
The Romulans roll out
I didn't get any read on the fundamental mechanics, but the players said the factions are distinct and strongly themed. The Klingons are fighty, the Romulans are sneaky, and the Federation is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Tenno's adherence to the Prime Directive meant he was at a disadvantage initiating conflict, so he steered his exploration away from the other two. Meanwhile, Campo and El Rios smashed head-on into each other while half-heartedly sending tendrils toward Federation space. The Klingons and Romulans predictably nullified each other in combat, leaving the Federation to clean up in culture points for a win.
Thumbs up from all three players - they felt it was true to the source material and a fun game besides. The game looks good on the table - simple but evocative minis, and as mentioned above, the 'board' looks very cool as the three webs spread out and eventually meet. The one complaint they had was that it felt less than complete with three players. Obviously Campo and El Rios erred by leaving Tenno alone for too long, but even with experience it may be susceptible to "let's you and him fight" outcomes. Two new factions are due out soon (the Kardashians and the Ferengi), so a more crowded table may help the game reach its potential.
Popping by for a cup of sugar
Rich, Jim, and Mitch were joined by Mike Hammond (in town for the week) for Stone Age. Rich risked a starvation strategy, which was working well but Mitch closed the gap down the stretch by eating gold and wood to keep his people happy. Rich managed to sweat out a hard-fought win.
Quest for fire
The same crew turned to Smash Up, but I have no details other than pirates were involved!
Too late to parley
Maynard, Bill, Hawkeye, Drew, and I gathered for Terraforming Mars. Hawkeye played it once before, so he was our grizzled veteran. We opted for the advanced deck with random draws (no drafting).
I was the Helios Corporation, which allowed me to expend heat as money, and gave me some modest initial heat production as well. Unfortunately, my initial draw was mostly events and asteroids, though I had a couple small useful cards that I immediately put to work. My best card favored plant production, so my short term plan was to plant loads of shrubbery while I got my more fancy stuff on line.
Welcome to the Terradome
To my left, Drew was Interplanetary Cinematics, blessed with a pile of steel, and had some sweet building cards in his initial draw. He got these out quickly, and was soon enjoying reduced costs on retaining cards and building projects. Bill's head was in the stars, while Maynard turned his powerful finances (he had the big cash corporation) toward scientific research. Hawkeye, to my right, had a balanced strategy, pushing cities out and keeping an eye on awards and milestones. Both he and Drew collected credits and/or resources whenever a city was built, so they had a nice periodic income boost off the back of our honest labor.
Try as I might, I could not get any real production down - I was hoping for some energy production, as energy converts to heat which in turn would help me buy cards. I found myself playing a lot of events instead, including some minor gotcha cards, mainly at Drew's expense. I had my eye on the Mass Transformer, an energy-cranking beast, but first I had to deploy five points worth of science; sadly, I never got past three. I did at least roll out the Mars Rover, and spent most of the game searching for Dejah Thoris, or at least her single-celled equivalent. My tableau was the the weakest of the five, but I kept myself in the running by doing more than my fair share of terraforming, using card driven powers to boost all three indices (water, oxygen, and temperature).
Down the home stretch, a couple milestones were claimed, so I pressed and won the Green Thumb; I think Hawkeye took the Mayor and Drew the Builder. Awards went unfunded until the final turn, when Drew and Hawkeye funded one apiece once they were confident they had them locked up. I finally built my first city, but it wasn't even on Mars - I developed the popular space-brothels of Phobos. I tried to end the game on turn nine but came up a megacredit short; Drew or Bill stepped up and spiked the temperature before we extended into one more generation. Adding up the scores, Drew was way out in front, with Hawkeye a comfortable second. I just edged Maynard in the middle of the pack, and Bill came in behind.
Looking at the board we could see ample room for improvement - Bill actually had a very productive game and a great engine, but he didn't build much next to greenery, denying himself a few VPs, and was in range of an award or two had he focused on that aspect. My obsession with unachievable goals probably doomed me - I scratched out a decent finish but I fought my hand all game rather than let it guide my decisions. The drafting option helps the planning aspect, but for the time being we enjoy the challenge of managing the chaos of the random draw.
Land of the Glass Pinecones
Despite our stumbles we all really enjoyed the game. The engine-building is challenging and absorbs most of your attention, but we felt it had a surprisingly high level of interaction. I had no cities to build but took great joy in plunking down greenery in choice locations eyed by urban developers Hawkeye and Drew. Hostile events can really jam up your opponents, and jockeying for awards and milestones is a tricky little subgame, occasionally forcing you to suspend longer term goals to avoid getting shut out. Best of all, TF's theme is aces - every action and project feels appropriate and in the spirit of the game. It has the feel of an Eklund/Wehrle effort in the sense that you read a card and say, "Cool - is that really a thing?", and make a note to look it up later. That aspect helped pull me in, and left me eager to take a crack at it again soon. It promises to be in the four- and five-player queue for some time, and as others have noted, it makes for a very good solitaire experience as well.
J. R. Tracy
We had a baker's dozen for four of the latest and greatest plus an old classic.
Manfred and Renaud paired up for Hands in the Sea with Manfred taking Rome to Renaud's Carthage. As in our game last week, they split Sicily between them while Carthage took Sardinia and Corsica. Manfred spotted a looming Campaign card and sailed over to Corsica in time to deny Renaud a few VPs (settlements must be in supply to score), but Carthage still built up a healthy lead.
Rome flipped things around thanks to a cavalry raid into Lilybaeum, followed by the Roman fleet arriving offshore. Renaud rowed his own warships over but Manfred sent them to the bottom, before methodically rolling up the Roman possessions on Sicily. Both players had to head home before they could reach a formal conclusion, so Renaud gracefully conceded the game to Manfred, who with equal grace declared it a draw.
A day late and a shekel short
This was Manfred's third game and Renaud's first, and some basic strategies and 'must' moves are emerging. The Carthaginian fleet has to protect Sardinia and Corsica, or at least respond to a late-turn Roman threat; Lilybaeum needs a fortification as soon as possible, and so on. Events and Strategy cards shape and alter the flow of play so any strategy is subject to disruption. You can't completely protect yourself from the fickle finger of fate, but you can at least position yourself to react and recover when the gods are having a laugh.
Time to brush up on your Latin
Dans VIII and IX showed up with a sack of games (and tried to kill us with a handle of Fireball); joined by Herr Fuchs, they fished out Cry Havoc for some futuristic planet-conquering. This is a fighty area control game with very asymmetric powers. Dan VIII played the Pilgrims, Dan IX the Humans, and Herr Fuchs the Machines. Opposing all three were the indigenous Trogs, an ape-like species that can also be player-controlled in a four-handed game.
For the first two thirds of the game the players just beat on the Trogs, harvested crystals, and upgraded their forces by buying and activating special powers. The Trogs fell back on their mountain enclave, a tough nut to crack. This forced the players to finally turn their attention to one another and the fur really started to fly. Backed by the powerful Human artillery, Dan IX steadily built a lead until it became a fight for second. Dan VIII's Pilgrims took the silver, while Herr Fuchs drowned his sorrows with a case of 10W-40.
You're a persistent cuss, pilgrim
I like the look of the game. Each faction has a wide range of options for customization beyond their organic distinctions. There are several ways to score points, some unique by faction, and the board's wraparound topology means everyone can reach each other without too much trouble. I thought this was a co-op but now that I know otherwise it's in the might-buy queue.
Fury of the Trogs
Spencer sat down to A Feast for Odin along with Smitch and Dave. Each player leads a Viking village, developing it from humble beginnings to a thriving town through trade, farming, and knocking over the occasional monastery. As a Uwe Rosenberg title, it squeezes your head by offering a vast range of options and a pittance of actions. When you finally decide what to do, you are often rewarded with a tile which you use to cover a bit of your playmat. Tiles provide income in various resources, and by covering up spaces on your mat they help you avoid game-end scoring penalties.
Each player begins the game with a particular skill or advantage which guides their early play. Dave had a raiding skill so he set out in his longboats, while Smitch apparently majored in animal husbandry, and starting building feedlots. I don't recall Spencer's initial skill. Dave focused on raiding the whole game, while Smitch supplemented his cattle-ranching with an expedition to Newfoundland (another big mat with resource benefits but which also needs to be covered to avoid VP penalties). Spencer stuck closer to home, building a nice longhouse to impress the locals.
Given all the moving parts, it was hard to tell who was ahead, and in fact the three scores were very close at game end before the mat penalties were applied. These hit Spencer hard and Smitch harder, while leaving Dave untouched. Dave closed with 92 points and a solid win, with Spencer and Smitch both coming in at 81. It's a simple game conceptually but derives its richness from the host of choices. Theme-wise, there is an appalling lack of blood-eagles and skullsplitting, with interaction limited to snagging a critical action ahead of your neighbors. However, for fans of engine builders and those who've enjoyed Rosenberg's previous games, this should be a hit, and she's a beauty to boot.
Brave new world
Scott, Rich, and Hawkeye rocketed off to our next door neighbor to try their hand at Terraforming Mars. This is a strongly themed engine builder, as players work to tame the planet's surface while expanding their own corporations in the process. The game ends once the surface temperature, oxygen level, and water supply all reach liveable levels. Players improve their 'Terraform Rating' (TR) by contributing to this process, which helps determine income and baseline VP scores.
Fear of a Red Planet
Each turn represents a generation, with players performing actions around the table until everyone passes. 'Standard' projects are always available and are relatively inefficient ways of performing essential actions, such as building cities, expanding the oceans, planting shrubbery, and so on. By playing cards to your tableau, however, you gain access to sexier choices and create internal synergies for more efficient actions. Cards may have persistent or once-per-turn effects, and many may only be built in particular environmental conditions. This forces long-term planning from the outset, as you map out the timing necessary to get your various cards in play. Players are rewarded for hitting particular milestones first (owning three cites, for instance) and may fund 'awards' which score bonus VPs for meeting end-game conditions. The catch is, just because you fund an award doesn't mean you'll get it, so choose wisely!
Energy man loves energy
They opted for the extended ('Corporate') game, which adds some cards and emphasizes the economic aspect of the game. They used a straight draw for Research rather than the optional draft, however. Scott started out as the resident expert in forging space steel, so he worked that angle as he built out his board. Hawkeye had a more energy-production bent, and Rich was the civic-minded of the three. They managed to render Mars habitable in eight generations, with Scott taking the win with 66 points to Rich at 54 and Hawkeye just behind. I think they all enjoyed it, with the theme proving to be very immersive. I did not get a sense of the level of interaction, though I'm sure competition for awards and milestones must contribute to it. Good looking game, and reports indicate it plays well solitaire too.
Now accepting deposits for 2174
Dr. Rob and I paired up for some Albany ASL prep, choosing Initial Skirmish from the Yankee ASL (YASL) group's pack. This is a small engagement taking place in May 1940 in the Gembloux Gap, on the edge of Hannut. I defended the town with five French squads armed with assorted support weapons, including a 37mm Puteaux infantry gun of WWI vintage, an ATR, and a light machine gun, with a couple leaders and a crew to man the Puteaux. Everyone's favorite theologian was attacking with a biker gang of eight elite squads with a pair of LMGs, an ATR, and two leaders, with three PzIBs and a couple PzIIAs providing some punch. He had five turns to kill Frenchmen and take buildings; I also scored points for CVPs and buildings controlled. A pair of Panhard armored cars arrived to stiffen my defense on turn one, with an 8-1 armor leader in charge.
Prepped for panzers
The German map edge is defined as hexrow T so Rob could be on top of me and even into the town on his opening move. Grain is in season by SSR, so he had some cover on his approach. Given that, I set up at the forward edge of my deployment area, with a plan of focusing on the thin-skinned German AFVs to rack up CVP. Rob's infantry had the upper hand in both numbers and quality, but I felt between my SWs (even my LMG could penetrate the German armor) and the Pan-Pans, I had a chance to win the armor battle, where far more CVP were at stake.
I concentrated my support weapons in the southern half of the board, with my 8-1 directing the Puteaux from the obvious (to me at least) position of the J5 stone building. The ATR was across the street in I7, while the LMG was in H8 covering the southern board edge. I paired a half squad with a full squad in J1 to give the illusion of a support weapon protecting on the northern flank. I was hoping Rob would buy the ruse long enough for my Pan-Pans to deploy some genuine tank-killing firepower on that side of the board. My infantry and dummies were distributed to support the above.
Rob opened cautiously, attempting smoke dischargers with his PzIBs before bringing on his infantry. Though all three PzIBs were in LOS of my anti-tank assets, I held fire until the PzIIAs moved. Being the sensible sort, Rob realized this and got all his infantry on unmolested, dismounting most of them but leaving a squad and a half on their motorcycles in case an exploitation opportunity revealed itself. The PzIIAs moved last, carefully parking out of LOS of all my SWs.
Pan-Pans to the rescue
At this point we had a nice, tense match - Rob's caution created some time pressure, but he was on board and in my face with zero casualties. Then I started rolling dice. The Puteaux killed one PzIB and shocked a second. My Pan-Pans made their way to the flank, sweating a PzIIA shot at my CE crew before zeroing in on the shocked Panzer. The rest of Rob's fire was ineffective.
He opened turn two with a direct assault on my Puteaux position. A PzIB rolled up only to die a fiery death. I lost rate of fire on the infantry gun, but the crew KIA'd Rob's 9-1/468 when they ran up on the follow. With his armor dead or about to die, and his best leader face down in a flax field, Rob calmly bit down on the cyanide capsule he carries for just this sort of situation.
Puteaux problems, peut-être
It's hard to look past the luck factor on this one - as I've always said, any piker can dice his opponent with snake-eyes, but a real artist works with fives and sixes. That was more than enough to stop Rob's panzers in their tracks. I think his attack was well planned, if maybe a tad off the pace. However, my hit/kill rate was way ahead of the curve. The 9-1's final move was rash, but even that need not have been fatal if not for the armor fight going pear-shaped. I would be happy taking the Germans in this one, and despite my French win I'd like a little help if I took them again, or at least a similar run of die rolls. Still, a tight little card and perfect for a weeknight game.
J. R. Tracy
We had six players last week for some light gaming, a cool new deckbuilder, and a lot of conversation.
Dr. Rob emerged from Witness Protection long enough for a game of Arena: Roma II with Sergeant Schultz. Unfortunately I didn't get pictures of their game but Rob used an aggressive VP-harvesting strategy to drain the pool for a win. Rob hung around for a bit longer to harass and annoy before slipping off into the dark of night.
Smitch arrived along with Bill, joining Schultz for a session of Smash Up along with the Cthulhu expansion.
Bill was the Wizards of Innsmouth, Schultz the Cthulhu Ninjas, and Smitch the Alien Zombies. Smitch's shambling undead horde persevered for the victory.
You're in my dojo now, Old One
Last up, Campoverdi and I paired off for the new Hands in the Sea, a deck-building wargame that takes the core ideas of A Few Acres of Snow and ports them to the First Punic War.
For those unfamiliar with AFAoS, players build decks consisting of location cards augmeneted by utility cards. Location cards are gained by capturing towns or cities, and offer a variety of benefits such as transport, income, combat strength, or raw manpower. They are also used to 'chain' your expansion - to capture Town B, you must first play the card for Town A plus whatever transport you need to make the journey. The utility cards provide more specific functions, such as infantry combat power, deck draws, extra income, and so forth. You can also purchase a Strategy card, which provides a persistent benefit. You may only have one in play at any given time, however.
Recruiting some Cretans
Hands in the Sea may last as long as twelve turns, each consisting of multiple rounds, but can end sooner if a player plays all his Town or City tokens, captures ten points worth of enemy Town/City tokens, scores eight Prestige points (awarded for victory in battle), or hits 90 VPs. You can also auto-win by taking the enemy capital or building a 25 VP lead. Players pick up VPs during the game every turn for their conquests (orignal neutral or enemy locations) and at game end for battles won, enemy VP locations taken, enemy settlement tokens captured, and for dominating Sicily and/or Corsica/Sardinia.
Both players start with a handful of locations, most in their home territory. Each has a toehold in Sicily, and as Carthage, I was already ashore on Sardinia. I focused on rolling up Sardinia and Corsica, while over in Sicily Campo swiftly conquered Syracuse. We battled back and forth along the northern coast, drawing a couple battles. Random events hammered Carthage - you draw one every turn, rolling a die to see which power is affected, and I was nailed in eight of ten. However, the steady stream of silver and VPs flowing from Sardinia and Corsica allowed me to build up a VP lead and flesh out my deck.
For the honor of Ba'al!
Once I had a decent lead I started drilling through my deck to try to end the game (Carthage controls the pace as each pass through her deck marks a turn). Unfortunately, a particularly heinous event forced me to discard a randomly determined settlement. The chosen location was Lilybaeum, my supply source on Sicily. Campo swiftly took advantage by stationing his fleet offshore, isolating my settlements. Without supply I could neither prosecute combats nor reinforce any battles Campo initiated. Before he could make much headway, I hustled my own fleet over to reopen sea supply, and shortly thereafter I re-settled Lilybaeum to stabilize the situation.
Troublesome little island
Despite by effort to crank through my deck as quickly as possible, I actually ended the game by placing my last city token. We added up the final score and I held onto my lead for a Carthaginian win. We have a couple asterisks, however - we both misinterpreted the length of combat (four rounds), which cheated Rome of a couple victories, and we screwed up final scoring so the actual margin was two VPs rather than the ten or so we originally calculated. Had we played combat correctly I think Rome would have won. Overall the rules are pretty clear - a lot to remember but generally well explained.
We had fun pushing buttons and pulling levers to see what happened. Campo used the Reserve feature a couple times, while I banished some low-value locations to my Empire deck to shorten my turnaround. There are many great cards to draft and strong arguments for a variety of approaches. You need some heavy combat cards, but fortifications are crucial, and then there are the leaders/adminstrators that can really increase efficiency. There are some nifty Strategy cards too - I bought a very nice deck-management card right off the bat but immediately lost it to an event. However, I then scooped up a tasty naval Strategy card that boosted my seapower.
Welcome to the fold
Strategy-wise, Sicily is as crucial as it was historically but we both agree Rome has to intervene if Carthage is rampaging across Corsica/Sardinia. There are naval options as well - you can park off the enemy's coast and pillage his ports for silver and VPs. Thanks to our rules gaffe we had trouble getting much done via land combat, but I think Campo had the right idea using his Reserve to concentrate a powerful set of cards before hitting a key target.
Overall, we were very impressed. Hands in the Sea looks great, the board is easily read at a glance, and the play mats help with card organization. I highly recommend reading the companion guide which is available online if you didn't buy it with the game. We barely scratched the surface in terms of strategies and tactics, and in fact our one frustration was wanting to do so much and having the game end before we really explored the possibilities. Time will tell if an Agrigentum Hammer lurks within, but it will be fun finding out.
J. R. Tracy
Various personal issues, solar flares, and the need for atonement disrupted our schedule this month, leaving us with a pair of short-handed but still lively sessions the past two weeks.
Natus, Hawkeye, and I convened on the fourth for Pax Pamir. We all had one or two games under our belts but weren't totally familiar with it, so we approached it as a learning game to explore the possibilities. We happened to end up with all three factions represented - Hawkeye was the British, Natus the Russians, and I the plucky Afghans.
Wealth beyond measure
We slowly built our tableaux without developing much board presence until I scored a hefty Persia card. I nailed down that corner of the map and the best cards to follow were also Persian. As the resident satrap I collected hefty fees whenever anyone deployed such a card, and taxed where I could to further reduce my opponents' treasuries. I was soon bumping up against their tax shelters, a cool feature I hadn't really seen yet in play.
The first two topples passed before I could get any spies out, but soon my agents were roaming the board. We had an assassination and a bribe, and saw some military campaigning as well. My position was strong but not unassailable - my best defense was economic warfare plus the occasional preemptive campaign against neighboring states. I had to use spies to protect my own cards down the stretch. Finally another topple appeared and I had all modes covered as well as supremacy, pulling out a win for the locals.
We found the game very clean and fast playing, and managed to see a lot of the moving parts in play so it was a great refresher course. I've said it before, but while I'm partial to the grit and detail of Pax Porfiriana, I appreciate the efficient functionality of Pax Pamir's design. Looking forward to trying it again, perhaps with the expansion which should appear soon.
Graveyard of empires
On the twelfth, Scott brought over a couple Euros, one new, another an old classic. We started with Dynasties: Heirate & Herrsche, joined by Smitch and Bill. Dynasties is a area-majority(ish) title with a slew of point-scoring opportunities, set in Renaissance (?) Europe. The game is broken up into three rounds, within which players execute at least four card-driven actions. Some VPs are scored each round, but a big chunk of scoring occurs at game end, based on your presence in the four regions (England/Scotland, Spain, France, HRE).
Each card offers multiple actions, such as shipping in goods, consulting advisors, and setting up for the next turn, but most of the time you are attempting to marry off your pawns to other players. Each city has two spaces (black and white) and you play a card with the appropriate action color, pay the requisite dowry in cubes, and either complete a union with an already-placed opposing pawn, or anxiously await your suitor. On the blessed day, the 'little dowry' spouse rolls three special dice (each face represents some sort of benefit) and splits them two and one. The 'big dowry' spouse then picks either the pair or the singleton. Gifts are collected and play moves on. Each city has an additional benefit (a couple VPs, influence at court, etc) that both players enjoy upon placing a pawn.
The other actions fuel the marital campaign. Advisors grant extra actions, let you steal goods, provide non-player spouses, and other handy things; shipping actions pair you up with another player to split a merchant's cargo much as wedding gifts are divided; and 'purple' actions allow you to alter the turn order for the coming round and get first choice of the end-of-round bonuses. Amidst all this are additional scoring opportunities for having unwed candidates on the board at the end of the first two rounds, and completing secret victory conditions provided by card draw.
Slicing the pie
In practice you find yourself managing diverse and unruly currencies. Actions are primary and precious, of course. You also need the right card at the right moment, but the perfect card for your next action might also be the only one that allows another, equally vital task. Finally, the goods themselves are randomly apportioned after the initial 'one of each' allotment; gathering the precise mix you need is a difficult process. Players constantly scan the board, trying to make sense of the interactions. This isn't happening in a vacuum, either - an attentive opponent can identify your needs and goals as well, and step in front of you at just the wrong moment.
Learned men and women
In our game my initial hand let me get a leg up in France, but I struggled to get the timing right between cube draws and board action. Scott jumped ahead thanks to a boardful of bachelors and completing some secret goals. Smitch quietly stockpiled resources and Bill was knocking heads with me in France. The second round saw me solidify control of France, while battling Smitch and Scott in a three-way struggle for Britain. In the final round, Bill grabbed the Holy Roman Empire, I locked up Britain, and everyone got a slice of Spain. I was trailing the field until final scoring, when my positions in France and Britain proved enough to fly through the pack for a win, 108 to Bill and Scott at 100, and Smitch just behind at 95.
This is a deep, thinky Euro with a lot of interaction. The marriage aspect forces some cooperation and splitting the gifts is a neat little sub-game. The special actions offer ways to bypass roadblocks and keep the situation fluid until the end of the final round. Timing puzzles abound, as do scoring opportunities. The range of viable strategies generates a nice tension - I was playing the long game but grew increasingly concerned as Scott built a healthy lead. Not much to speak of in terms of theme, but it's not forced and doesn't get in the way. Overall, a solid effort.
Hawkeye joined us for a five-handed game of the Reiner Knizia classic, Fabrik der Träume ("Dream Factory"). This is an auction/set-building game set in the golden age of Hollywood. Players manage studios competing for talent as they rush to get their pictures out the door.
Players start with three screenplays, all actual classics, with slots for directors, actors, cinematographers, etc. Each script has a different talent requirement, and scripts and the talent are all rated from zero to four stars. Once a film is completed, you sum the stars for the score of the film. You get VPs for completed films, as well as for being the first film in a genre (drama/adventure/'entertainment'), plus end of game bonuses for best overall film and top title in a genre.
Talent is acquired through an auction process, where you bid for one to three randomly drawn tiles. There are also periodic 'parties', where you get to pick a tile from a randomly drawn pool of talent - whoever has the most acting starpower in their stable gets first dibs. Play proceeds through three trips around the auction track and the victor is determined.
As usual with auction games, I was utterly clueless about valuation in the early going. Smitch was more astute, jumping out in front in terms of acting talent, which he leveraged effectively by cherry picking the party pools. Scott and I were perpetual 'first losers' in the auctions, finally going head to head with our massive warchests. Sadly Scott's warchest was a tiny bit bigger than mine, so I lost that auction too. However, I was then able to lock up the (lack of) talent necessary to capture the Ed Wood Award for Worst Picture, nipping Hawkeye by a point. Smitch crushed us with 97 points. Bill took second with 52, while I balanced my Ed Wood trophy with overall Best Picture to score a shocking 50, with Scott and Hawkeye trailing behind.
Oscars and Razzies
I can see why this is considered a classic, and appreciate its clean lines. The theme is great and we had fun talking about the films and the stars and contemplating the horror of Errol Flynn headlining Casablanca. Having played it, I'm not sure I need to play it again - I can find much of what I like here in other, deeper games. However, it was a snappy hour of gaming and likely improves with experience given familiarity with appropriate auction values. Nice nightcap, and a treat for film fans.
J. R. Tracy
We had a dozen gamers for a slew of titles, including heavy euros, upcoming wargames, and a dessert tray of nightcaps.
Hawkeye sat down with Mark to playtest South Pacific, a four-turn self-contained Empire of the Sun campaign. The map focuses on New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and neighboring regions, with the campaign kicking off in late '42. Mark took Japan against Hawkeye's Allies. On the opening turn, off-map events cramped immediate plans for both sides, so they invested in their respective operations queues for the future.
Rising sun's out, guns out
1943 opened with a rendezvous between Isoruku Yamamoto and a gaggle of P-38s that did not end well for the admiral. Dugout Doug then appeared on the scene, directing the SW Pacific HQ to seize Lae, an important stepping stone toward the control of New Guinea. The sole bright spot for the Japanese was a naval victory that turned back an American landing at Woodlark Island.
Crossing the Owen Stanleys
Midyear, USN subs continued to strangle Japanese shipping, but the IJN had enough mojo to deflect an attempt to take Biak. However, Madang fell to the relentless advance of Allied forces along the north coast of New Guinea. This momentum carried over into the final turn. The success of the submarine campaign continued, Wewak fell, and a desperate Emperor intervened to force army-navy cooperation. This wasn't enough to hold back MacArthur, however, as a joint US-Australian force captured fiercely-defended Hollandia, and with it an Allied victory for Hawkeye.
Next stop Hollandia
This should be a nice little folio game for EotS fans. The full rules are in play, but South Pacific provides a compact package, a self-contained campaign, and a small footprint. Keep an eye out for it in an upcoming issue of C3i.
Scott and Jim wrapped up The Grunwald Swords, with Scott's Lithuanians returning to the fray. Jim's Teutonic Knights needed to hit a victory point total, but also had to exceed Scott's score by a ten point margin. The German counterattack hammered the Poles but was beginning to lose steam.
Looking down on the green forest
Jim hit his number just as the Lithuanians made contact, but Scott still had a turn to reply. The fresh enthusiasm of the Lithuanians combined with the pluck of the surviving Poles to pick off a few more Teutons. Several senior brothers were found among the dead, enough to boost Scott's core to within ten of Jim's, for an alliance win.
A swirling melee
Both players really enjoyed the game. As mentioned last week, the complexity is below that of the Men of Iron series, with emphasis on higher level formations and orders. The rebounding Lithuanians create an interesting side game to the main battle itself, which allows both sides opportunities to attack and defend, sometimes simultaneously. Replay value looks decent as well; a nice effort.
They followed up with Festung Europa, with Scott taking the Allies. He worked his way across Sicily and up the boot to take Rome, before turning his attention to France.
Hitting the Gustav Line
After a headfake toward Normandy, Scott slogged ashore at Calais, a little ahead of schedule with a May invasion. However, the weather proved fickle, limiting his ability to fight his way off the beachhead. The Allies are ashore, however, and ready to fight on when we return.
Renaud and Bill returned to the trenches with No Man's Land. Renaud again took the French, this time on defense. Bill opened his attack with a gas bombardment, but an unexpected shift of the wind blew the toxic cloud back toward German lines. This, along with Renaud's Hotchkiss machine guns, persuaded les Boches to reconsider, as they ducked back into their dugouts to table their offensive for another day.
A chuckle amidst the carnage
They turned next to Cyclades. Bill took an early lead by building the first two metropolises, but Renaud battled back, assisted by the Harpies and a Gorgon or two. He snagged one of Bill's metropolises with an invasion, and fended off Bill's counterattack with the aid of Polyphemus. Renaud clinched the game with Athena by his side. Appropriate sacrifices were made.
For the favor of the gods
Tim Uren dropped by in the midst of his US vacation, and was kind enough to get us up to speed with Scythe, an obscure little empire-builder struggling for exposure. He took the Nordic Kingdoms, Campoverdi was the Khan of Crimea, Smitch ran Polania, and I was Emperor of the Saxons. Each of us received a unique faction mat (with a couple special powers, plus our starting popularity, power points, combat cards, and coins). This was combined with a randomly drawn player mat that outlines available actions as well as their costs and benefits. These are also unique, with slight variations from card to card. Thus there are twenty five possible combinations, similar to the manner Small World weds races and abilities.
Gameplay is engine-building/expansion, turning on action and resource allocation, with some conflict thrown in. Your player mat is divided into four options, each with a top row and bottom row action. Top row actions grant you stuff and let you do things - Move, Bolster (gain Power or combat cards), Trade (pay cash for resources), and Produce (turn the crank on your resource engine).
Bottom row actions cost resources but upgrade your operation. Deploy gets your fighty Mechs onto the board, simultaneously revealing a new capability for your faction when you remove it from your mat. Build allows you to plunk one of your four structures on the map - a couple are just VP engines, a couple have in-game functions. Enlist moves a 'recruit' token from your play mat to your faction mat, earning a one-time bonus while at the same time revealing a goodie that you will collect every time one of your neighbors performs the corresponding bottom row action. This is akin to the Follow action in Glory to Rome, and is a nice way to fuel your engine in the midgame. Finally, Upgrade does just that - dials up your abilities a notch. This is done by removing a cube from any top row action (increasing its value) and placing on any bottom row action (reducing its cost).
Buildup to a showdown
You mark your chosen action with your pawn, a reminder that you cannot perform two actions in a row (a shout out to many games). Each player starts hemmed in in a little three-hex enclave, bounded by water. Until you get your water-walking capability or manage to tunnel across, you're stuck in your homelands. As you expand, you populate new territory with Workers that collect whatever resource a given hex offers. Your unique character piece (you plus your dæmon, lovely figures) can collect Encounters, chits that earn a draw from the Encounter deck, another way for little boosts to Power, combat cards, etc. Also, if your character reaches the Factory hex in the center of the board, you get to select a new action tile from a deck of (players plus one) cards. The worst of these are more efficient versions of something you can already do, while the best are very good indeed.
Your character and Mechs are your combat units - they just displace unsupported enemy Workers back to their homeland, though you pay a price in Popularity to do so. Combat is Dune-like - the antagonists secretly commit up to seven Power points (expended in combat) plus a combat card for each participating unit (combat cards have values from two to five). Attacker wins ties, and the defender skedaddles home.
The game ends when someone collects six Stars, awarded for various achievements such as completing all your upgrades, deploying all four of your Mechs, or for winning a combat (maximum of two stars for this one). It's an instant-end condition, with no 'once more around the table' wrap-up. Coins convert to VPs, and you also get VPs for hexes owned, resources controlled, and Stars earned. The higher your popularity, the higher your multiplier for these last three categories.
I looked at my mats and discovered as Saxony I could earn more than two Stars for winning battles. That's all I needed to know and focused on building all my Mechs, ignoring mundane concerns such as expanding my workforce. Smitch was the first to reach the Factory, collecting an action tile before I bounced him out and got one of my own. I then turned to attack Tim, sending his character and a Nordic Mech packing. Sadly that was the zenith of the glorious Saxon Empire, from which I plunged into a hellish vortex of incompetence and despair.
The gangster-thieves of Polania
Smitch was making the most of Polania's special ability of getting twice as much value from Encounters. I decided to use the Saxon mine/mountain/tunnel subway system to nip in front of him and score some Encounter tokens of my own. I beat him to several, but found my character bottled up in a corner by Smitch and Tim. Meanwhile, Tim completed all his Enlistment actions and reaped benefits the rest of the game surfing the actions of his neighbors. He plowed the proceeds back into the development of the rest of his action card.
Cornered like a wolf-rat
I tried stealing some resources from Campo, but he shored up his defenses before I could get too far. Smitch then raided my heartland and blew out my (inadequate) Worker base for no loss of popularity, thanks to a revealed Polonian ability. At that point, I was kaput. Tim and Smitch edged toward ending the game. Tim was at five but couldn't close it out; Smitch tried to make the jump from four, but needed to defeat Tim in battle for his sixth star...and lost, pushing Tim over the top. Tim's stars and board position were enough for a comfortable Nordic win at 84 points. Smitch followed with a respectable 64, while Campo and I staggered in with scores in the 30s.
The final fight
I found Scythe a really well crafted game, with lots of things to do and several approaches to take. My monostrategy was a disaster - I clearly needed to build out my production base first. However, Tim's monostrategy had knock-on benefits and laid the foundation for the rest of his game. Smitch had success with a balanced approach. I love the development path and the way the Upgrade function naturally accelerates the game. I'd heard there wasn't a lot of combat but we seemed to have plenty - particular situations definitely reward aggression. The production is beautiful, and the structure offers a lot of variability. Is it equal to the hype? Nah - that's darn near impossible, but it's still a very good game. I'd be happy to try it again.
Natus and Mitch paired up for card gaming. They opened with Android: Netrunner, with Nate running. First he ran Criminal against Mitch's Hass-Bioroid, splitting a pair of games. They then played Anarch against Jinteki, again winning one apiece.
We welcome all kinds - even pod people
They moved on to Magic: The Gathering; I don't speak Magic, so I'll let Mitch describe the games:
"Nate and I played two decks in the Modern format. Nate piloted Bant Eldrazi, a blue-white-green deck featuring oversized Cthulian-style monsters that enter the battlefield early and crush the opponent quickly. I played Grixis Delver, which is a blue-red-black deck that relies on graveyard recursion and a suite of removal and counterspells to eliminate the opponent's creatures and push through damage. We played a best-of-three match. Nate came out aggressively in both games, using his Eldrazi Temples and Caverns of Souls to power out big creatures early and protect them from my counter-magic. I fortunately was able to stabilize by playing Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, both beefy creatures which I was able to cast in part by exiling cards from my graveyard. Once stabilized, I pushed through the final damage I needed using small flyers and/or burn spells. Both games were close. If Nate had drawn one more Reality Smasher (5/5 with haste and trample) in each game, the results likely would have been different. Also, we did not sideboard after the first game, which probably hurt Nate more, since he had some cards available that would have wreaked havoc with my ability to use cards from my graveyard."
Dueling life-counter apps
After Scythe we moved on to some small stuff. First, Campo and I taught Tim and Smitch Atlantic Euchre. I've never played with less than a full complement, and found it has a very different feel with four seats. I had ridiculous cards, to the point I wrapped up the last (three point) convoy by sending Admiral Doughnuts out with Bismarck and Scharnhorst. I took the game with 20 points, with Campo coming in second with 11.
'41, North Atlantic, surface
Mark then joined us for The Resistance. Tim and I circled each other with suspicion in the early going, but Mark's stone-faced demeanor <cough> narrowed the field of actual suspects, and careful mission selection revealed Campoverdi to be a fellow traveler. There was some minor endgame drama as ill-timed Plot cards gave Mark and Campo a shot to get back in it, but we foiled their shenanigans and prevailed for the win.
Emmy Award nominee
We closed out the evening with Roll for the Galaxy, losing Mark and Campo but picking up Hawkeye and Bill. I had a Novelty home world and quickly added another, so I experimented with a shipping VP strategy. Bill built a VP engine as well, alongside a straight build strategy. The phase selections were kind to us so we pulled away from the pack; Bill closed the game with his twelfth tile, but I edged him 40-37 with the rest of the table in the low 20s.
Helping with the finer points
A great evening with a lot of variety - I hope we've convinced Tim to drop by again next time he's Stateside!
J. R. Tracy
We had twelve players this week for science fiction, retro science fiction, alt history, and a little bit of historical gaming too.
Renaud, Steve, Bill, and Mitch pulled out Onward to Venus, a Martin Wallace empire-builder with a steam-punk space exploration theme. Players play various earthly powers spreading the blessings of man throughout the solar system through constant warfare and relentless exploitation of resources.
To infinity and beyond!
The players spread out across our neighboring planets, so focused on their extraterrestrial land grab that they let things slip a bit at home. A robot uprising back on Earth rattled the game's economy before it was reined in. Back out in space, Renaud consolidated his gains to carry France to a narrow one point win over Mitch, with Bill and Steve trailing behind. I think they enjoyed the game - it looks good on the table and has substantial variability. As a Wallace fan I'm looking forward to trying it myself.
Feeding the flames
Natus, Smitch, El Rios, and Campoverdi convened for Forbidden Stars, playing Eldar, Chaos, Space Marines, and Orks respectively. They played the introductory start which takes a little time to spin up to speed. I saw some clever manipulation of the warp storms to frustrate plans and protect home systems, but Smitch's Chaos was able to edge out in front of the pack and squeak out a win.
The grim darkness of the far future
Smitch points out the basic setup is so finely balanced it channels your actions and probably yields the least interesting game of Forbidden Stars you'll ever play. It does at least lay down the fundamental understanding you'll need to build your board the next time out.
Scott and Jim took a trip down Memory Lane...to the future! They cracked open Natus, Nukes & Nazis 2, Ty Bomba's remake of the old XTR alt-(future)history title. This posits WWIII circa 1989, between Nazi Germany and her old mid-century enemies. Unlike the original, the new title throws in the Russians, and is really an entirely new game systems-wise. For some unknown reason the remake lacks a unique BGG page, though it certainly warrants one. [Edit: this has since been remedied by Scott]
New old school
Jim took the Nazis against Scott's everybody else. With the new activation system, players alternate moving or fighting with individual stacks, which are then vulnerable to attack due to reduced defense strength. This encourages careful planning and attention to your activation sequence, but it also makes for a looong game given the size of this mini-monster. After grinding through the first turn, they cut bait and moved on, with nary a mushroom cloud to be seen. It seems to lack the innate wackiness of the original, aspiring to something more serious. Unfortunately it seems to lack the fun of the original as well. It did at least encourage me to dig out my old copy, which should see action before year end.
Not available in Germany
Our intrepid duo moved on to The Grunwald Swords, Hollandspiele's title on the 1410 battle (sometimes called Tannenberg) between the Teutonic Knights and a Polish-Lithuanian alliance. The complexity is on the low side (Scott says it's reminiscent of Ancients), enough to cover the expected tactical interactions but saving some brainspace for a clever order system. Players direct their wings with order chits, but the order sets are unique and each chit is backprinted with another order. If you use Order A, then you necessarily forgo Order B on the flip side.
Formed for battle
The situation finds Scott's Polish-Lithuanians attacking Jim's Germans, who are defending the edge of a long ridge. Unfortunately for the alliance, the Lithuanians take a powder at some point only to return later, as they did historically. Here the alliance player gets to choose the timing of both the departure and the return, gaining VPs the longer he holds the Lithuanians off map, but risking the rest of his army if he waits too long.
Hitting the slopes
Scott advanced with his right and engaged the Knights, before falling back under counterattacking pressure. Casualties have been heavy but the Teutons are threatening to roll up the Poles. They still have a few turns to go, and Lithuanian banners have just appeared on the horizon. We'll see if they return in time to save the day!
A hard right hook
Last up, Hawkeye and I got in a little pre-ASLOK ASL tuneup with The Tebourba Engagement, an old At The Point title featuring Germans on the attack in 1942 Tunisia. Hawkeye had a half dozen British squads backed by some support weapons, a two-pounder anti-tank gun, and a pair of US AFVs - an M3 Lee and an M3 Gun Motor Carriage (a halftrack sporting a 75mm gun). I fielded eight 548s led by three leaders, including a 9-2, along with a pair of PzIVF2s and a pair of PzIIILs. I had seven turns to travel the length of a halfboard and exit 20 CVPs, including at least eight points of non-crew infantry. Hawkeye got a little help on turn three, when a second Lee appeared along with two more squads and a leader. The terrain both helps and hurts - orchards are olive groves by SSR, lending a +1 TEM in addition to their hindrance value, but with doubled movement cost.
Hawkeye set up with most of his forces strung along the forward edge of his setup area, about mid-board. The AFVs were nicely spaced on either side, with infantry anchoring the flanks. One stack of infantry looked suspiciously like a leader-led MMG commanding a fire lane-friendly line of sight. The ATG was nowhere to be seen. I decided to enter heavy on my right, with a reduced platoon advancing through the riverbank woods on my left. Three tanks supported my right flank while one PzIVF2 headed left to engage the unidentified AFV on that flank.
My men frolicked through the olive groves, with a couple half squads breaking from small arms fire. A low-firepower shot inflicted a normal morale check on my left-flank platoon; one squad broke, while the second passed with Hawkeye's SAN. The sniper came in hot, selecting both the unbroken squad and my leader. Hawkeye naturally popped the leader, and the squad went down on the subsequent die roll. Nice shooting, Tex! The AFV on that side revealed itself to be the Lee, bouncing multiple shells off my PzIV. The PzIV forgot its APCR, but bagged the Lee with straight AP. Hawkeye's GMC quickly evened the score, knocking out a PzIII.
The mid game saw me kill the GMC before I pierced the main British line and cracked the BB4 stone building. A smoke round took care of one squad and a leader, and a successful CC eliminated another. My infantry slipped past but not before Hawkeye's reinforcements arrived. I had three AFVs to his one, but he still had three tank-killing weapons, including both tubes on the Lee and the still-hidden two-pounder.
I spread my assets and timed my exit for one large rush, hoping Hawkeye would either miss or at least lose rate of fire. The ATG failed to follow the script, popping up in GG7 to kill a PzIII as it attempted to exit. However, it immediately malfunctioned on its subsequent ROF shot. The Lee was more polite, missing entirely. With both my PzIVs off, I needed eight points of infantry - my first couple squads went down but soaked up a lot of shots, allowing the 9-2 to scamper off with his platoon for the win.
Consoled by Campari
This is a tidy little scenario, perfect for covering a lot of ASL in a small package. The olive groves add a nice twist, and it's fun to see a couple nationalities fighting side by side. I think the outcome breaks on the initial armor engagement - if the Lee wins that first exchange, I probably lose another tank as well and am hard pressed to get the points off. Worth tracking down for an evening's play. On to Cleveland in a couple weeks!
J. R. Tracy
We had thirteen players for playtesting, real-time ASW action, and a little something from Dan VIII's collection of odds and ends.
Bill, Smitch, Jim, Manfred, Mitch, Dan VIII, and Tenno opted for real-time Captain Sonar. With the odd number, one team was short-handed, so celebrated radio operator Mitch "Sparks" Stein joined Dan and Tenno on the three-man crew. Both teams neglected to name their subs, a grievous oversight that has been forwarded to the Discipline Committee for review.
Checking the plot
As expected, this was a very different experience from last week's turn-based game. They surfaced much more often to clear damage, relying on the cover of chaos to protect them. It was interesting to see how differently the two teams operated. At one point the big team seemed almost dead in the water while the other crew banged out move after move. The small crew ultimately triumphed - I don't know if was due to better efficiency, an inherent advantage of a small team, or pure dumb luck. Fun session for all, though.
The same group followed up with Secret Hitler. I don't know how all the roles split, but Bill-as-Hitler was elected to office with the help of Chancellor Jim.
Nate sat down to teach Dave Android: Netrunner. Dave took the corporate side, using Jinteki for all seven games. Natus ran with Shaper for the first five, before switching to Anarch. Dave learned quite a bit, taking two games, and expanded our pool of potential NR players.
Meanwhile, Hawkeye introduced Rich to Up Front, with the traditional Meeting of Patrols. Hawkeye took the dogfaces against Rich's squareheads. Rich picked up on the key tactics early, as Hawkeye seemed to be perpetually under wire. They went the distance, ending in a draw after a very cagey match. Rich is sold on the game and looking for more.
Scott and I opened with a playtest of Charles Vasey's B1704, applying the W1815 system to the Battle of Blenheim. The Duke of Marlborough leads an Anglo-Allied army against the Franco-Bavarian force of the Duc de Tallard. The French and Bavarians await the Allied attack behind the Nebel (a marsh-bound stream), relying on fortified hamlets and counterpunching cavalry to withstand the assault.
Tallard's batteries speak
For those unfamiliar with W1815, each side is represented by a number of formation cards, each with its own CRT. Combat results are casualties, morale hits, or both, affecting either (and occasionally both) sides depending on the roll. The map is a schematic of the battlefield, and serves to hold the division blocks that represent the manpower of a given formation. Commanders typically have one-use special powers. Victory is attained by driving the enemy's casualty track to zero, or by breaking their morale. Morale hits reduce army morale, and casualties trigger morale checks.
Historically Marlborough demonstrated against the flanks to deny support to the French center, before launching his own assault against the heart of Tallard's line. In game terms, Colonel Cutts leads his brigade against Blenheim on the Allied left, with the possibility of 'locking' French reserves into the fight for the town. Eugene, facing Marsin and the town of Lutzingen on the right, doesn't have such a direct effect. However, if his units aren't activated at least once every three turns, Marsin can release troops to help Tallard in the center.
The Nebel ran red
Eugene and Marlborough each have an infantry and cavalry card, but must first deploy pontoons before engaging the French/Bavarian line. In the meantime, the French heavy batteries pound Allied morale as they slog across the swampy approach. Once the pontoons are down, the French batteries are overrun and Marlborough and Eugene assault Oberglau and Lutzingen respectively. When a town is taken, the relevant formation cards are flipped with the Allies becoming more effective and the French/Bavarians less so. At this point the Franco-Bavarians are usually on the ropes, but Allied morale may be wavering; can Marlborough finish off Tallard before his army loses the will to continue?
We played four games, switching sides. In our opener, Cutts failed spectacularly before Blenheim but Eugene blasted his way into Lutzingen on his first attempt and never looked back. In the second, Marlborough grabbed Oberglau and settled into a long attritional battle with the French failing morale first. In the third, Clérambault got a division over to Tallard, allowing him to last long enough to destroy the Duke's foot. The Elector of Bavaria was flattened and both sides were reeling but the Duke's cavalry carried the day, forcing the clinching rout test. The last was our sole French win - Cutts seduced both French reserve divisions into Blenheim, but the French batteries scored two morale hits in the meantime. Casualties were surprisingly light but the Allied morale steadily sank until they finally failed a test two boxes short of routing outright.
Marsin wears thin
I enjoyed B1704, and feel it reflects Blenheim to the extent possible in such a small package. We had one blowout but the other three were quite close games. The onus is on the Allies to dictate the flow, but Tallard has choices with respect to reserves and the timing of counterattacks. The typical +1 die roll bonus for a counterattack is always tempting, but the eligible formation may be just one casualty away from elimination, which might stay your hand. I like the tension once Marlborough is across the Nebel - the Gens d'Armes charge home again and again, hoping to force a fatal rout test before Tallard is swept away. A fun and satisfying little game, worthy of its ancestor.
The Allies lose their mojo
We followed up with the short Kashmir scenario from Next War: India-Pakistan, using the basic rules. Scott was Pakistan, trying to wrest Kashmir away from my Indians, aided by Chinese airmobile forces. The system is a highly polished expression of classic wargaming ideas - sticky (but not locking) zones of control, odds based combat, troop quality, reserve and exploitation movement, and so on. The sequence of play varies depending on initiative - if one side has the upper hand, the pace really picks up, with a given unit potentially moving and fighting three times in a single turn.
Unit class is very important in the Next War system, interacting with terrain for both movement and combat. Perched on the western slopes of the Himalayas, the scenario's battle area has a broad range of terrain, mostly suited to mountain troops and light infantry. There are a couple valleys in which armor can can get its war on, including the Vale of Kashmir. Air support in the basic game is straightforward, with attack helicopters and fast movers providing die roll modifiers, though only after surviving anti-air defenses. Both sides have airmobile infantry, very useful but again subject to anti-air.
On top of the world
In this scenario both sides collect VPs for eliminating enemy units, but the bulk of the scoring is for terrain objectives - five hexes worth five VPs each to whoever holds them at the end of the four turn game. My troops started near the borders, with three of the five rear-area objectives unprotected. Scott opened by attempting a coup de main against vacant Anantnag with a pair of PRC airmobile brigades. He had an 80% chance of success, but my ever-vigilant air defense forces sent the Chinese packing. The rest of his forces rolled up to my border outposts and proceeded to bash their way into the disputed province.
I garrisoned all the objectives at my first opportunity, and moved to reinforce the borders. I relied on my frontier outposts to slow the assault on Baramula, leaving my best unit to defend the city itself, protected by high mountains and a stream. In the north, Scott pieced together a large multi-hex attack against the mountain division facing Taobat, inflicting casualties but failing to dislodge the defenders. I reinforced, and a second attack saw a similar result. He abandoned that front and threw everything into the Baramula operation.
The Chinese lend a hand
The Baramula fight was a grind, as I traded bodies for time. Scott had the initiative for the first two turns, but it shifted over to me at the end. He needed to crack my line quickly, and called for a Chinese air assault to cut my retreat paths. The Hips got through this time, but my mountain troops held on. With just one turn to go and initiative flipping to me, we saw no chance for a breakthrough and called it.
This is a tidy little scenario, limited in options as you'd expect for its size, but well suited to teaching the system. I liked the dynamic turn sequence and the unit class distinctions. The use of supporting assets is clean but the air defense component feels a little elaborate. Still, it's quite a jump to the involved air and detection systems of the advanced game. We'll save those for another day, but I think the appeal is strong and we will return to this. All three titles hold interest but I reckon we'll stick with India-Pakistan for the time being.
Noted authority on mountain warfare
Dan VIII reached into his bag of tricks for a suitable nightcap and emerged with Junk Art. This is a dexterity/stacking game similar to Bausack/Sac Noir. The basic stacking game is shaped by card play; City cards set the victory conditions for the current game, and Junk Art cards determine what kind of pieces you place next. Depending on the city, you might need the tallest structure, the most pieces, or simply be the last player standing. Tenno proved to have the steadiest hand, graciously accepting the Junk Art crown to close out the evening.
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