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J. R. Tracy
We had just seven players for some pre-Thanksgiving action focused on cinematic glory.
Mitch, Smitch, Stéphane, Dave, and Renaud tried The Godfather: Corleone's Empire, an Eric Lang game based on an obscure crime film from the early 70s. This is fundamentally a worker placement/area control game, as players vie to control various illicit industries in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Mitch dresses the part
The game takes place over four acts, corresponding to the narrative of the movie. Each act introduces additional spheres of possible mob activity. Dave ran out to an early lead but there are several ways to directly confront opposing players, so he was vulnerable to a group beat-down. However, the table seemed content to build their own positions while only pecking at Dave's empire, until the late game. Smitch made a solid run, but came up short with 66 VPs to Dave's 73, while the rest of the group trailed from the 40s on back.
The Don drops by for game night
Good reception by the players, though a couple were already confirmed Lang fans from way back. Decent marks for the mob theme, though they found it not particularly Godfatherish. The physical presentation is great, and the gameplay itself clicked along smartly. A good addition to the multiplayer shelf.
Herr Dockter dropped in for a little Plot but I couldn't find my copy. Instead we tried the recent re-release of Richard Borg's Battle of Britain. PSC, the publisher, caught a lot of flak for the airplane models. However, we didn't find the infamous wobbly planes much of a problem - it all looked pretty good on the table. The only component issue concerned the unit flashes on the flight stands - these are little triangular decals, about 1cm along the side, with tiny font. Sadly, the unit information is the only thing that matters and you can barely read it if you hold the stand up to your nose, let alone at arm's length on the table. We muddled through regardless, and had some fun.
Crossing the coast
The Germans assign missions to their seven flights, and then both sides do the same with squadron cards (three each for the dozen RAF flights, six each for the German flights). The Germans then form up and head for Engerland.
The RAF has the option to intercept in the radar detection zone, or try their luck further inland. Intercepts on the coast tend to be very bloody, while the inland dogfights are more complex with fewer losses. Surviving Germans hit their targets (radar stations, airfields, or cities) and return home. All the subsystems are clean and easy to execute, with the exception of the inland dogfights which are a bit wonky.
Furball over Swansea
A scenario lasts four turns, with a little temporal weirdness such as an RAF 'production' phase that allows repairs, and some German flights conducting multiple missions while others lumber from Calais to Belfast. We stickered everything up, read the rules, and finished in a total of about two hours. My Germans were shredded in the initial going, but I had good luck on my bombing runs and kept within shouting range of Herr Dockter's score. In the midgame my 109s feasted on a buffet of Blenheims and Defiants, while terrible RAF repair rolls left a few holes in the Chain Home network. On the final turn, we were neck and neck when a Spitfire squadron destroyed an ace Bf109 squadron, becoming an ace in its own right. That was a net three point swing, and was the difference as DD's RAF defeated my Luftwaffe 39-38.
On the whole, it's a dicey affair, with the Germans getting most of the interesting decisions. Assigning mission cards is tricky - you have some choice, drawing ten cards for your seven flights, but you don't have the freedom to, say, hammer the radar stations first and then go for the Midlands. If you're lucky you'll get a couple radar stations in your initial draw and something close like Coventry or Southampton so you can turn some flights around for late-game missions. Pity the poor lads in Luftflotte 5 - it's a long trip home to Norway over the cold North Sea and without any 109s, they suffer mightily at the hands of 13 Group. The RAF does have some choices with respect to repairs and some interception timing, but for the most part their play seemed obvious. Maybe there's a deeper RAF game we're missing but hey, at least they get the Spits.
Gladiators get involved
In sum, not bad, but not essential either. Nice package, very playable, and may scratch a superficial BoB itch. However, I think it's a poor match of complexity and game length - I'd rather spend a little more time with something a lot deeper, and will be playing The Burning Blue before I reach for this again.
J. R. Tracy
We had ten players in mid-November for some wargaming, the fall of the wall, cardgaming, and a classic Euro.
Scott and Smitch tried the new Android: Netrunner – Terminal Directive, a campaign game with legacy elements for the popular cyberpunk LCG. Scott was the criminal hacker Master Grifter while Mitch was the benevolent corporate entity Haas-Bioroid.
They dueled through two games, with Scott taking both. For his troubles, Scott picked up some new cards, though a few have a negative impact for campaign self-balancing. Mitch got a couple shiny participation ribbons along with a boost or two for himself. They like the format, and it's a good excuse for Mitch to add Netrunner to the list of card games he's already mastered.
Bill and Dave faced off in 1989: Dawn of Freedom, with Dave wielding the iron fist of oppression. Bill got off to a good start, marshaling his student cohorts and stepping out to a sizable lead. However, Dave battled back via Power Struggles, gamely keeping Bill within reach. Ultimately Dave was able to grind his way to a late game win, keeping his boot firmly on the neck of the people.
Awaiting the Hoff
Smitch, Dr. Rob, Campoverdi, and Natus pulled out Trajan, an interesting Stefan Feld euro set in ancient Rome. The game uses a Mancala-like mechanic for choosing actions. Each player has a tableau with an action wheel of six sections; on your turn you scoop up the tokens in one section and drop them around the wheel, executing the action in the last section you land on.
Building a better Rome
As with any Feld game, there are a slew of ways to score points and a few ways to lose them. Without having played, I can't explain the moving parts beyond the basic action mechanic, and our tableful of newbies struggled to grok the fundamentals as well. Dr. Rob proved the grokkiest, edging out Smitch on a tiebreaker, but the recaps were rife with missed opportunities and overlooked elements. Good reception all around and should get another look soon.
Hawkeye and I settled in for some playtesting for the upcoming ASL module, Forgotten War. We worked on Hard ROK, a little North/South battle drawn up by my buddy Mike "Pooch" Puccio on his lunchbreaks at the MTA. It's 25 June, 1950, and Kim Il-sung has launched his reunification offensive. Hawkeye had the Korean People's Army (KPA), commanding fifteen elite squads (628s and 458s) with four leaders (including a 9-2 and a Commissar), a slew of support weapons, two Sukas, and a pair of T34/85s. That would be intimidating opposition for a hardened band of Panzergrenadiers, let alone my grass-green ROK stars.
The scenario uses two half-boards, 10 and 23, representing urban terrain around a water crossing in Munsan-Ni. My force was split in two, with nine squads and supporting weapons defending the forward board 10, and seven squads along with a 37LL ATG back covering the bridge on board 23. My forces were roughly half second liners (447s) and half 336 greenies, but I had decent leadership and a lot of firepower. My support weapons included a pair of Brandt 60mm mortars, some BAZ 45s, a couple DCs, a couple MMGs, an HMG, and a US LMG, representing the M1919A6. I also had Human Bullet Heroes (HBH), which function exactly like Japanese Tank Hunter Heroes. Hawkeye had to fight his way through my screen and get 15 CVP across the Bd 23 canal, 8 of which had to be infantry.
Trying to slow the advance
My basic plan was to create a hard point in the 10Z6 building to slow Hawkeye down while I fled in terror down the flanks. I had an 8-0 commanding a mighty second-liner and an MMG in 10Y7, supported by a DC-equipped 447 in 10Z7. I put the bd 10 Brandt behind the wall in 10Z2 (there aren't a lot of good spots for mortars in this scenario) while the bd 23 Brandt covered my right from 23C10. A thin veneer of green half squads fleshed out my forward line, with the rest of my bd 10 troops in the DD5 and AA5 buildings to briefly contest the first road crossing before taking flight to bd 23. I had some HIP to work with as well, using one squad's worth on an 8-0/HMG/447 surprise in 23I9 and a pair of BAZ-armed crews lurking upstairs in 10D6 and 10F4. The ATG sits in 23D4, covering the bridge approaches. I decided to use half my HBH allotment as HIPsters, lurking in the grain and buildings of bd 10.
Lacing up our running shoes
Hawkeye attacked on a broad front, with the bulk of his infantry in the center, the 9-2 commanding his HMG on my right alongside his T34/85s, and the Sukas on my left with their own infantry support. He carried the center quickly; my 8-0 didn't help matters by shooting off a toe on his first morale check. With my rear guard refusing to guard, I revised my headlong flight to a more deliberate fighting withdrawal.
Hawkeye was a bit cautious fighting his way down the rowhouses, giving me a chance to fall back in good order on the left. On the right, the 9-2 methodically reduced my defense to giblets, but not before a Brandt round found the engine grate on a T34. After four turns, I have a lot of broken troops on my left but a screen of good order ROKs in front of them, while my center and right look much more vulnerable. If not for my HIP troops I wouldn't have a chance, and even with them I am still pretty nervous. We adjourned at this point and will pick it up again in the next week or two.
J. R. Tracy
We opened November (yes, I'm way behind) with eleven humanoid gaming lifeforms, including a Dolan.
Said Dolan opened proceedings with Tintas, sitting down with von Schulte. Tintas is a straightforward abstract with the appearance of Chinese Checkers but gameplay that reminds me of Ricochet Robots. The board is filled with a random distribution of pieces of seven different colors. Players take turns moving the neutral pawn. You move it in a straight line through empty spaces until you hit a colored piece. You collect it, replacing it with the pawn. If you can make another move to collect a piece of the same color just captured, you may continue your turn. You win by collecting a piece of each color, or if neither player achieves this, whoever collected at least four pieces in at least four different colors wins. Dan VIII took the win. The game looks very nice and is a fast player - a good option for a family gaming cabinet.
Scott and Natus tried the new Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game, a revamp of the venerable title. Scott's Crane clan defeated Nate's Lion. Both are decorated L5R veterans; the old game might be one of Nate's favorites. However, their opinions diverge on the new edition, with Nate putting his copy up for sale while Scott looks forward to another session. I find the steady progression of titles in the L5R universe bewildering, but this might the version I finally try.
Just another day in Nate's dojo
Smitch, Dan VIII, Hawkeye, and Rich mustered their courage for This War of Mine, a cooperative game set in a wintry war-torn city. The players are civilians trying to survive amid the devastation and privations of civil war, picking their way through the rubble in search of resources while avoiding the feral gangs than haunt the city.
An impressive cache
Our crew had a very rough time of it, suffering raids from not one but two gangs on their second night. One character was killed, and another so distraught he wandered off into the city to an unknown fate. Down to a handful of lint and a piece of string, they packed it in rather than continue the fun on a future night. Despite their dismal showing, they all enjoyed the experience. The game forces difficult choices with a range of encounters that challenge even a well-prepared team. It avoids the alpha-player co-op plague by rotating the 'final say' over the course of the game, so everyone has a chance to invoke their particular style of play. Grim topic, but well presented.
There's always a skeptic
Jim, Bill, Renaud, and Dr. Rob donned morions for Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery. This is a worker placement game with an exploration theme, inspired (I think) by the computer game of the same title. Players select their colonists from the four flavors available (Captain, Merchant, Missionary, Soldier) and head across the sea. Riches are there for the taking, but the locals might have something to say about it. Native encounters are random and occasionally harsh, so you can't take a conquest for granted sight unseen. Players vie for discoveries, resource income, and buildings to determine a winner.
A bold new world
I didn't see much of the game but I did witness a couple expeditions meet sticky ends at the hands of the natives. Bill edged out Renaud for the win, but everyone enjoyed the game. I liked it myself when we tried it several years ago. Picking the right colonist mix at any given point is a tricky puzzle and the variability of discoveries keeps things fresh. Good to see it on the table again.
GorGor and I matched up for some ASL, choosing Panzer Shield, a Barbarossa two-mapper from the latest Friendly Fire pack. Four PzIIIs have to hold off a pack of counterattacking Soviets with the help of a squad and half of infantry, an 88, and half a ham sandwich. The Soviets get thirteen squads supported by four BA-6 armored cars, as well as two 45Ls towed into action by Komsomolets prime movers. The Germans get a short-barreled PzIV and a pair of PzIIs as reinforcements over the course of the game. The Soviets have a Commissar and a 7-0, along with a mortar, a couple demo charges, a pair of LMGs, and three Molotov projectors for bonus hilarity.
In a rush
To win, the Soviets must knock out six German AFVs or push through the German screen to get three squads adjacent to a road on the far board (Bd FrFA). The Soviet infantry must set up on their half of Bd 33, at least four hexes from any German counters. A crafty German will use his meagre resources wisely to limit Soviet options, and Steve's nom de guerre is Kraftwald von Kraftenberg. His lonely pickets effectively penned me in, compelling me to form up in the Bd 33 orchard field, with the A/Cs on the road behind and the terrified Komsomolets back further still. GorGor had two concealed vehicles behind the grain on the Soviet left, and two more in FrFA Q1 and N0, behind his thin screen of 1/2" mysteries. I figured the latter two were most vulnerable given the available cover, and made them the focus of my attack.
I opened with a human wave through the orchards toward the center panzers. My mortar took care of a picket in the clear terrain off to my right, and a German halfsquad in 33R7 had little effect on my charge. The N0 PzIIIG took its toll, breaking a couple stacks, but I got adjacent to the Q1 PzIIIF, with high hopes for the upcoming CCPh. I then moved my vehicles - the 88 popped up in FrFA M2, flame-roasting a BA-6 as rolled through 33M6. The surviving platoon mate moved on to challenge the PzIIIF, missing a bounding fire shot. The other A/Cs chose a more cautious approach through the orchard, with the Komsomolets tiptoeing behind.
Starting to get messy
My craven infantry failed their PAATC versus the PzIIIF, so I advanced everyone forward in the hope someone would survive a couple rounds of fire to close with the vehicles or infiltrate past. The game then settled into a cagey fight around the 33O10 woods mass. Soviet infantry would break, run to the Commissar for a stern lecture, and then advance again to repeat the cycle. My MOL-P teams had the toughest time, rarely lasting long enough within range to get off a shot. The other two panzers swung around to support the 88, and my A/Cs got the worst of the armor fight. My ATGs got off some shots, failing to penetrate, but a Molotov finally found the mark when the N0 PzIIIG tried to escape.
My armor was gone and my ATGs were out of position, but my infantry remained largely intact. I was clearly losing but the tantalizing prospect of success seemed just a good player turn (or a bad German fire phase) away. I captured the 88 and felt like I had a chance to break through, when Steve started landing the kill shots he needed to secure his position. With my infantry strength cut in half and the reinforcing panzers arriving on the scene, I threw in the towel.
The limit of our achievements
This scenario is a hoot. The German looks like he could be easily overwhelmed, but those vehicles are beasts, with 2 ROF and beaucoup machine guns (the IIIF has an 8 factor CMG). The tiny infantry component's primary mission is to limit the Soviet setup. After that, they fall back and interdict anyone getting past the armor. On the Soviet side, you have to use your mass effectively, keep your local Party rep out of the line of fire, and figure out a way to use your armor better than I did. I think patience is the key here - take a covered approach and don't feel like you have to engage on the first turn or two. The same holds for the ATGs. They're always tough to use on the attack, but here they can cover your flanks and deny redeployment options to the panzers. This card reminds me of another great Friendly Fire title, To Ashes. It's not quite as complex, but has a similar extreme asymmetry and a razor-thin margin of error. If you're looking for an advanced challenge, give it a spin!
While everyone else was wrapping up or making cocktails, Scott, GorGor, and I played Dan VIII's NMBR 9. To the shock of no one, Steve mastered it immediately, spanking us with 89 points to 61 for me and 57 for Scott. Hey, I at least got three levels of tiles this time.
Last up, Hawkeye, Scott, Smitch, GorGor, and I made our way to the front for a couple games of The Grizzled, under the baleful eye of Dan VIII (the game only handles five). In our first game we must've been assigned to the Chemin des Dames, because we were pushing up poppies almost as soon as we started. Our second game was a much better contest. Our Hard Knocks were a pain, with a couple limiting our ability to use Support, but we pressed on with judicious use of Good Luck Charms and some timely withdrawals. Unfortunately it was not enough and though we came close, our morale ultimately failed as the Monument was revealed in our local town square.
I don't think I've won this game yet but I have always enjoyed it. The group dynamic is terrific as you try to parse the Hard Knocks, time your Luck Charms, and weigh your next card play against a particularly ugly collection of Trials. The wonderful art adds to the experience. We haven't tried the expansions so I don't know what they add to the game, but next time out we'll throw them into the mix.
J. R. Tracy
We had eleven gamers for All Hallows' Eve, for a trip to Mars, a thematic multiplayer, and a wrap-up of unspeakable horror.
While waiting for the crew to coalesce, Renaud introduced Mike Hammond and me to Not Alone. This is a nifty little one-versus-many card game. Your ship has crash-landed on an alien planet and you await rescue. The planet is inhabited by a creature intent on assimilating you. Each turn the marooned astronauts secretly pick a location that has a particular action or ability associated with it, and then the creature-player decides where to go. If he matches your location, you take a hit and don't get to use the ability. Each turn the creature scores a hit, the Assimilation token advances. Meanwhile, the crew strives to advance the Rescue token, by planting distress beacons, etc. Whichever token reaches 0 first wins the game for that side.
The creature strikes
Renaud played the local fauna while Mike and I were the interlopers. We played about five turns and were really into the game, and very disappointed we couldn't finish. Each turn you're taking a crack at a multidimensional game theory problem, with a solution set that expands as the game goes on. The creature can play cards every turn that enhance his abilities and allow him to monitor multiple locations, while the crew can add additional locations to their options by using their rover (itself a location and subject to creature scrutiny). It is fundamentally an abstract but with a great choice of theme that matches up nicely with the gameplay. It accommodates from two to seven players; Renaud says that the two-player game is great and I can see it scaling well from there. I hope we can play a full game soon.
Mark, John, Hawkeye, Dave, and Bill tilled the familiar red soil of Mars. Bill ran the Ecoline corporation and laid a lush green carpet over the surface of the planet, planting his way to a win. Dave, always a threat, placed second, without a single tile on the board.
Campoverdi schlepped Cthulhu Wars in all its glory through the Halloween parade crowds. This is an impressive mound of gaming goodness. We needed the extra bits, as we had six players, with Campo as The Yellow Sign, Renaud as The Opener of the Way, Smitch as The Wind Walker, Stéphane as The Sleeper, Mike as Great Cthulhu, and myself as Crawling Chaos. The board scales with additional players, but space was still tight and we would be bumping into each other right off the bat.
The Windwalker wakes up
My faction starts out weak, with poor combat stats but compensating spells that allow me to reinforce with my good fighters and block the enemy's best. My goal was to keep a low profile, build gates, and roll out my Great Old One with my sixth and final spell. Once Nyarlathotep was on the board, I would go over to the offensive, as he's one of the most terrifying creatures in the game. The tricky bit would be capturing an enemy cultist, a requirement for one of my spells and tough to do with my initial units.
While I was biding my time, Renaud went on a rampage. His spell triggers depended on combat and he had some good offensive spells as well. However, almost everyone else was focused on developing their gates and building out their force pools. I skirmished a bit with Smitch and Campo, but got four gates out quickly and was the first to deploy my Great Old One. Despite my board presence I wasn't ahead on points, as everyone else was performing Rituals of Annihilation - I felt my power was better spent on the map for the time being.
Hell Comes to Frogtown
As we approached the endgame I finally started attracting the attention of my opponents. Nyarlathotep faced both of Smitch's Old Ones and barely escaped, while my lesser minions battled the shuffling undead horde of The King in Yellow. Despite their efforts, I clawed my way to five gates. With the walls closing in, I finally performed a Ritual of Annihilation; combined with my cache of Elder Signs, this generated just enough Doom points to ring the bell for a win.
As with so many asymmetric games, we spent as much time figuring out our own factions as we did dealing with our enemies. That benefitted me most, I think, since I was a late bloomer and no one identified me as such. Also, Mike was totally new to the game and old Squidface is the board's policeman. Cheap to summon and able to teleport with a big green posse, he's always a threat to hammer the leader. Mike started getting a feel for the role late in the game but I was already lining up the win. This is my second game and I enjoyed it even more than the first. I like the extreme variability of the factions and the way different faction combinations interact. The figures themselves are stunning, which can be said of many new games these days, but here they combine with a solid game system for a very enjoyable experience.
Last up, Mike, Smitch, Campoverdi, and I tried 45 - Era of Trump, a card game on the Trump administration cooked up by John and Tom, another of Mark's buddies. Tom dropped by to guide us through the playtest. Players build tableaus of various administration and Congressional figures, which provide political currency in different areas - activism, media, lobbying, and popularity. Some provide straight up cash. These currencies in turn allow you to recruit more politicians and control policies. Insiders (Trump administration officials) require money, while legislators need a combination of the other resources, with money acting as a 2:1 wild card.
Still a swamp
VPs are scored by purchasing policies and completing secret objectives (each player receives three at the beginning of the game). In addition to their inherent VPs, policies may help you build sets for your secret objectives (most Social policies, for instance). Other secret objectives include most Democratic Congressmen, most Trump insiders, and so on.
No Trump game would be complete without Twitter. At the beginning of each player's turn, he draws a Tweet card, which has an actual Trump tweet as flavor text and some sort of game impact. Some help you, some hurt you, but overall they provide an element of game chaos just at they do in real life.
An eventful year
In our game, the tweets seemed to hit Campo hardest, but he still collected a nice set of policies. I had a handful of policies myself and managed to complete two of my secret objectives, but falling short of the third proved my undoing. Campo led the pack at game end with 22 points to my 20, with Smitch and Mike right behind at 19 and 18 respectively.
Everyone else compared the game to Splendor - I haven't played Splendor enough to make the comparison but I'll take their word for it. We liked the general flavor and flow, but offered some suggestions such as aligning the game currencies with particular policy suits. It feels solid already, and beyond its topical novelty it could have some legs.
J. R. Tracy
We had nine players for some wargaming and solar system power politics.
Josh joined us to learn Up Front courtesy of Scott. They went with A Meeting of Patrols, with Scott leading the Germans against Josh's GIs. Josh was quickly introduced to the exquisite pain of UF, as a frustrating lack of terrain cards finally overwhelmed his judgement. Soon his maneuver group was up and running, protected by smoke but staring down the barrels of Scott's fire teams. Josh desperately cycled his hand only to see more and more Move cards, without a building in sight. He finally stumbled into cover, licking his wounds with the help of Rally cards.
A new initiate
Despite that frustrating sequence, Josh made a good game of it, recovering enough to beat up Scott's squad while inching toward Range 4. Unfortunately for the dogfaces, Scott got there first for the win. Good intro to the game, with Josh playing an open hand for the first half but gaining enough comfort to play it straight the rest of the way.
Mark, Renaud, Hawkeye, and Herr Fuchs tried The Expanse Board Game, based on the SF book series and television show of the same name. I believe the game covers the first two books, according to Renaud. Mark ran the Earth-based UN, Hawkeye was Mars, Renaud was the Outer Planets Alliance, and Herr Fuchs was the evil corporation Protogen, but in everyone's eyes, the protomolecule itself. Players vie for control of the inner solar system, via an interesting action mechanism. A player chooses from five available cards, playing the card for either action points or an event. Anyone may play the event if they are the active player, but otherwise the events are faction-specific. Non-active players may opt to play a relevant event but fall to the bottom of the initiative track if they do so. It looks like an interesting mutation of the COIN system.
Renaud's anarchic OPA took an early lead but Mark caught up and passed him. They battled it out over the course of the game but Mark maintained the lead. Late in the game Renaud had a scoring opportunity but passed it up to save his powder for a better play the following turn. Unfortunately, the sixth and final scoring card appeared before he could do so, ending the game for a UN victory, 103 to the OPA's 102. I think everyone enjoyed the game, with its combination of board action and diplomacy/treachery. Mark was the only player with any experience, but they wrapped up in about three hours, a good clip for a robust multiplayer.
Stéphane was a little late to the party, but Hawkeye paired up with him for a little Bitskrieg. After all, we couldn't let Stéphane go home without some action on his first game night as a US citizen! Hawkeye had sweet ASL dice, which is to say, terrible Bitskrieg dice. Stéphane had the good sense to roll high, and enjoyed a red, white, and blue win along with his champagne toast.
Already making America proud
Last up, Campoverdi and I broke out GMT's new Holland '44: Operation Market-Garden. This is Mark Simonitch's latest WWII operational game covering the iconic campaign. A die roll gave Campo the Germans, and I commenced operations.
Exactly the right number of bridges
My drop was nearly flawless, with a couple scattered battalions but nothing too damaging. The British 1AB secured the drop zones and took the river road into Arnhem, within striking distance of the road bridge. As a bonus, the rail bridge remained intact, a good harbinger for the relief operation.
Ready to roll
82AB and 101AB also had good drops, but a little more trouble with the Germans. The unknown units proved prickly, with a mix of worthless zero-strength garrisons and tough little nuts of ear and stomach battalions that surely had something better to do. The paras secured their interior lines but fought tough battles on the periphery.
So far so good
101AB saw every road bridge on the Wilhelmina Canal blow up in their faces, while 82AB faced a threat from the east. The German 406ID starts just off map, entering by random die roll. The All Americans watched in dismay as Campo rolled well and entered everything but the 406's supporting artillery on turn one. Their quality is crap, but they enjoy decent unit strength and the power of concentration. The 82nd was already stretched thin and the pressure on the Groesbeek Heights drop zones was unwelcome.
A nice day for a swim
Down south, XXX Corps got off to a good start, blasting their way up the main road, with XII and VIII Corps supporting the flanks. The British suffered casualties immediately, however, and it seemed every successful attack was purchased with a step loss. Campo gave ground where he could, using the off-map areas to fall fall back and re-enter the board a little further north. By turn three the Screaming Eagles were clearing Eindhoven and preparing to welcome Guards Armoured. Sadly, the Irish Guards would not be joining them, as their burning Shermans marked the path of XXX Corps' advance.
By turn four, the Red Devils were firmly established in Arnhem as the first wave of German counterattacks foundered on their perimeter. 82AB was barely in control of their drop zones and engaged in a desperate fight in Nijmegen; the initial garrison held out long enough for 9SS panzergrenadiers to reinforce the defense. 101AB was in great shape, but until the Bailey bridges arrived they would be defending their stretch of the corridor on their own. Campo was pessimistic about German prospects but I felt it was pretty even overall. We decided to pick it up at that point and committed ourselves to an all day session at some point in the future.
Gräbner gets involved
We really enjoyed H'44. I've always had fun with Mark's games but this is my favorite by a good margin. The early turns are burdened with a host of special rules but the overhead didn't weigh heavily on game play. The ZOC bond concept works well in the swirling battles behind the lines, as the airborne perimeters coalesce and the German defense struggles for coherence. Both sides have puzzles to solve - how much of 82AB heads into Nijmegen and how much holds the Heights? Does the 1AB artillery support the drop zone defense or the defense of Arnhem? How long do the Germans hold in the face of the might of XXX Corps? Baseline assumptions are easy to come by with such a familiar battle, but random results and enemy action disrupt your planning, moreso here than in the forests of the Ardennes or the hedgerows of Normandy. All in all, a great first taste, and we look forward to the full meal.
J O E Vandeleur sleeps with the fishes
J. R. Tracy
We had nine players mid October for a brand new release (pre-release?), some playtesting, wargaming, and Euros.
Milton Soong was in town but running late, so Dr. Rob and I opened the evening with Scott's spanking new copy of Bitskrieg. As described in an earlier session, this is a quick-play tactical armor game. AFVs are broken out into tank destroyers, light tanks, medium tanks, and heavies, with simple but sharp distinctions between the classes. Players alternate moving and firing individual vehicles, with to-hit rolls dependent on range and to-kill rolls dependent on the class of the target. Victory is achieved by capturing the enemy flags or wiping out his force.
Dr. Rob was the Red Scorpion to my Blue Owl. I drew first blood, quickly eliminating two of Dr. Rob's tanks before one of his lights inexplicably killed a blue heavy. I nailed another and was maneuvering against his objectives when Milton arrived. Dr. Rob departed for a multiplayer and we called it a draw.
Peeking through the trees
I had a blast with Scott's playtest components but Hollandspiele's production package elevates the experience. Clever box art, straightforward rules, and clear counters suit the theme and the level of complexity. This is a great intro game as well as a fun filler - kudos to the Muldoons on their swift journey from conception to reality.
I can't quite put my finger on it
Next to us, Scott and Campoverdi fired up Blitz! A World in Conflict, billed as World in Flames pitched at army level. Campo took the Axis to Scott's Allies.
Donner and Blitzen
A stubborn Poland refused to die in a single turn, upsetting Campo's timetable, but he made up for it with a successful early attack on France. They managed to work through three turns in about as many hours, well off the advertised pace but not bad for a first attempt.
The fall of France
The game looks good, despite a few niggling usability issues. The global map is clear and the info-packed counters stand out on the table. The designers' claim of eight hours for the campaign game sounds aggressive, but even at a touch longer it could still fit into a couple sessions or a long weekend day.
East Asian staring contest
Renaud brought the latest iteration of his WWII card game, and took the Allies against Bill's Axis. I witnessed some punching back and forth in the Med, but missed the invasion of Russia. They played through 1942, taking notes for the next re-write.
In the lab
After our little armor battle, Dr. Rob joined Mitch and Smitch for Stone Age. Mitch prevailed, closely followed by Rob. What happened in the Love Shack stayed in the Love Shack, thank God.
Milton arrived with Hanamikoji in hand. This is a two player geisha(!)-themed card game reminiscent of Battle Line. Seven geisha 'objective' cards are arrayed between the players; these range in value from two to five points (3x2, 2x3, 1x4, 1x5). Each geisha has an associated set of cards in the draw deck, each set equal to the value of the geisha, for a total of 21 cards. Each round one card from the draw deck is discarded at random, unexamined by either player.
An initial hand of four cards is dealt to each player. A turn consists of executing one of four actions. The actions allow you to do one of the following: secretly allocate one card to its associated geisha; discard two cards, unseen by your opponent; create two face-up pairs of cards from your hand and let your opponent choose one, after which all are assigned to their geishas; and lay three cards face up and let your opponent choose one, again assigning all to their geishas after the choice is made. Actions are only performed once per round, and you draw to replace the just-played (or discarded) cards.
After all actions have been played by both players, the secret cards are revealed and control of geishas is determined. If you 'win' a neutral geisha, you now control it, but in later rounds if you win one of your opponent's geishas, it moves from his control to neutral. More rounds are played until a player either controls four geishas or eleven points worth of geishas - if both happen simultaneously the latter wins.
All very tasteful
I was a little lost in the first round of the first game, but recovered in time to identify the winning move by the third round. Unfortunately, I then did exactly the opposite and handed the game to Milton. Our second game was a neat knife fight where we again contested several geishas through two rounds before I captured a win in the third.
This is a fast-playing but very thinky game. My opinion of Battle Line is heavily colored by the fact I suck at it, but I think I like Hanamikoji a little better. I found the action choices confusing at first, then obvious, and finally complex. I do think the viable decision set rapidly narrows after the first round, with only the unknown discard shaking things up. Prior to that you should face a few challenging dilemmas, however, and the whole thing resolves quickly enough that a best-of-five set should make for a nice filler.
Next up, I introduced Milton to 1750: Britain vs. France. This game is unusual enough that my one-game experience advantage proved decisive, but we had a lot of fun with it. My French were driven out of North America by Milton's German mercenaries and local riff-raff, led first by a young George Washington and then by the tragically fated Wolfe. Despite killing the latter in battle, I was thrown off the continent. However, I more than made up for it with gains in Africa and India, and Milton's diplomatic efforts weren't enough to close the gap.
George II hires some Hessians
I really like 1750 but I am a long way from mastering it. It has wargame elements, a strong economic/resource management component, and a bit of cardplay, all driven by a combination of novel and familiar mechanics. I only have a couple quibbles - it ends too quickly, and for such a short game the footprint is massive. This is FFG-level bit spew, almost more than a card table can handle. However, the art is beautiful and despite the chaos it still looks great. The random events and secret victory conditions extend replayability, and I look forward to several more sessions.
Steamrolling New France
J. R. Tracy
We had seven players after ASLOK for some space conquest and a little Magic.
Bill, Dave, and Renaud settled in for another session of A Handful of Stars. Renaud's Technoids established an early lead with a pattern of colonization and development, expanding through alien systems without directly lifting any territory off the other players. Dave worked hard to reel him in, with several large battles resulting.
The Bilderberg Group
Dave's hard work paid off with the capture of a couple systems, which slowed Renaud's roll and allowed Bill to briefly seize the lead. However, Renaud played a card for VPs to jump back out in front. Bill needed to conquer a Technoid colony on his last turn, but failed; the battle forced reshuffles for both Bill and Renaud, ending the game with a win for the latter. Good fun for all, as familiarity smoothes out the rules wrinkles.
Mitch proposed a sealed deck mini no-stakes tournament with the new Magic release, Ixalan. This set has a vaguely Meso-American theme with jungle creatures, vampire conquistadors, dinosaurs, mermen, and more. Jim, Smitch, and I each received a deck from Mitch along with a handy construction tip sheet, and spent a few minutes building our decks.
I went with a vampire-dinosaur pairing, with low-cost fighters from the vampire (oddly mostly white) cards supporting the heavy hitting dinos (mostly green, as you'd expect). I added a few artifacts that complemented the combat cards and of course enough mana to get my troops into action.
I paired up with Smitch first. We enjoyed three very tight games, as his red/black/blue pirate mermen deftly turned aside my big beasts and outpointed my light troops. His MVP was the Contract Killing card, which kept picking off my high-value critters as soon as they were deployed. He was down to a single life point when he won the first game, and under five in the second. I somehow outlasted him in the third, after tweaking some of my artifact choices (it pays to read the cards closely).
We rotated and I then faced Mitch. This time everything went my way over the course of a couple games, as Mitch had terrible card flow and never seemed to have an answer for my flyers. By the time he built an aerial defense, I had enough mana to deploy the dinosaurs, which often have mutually enhancing characteristics. The combos proved unstoppable. I think with some adjustments Mitch could have countered my powers but he insisted on playing the same deck as a handicap for his massive experience advantage.
I had a great time re-learning the game - I was impressed with how well it continues to hold up. I love the deck-building metagame and it was fun trying my own creation against a couple others on the fly. M:tG will never be my main game but I understand how you can disappear down the rabbit hole. Fortunately Mitch has already surrendered his mind and fortune to Magic, so the rest of us don't have to. Between the enormous card inventory and the thriving community, it is an immersive and rewarding hobby unto itself.
J. R. Tracy
We closed September with a dozen players for a land war in Asia, Chthulhoid madness, renaissance conflict, and rock 'em sock 'em WWII action.
Jon Kay was in town, and joined Dave, Smitch, and Campoverdi for Fire in the Lake. Jon took the US with Dave as the shifty ARVN, while Campo donned his black footie pajamas alongside Smitch's NVA on the Communist side.
Jon emphasizes the 'destroy' portion of 'Search and Destroy'
Jon opened the game with a pair of powerful cards, Arc Strike and Search and Destroy. Campo drew the bulk of Free World firepower as he threw himself on the wire for his northern comrades. Relatively unchecked, Smitch's NVA grew relentlessly and captured a win before Dave and Jon could shift their focus. We have a grip on the mechanics of the game, but the finer points of counterbalancing the various faction strengths are still undeveloped - much yet to explore here.
Mitch, Baron von Schulte, Sean, and Herr Fuchs visited an alternative Victorian world to battle in the shadows of A Study in Emerald (first edition). Sean and Rich were both Restorationists, but Sean mimicked Loyalist behavior to keep the opposition off balance. However, the real story was Mitch getting the zombie train out of the station. For the first time ever in our many sessions of ASiE, we saw the Zombies card played for a game-ending win! Kudos to Mitch, and all hail our malevolent overlords.
They need to work on their disguises
Natus and Scott popped the shrink on the new Arquebus, the latest title in the Men of Iron series. They lined up for Agnadello, a 1509 battle of the Italian Wars. The French have just invaded Venetian territory, and the Most Serene Republic has hired a batch of mercenaries to meet the threat. Natus took the Venetians while Scott commanded the French.
The French engage
Nate's troops begin the game defending light fieldworks, but Scott's artillery hammered the Venetian right flank. His sword and buckler men quickly followed up, breaching the line and pushing the defenders back in disarray.
"...third, you forgot my birthday, fourth..."
With the Venetian defense compromised, Scott burned an activation to bring on Tremoille's reinforcements rather than consolidate his gains. Natus took advantage of the pause to hit Scott's left with his reserve cavalry, putting them to flight and regaining his original line. Scott replied with his own cavalry, tearing into the Venetian left with his formidable pikemen in support.
The Venetians form for a counterblow
Both players were approaching their Flight numbers, the point at which accumulated casualties break an army's morale. The French limit was higher but Scott's losses on the left put him closer to his break point. Once within nine points of the limit, a commander must roll a d10 with each successive loss; if the sum of current losses plus the die roll exceeds the Flight threshold, the force flees the battlefield. The Venetians had lost tactical cohesion, with their once-continuous line reduced to desperate pockets of resistance. Scott's gendarmes took a hit on an attack, forcing a Flight roll - only a nine would send the Valois monarch home. Sadly for Scott but to the everlasting glory of Venice, he rolled that very number and the French fell back on Milan to reflect on recent life choices.
Trémoille sweeps on
I love the Italian Wars, and have played many of the actions in a miniatures format. I'm looking forward to trying Arquebus, and will likely make use of Scott's house rules that take the edge off the more egregious elements of the activation system. Give him a ping if you'd like to try them yourself. The module looks great, and they had a blast with a dynamic back-and-forth battle. With seven more actions in the box, it should prove to be good value for fans of the topic.
The breaking point
Hawkeye and I got in a little ASL with Takin' Eibertingen from Dispatches from the Bunker. This is a January '45 action from the American counteroffensive to reduce the Bulge. Hawkeye's dogfaces had to clear my shaky Fallschirmjägers from the board 12 town. I had a mix of 548s, 447s, and 436s, about right for a late-war FJ formation, plus an immobilized StuG. The StuG set up like a HIP gun by SSR, essentially functioning as an armored pillbox. Hawkeye had a Kellogg's Variety Pack too - 667s, 666s, and 546s, with a pair each of MMGs and Baz '45s. The latter hurt my feelings a bit as my poor lads were suffering under the 1944 Panzerfaust rules, again by SSR. Hawkeye also had two M4A3s with an armor leader, and his infantry was led by a heroic 9-2. To win, I had to have good order infantry capable of applying five FP to a hex in the center of town, or inflict 20 CVP of casualties on the Americans.
Hawkeye steps off
I concentrated my infantry in the main part of town, with a real picket on my right and a pair of dummies in the center. The HIP StuG lurked in N10, commanding the center of the board but vulnerable to a bazooka shot from L10. I was willing to accept that risk, figuring it should at least bag a Sherman before going down.
Hawkeye split his infantry roughly equally between left and right, with each force supported by a Sherman. His infantry started the game CX, limiting his opening move. Things did not go well for the GIs in the early going, as a sneaky LOS from my upstairs MMG caught the 9-2 leading a platoon through open ground on the American left. All three squads broke and the 9-2 came up limping. On the right, my StuG nailed a Sherman as it approached the gully, so I was now playing with house money in the armor battle. However, the rest of Hawkeye's troops moved up in good order.
It died doing what it loved best
Midgame, Hawkeye used the gully on his right to approach the town, with a bazooka team popping up into L10 just as I feared. Soon my assault gun was burning and my infantry started to feel the pressure. However, American casualties were mounting, with the CVP climbing into the mid-teens. I pulled my troops back to the rear edge of the main buildings, where they could still see the target hex without taking direct fire. Hawkeye still had a shot, though, as the VCs required *good order* Germans - if he could lock me up in Melee he could still pull out the win.
I had three positions remaining. The surviving Sherman swept into bypass of one, tying it up to allow his infantry to run adjacent to a second, where they survived defensive fire and were poised to advance into close combat. The third position was tricky, however, as it was in the marketplace and could not be approached without taking shots in open ground. Getting adjacent wouldn't be the problem - doing so without hitting the CVP cap was the issue. One squad made it, but a second was cut down by the defenders. That was enough to trigger the cap for a German victory.
On the cusp
This is a nice compact combined arms scenario. The German defense is static but they have timing issues on when to give ground and when to take some risks to inflict casualties. The Americans have to get the most out a force of predominantly six morale troops. The 9-2 is fragile given his heroic state, and the Shermans as always are very vulnerable to both the StuG and the German infantry. Aside from the opening move, Hawkeye had a solid game, and got to try some end-game shenanigans for the first time. Good fun, and a nice prep for ASLOK.
J. R. Tracy
We had ten gamers for some terraforming, revolution, and espionage.
Renaud and Natus paired off for Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution, choosing the Guilford Courthouse scenario. The Redcoats start off near their own baseline while the Continentals are closer to midmap.
Cornwallis consults the tome
Renaud moved forward aggressively, reversing the initial deployment as he pushed Nate back up to *his* backline. Steady pressure and a barrage of retreat results chewed up the Continentals, granting Renaud a flag with each unit melted by the board edge. This proved enough to overcome Nate's initial lead, as Renaud led the oppressors to victory, 10-6.
Revolution in retrograde
Dave, Mark, Hawkeye, NewSteve, and I found ourselves on the now-familiar surface of Mars, hell-bent on making it suitable for human habitation.
I was the Helion Corporation and enjoyed a flow of cards that challenged my expert-level ability to screw up a sure thing. My initial hand allowed me to bump my Terraforming rating two clicks right off the bat with cheap cards, and rope in the 40 credit asteroid on the second turn. I increased my titanium production to five units per generation, and deployed a technology that increased the value of my minerals. The net result was I was roping in every space card I could draft, and I had the added bonus of seeing a friendly progression of science cards for the first time in over a dozen games of TM.
Craterfront real estate
I typically trash science cards as so many of the good ones have a prerequisite of multiple science tags - it's a chicken/egg situation and I usually have neither chickens nor eggs. This time, however, I saw a very friendly flow, with cheap no-prereq cards appearing early and heavier cards showing up as the game wore on. I kept all but the Rover in my hand lest folks stop passing them in the draft. Ultimately I had a fistful, and with my monster cash flow I had no problem laying them all down over the course of two generations for eleven science tags total. That sealed the Science award, and I already had the Terraforming and Builder milestones in hand. To add insult to injury I finally found life with the Rover, breaking my 0-37 streak. This all added up to 90 points by game end. The race for second was much closer, with NewSteve edging Mark 61-59 and fifth place coming in at a very close 55.
I blinded them with science
Scott, Amy, and Bill tried Days of Ire: Budapest 1956, seeking to overthrown their Soviet masters. This is a cooperative game, but I understand you can also have the regime run by a player if you wish. They succeeded in 'winning', though apparently that amounts to extending the uprising rather than a truly successful revolution. Still, it looks very interesting and has some great art.
With Bill's departure, Amy and Scott closed the evening with Cold War: CIA vs KGB. This is a card-driven game of espionage. Players compete for various objectives, deploying their agents and recruiting local assets to gain ascendancy. Amy sat in Moscow Centre as the puppet master of the Soviet shadow war, and dealt Scott a thrashing. This sat on the shelf for years and I'm glad to finally see it in action - looks like a nice wrap for a night of gaming.
Spy vs Spy
J. R. Tracy
We had ten players for some wargaming, star-faring, and more on a rare Wednesday game night.
Having played a couple weeks ago, Renaud and Mitch introduced A Handful of Stars to Bill and Dr. Rob. With four players, factions were quickly bumping into each other so we saw a little more conflict. Renaud, as the aggressive Storbots, went after his neighbors with heavy missile fire. This paid off in victory points and a rapid cycling of his deck, advancing the game clock. Renaud ultimately cycled his way to a win. The game was generally well received, but some concern has emerged with respect to deck cycling strategies. Renaud's approach wasn't excessive but a recent session report illustrates an extreme example that is either a rare anomaly or an edge case in need of a patch.
Reaching for a bigger handful
Rich and Jim paired up for the GMT edition of MBT, playing the intro T72-vs-M60A1 scenario. Rich took the Reds, and traded shots with Jim mid-map. They used the basic rules so it was just a hardware slugfest. When they called it, the VP locations were still up for grabs but Jim had the edge in kills.
Dan VIII rode his warbear into the city to join us, with Leaving Earth as his first choice. Hawkeye, Scott, and I joined him, using Dan's Zazzle map.
I was told there would be no math
I had the Chinese and proceeded to massively overengineer my missions by somehow double-counting my payload every step of the way. Fortunately there was a brisk market in researched technologies so I had access to heavy rockets early. I successfully completed two Mercury missions, and thanks to a tip from Scott I landed a probe on Venus, enough to seal a win.
What lurks within the Muldoonian mind
Poor Scott was burdened with an extra payload all game, acting as the living rulebook and technical advisor for the rest of the table. Despite having played it a few times now, we were all a little at sea. Fun game, with the potential for serial solitaire overthrown by the competition for missions and the technological horse trading.
Next up, Scott, Hawkeye, and I looked on with trepidation as Dan VIII pulled Sticky Chameleons from his Great Bag of Holding. Each player has an elastic sticky 'tongue'. A pair of dice are rolled to determine the color and type of bug for the round, and then everyone starts snapping their tongues at a pile of insect tiles until someone retrieves the target. Dan has a knack for discovering titles that at first blush seem utterly ridiculous but in fact contain a nugget of gaming joy beneath an absurd veneer. In this case, however, appearances were not deceiving - Sticky Chameleons is nonsense to the core. I have a high tolerance for dexterity games but this one failed to clear even my low bar. After ten minutes of chaos Scott and Hawkeye decided they'd rather face the late-night denizens of the N train than endure another round. Back to the loch with you, Nessie.
Chastised and in search of redemption, Dan next retrieved NMBR 9. This is a tile placement puzzle game. Each turn a card is flipped to reveal a number from zero to nine - players grab a tile with the corresponding value and add it to their tableaux. Tiles must be flush against another on the same level or cover other tiles with no space beneath. There is a wide variety of shapes so plotting your placement is tricky. Your score is the sum of each tile multiplied by its placement level. Dan mastered the nuances well before I did, smoking me by 28 points - he had his tiles three deep while I struggled to stack any at all. Despite totally sucking at it, I really enjoyed the game. It should scale nicely (it takes up to four players) and the spatial puzzle nature is a great brain rinse after an evening of rocket surgery and insect hunting.
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