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J. R. Tracy
We approached the Solstice with thirteen players eager for playtesting, racing, rebelling, and gridiron.
Mark brought around a fresh iteration of Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-61 and several of us tried it in succession (secession?). Mark and Dockter paired off, as did Natus and I. I'm not sure who won the Mark/Dockter matches but Nate won our game pulling away because I struggled to meet my own objectives while he nailed all of his. That left him well positioned to dominate the endgame to seal the win.
Nothing secedes like secesh
Mark changed things quite a bit from my last try but I think it is all for the better. The fundamental elements remain, with three domains of political influence in play, each with three power centers. However, the endgame is completely revised, suppressing the earlier gaminess, and the crisis element now feels more organic. I'm enjoying how the game evolves, as Mark explores several approaches to find a good balance of playability and thematic relevance.
In more playtest action, Scott and I tried his homebrew Bitskrieg - The Tiny Tank Battle Game. As the title implies, this is a tactical armor combat game. Scott has been developing Bitskrieg with his son Miles, using a standard chessboard with orthogonal movement. Each player places a bit of blocking terrain and a pair of objectives, and then deploys his force of light, medium, and heavy tanks, alongside a tank destroyer or two.
Sneaking up the right
AFVs are rated for speed, armor, and firepower. Players take turns moving or firing a single vehicle. To hit, you must roll greater than the range in squares. Once a hit is tallied, you roll a number of dice equal to your firepower, and if you exceed the armor value of the target, it's a kill. After an AFV is activated, it is flipped over until you burn a turn refreshing all your vehicles to their available side.
The rules are dead simple but the gameplay has surprising depth. Each class of AFV has its own strengths and weaknesses (TDs are well armed but may only fire straight ahead, for instance) and the move/shoot/refresh decision process generates several dilemmas over the course of a game. We played two quick games while Scott waited for Jim to arrive. I squeaked out a pair of narrow wins, once by refreshing early with only half my force spent, getting the jump on Scott's tanks before they could support one another.
Looking for a soft spot
I had a blast with this. It's very light but generates slam-bang armored combat with some difficult choices. You win by eliminating the enemy force or by seizing objectives, stretching the decision space a bit. Force construction and terrain deployment options should yield good replayability. Hollandspiele picked up Bitskrieg for publication, so you will soon have a chance to check it out for yourselves.
Renaud brought Championship Formula Racing, an open-wheel racing game that updates the venerable classic, Speed Circuit. Players customize their cars by spending build points on starting speed, acceleration, deceleration, wear, and top speed. You also pick a skill level, which grants favorable die roll modifiers in precarious situations. Turn spaces are rated for their safe maximum top speed, but if you enter a little hot, you can brake, expend some wear points, or chance a die roll (perhaps spending a skill point to improve your roll). Cars interact through drafting and forced passing, which can result in trading paint or even a spinout.
Renaud and Stéphane lined up with Renaud for the first race, on the Silverstone track. Stéphane took the checkered flag when the leader spun out with an aggressive entry on the final turn. After wrapping up Bitskrieg I replaced the departing victor and joined Bill and Renaud for another run at Silverstone. I did a terrible job managing my resources, finishing last with several wear points in hand and a skill modifier unspent. Bill claimed the win, and we moved on to the Nürburgring. I put my lessons from the first game to good use and led from pole to that part of the track that comes right before the pole. Bill and Renaud had superior acceleration and top speed, so I pressed on the last two turns, spinning out in each. The first cost me most of my lead, and the second cost me the win when Bill flashed past as we approached the finish.
I very much enjoyed CFR, from the initial car-building through the planning for the final turn. I like how various decisions propagate through the course of the race - "If I take this turn a little fast, I can seize the sweet spot into the next turn, and enter the following straightaway positioned to hit my max speed". The element of chance looms but does not dominate - planning and player interaction have greater impact. I can't compare it to Speed Circuit but I found it on a par with Race! Formula 90 - a little simpler but a bit faster to play, too. I much prefer it to Formula Dé. I would like to try a multi-lap race to see how pit strategy affects play.
Taking the inside line
Elsewhere in the Wide World of Sports, Jim and Scott faced off in Techno Bowl: Arcade Football Unplugged. This is a card-driven football game with a throwback nod to the 16-bit video games of yore. In the basic game, teams have seven players, each with a rating from three to seven. This represents their speed and hitting, with lower numbers better for various forms of violence. Each team has a few bonus skills sprinkled across a few star players. These skills grant die roll modifiers on hits or bend the rules in interesting ways.
Marino rolls out
Every player has two (identical) cards, and before each play, each coach assembles a five card hand of his choice. Order matters so the offensive coach is choreographing his play while the defensive coach has to anticipate which players will be best able to react and disrupt the offense. After these five cards are burned, coaches draw from the remaining cards until the play is completed.
Movement is simple, with orthogonal and odd-numbered diagonal moves costing one factor each, and even-numbered diagonals two factors each. Thus if you move three spaces along the diagonal, it would be 1-2-1, for a total of four factors. The opposition casts a 'zone of control' (called 'threat'), adding a movement penalty which is cumulative with each additional adjacent player - you don't get very far squeezing through the line. Just about every non-movement action is a 2d6 skill check, with a seven yielding a partial success (which grants the opposition a chance to react with a half move) and a ten is a full success (allowing you to follow on with another action). If you miss your roll, the opposition gets a full action of their own. Player values and star skills modify these rolls where appropriate.
A skeptical Shula
The offense has four plays to score or it turns the ball over. The play begins with each coach turning over his first card. The faster player goes first - if tied, you compare the second value in the player's number, with higher going first. Still tied? Roll the dice! The defender may opt to bring in a card off his 'bench' but this allows the offense to do the same, until finally things get rolling. Factoring in time outs and the time impact of pass plays and out of bounds, it seems like you should get through 14-18 plays a half.
Jim and Scott picked their favorite teams, the !Dolphins and the !Jets respectively (due to licensing issues names are changed but the analogues are obvious). They settled into a defensive struggle, with lots of action but no scoring. Late in the second half, however, !Marino aired out a long ball down the left sideline, with !Duper getting under in time to reel it in and carry it to the house. There was still time on the clock but midnight loomed so the called it a win for Miami, 7-0.
Headed for the promised land
After, they discovered one major rules error - they overlooked the cumulative nature of opposing player threat penalties, allowing defensive players to crash into the backfield and disrupt plays before they could get started. With a stickier line, wing play should develop more easily, leading to more downfield action and scoring. They really enjoyed the game, and we can expect to see it return soon.
Last up, Smitch brought his buddy Ben Fey along to lead the Empire in Star Wars: Rebellion against the Stein boys, a couple of moisture farmers from the Upper East Side. Mitch and Eliot stashed the base on Kessel, planning on a heavy metal defense as opposed to deception.
Smitch and Ben methodically worked their way through the galaxy, with two large fleets and probing missions. The Alliance used sabotage actions to disrupt Imperial production near the base, and chipped away at their mission deck, shortening the gap between the turn marker and a rebel win. They were helped around mid-game when they opened a turn by hammering an overextended Imperial ground force, which cost the bad guys some time to rebuild. In addition, rebel production was spinning at full capacity, with the base hosting an impressive force. Once the Sith finally vectored in on the actual base location, a Rebel fleet was already in orbit to greet them, besides the hidden force. With no way of cutting through the defending ranks in time, the Empire conceded. Freedom reigns!
Welcome to the Kessel system!
J. R. Tracy
We had fifteen players in mid June for a fresh new GMT title, a future GMT title, and visit to Mesoamerica.
Renaud brought Azteca and was joined by Herr Fuchs, Yojimbo, and Stéphane. Players vie for control of the Aztec empire, building tribute networks but making sure to take the time for the occasional sacrifice to suck up to Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. Appeasing the big Q is good for game-end victory points, but if you don't make T happy, he ultimately destroys the universe, because that's they way he rolls. Unfortunately Yojimbo had to head back to Philly before they could wrap up, but Tezcatlipoca was well down the track with a good chance of intervening personally. Mixed reviews - interesting system and great theme, but maybe a development cycle short of its potential.
Put your heart into it
We greeted Wray Ferrell's Time of Crisis with two full tables. Players compete to rule the Roman Empire in the chaotic third century, building power bases in the provinces with an eye to marching on Rome itself. Victory is measured in legacy points, which are scored for ruling provinces, becoming Emperor (legitimate or pretender), winning battles, and killing barbarians. The driving element is a deck-building engine, using three suits - Military, Senate, and Populace. You start with three '1' value cards in each suit, from which you build a hand of five cards each turn. Over the course of the game you buy more powerful cards, using them to solidify control, steal provinces from your opponents, and field armies to further your cause. The game ends when someone holds the throne and hits 60 legacy points, or when Diocletian appears (via random event) to stabilize the Empire.
Weathering a Frankish storm
Manfred and Allen Gabriel joined Eliot and Mitchell Stein in one game for a family affair. Manfred crashed into Italia early and stuffed Rome full of troops. With a lock on the capital and a few other provinces, Manfred was able to hold off the table for the win.
Stein v Gabriel father-son deathmatch
At the other end of the room, Jim, Campoverdi, Natus, and I made our play for the purple. I playtested ToC last summer at DonCon, but my recollection of successful strategies was sparse. I started out in the east, choosing Asia as my opening province. I think Natus was in Africa, Jim in Gallia, and Campo in Pannonia.
Saucy Sassanids set to spill out of the East
I initially secured my home province by advancing support, and then expanded west and south. Jim's neighborhood looked a little too peaceful so I sent a few mobs his way to spice things up. Natus grabbed Egypt and challenged me for Syria, while Campo had his hands full with an early rush of Barbarians from the north.
Campo was the first to gain control of Italia, followed by Jim. I was managing a careful cycle of slaughtering Sassanids for legacy points, building support, and purchasing heavier cards, until I was able to announce my Pretender status. I had four provinces at this point, but my opponents quickly stripped one away. However, I was building my legacy every turn, while ramping up for a run at Italia myself.
By the time Jim, Natus, and Campo were fully mobilized against me, I was able to seize Rome and legitimize my rule. Now contending with a mob problem of my own, I continued to accrue legacy and moved up a couple places on the Emperor track. I still held the throne when I cracked 60 legacy points, ending the game. Campo had the longest stretch in Italia, but the extra ten legacy wasn't enough to close the gap, so I claimed the win.
Taming the Goths
This is a very smooth, fast-playing game. Not much has changed since last summer, but the few tweaks since then have honed the mechanics while adding a touch of chrome. It is essentially a symmetric power politics game, with seat distinctions driven by geography alone. Those distinctions aren't trivial, as proximity to barbarians and the threat of Rival Emperors can shape your destiny and legacy potential, particularly in the early game. However, strategic mobility makes for very fluid board play, so no position is safe. If you think those Franks are yours to harvest, prepare for disappointment when one of your colleagues swoops in with his own legions to claim the legacy. Good reception all around, with sixteen thumbs up. I really enjoy the hand-building aspect, particularly in the mid to late game, and the improvisation necessary when you find yourself needing a silk purse while holding a sow's ear. Looking forward to many more plays of this.
Last up, Bill and Scott paired off with Cataclysm to prepare an example of play, using just the ETO map. Bill took the West and quickly established an alliance between the UK and France. Scott had less luck with German diplomacy despite his early efficiency advantage. However, he saw an opening in 1939-40, mobilizing quickly to get the jump on an exposed eastern France. Everything came up swastikas as Germany inflicted a disastrous defeat and seized Lorraine. France's government survived the crisis, but was compelled to offer an armistice, breaking her alliance with the UK.
With France on the sidelines, Italy went on a Mediterranean rampage while Britain and Germany fought to a stalemate in northern Europe. Ultimately Italian success carried the Axis to victory. It was a very interesting session, with some unanticipated turns that should make good fodder for an XoP. I think the new map looks great, though more tweaks may be in store. One step closer to production!
J. R. Tracy
We celebrated D-Day with eleven gamers, with some obligatory Overlord action alongside cave diving, opium dealing, and evolutionary development.
Bill and Hawkeye grabbed Up Front and decided to proxy the Omaha Beach landing with the Assaulting a Fortification scenario. Hawkeye's eight Germans had to hold a pillbox against Bill's dirty dozen of dogfaces, armed with a demo charge and a flamethrower in addition to the usual GI kit.
A nice day for a walk on the beach
As Bill struggled through the surf, they discovered Hawkeye inadvertently overstacked his pillbox, so he shifted the offending card and began spitting lead Bill's way. Despite the usual stream and wire obstacles, Bill soon found good cover, but could not maintain good order in his groups long enough to close with the German line. The decks ran out with the pillbox still in German hands - Dutch Cota must've been on a different stretch of sand.
Corkscrew and blowtorch, Normandy style
Jim, Smitch, Scott, and Dr. Rob tried their hand as 19th century opium merchants with Hollandspiele's new An Infamous Traffic. Players compete for markets in Qing Dynasty China, seeking wealth and prestige but taking care not to bleed China to the point of collapse.
Smitch and Scott immediately began laying the groundwork to deliver opium to the good people of China, while Rob used the local authorities to attack their smuggling routes while developing his *own* distribution system. Jim was chasing a supply network as well, but falling behind the others.
Merchants of misery
Meanwhile, everyone was building enterprises to support trade in general - Scott dominated opium supply, Rob was king of the merchants, and Smitch controlled the fleets. This gave them unique advantages in those aspects of the game. Jim failed to lead in any one category, but had the most enterprises on the map. If China falls into revolution (in part due to the destabilizing drug trade), whoever has the most enterprises wins, regardless of their profitability or prestige. So, Jim worked to tip the country over the edge while the others tried to end the the game with the Middle Kingdom intact. They succeeded, but it was a fun gambit for Jim to attempt.
Scoring went to the second tie-breaker, with Smitch taking the win thanks to turn order. There was some discussion about whether board position should count for more, but as Scott pointed out, the rules emphasize social standing as an overriding goal and the victory conditions are consistent with that view. I think everyone enjoyed the game, with a number of strategies to explore and several avenues of interaction. It also looks very good on the table, with a spare but evocative vibe.
Everyone wants in on the action
Renaud, Deputy Chief Storzillo, Dan VIII, Campoverdi, and I went underground to explore Vast: The Crystal Caverns. This is an extremely asymmetric competitive game where even the cave has a role. Campo was the cave, Dan VIII the dragon, Chris the goblins, Renaud the thief, and I was the knight. We each had unique abilities, goals, and vulnerabilities. My goal was to kill the dragon. Chris' hateful goblins wanted to kill *me*, Dan wanted to escape the cave to spread his wings in the world beyond, Renaud needed to accumulate six treasures and/or dragon gems, and Campo wanted to fully expand and then collapse five crystal tiles. The cave itself is built out as the characters move, with ugly surprises and sweet rewards lurking around every corner.
Pursuing your own victory condition has to be balanced against monitoring the actions of others. As the personal victory condition of another player, I had to keep my eye on Chris' goblins while dropping bombs onto the dragon below. Chris pursued me while occasionally harassing the dragon, while Campo had some control over available tiles and tried to lure us into traps. Dan seemed to have the most potential for interaction, swatting players with his tail, snacking on goblins, and building flame walls. Of all of us, Renaud was the most single-minded, sussing out treasure chests and dragging them away for safekeeping.
As the game progresses, everyone levels up and acquires new abilities. For instance, I accumulated 'grit', which gave me extra action cubes, granting me defense bonuses, extra bombs, and so on. I was steadily chipping away at Dan's dragon, but the goblins were taking their toll on me as well. Unfortunately, Renaud was unimpeded, collecting several treasures and avoiding our clutches. We finally killed him a couple times, forcing him to drop whatever he was carrying at the moment, but the thief bears a terrible curse that respawns him at the entrance tile with each demise. Dan had the clever idea of placing a flame wall on Renaud's spawn point, but this took up essentially the dragon's whole turn and is sadly illegal besides. Despite our combined efforts, Renaud carried his sixth treasure to the surface to lift his curse and capture the win.
A grabby thief
I really enjoyed the *idea* of the game, and much of the game itself. The asymmetry is stark; the characters aren't just a little distinct, they could be from entirely different games. We were constantly examining each others' abilities to see what they might be building toward down the road. My only concerns are the thief and cave roles. Renaud won, but it seemed like he had an uninteresting path to victory, just racing between treasure hordes and the surface. He is the most vulnerable character so fighting doesn't suit him - why not put the pedal to the metal and hope for the best? Maybe if we had paid more attention to him he could have utilized some of his nifty bonus abilities - we certainly won't ignore the thief in the future. Meanwhile, the cave looked very hard to play. Campo to his credit can find fun in just about any game, but it seemed like the most static role of the five. I might be wrong, and it may well prove rewarding in experienced hands. I'd love to hear comments from others. Overall, though, this is a very original design, and I look forward to exploring it further.
Smitch and Scott rolled the tape all they way back to the very beginning with Bios: Genesis, Phil Eklund's game on the first flickers of life on earth. Players compete to create and then utilize the genetic material necessary to out-evolve the competition. I have yet to play it so the Eklundian mechanisms remain opaque, but cubes are involved.
Up from the ooze
The fickle climate settled into the warm zone for most of the game, constricting the options for both players. Scott struggled to produce a viable microorganism, striking out on all three attempts. Smitch was able to keep his second of two critters alive, enough to hang on for a win. As first games go, they did pretty well, with only a parasite-related rules gaffe marring the proceedings. Solid, bright presentation, and thumbs up from both players.
Splicing and dicing
Dan VIII, Chris, Hawkeye, and I wrapped up with Las Vegas. Six casinos are laid out, numbered sequentially, with semi-random amounts of money assigned to each. Players begin the game with eight dice, rolling each turn and assigning all dice of a single value to the corresponding casino. This proceeds until all dice are assigned. Simple, fast-moving fun, and I grabbed the win with some good early luck to round out the evening.
Don't bet the nest egg!
J. R. Tracy
With nine players we resolved our theological disputes, did a little playtesting, and even saw a solo title hit the table.
Virgin Queen resumed with Grand Vizier Terdoslavich stepping up to run the Ottomans while the Sultan was under the weather. Jim's HRE declared war on Istanbul, and after last turn's naval catastrophes, Bill felt he had no choice but to spend his home card rebuilding fleets. Emperor Jim launched a ground campaign to take Buda, and forced an Ottoman discard to weaken his adversary.
In the West, Nate's conversion campaign carried the Protestants to the precipice of victory, but now the table turned against him. He saw himself lose not one, not two, but *three* cards due to opposing card plays. As he scrambled to gain traction with his devastated hand, Jim's careful plans continued to unfold. Plucking Buda from the Ottomans made him Master of Central Europe, and he was then elected King of Poland for two more VPs. Sporting his new crown, he revealed his secret love of Protestantism, picking up a few more points from the religions conflict matrix. Nate's near-success sealed the win for Jim and the Holy Roman Empire, putting him across the line with an automatic victory.
With a point to spare
A nice win for Jim, and a frustrating night for Nate. The yellow jersey drew a lot of attention and allowed Jim to get his ducks in a row, though some credit must be given to the hard-working Holy Roman public relations and propaganda staff.
Emil Larsen was kind enough to send me a prototype of his deck-building ancient warfare card game, Burning Rome. Each player is a particular ancient military power, with a deck of units and tactics. These are played through expenditure of Command Points - units to a battle board and tactics (which provide persistent or one-time effects) to one side. The battle board has a left flank, center, and right flank. Each area may have up to three units plus a general.
Everyone's favorite slingers
Each turn you either draw a card or collect two Command Points, and play any cards you wish. After cards are deployed, you may attack enemy units opposite your own on the board; the lead units contribute attack/defense strength, while the rear card is considered a support, and adds its skirmish value on the attack and 'siege' value on defense. Any differential between your attack strength and the enemy's defense is deducted from the enemy's Army Strength; you win by driving this to zero or if your opponent runs out of Command Points. In addition to their combat values, most cards have a special ability. Within a given nationality, these tend to be complementary, rewarding efficient deployment with a little leverage.
"Bring up the Triarii!"
Dutch was kind enough to join me, taking the Romans to my Carthaginians. My elephants danced on his head in the first game but he took swift revenge in games two and three. We then paired his Gaetuli (a Berber tribe) against my Celtiberians. I just couldn't figure these guys out, failing to marshal any meaningful fighting strength while Dutch's nimble javelin men swarmed around me. Both of these powers demand some study to get the most out of their idiosyncrasies.
This is a neat little game that plays quickly despite some intricate decision-making. In fact, it might play a little *too* quickly, as we had a hard time developing our board positions before one side or the other fled the field. We played with the recommended starting decks, but the rules provide a deck-building scheme so you can customize your force to suit your style - you have 54 cards to choose from but your resulting combat deck is likely to have only 14-20. The four powers are very distinct, and I want to try the various matchups to see how they fare against one another. I don't know what Emil's plans are for the game - this may be a Kickstarter down the road. Keep an eye out for it.
He did more than scratch the paint
Dutch then pulled out his highly polished prototype for T. R. G. (The Robot Game). This is another deckbuilder, as players fuel their giant robots, build supplementary fleets, and compete for galactic supremacy.
There can be only one
Players start with a weak deck but buy more powerful cards each turn. These add purchasing power as well as special abilities. Many are color-coded, with matching cards providing mutual boosts. Play centers on the robots which have the most combat power, but you can also build rocket ships to support your robot or capture enemy territory. You may cull your deck by playing cards face-down to build the space-map.
Dutch and I swiftly built out our local systems, gathering the resources to buy the heavier combat cards. Our robots traded blows, with my awesome powersword nearly cutting through to Dutch's cold metallic heart. However, Dutch was ahead of me on the production curve and ultimately beat me down with brutal combos. I neglected the territory aspect of the game - Dutch pointed out I could've used my ships to grab his systems while our robots were engaged. I like this kind of secondary victory condition, which adds a little variety to game play and forces more strategic depth and planning. Neat concept, with some elements of Star Realms deployed in support of a map-building combat game.
Summoning a fleet
A scheduling snafu left Scott without an opponent, so he settled in next to Dutch and me for a solo run of Saltlands. This is a post-apocalyptic adventure game that may be played multiplayer or solo. Scott chose the Scientist role, but may have overbuilt his team, affecting his hand size. As a result he was overrun by Raiders and left to die under the relentless sun. In his defense he may have been distracted, because the three of us spent as much time talking about gaming as actually gaming - it was good to have Dutch back in the fold.
Alone in the wasteland
J. R. Tracy
With just seven players we had a pretty chill evening, enjoying a couple multiplayers and a two-handed nightcap.
Jim, Dave, Natus, and I rolled out Cake or Death, with Jim taking Athens alongside Dave's Delian League, while Nate's Corinth fought alongside my Sparta. Our Oligarchs had a great start, destroying Athens on turn three. The Demos thought all was lost but I assured them plenty of time remained for a comeback. Sure enough, they developed an Ionian strategy and threatened our hold on the Gulf of Corinth. Our own attempt to contest Ionia was sealed off by the Athenian fleet, which expanded rapidly once a card play allowed Jim to place another city.
At the foot of the Acropolis
Mid-game, Sparta was destroyed when I forgot I had a Prepare card in place to prevent that very event. With Sparta down and the Demos accruing victory points in Ionia, Nate and I desperately counterattacked, but struggled to find enough VPs on board to close the gap. Though we eventually recovered the Peloponnese, it was too late, and the Demos won by eight points.
I still don't know if I prefer this or the QMG WWI game - this has a better historical narrative in my opinion but I enjoy the sweep of 1914. The WWII volume is fading from view, but I understand the Alternate Histories expansion breathes new life into it. A clever suite of games, remarkably distinct despite their common origin.
Jim then introduced us to 5-Minute Dungeon, a quick-playing co-op with a nail-biting real time aspect. Each player has a classic RPG hero (thief, wizard, paladin, etc) with a special ability, and a deck of action cards. The group faces a deck of bad guys that ends with a boss. Each enemy has a set of symbols that must be matched to defeat it, such as two scrolls, a shield, and a sword. Once you match or exceed the symbols, the card is discarded and you're on to the next. Players speed through their deck, playing the required symbols or discarding useless cards so they can cycle their three-card hands. This is all happening simultaneously so you might have one enemy survive unmolested for precious seconds while another sees three times the needed amount of cards slammed down immediately. You play under the guillotine of a five minute time limit, and the decks themselves are a limit with few opportunities to recycle discards.
We were crushed in our first game when we all burned out our decks hacking through the minions, with nothing left for the Boss card. In the second, we made better use of our special abilities and improved our coordination in combat, squeaking out a narrow win. It's a simple setup but it yields a tough, entertaining challenge. We struggled against a pair of low-level Bosses, so I can't see coming close to defeating the mid-level beasts, let alone the top dogs, without several games under your belt.
Jim, Smitch, and Hawkeye tried Star Wars: Rebellion, with Smitch taking the Rebels against the combined Imperial forces of Jim and Hawk. This was a crazy game to observe, with more forces on board than I've ever seen in a Rebellion session.
Our only hope
Jim and Hawkeye stomped around the galaxy using the Godzilla search technique, ripping up skyscrapers with their enormous fleets to see if any rebels were hiding in the basement. Meanwhile, Smitch had a couple mission cards that awarded points for inflicting casualties, but the Imperials were savvy enough to immediately disengage if Smitch brought more than a couple ships to bear.
The height of impudence
The Rebel base was hidden on Endor, but the Empire was nowhere close to stumbling across it. At the same time, Smitch had yet to complete a single mission, so ample time remained. It was shaping up to be an epic match, but sadly we had to call it on account of time.
We're from the dark side and we're here to help
Last up, Dave and I played a quick game of Arena: Roma II, one of my all time favorite card games. Dave was expressing skepticism at his chances, but I assured him that three deployed Forums would probably do the trick. Sure enough, he drained the VP pile in short order and I accepted a position in aqueduct maintenance on the Parthian frontier.
Choosing his next forum
J. R. Tracy
We had thirteen players ready to continue their religious conflict as well as kill a demagogue and fight for control of the Baltic.
The Here I Stand crew segued into Virgin Queen with Natus continuing as the Protestants, Mitch as France, Campoverdi as the Ottomans, and Smitch as England, while Jim went from being the Pope to becoming the Holy Roman Emperor, while Hawkeye shed his Habsburg crown for that of Spain alone.
A respectable line of work
France cut a deal with the Proddies, exchanging a key for the promise of no domestic interference. France then went a-pirating alongside England in the New World, while marrying off various extraneous relatives. Spain found itself largely without friends and cut off from the Low Countries, so it consolidated its colonial outposts and spanked some uppity Ottoman corsairs in the eastern Med. The Protestants, taking advantage of the Low Countries' isolation, rapidly converted the hinterland with the aim of gaining political control.
The Ottomans and the HRE face off in the east, while in the west, fickle Elizabeth spurns one suitor after another while quietly bankrolling the Protestant cause. Scotland is now in English hands, but the island kingdom is otherwise biding its time. The Ottomans have the overall lead, but not by much. However, the freshly-dug Suez Canal leads to ample VP opportunities in the Indian Ocean and beyond. To be continued....
Bill, Renaud, Dan VIII, Dr. Rob, and Dave cracked open Black Orchestra once again. In the first game, the plotters were slowly building their network and lining up the target when Dr. Rob stepped out of the room to make a brief phone call. He returned with regrets, begging off for an early departure. Mysteriously the rest of the team was then rounded up and shot.
Plotting in the shadows
Their second attempt was much more successful. The Führer boarded a train and found himself sharing the bar car with four hostile co-conspirators. The train emerged from the next mountain tunnel into a bright Hitler-free dawn, with 26 million lives saved.
Last train to Clarksville
Scott and I traveled back to the Great Northern War courtesy of Fields of Battle from The Historical Game Company. This is a collection of battles from the GNW, using a simple but evocative system.
Units are broken out out into different flavors of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, rated for combat strength, range, and movement. Leaders are represented as well, rated for effectiveness. Units must be with or adjacent to a leader to activate for movement, but each side gets a couple independent activations as well. Artillery opens the player turn, followed by movement, and then ranged and melee combat. Though a CRT is used, it feels more like 'roll to hit', with fives generating disruptions and sixes eliminating the target. Modifiers for terrain, morale differential, leadership, flank attacks and so on can improve or decrease your chance of success. Disruption is removed by a leader or a die roll, but you'd better rally quickly as a second disruption eliminates the unit. Zones of control restrict movement and prevent retreats, and are sticky enough to require a leader to exit.
Awaiting the invader
The game includes a deck of tactical cards for each side that can boost your firepower for a turn, handcuff a couple of enemy units, and so on. The Swedes have their own deck while a single Coalition deck is shared by Sweden's foes. Thus the Danes will see a lot of dead cards usable only by the Russians. This grants the Swedes a little bump in battlefield performance relative to the opposition. The Swedes typically enjoy superior leadership as well, in quality if not quantity. Each battle has a number of special rules, but generally victory is achieved by reducing the opposing army's morale to zero, usually by unit and leader elimination.
We chose the Battle of Holowczyn, with Charles pushing into the Russian heartland in the summer of 1709. Charles has caught the Russian force divided, and is seeking to defeat one wing before the other comes to the rescue. I had the defending Russians, with most of my on-map forces atop a redoubt-ringed plateau. The Swedes are outnumbered at the outset, and though they receive reinforcements before the Russians, they never quite catch up. However, the reinforcement entry points favor the Swedes in terms of maintaining a concentrated force at the point of attack.
Charles hits the redoubt
Realizing he had to hit early and hard before the correlation of forces weighed against him, Scott sent Charles and his elite infantry directly against my heavily defended plateau, while his cavalry moved against my right, both to turn my flank and interfere with my eventual reinforcements. Charles' elite wing fought across the river to the base of the plateau, but couldn't shift my defenders. His flanking group made better progress, supported by reinforcements. However, despite the advantages of better troops and solid leadership, Scott had trouble doing more than just disrupt my units - attacks against already-disrupted formations repeatedly failed, denying Scott the casualties he needed to even the numbers and reduce my morale.
While Scott was failing to kill Russians, my hilltop sharpshooters were steadily picking off elite Swedish grenadiers. Charles lost one, and then a second unit. Down to a single unit on his wing, he was at risk - if the regiment was eliminated without an adjacent friendly unit to provide shelter for the king, Charles would be eliminated too with unfortunate effect on Swedish morale. The battle on my right flank was touch and go, with my unkillable disrupted mobs holding up the Swedes long enough for my own reinforcements to come to bear.
Late to the party
By the time the Swedes cracked the corner of my position, Swedish morale was dangerously low. My own forces on the left were scattered and with little mutual support, so Scott still had a chance to roll me up before I could drive his morale to zero. Once again his dice failed him - despite +2 die roll modifiers, he just could not kill a Russian when he needed to. My reinforcing troops had much better luck, killing a couple units in the screening force. My stalwart left-flank dragoons picked off Charles' personal guard with a ranged attack, killing Charles in the process. The coup de grâce fell on the Russian right, as my cavalry killed off two disrupted units, bottoming out Swedish morale for a Russian victory.
Creutz tries to break through
I am very impressed by the amount of flavor packed into a short set of rules. At first glance the units appear to have a generic sameness to them but in fact subtle differences in morale and ranged capability generate substantial differentation in game terms. The cards provide additional chrome, as do some special rules such as Gå På, which compels Swedish infantry to engage in melee rather than stand off for ranged fire. Production-wise, I think it's an attractive package. The maps are clear and functional, and I really like the counter icons. I don't care much for detailed but tiny miniature-style sprites, preferring instead a well-designed symbol system like we find here.
The king is dead
The rules have a few holes and ambiguities, but we agreed to reasonable patches and played on - I will post any clarifications I receive from the designer. Scenario-wise, I enjoyed Holowczyn, which has challenges for both sides. In the end, I was simply throwing more dice each combat phase than Scott, which made up for my lack of quality and leadership. There are eight scenarios included, and this is Volume 1 in a series. I can see the system ported to the War of the Spanish Succession for a start, and perhaps deeper into the Age of Enlightenment from there. Very enjoyable, and recommended for Horse & Musket fans.
After Fields of Battle wrapped, Dan VIII reached into his Great Bag of Holding and retrieved Spyfall, a hidden-role/deduction game in which he, Dave, Bill, and I played either a spy or his pursuers. Each player is dealt a role card which he reads without revealing it. One player is the spy, and the rest have jobs in the same venue, which is one of a couple dozen possibilities.
A timer is set to eight minutes, and players then take turns asking another player a question about where they 'all' work, such as "Are we outside?" or "Are we near the water?". The spy has no idea where he supposed to be so he has to keep his answers generic, while the hunters try to answer specifically enough to prove their innocence but not so specifically that they give away their location to the spy. At any time the spy can stop the clock, reveal himself and attempt to name the location - if he's correct, he wins, otherwise the hunters win. Similarly, a hunter may stop the clock and name another player as the spy with similar consequences. Otherwise, at the end of the eight minutes, everyone votes on who the believe the spy to be; a correct unanimous vote (spy excepted, of course) is a win for the hunters, otherwise, the spy wins.
In our first game, I was the spy, and suddenly realized I was at a significant disadvantage. I didn't know our location, of course, but I didn't even know what the possibilities were. If I grabbed the play aid for study, I would give myself away immediately. I lucked out when Dave called out Bill on a mid-game guess, handing me an undeserved win. In our second game, we agreed to pass the play aid to whoever was asking the question, so we'd all get a chance to look at it and provide some cover for the spy. This time Bill was especially crafty and Dan VIII's natural shiftiness occupied our attention. We labeled Dan the spy while Bill escaped our clutches for the win. This was very light but fun, with good potential for a family gathering or with a non-gaming crowd. Several expansions provide additional locations should you burn out on the first batch.
I then went head to head against Dan VIII with a couple quick-playing games. First up was Tak, an abstract that looks superficially like a Checkers variant but seem to borrow more from Twixt. Players alternate placing or moving pieces on a grid, trying to build a road from any one edge to the opposite side. Most pieces are 'flatstones', which may be placed flat to count as a road, or on their edge to block a space (while not counting toward your road). Each side has a 'capstone', which may count as a road location but can also be used to flatten walls. You may place your pieces on any space or road location, while walls block all but capstones. You may also move pieces around by picking up a stack and dropping off its contents one square at a time. It's a simple set of rules but it gets very interesting once it gets rolling.
We each anchored an edge and moved toward the center and traded position. I was reluctant to throw up walls because they restricted my own movement but eventually had no choice. We sparred for a couple turns before Dan moved a piece that gave me the opening I needed to complete my road. I'm not much for abstracts, but I enjoyed this one. Twixt was a favorite as a kid but we got to the point we could identify a winner after just a few placements. Tak feels much more dynamic, and has a number of different board sizes which can substantially alter playing style.
Dan and I closed out the evening with Bottom of the 9th. I was on the mound, and struggled early as Dan got two runners on. However, I put the next two batter away before Dan loaded the bases. I sent in my closer, who got the job done...by surrendering a walk-off grand slam. I enjoy *most* of this game, particularly the intense focus on a pivotal slice of a ballgame. However, I think the 'speed roll' aspect detracts from the overall design. It just seems out of place amongst so many thoughtful elements. That said, it remains a reliably entertaining nightcap, particularly against the Mountain Man.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt
J. R. Tracy
We squeezed in fifteen players for some WWII gaming, a visit to Japan, and power politics in ancient Greece.
Scott, Mitch, Natus, Renaud, Eliot, and JonBone pulled out Senji, to vie for the Shogunate of medieval Japan. Players accrue honor through battle, diplomacy, and set creation until someone reaches 60 honor points for the win.
Our players shoved each other back and forth across the map as JonBone edged into the lead amidst the turtle farm at his end of the board. Deft manipulation of turn order (a power granted the leader) helped him maintain his position down the stretch. The matter came down to a winner-take-all battle between Jon and second-place Renaud. Jon claimed a sack of heads and the win with a big roll. Reviews were mostly positive with a couple "just okay" verdicts. I thought this was our first playing of Senji but our diligent archivist found evidence of a session in the innocent summer of 2008.
Mark oversaw a session of Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars, with Josh, Baron von Schulte, Bill, and Manfred. They chose one of the short Thucydides scenarios, just two turns in length. Since it was our first crack at the published version, Mark offered up a Spartan meeple for the winner.
Josh and the Baron ran Athens while Bill and Manfred ruled Sparta. The Athenians did well on the periphery of the map but Sparta maintained a steady hand in the Peloponnese and its immediate environs. A decisive Spartan victory in Thessaly closed out the scenario, with Manfred leading his Eurypontid faction to victory.
Mark, Manfred, and Archidamus II
The Reverend Hawkeye continues to preach the gospel of Up Front, welcoming Smitch into the congregation this week. They got in two games, using the Meeting of Patrols scenario. In the first, Hawkeye's dogfaces broke Smitch's German squad, while in the second, Smitch's Soviets were broken by Hawkeye's squareheads. Smitch enjoyed the game overall, though he expressed a couple carefully worded criticisms which we dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic. Nevertheless, good to see the flock expand, week by week.
Stéphane and I sat down for an ASL scenario, with Mormal Forest, an upcoming title from our Swedish friends. Fourteen German squads take on a like number of Frenchmen in May, 1940. The Germans are supported by five SPWs - two troop-carrying 251/1s, a pair of 37L-armed 251/10s, and a 251/9 Stummel with a stubby 75. The German infantry includes an 838, and they enjoy four leaders and a suite of SWs including a flamethrower and a demo charge. Finally, they have a 105mm artillery piece and a 37L antitank gun. The French only have three leaders, along with a light machine gun, a heavy MG, and a 60mm mortar. They also have a Hotchkiss 25LL ATG and a soixante quinze, plus a pair of R35 tanks. Two more R35s appear on the second turn, with an armor leader, but the German gets a Stuka and can pick its turn of entry (turn two, perhaps?). The action takes place on boards 63 and 42, with the Germans getting six turns to take two of three victory buildings (42Y6, 42U8, and 63T6) for a win.
Ready for anything
I had the defending French. Looking at the victory buildings, I thought the board 63 church would be difficult to take given a decent garrison anchored on the HMG. I therefore committed a reinforced platoon to the church and the surrounding town, and prepared a fall-back defense through the board 42 woods. On my right flank, I put a pair of squads upstairs in the 43V2 building, one with my LMG. I parked an R35 out front in 43U3, and billeted one of my precious leaders downstairs. One 8-0 for two squads felt extravagant, but this position provided critical flank protection for the main force falling back through the woods.
Nazis. I hate these guys.
In the woods itself, I had a line of elite squads up front on the M hexrow, with 457s on the refused flanks. The other Renault went in Q9, helping both the woods position and covering that side of the board 63 town. I put the 75 in 42R7. There was a risk it would never see action buried in the forest but my whole plan was based on funneling the Germans right up the belly. If it worked, I expected my 75 to feast on some point blank shots in a target-rich environment. I placed the 28LL in 63T4, where it could work with the the nearby Renault to protect one side of town and preserve my routing options. Also, it helped guard the left flank of the woods, along with the rest of the town garrison. Last, I put my Brandt in 63T1. With two on-board guns to start the game, I figured Stéphane would find the 63I3 and I4 hill hexes irresistible, and I hoped to shower his unemplaced (by SSR) gun crews with airbursts. As an added bonus, my entire force started concealed even though the Germans set up on board.
Beware the Hun in the sun
As expected, Stéphane set up some ordnance on the board 63 hill, with his 50mm mortar paired with the 105mm artillery piece. He hitched his 37L ATG to an SPW on my right flank for later use. He had also had a 37L SPW and the Stummel on my left, but all his infantry was in the center and on my right, with that flank supported by the remaining Hanomags. He opened with a 105mm shot at my 9-1 and heavy machine gun in the church steeple, but the concealment saved their bacon (they scampered downstairs in my ensuing player turn). The Stummel and 251/10 began shelling the town, and his mortar went after mine (the cheek!). His center troops stepped off nicely, but his left flank was immediately stalled by my boys in the U3 building, and my Renault quickly claimed the board 42 251/1.
On turn two, Stéphane regrouped on the flank as the woods assault bounced off my next line of resistance. My 25LL engaged the Stummel, which was in for a long day. After patching up the troops on the German left, Stéphane resumed the attack only to see several squads broken again as they tried to move forward. With no pressure on my left and my right holding strong, I opted to bring on my armor in the center, with a view to parking right in front of the 42Y6 and 42U8 victory buildings. First I had to get past his Stuka - it spotted my Renaults, nosed over for the attack...and gacked both MG shots and the bomb To Kill roll. After a quick nip of cognac to steady their nerves, my tankers pressed on and reached the woods safely.
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
On turns three and four, Stéphane failed to get any traction on the flanks. His mortar killed my own mortar halfsquad, but not before a 60mm shell broke the 105mm gun crew. The Stummel quickly collected an Immobilization marker, a No Smoke marker, and for the final insult, a Malfunctioned MA marker. I Shocked it a couple times too, just for laughs. On my right, he towed the 37L forward with hopes of engaging my Renault. My AFV was having none of that, killing the SPW before it could unhook the gun. I was trying to sneak some infantry from the town into the woods, so with the big gun down he used both the 251/10s to interdict. Once the artillery piece was back in action, he tried to engage my left flank Renault with one of the halftracks, but the Hotchkiss ATG swiftly eliminated the threat.
Wounded but still dangerous
The Germans were definitely getting the worst of it, with my sniper adding two leaders to the tally. However, Stéphane still had a potent force in the center, including the 838 and the flamethrower, neither of which had made contact. My defense was now back to the Q hexrow. Stéphane engaged all along the line, suffering some breaks but generally arriving intact. He managed to Assault Move a large stack adjacent to my R35 without losing concealment - it didn't take spider sense to see a lethal spout of flaming petrol in my future. I opened my Defensive Fire Phase with my weakest attack - a 2FP shot against the concealed stack from my Renault's coaxial machine gun. I rolled a three, and the whole stack broke, including the 838. The rest of my fire was equally effective but that shot essentially ended the game.
One last push
I think this is a very interesting situation. Both sides have good troops with powerful (for 1940) support. The German has field pieces on the attack, always a tricky proposition, but the terrain gives them a few options. Besides the hill on the German right, the 105 could team up with the Stummel on the left to hit the 42U3 building with smoke, supporting an attack down that flank. They also have excellent mobility, with the potential to carry four squads deep into the French rear. The key to unhinging the woods defense is to compromise one or both flanks, and a bold move by the SPWs could do just that. Of course, the 25LL is the perfect antidote to such a plan, but it can't be everywhere. In addition to transporting deep-threat halfsquads, the 251/10s can harass the reinforcing Renaults, relieving the Stuka for duties elsewhere. The Germans have a lot to think about and in turn the French must be flexible enough to respond to the unexpected. It's a nifty card, the likes of which we've come to expect from Mattias. I look forward to trying it again after its official release.
J. R. Tracy
We opened May with more theology, a little WWII, a trip to outer space, and some playtesting.
Here I Stand convened without Charles, who was in the wilds of West Virginia training an Imperial PSYOPS battalion (he really is a hands-on Emperor). Fortunately, Bill was able to step in as regent in his absence, and the rest of the table was intact.
Calvin dominates open mike night in Geneva
After last week's debacle before Vienna, Campo's Ottomans indeed sued for peace, surrendering a VP in the process and two more to retrieve Suleiman and Ibrahim Pasha. That bumped the Habsburgs to the front of the pack, several short of an autowin but clearly the team to beat.
Campoverdi made do with a little Mediterranean piracy while he rebuilt his army, leaving the Habs to their own devices in Italy and the west. The Pope battled his ostensible ally while Henry VIII built a force in Calais that seemed aimed at the French interior. Bill's actions in Italy led to his play of Master of Italy for a VP. Not much else changed hands on the board as the debaters about broke even.
Suleiman and Clement confer
The players held their breath as the turn drew to a close - an Imperial voyage of conquest was headed to the New World. Bill drew Pizarro to be his personal ambassador of friendship and goodwill, and a laser-guided die roll led him to Tenochtitlan and the conquest of the Aztecs. That yielded two more VPs, just what the Habsburgs needed for the autowin.
Terrorizing the Tyrrhenian Sea
The battle for Vienna had far reaching consequences, leading directly to the Habsburg victory. Campo got a good ribbing from the rest of the table, but there were no hard feelings. I found his bloody, lifeless form at the bottom of our elevator shaft the next morning, apparently the victim of multiple accidental stab wounds.
We come in peace
Renaud introduced GorGor, Dave, and Herr Dockter to Quantum, a space combat and conquest game. Ships are represented by dice, with ship type indicated by the die face, which doubles as both speed and combat value (lower is better in battle). Players rocket around the map conquering systems, while researching tech advances to improve capabilities.
GorGor won the first game and was therefore a marked man for the second. He pointed out
Renaud Dockter had a pair of wicked techs on board but to no avail, falling to the repeated blows of the rest of the table as Renaud DD skated to a win. They had a blast, enjoying the variety of options and the interaction of cool tech advances. I played it last year and enjoyed it too - the theme holds up despite fundamentally abstract roots. I think it's a solid choice for a quick-learn multi, good for several plays over the course of an evening. (Edited to reflect actual events)
Mark and I returned to Mother Russia with Victory Roads, which uses the Liberty Roads engine to cover the last two years of the war in the east. The full game is a sprawling beast, so we went with the intro scenario, Budapest-Wien, depicting the German drive to relieve Budapest in January '45. To win, the Germans must clear a path to the city so it can trace supply to Vienna, while the Soviets need to both occupy Budapest and take Vienna. Any other result is a draw.
Last gasp in the east
The system is clean and easily grasped by anyone with moderate wargaming experience. Zones of control don't exist per se, but you can't trace supply through unoccupied hexes adjacent to the enemy. Supply itself is a simple trace to a friendly source. Combat is odds based, with attrition for both sides as well as retreat results and the potential for exploitation by the attacker. Exploitation allows limited movement and combat by victorious units. Elite units and armor have handy combat capabilities, but if utilized they must suffer the first loss in a given battle. The 2d6 CRT gives you a bell curve distribution, allowing for extreme outcomes on any given column. The most distinctive element is the support pool - each turn players draw chits that provide combat boosts, replacements or other performance-enhancing effects.
I had the Germans to Mark's Soviets. I massed my heavy hitting SS and Wehrmacht panzer divisions on the plateau west of Budapest and began methodically pounding my way through a thick belt of Red Army infantry. The opposing formations were on containment duty while Mark's own best troops were east of the city, so I made good headway, aided by the rarely seen Luftwaffe in a brief window of good weather. I turned aside Mark's assault on Budapest by invoking Haltebefehl, a stand fast order that reduced the effect of retreat results but locked my garrison in the city. No big deal, as my instructions were unambiguous: defend to the death. The city held, but I took my hits as step losses rather than remove units, a decision I would soon regret. On my next turn I reached the city with a big exploitation result, but I couldn't reinforce the defense because I was already at the stacking limit. Had I just killed off a couple units, I'd be defending with fresh panzergrenadiers rather than exhausted ragtag remnants.
No gas or kvass
Mark opened up with Katyushas to blast his way into Pest, the eastern half of the capital. I drove the Soviets from the west bank of the Danube south of the city, and attempted to encircle the attackers. Mark gave ground grudgingly, and his ample replacement rate brought his units back from the dead almost as fast as I could kill them. My constant attacks wore down my point units, and my offensive firepower was further reduced by mandatory withdrawals to defend Germany itself. Another healthy dose of the Red God of War helped Mark drive into Buda, pushing my victory conditions out of reach. However, I still had a lot of troops and plenty of terrain to work with so Vienna was also unlikely to fall. We called it there, a hard-fought draw.
This is classic 70s-style wargaming polished to a high finish. I enjoyed the throwback feel of trading rib-cracking body shots in an epic East Front struggle. I wasn't so fond of the teetering stacks of counters from map edge to map edge, but gameplay is much more fluid than the visuals imply. The scenario is a good intro to the system, though it leaves out some interesting advanced options that bring the meddling Führer into play along with some nifty command and control mechanics. The scenario feels like it should usually end as either a German win or a draw, with a Soviet win unlikely, but it's fun, perfect for an evening's entertainment, and leaves you ready to try one of the larger scenarios or the big daddy campaign. I haven't played its West Front brother but look forward to trying it now that I have a feel for the system. Worth checking out if you're hungry for meat and potatoes wargaming with modern systems and graphics.
Wiking wades in
Campoverdi and I closed out the night with a quick session of Mark's latest iteration of Fort Sumter. This is is a political game covering the run up to the American Civil War; Mark says he was inspired in part by the recent 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. Smitch and I tried it a couple weeks ago but Mark has revamped the endgame considerably since then.
As before, the opposing sides compete for various political and military power centers via card play during each of three rounds, with secret objectives for each side that drive victory point scoring. As you commit resources to a given Issue (Armaments, Public Opinion, and Secession), you elevate your standing on the Crisis track - overdo it and you suffer an auto-defeat. The endgame used to be an abstract manipulation of the Crisis track via still more cardplay, but Mark has transformed it into a much more thematic final battle for board position. You are now rewarded for dominating the map and for control of Fort Sumter, earning VPs that are added to whatever you picked up during the three 'normal' turns.
Tension off Charleston
I had the North to Campo's South. He had bad luck with his Objective draws, doubling up on two of the three turns which limited his opportunity for craft and subterfuge. Since he lives at the corner of Craft Street and Subterfuge Avenue, you can see how this affected his game. I guessed his secret objective on the first two turns and successfully defended my own, putting him behind the eight ball going into the final crisis. I managed to keep my Crisis track position short of defeat while still controlling Fort Sumter, which put the game mathematically out of reach for Campo before the final card play.
Mark's adjustments address my concerns about the final crisis in an imaginative way that improves the historical feel of the game. The playing time remains a short and sweet 20-30 minutes, marked with some difficult decisions. If he rounds out the design with some evocative art and flavor text, this should be a winner.
J. R. Tracy
We had fifteen players get together to continue our religious wars, stop by Westeros, visit Mars, and revisit an ancient maybe-not-so-classic title.
Last week Nate's Protestants surged into contention in Here I Stand through the power of the spoken and written word, but this week lance and cannon wrote the tale.
Charles ponders the defense of Vienna
The Ottoman Empire, number one seed in the East, faced off against perennial powerhouse the Holy Roman Empire. Suleiman the Magnificent, supported by a massive army, drove strong to the hoop to throw down a two-handed thunderslam on Vienna, but Charles rose up for a stunning block. Suleiman drove again, and was once again denied. He was stopped for a third time, and then a fourth, at which point Charles tipped the ball to himself and turned the tables, defeating the now-cornered Ottoman Army and collecting Suleiman and his sidekick Ibrahim Pasha in the process.
Campoverdi revealed to your intrepid reporter why he was so determined before Vienna. He had the Treachery card in hand, good for near-certain success in the siege that would follow a successful field battle. The odds were well in his favor - even after the previous losses he still managed even odds in the final battle. The consequences of defeat were dire, as he must now sue for peace and ransom his leaders from Habsburg hospitality. Campo is all about Go Big or Go Home, and he lived up to his reputation.
Elsewhere, the Pope struggled to control Italy, but managed to contain the spread of Luther's heresy. Despite my prediction last week, DeSoto somehow survived the Pacific transit to successfully circumnavigate the globe, another feather in Hawkeye's Habsburg cap. Hawkeye was on a roll, with two cards in hand after the rest of the table was played out. Some thought he should reach for Istanbul, but instead he shored up his border with France and prepared for the turn to come. The score remains tight, but with a wounded Ottoman the rest of Europe must now contend with an undistracted Empire.
Alba falls on the flank
Dave, Bill, Stéphane, and NewSteve headed out to Terraform Mars. Bill had the green corporation and did a very good job building a symbiotic set of cards for a steady income of victory points. Unfortunately for Bill, Dave was collecting a wide range of space rocks for a stack of end-game VPs - 27 in all, more than enough to sweep to a commanding win.
Manfred, Herr Fuchs, and Renaud sat down to Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne. I looked in at one point and Renaud's House Baratheon seemed to be in control. However, on my next pass, Ned Fuchs still had his head attached and was ruler of Westeros with a nice come from behind win for the Stark family.
The same trio then pulled out the 2016 edition of Robo Rally. This version tweaks the rules a bit. The most significant changes I observed were individual programming decks, damage resolution, which is now done via 'dead' cards which clog up your deck, and upgrades, which are now purchased with energy cubes collected from the board. The changes sound good, though this edition looks pretty weedy components-wise relative to its ancestors. Still, they had fun playing once they absorbed the changes, with Manfred Robo-dancing his way to victory.
Last week Herr Dockter and I discovered we both had a hankering to try the old SPI magazine game, The Plot to Assassinate Hitler. This is a strange beast, using traditional hex 'n counter wargaming concepts in a game of political intrigue. Players maneuver their personnel across a schematic map of the Reich and its conquests, attempting to recruit neutral officers and officials to either protect or overthrow the Führer. DD had the bad guys while I ran the Abwehr. David's core agents were the SS, who can recruit Nazi Party flunkies. The spy service provided my loyal team, which I used to rope in sympathetic members of OKW. Highly placed civilians were in play for both sides.
Popping the cardboard
Recruitment is by die roll - a success brings the person in play for your side. My plotters could also get a 'Semi-recruited' result - these folks remain neutral until when and if Hitler is killed, at which point they join the plot. It's a terrible result, as I could not make another attempt to win them over, while I could at least try again if I missed entirely. In addition to recruiting new allies, David's agents could Investigate any of my guys that were Under Suspicion (newly recruited OKW members or active Abwehr agents). Investigations use an odds-based table and yield Randomizer Chits (see below) or a trip to the Interrogation Cells.
The core of the 'combat' part of the game is Harassment. This is a roll on a differential CRT, which produces attacker and defender retreats as well as 'Neutralized' and 'Masked' results. The latter eliminate an agent's zone of control and prevent him from Harassing himself - you can even move right through a Masked enemy's hex. In true 70s wargaming fashion, you cannot retreat through zones of control, so you kill (send into Retirement) units via classic encirclement tactics.
Good early draw
The Randomizer Chits provide a strong dose of chaos. These chits may allow you to recruit an enemy to your side, improve your chances in the interrogation cells, neutralize an an enemy agent at a key point, or alter an assignment to an occupied area. They also include Führer Access chits, which the Plotting player needs to improve his chances of initiating a coup. At some point in the game he will feel the time is ripe and roll 2d6, adding a modifier equal to the number of Access chits in hand. The higher the roll, the greater his initial advantage in the coup phase of the game.
Pre-coup activity sees agents getting assigned to the front via die roll (away from Berlin where they are less useful and more vulnerable) before both sides maneuver within the capital. Various Headquarters provide three-hex safe havens for either side, while agents prowl the streets for recruits and potential victims. Hitler starts the game in the Bunker but around midgame starts bouncing between Berlin and the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia. The Allied advance gradually gobbles up the occupied zones; Allied agents play a role by making such zones 'sticky' - you cannot escape a zone with an Allied agent without travel papers. Once the coup is initiated, recruitment ceases and it's all about combat (harassment). The SS player wins if he clears Berlin of all Abwehr agents, while the Abwehr wins if he clears Berlin of the SS. Note Hitler's death or survival isn't part of the victory conditions. However, his death rallies the semi-recruited OKW officers to the conspiracy, while his continued survival makes it harder and harder for the Abwehr to successfully harass enemy units.
He came for the waters
We went with a random setup to get things rolling and I immediately went about winning the OKW over to my righteous cause. DD however fully grokked the wargaminess of the enterprise and started consolidating his forces and building lines of units and zones of control. By the time I responded in kind, he had a well defended front built across the center of Berlin. Fortunately, I did well with the early chit draws, pulling 22 in the first two turns, which granted me a little tactical flexibility and put me well on my way toward calling a coup.
Cool under pressure
With lines established, the midgame was spent pouncing on wayward operatives unfortunate enough to be assigned to the occupied territories. Himmler ran a ruthless hit squad in Paris and neighboring regions, surrounding and eliminating patriotic Wehrmacht officers. He even snagged Canaris for a little close questioning but the old admiral simply shouted "Do you know who I am?!?" and stormed out of Nr. 8 Prinz-Albrecht-Straße. I had success nibbling at the edges of the SS lines, and the pool of retired stormtroopers grew. With several Access chits in the kitty, I called for a coup as soon as Hitler popped over to East Prussia. I got a great roll and my crew was ready to drop the hammer when we had to call it a night.
The GröFaZ lounges in his lair
This was some crazy-ass weirdness, but we liked it. Does it work as a game? Certainly. David figured it out first but I caught up to the point I think we had an even match going into the coup portion. Does it work as a simulation? Uhhh, sorta-kinda? I think there's some merit to the idea of coordinated action and spheres of influence, but the whole thing feels like someone was asked to carve an assassination game from Destruction of Army Group Center. We dug it enough we're actually going to try it again soon, using stukajoe's sweet Plot Cards. Nostalgia can be intoxicating!
J. R. Tracy
We had ten players on Tax Day for some card playing, some squad leading, and our annual trip back in time to the Reformation.
Here I Stand kicked off our traditional springtime HIS/VQ double bill, with Smitch taking the English, Mitch the French, Hawkeye the Habsburgs, Jim the Throne of Saint Peter, Campoverdi the Sublime Porte, and Natus the Protestants. A new edition of HIS is coming in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, and Ed Beach was kind enough to forward the revisions to be included. I will try to note them as they come into play.
Prior to the Proddie surge
England and France immediately faced off over Scotland, but thanks to a rules tweak this wasn't to be a typically bloodless phony war of past HIS games. Elsewhere, Ferdinand relieved France of Metz on behalf of the Habsburgs, while Pope Jim methodically pieced together the keys of Italy. In the east, the steady beat of Ottoman kettledrums marked their progress across Hungary to the border of the Empire.
Suleiman seizes Buda
England, France, and the Habsburgs dabbled in a bit of exploring as well, with Cabot claiming the Great Lakes for England, Verrazano discovering the Amazon for France, and Cortes conquering the Incas. DeSoto is sailing west across the Pacific for an appointment with the business end of a Polynesian war club.
Embracing the vernacular
As befits the early turns of Here I Stand, the real drama was theological. The Papacy and the HRE got the better of the Diet of Worms, picking up three spaces. Nate's conversion rolls were dismal at first, with the Reformation completely absent from the board at one point. He got hot at just the right time, going six for six on his rolls for the translation of the New Testament into German. This popped him up to twelve spaces just as Jim played Master of Italy with two keys in hand. Under the new rules, this granted the Pope a card draw, which was the Schmalkaldic League. Mandatory play of the League rallied the German princes to the Protestant banner, giving Natus temporal strength and political influence to support his heretical cause, and on turn two to boot. The sudden ascendance of the Protestants tightened up the score considerably, with five powers within a point of one another and traditional laggard England within striking distance.
At the other end of the big table, Dave and Bill paired up for Twilight Struggle, with Dave taking the Soviet Union. A late-turn play of Blockade by Dave found Bill unable to respond, wiping US influence from West Germany. Bill did what he could with the remnants of his hand to repair the situation, but the deck was shuffled and Dave found himself with Blockade again! He gambled and played it early. Bill didn't have any three cards, so again West Germany was cleaned out. This time Dave was able to follow up and assert control, and from that point the US cause was doomed.
Before the fall
They followed up with a couple games of Arena: Roma II but unfortunately I didn't get a chance to hear who won either match.
Scott and I finally got some ASL in with A114, Hamlet's Demise. This features elements of 3rd Panzer Division encountering a mixed French group defending a Belgian town. I had a PzI, a PzII, and a PzIII supporting a predominantly second-line infantry force, but I also had a squad of Pioniers and a flamethrower to help out. Scott had half a dozen first-line squads, a pair of leaders, a little H39, and a 25LL anti-tank gun. I needed to score 16 CVP without allowing Scott to inflict 20 CVP on my force. This is a notorious pro-German dog, so we added a 60mm Brandt mortar to Scott's order of battle, along with a crew, and bumped one of his 8-0 leaders up to an 8-1.
We were playing on what amounted to a halfboard (the middle 13 hexrows of Bd 24) so time wouldn't really be a factor. Scott was strong at the forward edge of the center building cluster, with an O5 defender protected on either flank. A strong stack (likely a leader/MG/squad) in the S8 stone building anchored Scott's left, and what was probably the Brandt in T1 kept my infantry off the high ground. The Hotchkiss was in T3, waiting to react to my attack.
Starting to squeeze
My approach in a situation like this is to be aggressive, while keeping my AFVs separated so a given ATG location can't engage more than one at a time. Losing a panzer when a gun pops up is irritating, but losing two in the same phase is unforgivable. I would press with my infantry, keeping my leaders back to pick up the pieces and counting on my firepower and flamethrower to open some cracks in the central town defense. The bulk of my force hammered their way into the M4 wooden building, with the heavier panzers in support, while an 8-0 led a pair of squads on my extreme right flank. My PzI pushed ahead with trepidation. The first movement phase cost me a couple half squads but I had a solid firegroup established for the next bound.
Deathride of the H39
Turn two saw a lovely symmetry during Scott's fire phases as I answered his threes with threes of my own. When I rolled threes on my own attacks, however, he could only come up with tens and elevens. As the French first-liners melted into green squads, I pushed my way into the center. Scott had better luck on his left, smashing my flanking force from his S8 stronghold. He dismantled his mortar and hustled it over to U5 to cover the streets on either side of town, and sent his Hotchkiss forward to engage my PzI. If he could kill it and follow up against my shattered flankers, he had a shot at collecting a bucket of CVPs.
Hammering the hamlet
When the Hotchkiss rolled into view, my PzI made a successful Motion Attempt and changed its VCA to facilitate a rapid escape. Meanwhile, my town infantry closed on the H39 with destructive intent, killing it in Close Combat on turn three. Scott was running out of infantry and I had a lot of time remaining, but I wanted to seal the deal before he somehow turned the tables with a shift of fortune. I sent my PzI behind town to cut some rout paths, stopping in S4, inside the minimum range of Scott's U5 mortar. Scott's ATG popped up in U5 as well, opened fire on my PzI...and rolled boxcars. In the ensuing Close Combat Phase, I captured two broken squads trying to escape a Melee, pushing Scott over the CVP cap and out of his misery.
Suffering in good humor
Even with our tweaks, this was a grim exercise for the French. In retrospect, we should've adjusted the CVP levels instead, raising the German VP requirement and lowering their cap. I've won this as the French but had to capture the PzII to do it, which seems a little extreme. We did at least satisfy our primary goal, which was to simply play some ASL, but I will make sure Scott enjoys a more competitive situation next time!
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