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Fun City Gaming

This is a weekly report of our Tuesday night gaming sessions in Chelsea (Manhattan).

Archive for J. R. Tracy

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AAR 17 May 2016 - T.I.M.E. Stories, Jerusalem, Star Wars: Rebellion, Roma, FUSE

J. R. Tracy
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We had a dozen gamers last week for some new and old choices.

Bill and Stéphane sought to stamp out the insurgents Mark and Smitch in Star Wars: Rebellion, in what proved to be a fun-filled comedy of errors.

"Stop pointing at the base"

I knew something was up when I stopped by to hear Smitch say, "We're in trouble - we tried to move the base but missed the roll." It sounded odd but I was distracted and failed to put my finger on it - the "resolve" versus "attempt" confusion had claimed yet another victim. The Empire also benefited by claiming full production from subjugated systems. Still, it was a close game, with no complaints from the doomed rebels. We have yet to play it two-handed as there is always enough demand for a four-seat game.

Big game hunting

Dutch and Hawkeye returned to Jerusalem from last week. Dutch's Israelis continued to kick ass but the Arab Legion finally appeared. However, they failed to break through, and Dutch was able to seal the board edge where the remainder were due to enter. Unlike other games that allow reinforcements to enter in the nearest open hex, Jerusalem offers no such recourse. With no hope of recovering the situation, Hawkeye conceded. Interesting game, but unlikely to re-emerge from storage any time soon.

Airtight

Maynard paired up with his buddy Greg for a Roma marathon. Greg is a Tigris & Euphrates shark but Maynard turned the tables with Roma, as their best of three series evolved into best of five, and finally best of seven. Maynard took the match, and will move on to Arena: Roma II once we dig it out of the pile.

You say Mercaytor, I say Mercahtor

Dan VIII rolled in with T.I.M.E Stories, so Manfred, Drew, and I joined him for a little time-travelling detective work. The game is a mystery box co-op, reminiscent of Mansions of Madness but with a flowchart-type system guiding the narrative instead of an active player opposing the team. Players climb into the Wayback Machine to time-jump into the past and right a wrong or repair an anomaly. Players inhabit 'receptacles', contemporaries of the target event, and follow a trail of clues to solve the mystery. They are under time pressure but get several cracks at the problem, and the team is graded on how long/how many tries it takes to set things right.

Puzzling

I can't go into much detail of our game without spoiling the plot for potential players, but we had a great time struggling through a difficult case involving an asylum in the 1920s. We encountered a couple clever, challenging puzzles, and made some wrong turns along the way. We doggedly pursued one path that proved to be a particularly frustrating red herring, but a sense of humor helped soften the blow. We finally solved the case on our third trip, but our evaluation was harsh - we've been reassigned to the kitchen staff and are lucky to still have jobs at all.

About as good as it looks

Everyone enjoyed the game, which should appeal to puzzle-solvers and fans of immersive co-ops. We finished in about four hours but from the forums it looks like some groups are taking a lot longer. Each case is a one-shot deal - once solved there is no point in replaying it. However, there are a few cases in print and more to come, and I look forward to checking them out.

We wrapped up with a couple games of FUSE, another cooperative, this one a real time dice game with a (very loose) bomb-defusing theme. Players take turns blindly drawing dice from a bag and rolling - you draw a number of dice equal to the number of players. Each player grabs one die and assigns it to one of their 'bombs', which are cards with unique dice combos of different colors and numbers. The bag is passed, more dice are rolled, and so on. Once a combo is filled, that bomb is defused and the player draws a new one. The trick is you are playing against the clock, some of the bombs kill your dice when drawn, and you are at risk if you grab a die you can't use.

Easy does it

We got smoked in our first game, losing by a mile. Our second was a nailbiter, but we closed it out literally at the last second. The time pressure is great, and the co-op nature is undermined by the fact you are all grabbing for a common resource. Taking a little time to efficiently assign the dice helps, but the clock is ticking. Very light, but a great nightcap.
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Thu May 26, 2016 1:08 pm
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AAR 20 May 2016 - Franco-Prussian War 40, Fleets 2025: East China Sea

J. R. Tracy
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Scott and I got together for a rare Saturday gaming session, banging out a couple VPG titles over the course of the morning and early afternoon.

We opened with Joe Miranda’s Franco-Prussian War 40, #1 in the von Clausewitz series. As you might expect from the title, friction plays a role, but otherwise it’s a pretty conventional igo/ugo army level slugfest, with locking zones of control and mandatory combat, spiced up with hidden units (including dummies) and a bit of cardplay.

The Kartätschenprinz grows impatient

Friction makes itself felt in the form of Friction Points (FPs). FPs are the price of bad outcomes or doing anything out of the ordinary – suffering a Rout result, making an indecisive attack, drawing extra cards, etc. When you generate an FP, you hand it to your opponent and he can expend it to make your life miserable, such as by forcing a reroll of a combat result, reducing the movement allowance of a given unit, forcing a CRT reroll, reducing the combat strength of a unit, making you reroll a die, denying a card draw, or occasionally, if the situation warrants, compelling you to roll again on a crucial combat. Expending an FP doesn’t automatically work, however – you have a 50% chance of success, and the possibility of retaining the FP or kicking it over to your opponent.

Skirting Metz

Cards generally boost your abilities a touch, though usually at the cost of one or two FPs. Some are mandatory events reflecting some historical incident with negative consequences. Most cards can also be used to generate replacement points to recover eliminated units. They may also be used to fuel Reaction moves – in between your opponent’s movement and combat phases, you have the option of moving Reserve (unengaged) units one hex into an enemy zone of control. You can move one such unit per card discarded. This is a handy way to boost the defense of a particular hex or, given mandatory combat, force him to attack at unfavorable odds.

There are a couple ways to win. The Prussians win if they control eleven or more points of objectives (Paris is worth ten, most other cities are worth one, with a couple three pointers), and the French win if they hold the Prussians to five points or less. You can also win by driving your opponent’s morale to zero, via eliminating enemy units, capturing supply depots, and inflicting routs. Your own morale gets a boost when you kill an enemy unit, and some cards affect morale as well.

Avanti Garibaldi!

In our game, I took the Prussians and struggled to penetrate the frontier. Between the terrain and ineffective attacks, Scott held me at bay well into September. However, I finally managed to kill a couple big units, and cracked the river line. I rolled up Metz, Verdun, and Sedan, and advanced on Paris on either side of the Marne. The Empire didn’t survive the fall of Metz, but the Republic didn’t fare much better. My biggest worry was a concentration of French troops around Dijon on my left flank. I finally dispatched a couple armies to clear up that corner of the map, while Garibaldi’s attempt to liberate Strasbourg ended in tears. The Republic’s last gasp effort to relieve Paris generated a decisive battle south of Amiens; the resulting losses pegged out French morale for a Prussian victory.

Encounter on the Catalaunian Plains

We had fun but found a couple game elements mildly irritating and play balance potentially troubling. The Friction Point concept is interesting in principle but we found that using them for rerolls dominated all other options. I can see possibly using one to slow a unit in the closing turns of a very close game, but beyond that, nothing matches the potential return of a reroll. The rerolls in turn can make combat tedious, particularly if both sides have FPs to spend. You roll, I don’t like your result, I spend an FP, I roll to see if the FP is effective, you then re-roll, you don’t like the result, you spend an FP to roll again, etc. We finally resorted to bidding FPs for a reroll, which was a little more interesting and a heck of a lot faster. The lack of significant supply constraints was curious as well – the only effect of being out of supply is that a unit that dies in such a state can’t be bought back with replacement points. As a result I could maintain a concentrated juggernaut that rolled over all resistance once I was over the frontier, without much need to protect my LoC. Dijon was more a threat to my OCD than to Prussian prospects. This leads into our balance concerns – the frontier battles went about as well as we could expect for the French, but I never broke a sweat. The French have the single best unit in the game (the Army of the Rhine), but on the whole Prussian armies are better and after I killed the big guy Scott couldn’t marshal a decent threat.

Closing in

There are several elements we enjoyed – the cards are interesting, the hidden units are a nice touch, and fortresses are handled in a simple flavorful way (no ZOCs into or out of a fortress – everyone turns into Bazaine once inside the walls). The Reaction option forces careful planning on attack and defense. I think the FP system needs some tweaking, but the potential is worth exploring. In sum, I'm unlikely to play it again soon - we're still looking for a good game on the topic. However, it might be worth a look if you have a strong interest in the conflict and an appetite for some homebrew fixes.

We followed up with Fleets 2025: East China Sea, a game on a hypothetical Sino-US conflict over the fate of Taiwan. Each side has surface, subsurface, and air units, rated for combat power, movement, and range. Some units are particularly effective against enemy air (air superiority fighters, some guided missile destroyers). Units are in ‘stealth mode’ (distinguished only by type) until detected, so fog of war plays a role.

The imperialists approach

This game is all about asymmetry, starting with the sequence of play. The Chinese player moves all his units first, followed by the US. Both players then conduct an ‘Action Phase’, starting with the US. He can search (playing a card and attempting to detect units in stealth mode) and then must play a card either for its effect or as orders. Card effects include land-based missile strikes, damage control, and so on. Orders are the heart of the game, however. Cards have order values from two to four or so – each order allows the activation of all units of a single type in a single hex (stacking is three air/two surface/one sub). Ordered units move and then attack before the next order is executed. Combat is roll to hit/roll to save, hitting on 4+ and saving on 5+. If more saves are rolled than hits, the attacker may suffer some blowback. After the US completes his Action Phase, the Chinese player replies, and both sides then rebase their air.

Air units are eliminated by a single hit while subs and surface units are eliminated by two hits. Eliminated units are placed on the bottom of the Political Will track – each row of the Chinese Will track has three boxes, while the US track has two per. If the casualties reach a given side’s Political Will level, that side loses. Will can also be affected by card play and game conditions, such as who dominates the sea around Taiwan.

Besides orders and text effects, cards (drawn from a common deck) are also used for detection and for boosting combat power – each has an image of blue and red dice, which may be applied by the US and Chinese players respectively to a given detection attempt or battle. It looks like the Chinese typically get more bonus dice this way, but we didn’t do a thorough survey. The text effects are often unique to one side or the other – the US gets some sweet damage control cards while the Chinese gets to conduct Will-boosting Special Forces raids on Taiwan.

COMPACFLT Muldoon

With a very short suggested playing time, we decided to go for the whole enchilada and played the biggest scenario in the game, using the entire counterset. I took the Chinese, and got a couple carriers, several subs, a host of other surface ships, and a healthy land-based air component. Scott got three carriers of his own and a similar collection of supporting forces. He had a larger hand size, while my Will started out slightly higher. If I had more units within two hexes of Taiwan, *and* more cards at the end of a turn, the US Will decayed. I decided to set up close to the renegade state, with my carriers in the lee of the island away from US firepower, and awaited the onslaught.

Scott opened with his fancy-pants stealth cruisers, launching strikes from four and five hexes away – this was a bit unfair as my longest-range unit could only hit out to three hexes. However, I somehow managed to roll more saves with fewer dice than Scott managed hits. As more US ships came into range, I started to suffer some losses, but my mastery of the save roll provoked a lot of muttering in USN CICs. I retaliated with powerful long range land-based missiles, damaging a CGX and its destroyer escort. Scott patched them up with a timely damage control card, but a second strike again crippled the pair. He then pulled them out of range, so I had to nuke them from orbit – it was the only way to be sure.

Chinese losses outpaced those of the US, but due to the Will track asymmetry and the initial values, Scott was in worse shape overall. He carefully managed his card use to make sure he always had as many as me, but a couple times I played events that forced him to discard, good for a couple points of Will damage. Scott felt he had to force the issue and rushed the bulk of his forces toward Taiwan. However, I used my subs to jam up the straits around Japan, channeling his approach and forcing a more piecemeal attack than he intended. Though he inflicted heavy losses, the turn sequence now worked in my favor – my air units were able to hit his surface ships without fear of retaliation, rebasing before he could strike in return. In two turns of furious action just off Taiwan, the US Political Will threshold was broached, for a PRC victory.

Final blows

This was a very enjoyable, fast paced game. I think the US side is very tricky – better units in every way and a turn sequence that (usually) favors them, but facing a tough task given the sheer number of Chinese steps and their stubborn Political Will. We’re guessing they need a careful coordination of assets, with the US air covering the surface combatants as they engage the Chinese from standoff range. The Chinese advantages include the Will track and the card bonuses, but I think they will suffer mightily if they have to take the fight to the Americans. Fortunately the game plays so quickly you can examine several options in a single session. We learned and played the biggest scenario in 90 minutes – I’d say we’d easily finish in under an hour next time out. There are also three smaller scenarios to explore. Definitely recommended as a light alternative for modern naval combat fans struggling to get the Fleet Series series to the table.
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Wed May 25, 2016 12:54 pm
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AAR 10 May 2016 - Millennium Blades, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Jerusalem, Magic: The Gathering

J. R. Tracy
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New York
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With a mellow crew of nine we went deep into the vault for an old classic alongside a ton of cardgaming.

Hawkeye and Dutch broke out John Hill's Jerusalem (SDC edition) with Hawkeye taking the Arabs to Dutch's Israelis. Dutch hammered a few convoys into Jerusalem itself, successfully reinforcing the city, but the Stern Gang departed the playing field thanks to sloppy bombcraft.

Birth of a nation

With his highway defense compromised, Hawkeye found himself fighting in several isolated pockets, and the Mad Bomber wasn't much help (but at least he didn't blow himself up). Glubb Pasha's Arab Legion is waiting in the wings, but it remains to be seen whether it will arrive in time to save Hawkeye's position.

The Holy City

Mitch and Herr Fuchs opened the evening by teaming up against Baron Blade in Sentinels of the Multiverse. After making short work of the Baron, they tried an ambitious cube draft game of Magic: The Gathering. They both built decks with life preservation in mind, and did too good of a job - after a long stretch of play their life points continued to escalate, so they just called it a friendly draw by evening's end.

Gleaming the cube

Smitch hauled down Millennium Blades and broke it open with GorGor, Jim, Campoverdi, and myself. This is a self-described "CCG Simulator", a card game about card gaming. Players build decks for the fictional CCG "Millennium Blades" and compete in tournaments. Players progress from the Regionals, to the Nationals, and on to the World Championship.

Let's do the Time Walk again

Each tournament is preceded by a card buying and trading segment, which itself consists of three rounds. These are timed segments of seven, seven, and six minutes. Players begin with a nine-card 'starter deck' of a particular theme, and get an additional six cards dealt off a giant deck of commons and boosters before the insanity begins. The cards are distinguished by Element and Type (there are six kinds of each) and have a star rating that is used for a variety of functions including dueling. Most also have an effect that may be automatic, a reaction, or something you can trigger during play. The Card Store is then populated by core system cards and boosters - these are face down but you have some information about what they might be. Core cards are evenly distributed across Element and Type (I think) but the boosters are skewed toward particular flavors and the card back displays that booster's distribution.

Unwanted cards may be sold into the Aftermarket for their star rating - this is necessary to raise cash and since these cards are placed face up, it's a good place to do some selective shopping. You collect your proceeds from the bank, so the sale is automatic. However, you may only have four cards in the Aftermarket at any one time (you mark yours with chits) and the Aftermarket itself doesn't have enough slots for everyone to have four cards for sale at once - these little constraints can make themselves felt at the most annoying times.

Market madness

The last source of cards are the Promos - these are Bronze, Silver, and Gold, and are obtained by trading in five, seven, or nine cards respectively (but no cash is involved). These are high-powered cards, but are purchased sight unseen (other than their metal-level) so they might not fit your scheme. Cards may also of course be traded, but this is regulated - the total star values of the traded cards must match, with any shortcoming made up for in cash.

You buy and trade with two goals - first of course is deckbuilding for the upcoming tournament. This requires a deck of eight cards, of which six will be played (usually), plus a 'box' and up to two 'accessories' which boost your deck performance in various ways. The second goal is to build a Collection, which is a set that matches across either a single Element or Type, but composed of unique star values. Collections are cashed in for victory points before the tournament, so they don't actually see play. Your market actions are slightly schizophrenic, as you evaluate cards for their play potential versus their collection potential, constantly reassessing your current plan against whatever fresh temptation your latest acquisition presents.

Campo's critters

The tournament is a fully realized game in itself. Players take turns playing cards, implementing effects and tapping flipping cards as necessary, until everyone has played their full potential (some cards allow extra plays). Tournament scores are tallied and victory points awarded based on how you place. These tournament-derived VPs increase substantially from the first through the third event, but Collection VPs do not, a nuance that didn't fully register with me.

My initial deck was Chateau Helbane, with a Dark Element focus that lent itself to a card-flipping VP engine. I scored a ton of points if I could flip my own cards (not a given) and a few more if those of my opponents were flipped as well. I enhanced it as best I could through additional purchases, and built out a seven card Collection. I won the tournament, and with the Collection bump I had a narrow lead overall. For the second event, I left my deck pretty much alone, switching up my accessories instead, and again had a seven card Collection. However, GorGor and Smitch each built screaming VP machines and beat me handily, with Campo and Jim following behind. I tried to mix things up for the final tournament, but without much success - I did include a card that specifically targeted GorGor's main VP generator, however. I had another seven card Collection, but finished a disappointing fourth in a very tight tournament - we were spread 191-180 first through fourth place. That eleven point spread translated into a 24 point VP differential, and GorGor won overall with 115 to 102 for Smitch, while I was middle of the pack with 87.

GorGor's juggernaut

I found Millennium Blades engrossing if a touch long. There's no real difference between the three event segments, and by the end the deck-building element lost its luster. The tournaments remained a lot of fun though. I thought the interaction was very strong - we rarely traded but the Card Store and the Aftermarket were shark tanks. The tournament themselves were great - as I mentioned, I bought a card that clipped GorGor while my opponents picked up accessories that blunted my mad card-flipping skilz. The presentation is very nice, with attractive cards and intelligently-constructed play aids. It's still a sprawling, messy beast since everyone is grabbing and tossing cards and money simultaneously. I'm not a big CCG guy so the in-jokes were largely lost on me, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. Overall I'm glad I tried it, and would play it again. I'm unlikely to buy it myself as the theme doesn't grab me, but if you're a fan of the subject, check it out.
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Fri May 20, 2016 1:25 pm
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AAR 3 May 2016 - Race to Berlin, Pericles, Triumph & Tragedy, 1989, Desert War/Up Front, Warriors of God

J. R. Tracy
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We had eleven players for more playtesting, a new title, and some old favorites.

Mark ran another Pericles playtest, joining Drew in the Spartan camp against Campoverdi and Smitch as Athens. This time Athens steadily built a Scotch-fueled lead, working not just the Aegean but also the western Mediterranean coast. An Aristophanes (random event) card introduced the War/Peace issue into the Spartan assembly in the late game, giving Athens a chance to win if peace broke out and they maintained the lead. Campo had the personal lead and control of Athens, so stood to win outright.

Campo adjusts the Honor track

After the Assembly phase peace was indeed at hand, meaning the game would end that turn. Smitch donned protective eyewear, grabbed a sledgehammer, and invoked Extreme Playtest Mode. His mission was to find a way to sabotage Athens' war effort to a degree that Campo (as leader of the city) would suffer more than himself, but not so much that Sparta would actually pass them in combined Honor (VPs). It required precise play and a delicate balancing act, but he lacked precision tools and wasn't in a particularly delicate mood. He overdid it a touch, allowing Mark and Drew to edge into the lead by turn end, for a Spartan victory and an individual win for Drew. It was a good stress test for the game structure, prompting Mark to cook up a few tweaks for the next iteration.

Athens undermines the Isthmus

Scott and I paired up for Race to Berlin, from Leonardo Games. The high production values remind me of 1944: Race to the Rhine, but unlike RttR's frenemy-fest, RtB is explicitly confrontational. Akin to the SPI classic Battle for Germany, one player runs the Western Allies, the other the Soviets, and each controls the Germans opposing his counterpart. The timing isn't specific but play opens with what appear to be early '45 start lines. The game is just three turns long, but each turn consists of many activations so it's not as short as it sounds. Various areas within the Reich are worth VPs, but the real prize is Berlin. If you control the capital at game end, you win, otherwise VPs determine the winner.

The map is sliced up into areas, with rivers and other terrain illustrated by icons. The combat units are notional, with unique names but no factors. The driving elements are the logistics blocks. Each side has eight of these, two of each value from two to five. The value indicates the number of action cubes the block provides, and the strength it contributes to any combat it supports. At the beginning of each turn, players take turns placing single log blocks with their formations, either their own troops or the Germans facing their opponent. The values are concealed from the opponent when placed.

Red tide

After all the blocks are placed, the action phase begins. Players take turns performing single actions, either moving a unit, making an attack, or removing a logistics block. A movement action (which does not consume an action cube) allows you to move some or all the contents of one area to an adjacent area. You may have up to three combat units but only one log block per area, and log blocks must always be accompanied by a combat unit. These last two constraints can really cramp your style, with traffic management becoming an issue as your forces advance.

To attack, the player designates an area with a logistics block and commits either one or two action cubes. If the defender has an unexhausted log block in the target area, he must commit a cube to defense; if not, and he has an unexhausted block in an adjacent area, he may use that to support the defense (exception: an area with an exhausted log block may not be supported from adjacent areas). If this is the first use of a logistics block, its value is now revealed. The attacker's combat strength is the value of his log block (doubled if he committed two cubes), while the defender value is his own log block (if he used one) or one if he has a defending unit, plus any contribution of terrain or fortifications. Both sides also have Special Action tokens they can commit to help out. Finally, each player rolls 2D6 and adds the difference (Snuggle of Empires-style) to their combat value. If the attacker wins, the defender must retreat. Major fortifications cancel the retreat requirement (but are reduced as a result), and there is a 'Counterattack' Special Token that allows you to cancel a retreat if your logistics block can commit another cube. German units have step losses and decrement if they lose a combat, but Allied units simply retreat if they lose on defense or just stay in place in a failed attack. Units are only eliminated if they cannot retreat, or in the case of Germans, if they lose their last step.

Ike looks for answers

As you might expect, the Soviets and the Wallies do most of the attacking, but the Germans can attack too. They must commit two cubes to do so, but it's a useful way to blunt an impending assault or threaten lines of communication. A successful German attack on a supply source doesn't actually capture the area, but does permanently remove an action cube from the opponent's pool.

The last action, removing a logistics block from the board, is really an administrative chore necessary to maintain offensive momentum. You place action cubes on the logistics blocks as you attack and defend, but your log block 'capacity' exceeds your action cube supply. Pulling off an exhausted log block (one with cubes equal to its value) frees up the cubes for use elsewhere. Also, a few Bad Things remove cubes from your pool (failed defense of a supply source, failure to maintain a front line on defense, German occupation of your supply source) and if you don't have enough available, you immediately lose the game. Also, since you can't have more than one log block in an area, you may need to lift one that's tapped out so a fresh block can move up and keep things rolling.

The Four Fingers of Death

Another feature worth mentioning is the front line delineation. As areas change hands, players use front line markers (long wooden blocks) to mark the advancing (or receding) front. The supply of markers is limited, however, and if you don't have enough to cover the new frontage, you can't advance (or suffer a cube loss if it's the result of a retreat). It's an abstract way to control gamey play, but works thematically and looks great on the map.

In our game, I took the Reds to Scott's Western Allies. My game plan is written right on the box: Race to Berlin. I put my big blocks near the Baltic and three smaller blocks on the Westwall to slow down Monty and friends. Scott, however, had a more complex setup and options. The Wallies are coming up from Italy and east from France, and he had to apportion his logistics blocks accordingly. He decided on a hard push out of Italy as well as an attack along the Rhine, but also sent a couple blocks to Poland to face my numberless hordes.

Patton closes in

I got off to a smoking start and reached the Oder in no time, while Scott bounced an attack across the Rhine before he really got moving. Fifth and Eighth Armies made short work of Smiling Albert, however, and I had to shift some Germans south to stymie the advance toward Austria. My Germans were stretched thin but the broad front may have cost Scott a shot at Berlin. He wasn't helped by his terrible dice - I think he drew or outright lost six attacks to maybe one draw for my own. By the end of the second turn, I controlled the approaches to the capital, so it would be a matter of whether he could keep me out while grabbing enough secondary objectives to win. Unfortunately for the West, I was able to bulldoze my way to the Reichstag and victory - I just had too much firepower on Hitler's doorstep.

We both liked the basic bones of the game, but the runaway Soviet win gave us pause. I think I just had the easier side to play - not much subtlety in my planning. The West has a harder task striking a balance between offensive action and commitment to defending the east; this probably means starving the Italian front. That, plus something approaching average luck, would have made for a much closer game, I think. I love the logistic block concept, which is reminiscent of Wallyburg's excellent orders construct. I think it does a good job of forcing a big picture approach to the game, appropriate to where the player sits in the command tree. However, the fact you're distributing resources to both German and Allied units from the same pool weakens the sim element. I'm capable of impressive mental gymnastics to rationalize game mechanics in real-world terms, but I just gave up on this one. That aside, it does make for challenging play decisions. I'd like to see it applied to a straight-up fight like the Kharkov battles, and Scott suggested it might work well for Kursk.

Bunker-busting

Physically, it's a lovely package - subdued but evocative map, nice unit counters, and simple, attractive wooden bits. The front markers are fun and functional. There are some missed ergonomic opportunities - the Special Action tokens could have a 'spent' side and the fortification tokens ought to have their reduced value on the back, but these are just quibbles. The rules are great, with only the very special case of Berlin causing any confusion (the city functions as a unique multi-area region). Overall, an impressive effort.

Next to us, Dave and Maynard managed two games of 1989: Dawn of Freedom. They usually spend the evening in a ten-turn slugfest, but these were both early or midgame knockouts. In the first, Maynard's democrats rolled to a concession win when Dave just couldn't see a way to dig himself out of a hole. They reset, and the momentum flipped - Dave managed a shocking turn four win thanks to efficient play of very good hands, including a well-timed Honecker that helped put him over the top.

Demagogue and democrat

Jon Bays was in town, and joined Dutch and Bill for Triumph & Tragedy. Jon took the Soviets, Dutch the Axis, and Bill the West. Bill fell behind the mobilization curve as Dutch ramped up for an early drive westward. France fell quickly and the Germans stormed into a weakly-held Scotland. Bill stripped London to reinforce Glasgow, leaving the capital vulnerable, but they rolled that back to allow Bill to offer a more judicious defense. Nevertheless, the Germans held their beachhead and ultimately took the rest of Britain for the win.

Scotland under attack (while Uncle Joe overlooks an opportunity in France)

Bill headed out, so Dutch pulled out Warriors of God for a teaching game with Jon. They only got through three turns, but I think Jon now has a new title to try out when he returns to Boston.

Getting their WoG on

Last up, Scott and I rounded out the evening with a Desert War scenario from Up Front. We decided on The Infantry's Iron Fist, with Scott's Tommies on the attack against my Italians. I distributed my whopping eighteen men with six on the left, eight in the center, and four on my right. Scott sent his Carrier against my lefthand group, had a good fire group in the center, and Sergeant Vasey led a five man group against my right.

You'll wish you had those Rally cards later

Once Scott closed the range a bit I had very good luck with low-power fire cards, but my men began melting under the heat of British marksmanship. I suffered a very bad stretch and was soon at seven casualties, and my cap was eight! At this point I hit a good run of Rally cards, however, and stemmed the bloodletting. My gain was Scott's loss - he always had one or two men pinned to frustrate his advance, and I managed to double-break young Vasey (mentioned in dispatches) before he could patch up his maneuver group.

The Desert Rats advance

We entered the final deck with the British maneuver group down to three men and therefore unable to advance to victory. However, I was just a casualty away from surrender so Scott focused on a knockout. Timely Concealment cards forced Scott to abort a couple attacks rather than speed the deck depletion. I in turn was stymied by the Italian special rule requiring an extra firepower point to use a card - several times I fell just short of raking Scott's fire base. With only a few cards left, Scott tried one last attack against a group with two pinned men - fortunately a -2 Concealment blunted the blow, and I survived to draw out the deck for the win. Great fun, and Scott's new card set was pretty nifty too.

Nearly most sincerely dead
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Fri May 13, 2016 1:42 pm
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AAR 26 April 2016 - Pericles, Virgin Queen, Labyrinth

J. R. Tracy
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We had twelve players last week to wrap up our Renaissance adventure as well as get in another playtest and some more contemporary action.

Scott and Dave paired up for Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?, with Dave taking the US against Scott's shadowy threat. It was a pretty conventional game at first, with Scott working to tie up Dave's resources with multiple brushfires while spreading his tendrils across Central Asia. However, things turned weird in the second half, as both players were pinned at the bottom of their tracks, Funding for Scott and Prestige for Dave. This stunted the activity pace as both tried desperately to get off the floor. As it happened, both popped up at about the same time, but Scott was a step ahead. The last deck was down to a sliver when Scott finally got six resources under Islamist rule, including Libya and Algeria/Tunisia for the win. Long, tough, and very interesting game.

Yemeni jihad

The action in Virgin Queen grew very tense with several players closing in on the 25 VP mark. In the East, the Ottomans licked their wounds on land as they rebuilt their armies. They held their own at sea, however, seeing off a fleet of predatory Venetians serving the whims of their Spanish master. The failure of the Venetians allowed Sultan Hawkeye to defend Istanbul from the approaching Holy Romans. Stymied in Asia Minor, Emperor Mitch tried his hand against erstwhile ally Spain, but with only limited success.

Uluç Ali Reis enjoys some well-earned down time

In the West, France sent Le Testu (last year's hero) around the globe, but he ended up as an entree somewhere in New Guinea. Sir Francis Drake had better luck, circumnavigating for the greater glory of his beloved queen. Betty needed some good news, as she was fending off Spanish intrigue and counter-Reformation while the Armada made landfall in Ireland.

Spain throws a little shade England's way

The real story was Stéphane's Protestants, however - they made gains on the military, religious, and nuptial fronts, and even picked up a couple points for piracy! Spain and France tried to reel them in, but Stéphane had a deep hand and the last move, and was able to hang onto a tie for the lead as turn five drew to a close. With the tiebreaker in hand (the Protestants had the lead last turn), Stéphane squeaked out a win over his co-leader Smitch with France; first-timer Mitch finished an impressive third with the Holy Roman Empire. This was a particularly sweet victory for Stéphane, who was on the wrong end of the tiebreaker last year when Campoverdi took the crown. Another great session of a reliably exciting game, always fun to watch.

Theater of decision

Mark led another playtest of Pericles with Natus and Roberto "Il Duca" Setola taking Sparta against Mark and me as Athens. Sparta ran wild over the first couple of turns, trampling us in Corinth and challenging for control of Naupacta and Aetolia. We were still ostensibly at peace, but that just prevents direct Athenian/Spartan confrontation - we could still attack our opponents' allies, and of course the allies themselves could square off. With Sparta far in the lead, they would win at the end of turn three if peace still held, so Mark and I had no choice but to go to war.

Agiad Agonistes

Athens surged into the lead on turn three, taking Boeotia and grabbing control of most of the Aegean. We continued to battle over Naupactus and Aetolia, extending our lead on turn four. Turn five saw Sparta narrow the gap, however, finally wresting control of Naupactus. Our efforts to bring peace to the table failed in the face of Spartan intransigence (both sides must opt for peace for it to occur) so matters would be resolved one way or another on the final turn.

Boeotia in the balance

Honor (victory points) for area control isn't resolved until game end, so Natus and Il Duca saw an opportunity in our thinly-held Aegean territories. They sent allies to coax several islands to their cause and we were forced to respond. We foolishly stripped Boeotia of its protective fleets, only to see a mass of Spartan hoplites rumble across the Isthmus to challenge our grip. This was to be the decisive battle of the conflict - we threw as much as we could into the fight to drain Spartan resources, but the outcome of the land battle was preordained. Without triremes to protect our bases, we couldn't even contest the region and suffered a fifteen point Honor swing. We countered elsewhere, contesting Spartan holdings where we could reach them. The turn ended and we toted up the score - Spartan won with 148 to 142 for Athens. Il Duca and I were tied for the individual lead at 75 each, but Sparta's overall victory gave him the tiebreaker.

Alcibiades on walkabout

Mark made several adjustments after last week's session and as a result this felt like a much more finished product. I was impressed by the resilience of the two cities - we thought it was well out of reach for Athens early on, and Sparta looked buried in the mid-game, but we ended with a very close final score. Some political choices still feel too obvious but Mark has plans to fix that; the warfare element is working much better but I think we'll see some streamlining there as well. The new graphics package, courtesy of David Dockter, really enhanced the playtest experience. Still a lot of work ahead, but this latest iteration was a marked improvement on an already promising effort.
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Fri May 6, 2016 6:16 pm
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AAR 19 April 2016 - Advanced Squad Leader, Pericles, Virgin Queen, Pitch Fleet

J. R. Tracy
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We had thirteen players last week for some old favorites, a new offering, and a playtest.

The Virgin Queen crew continued into the third turn. The Spanish are busy suppressing the Protestants in the Netherlands, but the Huguenots are rising in France. Philip II threw a dagger at Elizabeth, who survived but was not quick to forgive - English troops have landed in the Low Countries to assist the Dutch. With the Huguenot threat driving the French closer to Spain, we see the sides forming up for the long term in the west.

Don Johnny on the spot

Out east, the mighty Ottomans suffered a blow when mutiny sent a whopping twelve strength points AWOL. That gave the Holy Roman Empire the upper hand in Central Europe, but Sultan Hawkeye is already rebuilding with a gleam of vengeance in his eye. The HRE could well tip the balance in the west but overcommitment there might leave the door open for an Ottoman counterstrike. The Protestants have a one point edge over Spain, but no one is a threat for a lightning win. Machinations continue....

Tribal warfare

Don Pablo and Brother Paul squared off for an ASL match of Friendly Fire's FrF 82, Riders on the Storm. Set in 1944 Provence, encircled German elements have to fight through a screen of Maquis before dealing with a mixed bag of GIs with armor support. The Germans have flaktracks, obsolete TDs, and other odds and ends, while the Americans have a fighter bomber to make things interesting. Unfortunately for Don Pablo, snipers sent two of his AFVs home almost immediately, and Paul's Hellcat arrived to nail two more (hull down no less) with Bounding Fire APCR shots. Pablo lacked the armor support he needed to break through the dogfaces, so he gracefully conceded.

Pushing past the partisans

Mark introduced his latest effort, Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars, a game on the Peloponnesian War loosely based on the Churchill model. Maynard and I ran Athens against Dan VIII and Bill as Sparta. Each player-pair (Aristocrats/Demagogues for Athens, Agiads/Eurypontids for Sparta) competes to run their city-state, and then cooperates against the enemy in the general conflict.

Each three-year turn opens with an Aristophanes card, basically a random event thematically linked to one of Aristophanes' plays. Next, the factions of each city meet in their respective Ekklesia to debate the issues of the day. As with Churchill, issues are proposed and 'debated' via card play, which pushes them one way or the other along an influence track. You win whichever issues end up on your side of the track, collecting strategos tokens along the way. These tokens are used later to fund actions. Whichever faction wins the most issues controls their city for the remainder of the turn.

What's the name of your act?

The issue tokens are then distributed around the theater map for execution. Players place issues one at a time (face down) in sequence, so if multiple issues are placed in one region, they will be resolved in a queue in reverse order of placement, like the orders in Forbidden Stars. Issue types placed on the map include Diplomatic (building influence or flipping enemy allies to your side), League (building allied bases and units), Military (building units or moving and fighting), and Oracle (pick up Honor, remove enemy units, or build influence). Decoy issues are provided for deception. Three more issue types are resolved offboard - Games award Honor (VPs) or strategos tokens depending if you are at peace or war, Ostracism grants your faction control of the city regardless of how many issues you won, and War/Peace might flip the overall status (both cities must select Peace for a treaty, only one city need declare War).

Most map activity is straightforward but resolving a Military issue in a contested area is a little more involved. This is considered an expedition commanded by the issue 'owner'. All four players secretly commit strategos tokens to fight (1-5 for the expedition commander, 1-4 for everyone else). These contribute combat strength but also determine the amount of Honor at stake in the battle. The expedition commander (only) may summon reinforcements based on the total number of strategos tokens committed by his side.

This...is Sparta!

Combat resolution is a diceless comparison of strength - Athens is better at sea, Sparta better on land. The winner is determined, casualties are removed, and Honor is won or lost. Both factions of the winning side gain Honor, but the ruling faction earns a little more. If a given side's field forces are completely eliminated, his bases and influence are removed as well. However, a friendly fleet paddling around after losing a land battle can save your bases. This is vital, as bases are necessary to build and support units, and their loss really kicks up the Honor damage.

We played the shorter First Peloponnesian War scenario, a minimum of three turns (ending with peace after three turns or six turns total if we remained at war). In our game, Maynard and I decided to hold Sparta at bay in the Isthmus of Corinth while expanding our hegemony through the region. We fought tooth and nail for the right to rule Athens but were in perfect harmony in terms of foreign policy. We made peace with the Persians and scattered bases across the Aegean and westward toward Sicily. We fought several losing battles on the Isthmus but our mighty fleet just offshore preserved our presence. Unfortunately, our diplomatic success did not outweigh the honor lost in battle, so when peace finally did come, Sparta won pulling away, with Dan VIII the overall winner. That makes him the current world Pericles champion, but before he gets a big head, I'll point out he's also the fourth-worst player on the planet.

Contesting the Isthmus

I enjoyed the game and the structure. The board action is more wargamey and less linear than Churchill, but retains the same sense of directing a sweeping conflict as a supreme ruler rather than as a field officer. The debate engine is sound and the few random events we saw were interesting and appropriately scaled, but there are still some things to work through in terms of combat resolution and tweaking the honor system. I appreciated the tension of faction competition at home and warfighting abroad, but I was playing in the spirit of the topic. It will take a more critical eye to make sure that tension is genuine. We also need to explore the tools provided to thwart your faction-rival in foreign affairs (for instance, it is possible to weaken or even scotch altogether a partner's military expedition). Overall, an intriguing mix of proven concepts and fresh ideas applied to a difficult theme - looking forward to further playtests!

Don Pablo, Dan VIII, Mark, and I wrapped up with Pitch Fleet, a flicky space racing game in the spirit of PitchCar with a touch of Ascending Empires. We split into two teams and raced through a series of six planets. Successive planet targets are determined by random draw from the planet deck, and each player is dealt a hand of three 'power cards' for that leg of the race. The power cards determine how you can flick (thumb only, ring finger, the dreaded catapult, etc) as well as a victory point reward or penalty condition, for each move (three moves per planet-leg). For instance, I might have to use my thumb but I would score points for knocking another ship onto a planet. All very straightforward and occasionally quite challenging.

Ready for launch

Don Pablo and I started out well, beating Dan VIII and Mark to the first couple planets and picking up some bonuses along the way. Unfortunately, Dan VIII is an experienced star pilot and Crokinole wizard, and his steady play eroded our lead. We were winning going into the final planet, but were undone by an asteroid belt, an errant catapult flip, and some clutch piloting by Dan and Mark. Great filler fun, worth a look for dexterity fans!

Mark sends one into the void
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Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:03 pm
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AAR 12 April 2016 - Star Wars Rebellion, Concordia, Virgin Queen, 1989

J. R. Tracy
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We had fifteen gamers last week for mostly multiplayer action.

Scott, Dutch, Mark, and El Rios took another shot at Star Wars: Rebellion, with Scott and El Rios running the Empire. Dutch and Mark tucked their base on lonely Ilum, near the heart of the Empire, and set out to fan the flames of freedom. The early going saw a lot of Rebel production, thanks to intrepid diplomacy, but repeated sabotage missions were either opposed or immediately undone. By midgame both sides had strong forces deployed.

The pride of the Alliance

Though doing well on the conventional front, the Rebels were struggling with irregular warfare. In addition to their sabotage troubles, they just couldn't complete any of their objectives. Things took a turn for the worse when General Rieekan was captured. Imperial interrogators strapped him to the Comfy Chair upon which he quickly divulged three possible Base locations. The Empire smashed into Ilum and despite a valiant defense, the rebellion was quickly snuffed out.

He switched off his targeting computer

Unlike the previous week, this time they strictly followed the four player rules, which add some friction and create timing issues. Opinions were mixed - Dutch didn't feel they were worth the hassle, but Scott thought they added to the experience. Everyone had fun, but agreed the failure to hit objectives doomed the good guys. So far we've had a pair of Empire wins, but we will crack the code for Rebel success soon.

Inordinately proud

The second half of the Here I Stand/Virgin Queen derby commenced, with Campoverdi taking up Spain, Smitch France, Mitch the Holy Romans, Stéphane the Protestants, Hawkeye reprising the Ottomans, and Jim the eponymous virgin. In two turns of play things look tight, with Spain slightly out in front. England and France are trying very hard to make peace, while the Proddies have made good headway in the Low Countries. That may soon be reversed, however, as the tercios are marching north to enforce God's will. More to follow in the coming weeks.

They always start out as friends

Dave and Maynard squared off in 1989: Dawn of Freedom, with Maynard running the regimes to Dave's democrats. Killer card combos and the retention of a couple countries swung the game to the Communists, with Maynard taking home the win.

The east remains red

Last up, Natus, Dr. Rob, and I tried Concordia, a deck building and set collection game set in ancient Rome. Players send their colonists across the map to set up outposts in the great trading cities of the ancient world. Every settlement features a particular good (brick, grain, tools, wine, cloth in ascending value). Produced goods are stored in your warehouse, and may be sold, exchanged for other goods, or used as part of the purchase of cards, colonists, or new settlements. The cards themselves allow particular actions, and each card aligns with a god from the Roman pantheon. At game end, you score VPs based on the god-cards in your deck. Each god has a particular objective (Mars loves colonists, Jupiter is fond of settlements, etc) and multiple cards for a given god will multiply your score - three Mars cars will triple your colonist tally, for instance.

The tentacles of commerce

I quickly grabbed a tool city and a cloth city, and decided to continue to develop those commodities going forward. Natus was just spreading everywhere, grabbing cheap settlements (usually brick) wherever possible. Rob was a single-minded vintner, ultimately cornering the wine market by settling all but one wine city. As the game clock wound down, Rob was in a position to end it, but wasn't sure how we stood for final scoring and decided to press on. In the end, he won with about 154 to my 146 to Nate's 138 - the stack of points from his wine monopoly easily outstripped our more diversified strategies. He would've won by even more had he closed things down a turn sooner, since I netted fifteen points on my last turn.

Never mind the quality

I can't say the game exactly drips theme, but we had fun working through the trading and timing puzzles. I found myself caught out a couple times by inadvertently precluding a more attractive option with an impulsive choice. One neat aspect is the Diplomat card which allows something akin to Glory to Rome's 'follow' action - you get to copy another player's most recent card. A few times I was able to anticipate someone else's choice and set myself up to take advantage of it, always fun when you can pull it off. It's a good, deepish Euro worth exploring, and should prove popular with our crowd going forward.
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Wed Apr 20, 2016 12:44 pm
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AAR 5 April 2015 - Star Wars Rebellion, BattleStar Galactica, Here I Stand, Alhambra

J. R. Tracy
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We opened April with a whopping sixteen gamers, jammed in for a variety of multiplayer action.

With folks trickling in, Dan VIII pulled out Klask, a typical Dolan delight, and Herr Fuchs and I gave it a try. It's a hockey-like game with players manipulating pawns to strike a ball toward the enemy goal. The gimmick is the pawns are controlled by magnets beneath the playing surface. Three more magnets act as obstacles. Points are scored via goals, but you also score a point if your opponent makes an own goal, his pawn stumbles into his own goal, or if he collects a couple of the obstacle-magnets. Needless to say, the last three conditions generated over half our scoring. I had a healthy lead but David chipped away until we were each one a way from the win...and I sent my pawn tumbling into my goal. Good goofy fun.

Dextrous

CattleCar Galactica can accommodate a crowd, so Mark set it up along with Maynard, Dan VIII, Bill, Volko (the King of COIN), and Volko's buddy Mike. Dan VIII maintained a steely robotic persona but somehow was allowed to continue breathing oxygen. Other than that, no obvious toasters appeared as the dials steadily ticked downward.

Redlining

Mark used every opportunity to direct suspicion toward Volko, a sure sign of ulterior motives. With fuel at bingo, it looked like all was lost with the fleet almost home. However, a Raptor sniffed out some extra juice, so maybe humanity would be saved after all. At that point, Mark said "Uh-uh" and blew up the ship, exchanging a high five with fellow Cylon Maynard. Dan VIII's pulsing red eyes remain unexplained.

Blow 'em all out the airlock just to be safe

Last week's Here I Stand game continued, with Campoverdi's Habsburgs a key away from a win. Campo spent a lonely Diplomacy phase while the rest of the table conspired against him. Once they got rolling, Campo marched on Algiers, besieged it, and seized it via Treachery! for the victory. The Blame and Recriminations phase immediately commenced and has yet to cease. Most of the same crew will fire up Virgin Queen in a week or two.

Algiers for the win

Dutch, Dr. Rob, Herr Fuchs, and I broke out the new Star Wars: Rebellion, with Dutch and Dr. Rob running the bad guys while David and I handled the Rebels. For those few unaware of this game, the Rebels have a hidden base somewhere on the map, and the Empire must find and eliminate it. The Empire is working against the clock, losing if the turn marker reaches the Rebel Reputation marker before they nail the base. The Rebels try to complete particular objectives which move their Reputation marker down the track towards to the turn marker, while resisting the Empire's forces when and where it makes sense. Each side starts with four leaders and recruits four or five more over the course of the game from a pool of eight or so per side - these are used to move units and execute missions. We used the basic rules and fixed setup.

Sith 1 and Sith 2

David and I made a mistake right off the bat, picking a productive system (Utapau) for the Rebel Base. This was a bad choice because we were then reluctant to use diplomacy on it to bring it explicitly into the Rebellion, for fear the Empire would react and stumble upon our hidey-hole. Live and learn! Elsewhere, we weren't doing bad - the Stormtroopers and friends walked all over us, but we completed a couple objectives and even raided Coruscant for two reputation points. Sadly for Jabba's cousins, Nal Hutta was ionized by a Death Star, but we didn't much care for his kind anyway.

Degentrification

Unfortunately for The Cause, the Empire was approaching the Rebel Base and we had no real chance of resisting. Our one hope was to move the Base and hope to complete some objectives before it was found again. We jumped to Dantooine and had five potential reputation points in hand, enough to end the game if we completed them all. Unfortunately, moving the Base is just a notional act - the existing garrison stays in the old system. So, all the Empire had to do was walk in to take the new place until we sent in some troops. Sadly, we only completed two more rep points' worth of objectives before everyone's favorite Sith Lord kicked down the door of our new digs. Victory for the Empire, but a lot of fun for everyone.

Dropping in for a visit

We played a few rules wrong (moved our base immediately instead of at the end of the turn, rolled for 'Attempt' missions even if unopposed, etc) but overall the rulebooks seem clear if a little scattered. Combat is involved but much cleaner than Forbidden Stars, to which I've heard it compared. The mix of missions, objectives, and character recruitment is certain to vary widely from game to game, which assures good replayability. If you like the subject matter, I doubt you'll be disappointed - the theme is well executed. However, with 25 leaders a few undeveloped minor characters unavoidably appear, particularly on the Empire side, like Force Choke Guy and Died on the Death Star Guy. That's not really an issue, of course, and prompted me to look 'em up on the Wookipedia to find out more about them. Solid game, solid theme, solid fun.

No Wookiee no cry

Last up, Stéphane, Hawkeye, Dave, and Campo played Alhambra; I'm pretty sure Dave closed out the evening with a win. It was a crowded night, but we survived!

Nightcap
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Sun Apr 17, 2016 5:49 pm
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AAR 29 March 2016 - Blood Rage, War of the Rings, Here I Stand, Glory to Rome

J. R. Tracy
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We had fifteen players for three big games to close out March, with enough energy for a nightcap to boot.

GorGor, Bill, Scott, and Brother Leon tackled Blood Rage, a mix of first-time players and not-quite-veterans. Bill embraced the Loki strategy for the first two Ages, working it to good success and a lead entering the third Age.

Raging

Scott wallowed forty points behind the leaders, but had steadily built up all three of his dials, which translated into more (and more effective) actions and a nice VP kicker at game end. Sure enough, he came roaring back, ripping through the pack to pluck a win.

Whip my hair

Our annual Here I Stand/Virgin Queen derby kicked off, with Smitch taking France, Campoverdi the Habsburgs, Hawkeye the Ottomans, Dave the Pope, Jim Spain, and Maynard the Protestants. Negotiations were conducted ahead of time so the crew was ready to go and hit the ground running.

His turn to stand

Smitch made a fairly standard opening for France, grabbing Metz before moving on to the rest of his to-do list. Unfortunately, he undergarrisoned the city and Campo was quick to grab it. Out east, a couple foreign war cards stripped Ottoman troops from the frontier, and soon both Buda and Belgrade were in Habsburg hands. As the evening drew to a close, Campo was on the precipice victory, but will face the combined wrath of Europe when we return next week.

Just a key away

Mark, Tenno, Natus, and I decided to try a four-handed game of War of the Ring. Tenno ran Mordor, Natus moved into Isengard, I had the Elves and Gondor, and Mark had Rohan and the rest of the Free Peoples. Mark is an old hand at the game, Nate and I had a little experience, and Tenno was trying it for the first time.

Mark and I quickly settled on a Mad Frodo: Fury Road strategy, and sent the Fellowship running hell-bent for leather towards Mordor. We split our draws early between strategy and character cards, but by midgame focused exclusively on character draws in search of anything that could aid the Ringbearer's quest.

Sauron makes a suggestion

Saruman fired up the Uruk-Hai and fell upon the poor peaceful folk of Rohan. Mark did what he could to preserve strength, giving ground in front of the betrayer's hordes. Natus was moving so fast we felt we had to take some chances, and cut through Moria with the Fellowship to save time. Fortunately the Balrog was napping so we slipped through unscathed. Gandalf departed for a costume change so Strider took over as guide.

We had great luck on our run to Mordor - noble companions fell one by one for the cause, but several cards reduced our corruption and we managed to get three of the four blue Hunt tiles into the bag. Before the Fellowship reached Mordor proper, Strider peeled off for Minas Tirith to accept his crown. We only had two corruption as Gollum took over to lead us up the slopes of Mount Doom.

From the cellars of Isengard

Meanwhile, Natus and Tenno split their attention between hunting the Fellowship and marshaling forces against our strongholds. Unfortunately for them, their hunting was undone by poor cards on their part and well-timed draws on ours. On the military front I had Minas Tirith loaded for bear so the Shadow pursued softer objectives. However, it was clear the game would come down to the fate of the Ring. Despite our relatively good health going in, the corruption piled up quickly. We were a couple steps shy of a win, but the hunt box was full of eyes thanks to a card, and a couple unlucky draws could sink us. Tenno pulled one Eye tile, running us to within two points of crossing over to the dark side. Fortune smiled as the next tile took us to the hoop, with Frodo executing a three-sixty thunderslam for a glorious Free People win.

On the doorstep

It was a fun game, and worked well with four. It came down to a combination of great card draws that facilitated our single-minded strategy, and too much caution on the military front for the Shadow after they rolled Rohan. I think Tenno is hooked, though, and is itching to put the lessons learned to good use.

Bill, Scott, GorGor, and Leon wrapped up with a rousing game of Glory to Rome. They went the distance, draining the deck without hitting an auto-win. Everyone's vault was stuffed, but it was down to Brother Leon and Scott - Leon had the edge in Merchant bonuses, which proved enough to pip Scott by a point. Great cap to a fun evening, sending Leon off in search of a copy for himself, poor soul.

Bound for glory
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Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:43 pm
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AAR 16 March 2016 - Advanced Squad Leader, Triumph & Tragedy, The Gallerist, God Kings

J. R. Tracy
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We had a dozen players on Saint Paddy's Day eve, with a couple learning games and a pair played to conclusion.

Natus, Campoverdi, Dave, and Dr. Rob tackled The God Kings: Warfare at the Dawn of Civilization, 1500 – 1260BC, with Nate running the Babylonians, Campo the Mittani, Dave the Hittites, and Dr. Rob the Egyptians.

On the first turn Natus and Campo tangled with Babylon getting the worst of it despite having the odds in her favor. Dave's Hittites filled a vacuum in Anatolia, while Dr. Rob readied his war engine for impending conflict. On the second turn, the Mittani were hit from all sides. Campo turned to face Dr. Rob while Nate took advantage of the distraction. Dave took a piece of Mittani territory as well. All was not rosy for the non-Mittani, as event-driven rebellions proved a nuisance for both Babylon and Egypt.

Crawling up the coast

That's as far as they got, but the impression was positive. They found it less involved than Genesis: Empires and Kingdoms of the Ancient Middle East, which is surprising because Genesis is pretty straightforward in my opinion. However, as with Genesis, the GK factions are rather generic, distinguished more by geography than by capability. Events do add faction character, though, and when the Mitttani morph into the Assyrians allowances are made for Ashur's Finest. A promising first run and worth a re-visit.

Il Duce of Babylon

Hawkeye and Scott decided to practice their ASL combined arms skilz with Hart Attack, an old ASLUG scenario updated in the recent ASL Journal #11. British infantry, supported by American M3 Lees, are attacking Fallschirmjägers in Tunisia. The German infantry is tough, the terrain is channeling, and they have a 40mm squeezebore anti tank gun in support. A gaggle of Panzer IIIs show up mid-game to help out the defense. The Allies need to capture buildings and exit AFVs, with knocked-out Panzers reducing their VP target.

Leading with Lees

The early going saw the German ATG trading shots with a Lee, shocking it twice, until the gun position disappeared in a burst of 75mm high explosive. The British infantry was oozing around the flanks with the German infantry screen falling back as best it could. The loss of the gun will certainly hurt the defense but help is on the way. They called it early, with looming commitments preventing a continuation. This was already a good scenario, and I think the new configuration makes it even better - I hope they get a chance to return to it.

Summoning a crit

Smitch brought down The Gallerist, a pretty heavy Euro with an art market theme, and was joined by Jim and Mitch. The players are gallery owners who expend actions discovering, developing, and exploiting marketing talent. As Smitch describes it, it has a nice find-extra-actions emphasis, with actions the primary resource. Unlike some other games, choosing a particular function doesn't block the other players, but if they pick that action they kick out your piece, effectively granting you a bonus action that turn. Anticipating the needs of other players and nipping in just ahead of them to earn extra moves seems to be a vital tactic. Smitch had a couple sessions in already while Jim and Mitch were new to the game, and the experience helped him to a healthy 208-128-102 win. However, the bulk of his victory margin was derived from the international market, an element largely unexplored by Jim and Mitch which really isn't felt until the final tally. All three very much enjoyed the game and it looks like it will return.

Artsy-fartsy

Last up, GorGor, Dutch, and I had a great game of Triumph & Tragedy. Dutch had the Reds and GorGor the Axis, while I ran the West. As the West I'm always fearful of an early Axis Blitz, so I split my production between a judicious buildup and diplomatic activity, trying to get the US in as soon as possible. I didn't have much luck with the US at first, but I did snag Persia as a satellite. Dutch saw this as a reckless encroachment of his natural sphere of influence, and despite my protests at the time, in retrospect I concede his point. He responded with a prompt invasion of Persia, and we were at war.

Persian distraction

Unfortunately for Dutch and his Kremlin cronies, his invasion failed to secure Persia in three seasons of campaigning, despite outnumbering me 3:1 in steps. Epically awful dierolling was a disaster for the Soviet cause, as it sucked up production better used elsewhere and the delay pushed the conquest of Delhi from a foregone conclusion to a long shot. In the meantime, GorGor steadily gobbled up Mitteleuropa with deft diplomacy, ignoring the steady stream of telegrams from Moscow with messages like "He only built five steps last turn! *Five*!" My own diplomatic efforts paid off too, with the US finally joining my camp. My anxiety shifted from existential terror to a more refined unease at the actions of our suspiciously peace-loving Führer.

The Baltic States are nervous

Axis production was up to 17 and Steve had a handful of Peace Dividend chits and a growing vault of mystery technologies. My own troop strength wasn't great, but I had Jets and Rocket Artillery, so I felt it was time to bring Germany into the war. After seizing the Low Countries, I invaded the Ruhr. I was thrown back, and even lost the Low Countries themselves, but at least the Peace chit pipeline was shut down and Axis production was now tied to their vulnerable resource pool. Rather than push his luck in the west, GorGor turned east instead. Dutch had nibbled at bits of Poland and nearby territories, but quickly pulled back in the face of GorGor's own Rocket Artillery (rocketless Dutch: "Preposterous! We practically invented it!"). As the Axis armies pushed deeper into the USSR, I saw an opening and knocked Italy out of the war, with French troops leading the way.

Undone by the underbelly

With Rome in hand and a heap of Western steps on the doorstep of the Ruhr, we called it as a West victory in '43. GorGor revealed just how close it was - he had six points from Peace chits (in four draws!) and one step of an A-Bomb built. With 17 points of production, he was just one shy of an auto-victory, so war came in the nick of time. Dutch was unduly hosed by his Persian adventure, and I was the primary beneficiary - by the odds I should've been down a major capital and struggling to remain relevant. It was a good, tense game, with many lessons learned (and mis-learned too, I'm sure) - I've yet to have a dud game of T&T, and already look forward to our next session.

Statistically irritating
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Mon Apr 4, 2016 2:24 pm
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