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The long dark night of the dice rolls #2: light at the end of the tunnel

John McLintock
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"Roll dice and kick ass!"
I wrote last time about some of the highlights in recent multiplayer gaming. Today, I'm going to look back at some of the 2-player fun I've been having. When the Sunday sessions dried up I came to realise that the last couple of months of Sunday gaming had been slightly frustrating: we'd been playing too many light Euros. It's not that I don't like these games- I do; it's just that I wanted some meatier fare, with the lighter games filling their proper role, namely filler. I'm pleased to say that I've managed in the past couple of months to satisfy this desire to a significant extent.

Combat Commander
Regular readers won't be surprised that Badger and I have been keeping up our regular Combat Commander games. We've mostly being playing our way through the Combat Commander Battle Pack #3: Normandy. The scenarios start at the beginning, with Operation Deadstick- the Ox and Bucks' coup de main at the Bénouville (later Pegasus) Bridge in the early minutes of June 6th 1944; and finish at the end, with the 1st Polish Armoured Division's stand on Hill 262 ('The mace') during the battle of the Falaise pocket in late August. In between there are beaches to fight your way off of, beachhead fortifications to overcome, lots of bocage to fight your way through, villages to capture, and a couple of scenarios featuring French Resistance forces to boot.

BP#3 includes 4 new double-sided maps; new special rules for the beaches and for bocage country- including a nice new set of night rules; a sheet of new counters; and a campaign game. All in all an excellent expansion which has been pleasing other CC:E fans as much as it pleased Badger and I.

Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Infantry Division
I previewed Fighting Formations- Combat Commander designer Chad Jensen's next WW2 tactical project, back in August 2009. The game finally shipped some 3 months ago and I got hold of my copy in late May and, one pause for some counter-clipping later, Badger and I enjoyed our first play at the end of the month. A thorough review will have to wait till later. For the moment I'll just say that the game is a lot of fun to play (it's good to get some tanks rolling!). The game is also remarkably easy to learn and teach; Badger grasped the rules in minutes, meaning that I found FF:GD as easy to teach as I did Conflict of Heroes when I was demoing it at Conpulsion 2010. This was a big surprise.

It is also noteworthy that FF:GD sold out in just over two months. A significant proportion of those sales will have been to retailers, meaning that the games are still in the distribution chain, but it's quite a landmark for Chad and his crew nonetheless. More soon you can be sure.

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear
As part of my new 'campaign' to play more of the games which have languished too long on the shelf, I persuaded Dave (last seen in March 2010 introducing the lads to Z-Man Games' most excellent co-op game Pandemic), to have a go at Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear. Regular readers will remember the enthusiasm with which I greeted Uwe Eickert's new WW2 tactical boardgame back in December 2008. Sad to say, Badger didn't really take to the game after our handful of initial plays, so CoH joined the ranks of those wargames at which I gaze wistfully on occasion, wondering when and if...

You can imagine then, dear readers, that I was well pleased when Dave took up my invitation. You can imagine how much more pleased I was when it turned out that Dave not only likes CoH, but turned out to have something of a flair for tactics: we've played 3 games so far, and the score stands at 2-1 Dave. I'm not at all surprised that Dave took to CoH the way he did. I pitched it to him as a 'wargame for Euro-gamers', and the fit was perfect, as I'd hoped. Again: more soon, you can be sure.

Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?
I visited an FLGS in the middle of May expecting to pick up my long-awaited copy of FF:GD. It turned out that it wasn't in because, on seeing the price, the store owner wasn't sure if I'd want the game after all. I reassured him that FF:GD was on my 'must buy' list and he promised he'd have it in the following week. The spending bug was in me though, so I started looking round for something to get it out of my system. In the end I plumped for Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?, a Card Driven Game (CDG), by Volko Ruhnke.

I chose Labyrinth because:
- People had raved about it on the internet.
- The theme intrigued me.
- I'm interested in the idea of CDGs, which are one of the biggest innovations in wargaming of the past 2 decades.
- The box ad-copy showed some nice-looking components.
- I figured it was worth picking it up 'cheap', before the 2nd print-run copies arrived at prices boosted by recent inflation and currency fluctuations.

So, I took the game home and did my bagging, tagging and card-sleeving thing (no counter-clipping because the deluxe counters are nice and thick). I showed it to Liam one night before one of our Ivanhoe sessions (remember those?). He too was intrigued by the theme and liked the look of the components, especially the board, which is an excellent piece of functional graphic design with a nicely muted colour palette.

And so it was that just over a week after I'd bought Labyrinth, Liam and I sat down to our first game one Friday night. Labyrinth features an excellent tutorial, which takes you through a scripted first turn, by the end of which you have sufficient familiarity with the rules to play that game through to completion. That took us 5 hours, at the end of which Liam was keen to try again. That second game took about 3 hours, which left us sitting up past dawn. The dam was broken (remember that "something [which] came along to break Liam from his obsession with Ivanhoe before I broke down completely!"?), and Liam had a new game to obsess over.

I invited Gav (last seen enthusing about Dogs in the Vineyard) round a week later to try Labyrinth. He was a bit leery initially, but the end result was exactly the same as with Liam. In the next 4 weeks I played 22 games of Labyrinth, mostly with Liam; meanwhile Liam had started eyeing up all the other games on my shelves.

Twilight Struggle
With Liam obviously keen to try other games, I decided one day to take the plunge and lash out on a copy of the Deluxe edition of Twilight Struggle, which regular readers might remember I first played against Alan Poulter- webmaster at Web-Grognards, at a DiceCon West way back in 2008. I really liked Twilight Struggle but, apart from one ill-fated VASSAL game back in September 2009, my 2nd edition set was just another game which had sadly been gathering dust.

Incidentally, that game fell through partly because I just couldn't grokk the tactical/strategic complexities of TS across VASSAL. Mostly though it was because of the disjuncture between VASSAL and ACTS noted by an anonymous commenter to my second TS@VASSAL post: namely the fact that it's essentially impossible to register the effects, on TS@VASSAL, of cards played on TS@ACTS. I just didn't like this at all and found the resulting confusion to be a real disincentive.

Anyway, Liam took to Twilight Struggle with alacrity equal to or even greater than his enthusiastic response to Labyrinth. We've played 11 games already, in less than 2 weeks. And I'm pleased to say that Liam is not just willing, he's able. This is pretty good going considering his very limited experience of games beyond the familiar family boardgames and cardgames.

Last words
So you can see, dear readers, that life hasn't been all gloom and doom- in the past couple of months especially. I've got some serious 2-player games out onto the table and I'm sure this is going to run and run. I've even got a neighbour dropping in regularly for weeknight gaming sessions. What kind of gamer's heaven is that, eh?

- The long dark night of the dice rolls #1: a little light relief
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