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Fun City Gaming

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

Archive for J. R. Tracy

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AAR 4 April 2017 - High Frontier and High Frontier

J. R. Tracy
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It was all about the solar system this week with two five-player games of High Frontier.

Dr. Rob, Bill, Stéphane, Smitch, and von Schulte manned one game, which was a model of efficiency. Everyone was off to the stars in an orderly fashion, but Bill's proven mastery of sub-light-speed space travel has yet to be matched. He pieced together another win, but we added substantially to the collective experience of the group, bringing three new players to the game.

Bill rules the solar system once more

At the other end of the table, Scott was joined by myself, Hawkeye, Jim, and Jon. I drew the Taikonauts, notorious for claim-jumping and their willingness to abandon crews on some forsaken piece of rock for the greater good. Their felonious ways confer a significant advantage in some aspects of the game, but I was having none of that, choosing an unconventionally conventional strategy instead.

Outer Muldoonia

The other four programs opted for a counterclockwise path from Earth, so I went clockwise, determined to be the first to land humans in the Jovian belt and return home. I boldly planted the red banner on Hygiea, then headed back to explain to the Standing Committee why I ended up one belt short of success - engineering excellence undone by incompetent navigation. Elsewhere, Scott was puttering around the inner planets in a square-rigged solar dinghy, and judging by the muttered comments from the ESA, Jon found nothing but salt deposits in the Karin Cluster. Jim and Hawkeye had a little more success in the same general region.

Salty

On my second trip out, I was determined to reach the Asgard Ice Spires, but miscalculated my fuel requirements and came up a teaspoon short. I put in at Elara and slowly built up the reserves I needed to complete my journey. Out of sheer pigheaded stubborness I was hauling a crew, a refinery, and a robonaut, determined to get everything done in one mission (collect the Jovian bonus and build a V-type factory). I eventually succeeded, and was ready to produce a mighty N-6Li microfission thruster when we called it due to time. At that point, Scott's steady looping between home and the inner targets put him well in the lead, with Jim and Hawkeye trailing. Jon finally reached the moon for a gratifying personal triumph. My early mishaps put me off the pace, but the microfission thruster is a beast and I think I would've given Scott a run for his money in a longer game.

The starbuggy of my dreams

After a rough session in the Space Academy of Hard Knocks, I'm ready to try HF again tomorrow. As a competitive exercise it's a challenge fighting both your opponents and the system itself. However, the mechanics slowly sink in and each departure from LEO is easier than the last. With a few runs of the basic game under his belt, Scott is ready to try the advanced game, and the rest of us aren't far behind. Per aspera ad astra!
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Mon Apr 24, 2017 1:09 pm
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AAR 21/28 March 2017 - Mage Knight, Terraforming Mars, Eldritch Horror, High Frontier, Conan

J. R. Tracy
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I was out of town visiting colleges with Matilda, but young Natus and handsome Hawkeye accepted the keys to the kingdom and ably hosted in my absence.

Where does the time go?

Scott taught Mitch and Eliot Mage Knight, using the Blitz variant to accelerate the leveling a bit so players could get to the good stuff. They didn't quite finish, but Scott bagged a city and Eliot had a sackful of artifacts. Looks like the Steins enjoyed it and may add it to their family collection.

Have fun storming the castle! (photo by Scott Muldoon)

Renaud and Campoverdi took a run at Eldritch Horror - let's just say we shouldn't leave the collective sanity of the planet in their shaky hands.

It did not end well

Last up, Hawkeye and Dave taught Bill and Jim Terraforming Mars, adding the drafting rules in the process. The combination of teaching and working through drafting for the first time slowed things down considerably, so they didn't finish, but we have a couple more ready players for what has become a reliable title.

Marsaforming Earth

I returned on the 28th when we had a group of eight for some space exploration and barbarian heroics.

Scott cracked the shrink on the new edition of High Frontier with Eliot, Bill, and Stéphane. Scott is our subject matter expert but Bill had some experience as well. After a walk-through by Scott, they all reached for the stars.

For the greater glory of the People's Republic

Everyone quickly found successful component combinations and claimed slices of the solar system, with Stéphane and Scott neighbors in the Gefon and Vesta families respectively, while Bill pushed out to the Nysas and Eliot went all the way to the Jovian Himala moonlets. However, Bill was ahead of the pack with factory creation, the first to reach three. It wasn't all A-OK for Team Terdoslavich, however, as he lost three missions in a row trying to negotiate the rapid rotation of the comet Elst-Pizarro. Despite these setbacks, Bill had enough points to win no matter who placed the seventh and final factory, so they granted him the win with Eliot and Scott close behind.

Calculating the next hop

All told, it was a remarkably successful game in terms of overall achievements, with everyone getting at least one factory out on the board. The new edition looks great, and the minimal errata did not interfere with understanding or enjoyment. This is sure to see a lot of action in the next few months.

Hazardous duty

Last up, I ran a couple games of Conan, managing the bad guys against the heroic trio of Herr Fuchs, Dr. Rob, and Mitch. In the first scenario, we let David play Conan even though he forgot his Conan t-shirt, while Dr. Rob played the agile Shevatas, and seductive Mitch took the form of the equally seductive Bêlit, pirate queen of the Black Coast. This was a ship-borne adventure, and my band of mercenaries had to board the heroes' ship and seize Bêlit. I had a capable mercenary captain, a magic user, and a mix of melee and ranged fighters. The heroes had a little help of their own from Bêlit's loyal bodyguards. Just to engage the good guys I had to swing across the gap between the ships, risking the sharks circling below.

Brothers in arms

Things started out well for me, as all my boarding attempts were successful and I started cutting my way through the bodyguards. Unfortunately, Shevatas successfully boarded *my* ship, and began slicing up my archers who were providing effective fire support. At the same time, Conan was making quick work of my melee henchmen, so I played my hole card, converting my magic user into a winged shadow demon. My demon flapped over to Bêlit's quarterdeck and sank its talons into her. I had Bêlit down to a couple hit points when Conan finally arrived to behead it for a win for the good guys. I screwed up by not unleashing the demon immediately - there is a small surprise factor but as my most efficient fighter it should've been tearing into Bêlit from the start.

The stuff of nightmares

Dr. Rob was late for the midnight service at the Temple of Bel, so Mitch and David swapped roles for another nautical scenario. In this one they were leading a mutiny on a pirate vessel and had to assume control, steering the ship to safety. Each turn Conan could attempt to recruit more pirates to their cause while either hero spent an action to guide the ship. This was a fun puzzle game as the 'steering' action is a significant constraint, essentially limiting the good guys to the use of a single hero per turn. Conan was having a bad hair day, failing every recruiting die roll, but Shevatas' ability to slip past enemy figures helped enormously. The big Cimmerian sacrificed himself for his friend, yielding his last hit point just as Shevatas guided the ship to friendly hands. I'm sure Conan will rise to fight again, next time we're in the mood for some Hyborian adventures.

Conan's last stand
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Mon Apr 17, 2017 12:47 pm
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AAR 14 March 2017 - Chaos in the Old World, Quartermaster General: 1914

J. R. Tracy
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On the eve of the Ides of March, we had nine gamers, including a couple out of towners, for some multiplayer action. Before the games began, however, we toasted the arrival of Mark's first grandchild!

Mazel tov!

After killing some bubbly, Mark sat down for some QMG:1914 action with Bill Thoet, the inimitable David Dockter, Dave, and our own more local Bill T. The Bills took UK/US and France, Dave was the Tsar, the Dockter took AH/Turkey, and Mark was Kaiser Bill, just to increase the Bill count. Dockter was skeptical given his experience with the original Quartermaster General but was willing to give the WWI version a shot.

The lamps go out yet again

After Austria-Hungary opened the action in the east, things got exciting with a German drive along the Channel coast. Picklehauben appeared before Paris and a flurry of Reserve cards were played before the capital finally fell. France struggled to get back into the game, but Italy, Britain, and Russian fought on valiantly. Unfortunately for the Entente, the early German success proved sustainable, and the Central Powers prevailed. I think the Dockter was a little more impressed this time around and the table had good fun overall.

Paris falls, but not without a fight

Down at our end, I joined Smitch, Mitch, and Natus for Chaos in the Old World. I was the Blood God, Mitch the Changer of Ways, Smitch the Prince of Pleasure, and Natus the Plague Lord. It's always a tough choice for Nate - if Slaanesh and Nurgle got together and had a baby, we'd finally have something in the Chaos pantheon worthy of his heart and soul.

Nothing says pleasure like Mint Milanos

I moved first so my cowardly opponents fled like roaches before the brilliant cleansing light of Khorne. The map is only so large so I caught them eventually but still failed to kill anything on the first turn. For the Blood God, that's serious bad news. I was playing from behind at that point, using my cards as best I could but managing only one double-click the entire game. Meanwhile, events provided a steady supply of nobles and heroes to feed Slaanesh's corruption machine. He wisely upgraded his cultists to two hit points, protecting him from my legions. Tzeentch was doing well but didn't have the tools to slow Smitch, so the only one with a chance was Nurgle. Nate had an outside shot to score 50 VPs and nip ahead of an inevitable Slaanesh dial win, but fell short the turn before Smitch clicked out for the victory.

The Blood God always calls collect

I enjoyed the game as always but didn't play particularly well. I think Khorne has to provide a solid game to keep the other players honest. Otherwise, it's like Nappy Wars with a weak France, with the other powers getting up to all kinds of shenanigans. Playing a little more often would help, so I'll try to keep it towards the top of the pile. Blood Rage competes for table time, but all told, I think CitOW edges it out. Everyone's strengths and weaknesses are on display, the countervailing abilities of the powers are known, and the dial advancement keeps the action hurtling down the tracks; CitOW FTW.
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Mon Apr 10, 2017 2:01 pm
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AAR 7 March 2017 - Advanced Squad Leader, Men of Iron, Anachrony, WWII ETO prototype

J. R. Tracy
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After a couple weeks off for travel, we were back in action the first week of March with ten gamers, for some two-player wargaming and a new multiplayer Euro.

Smitch, Campoverdi, Dave, and Stéphane played Anachrony, a post-apocalyptic worker placement game. The players command factions of survivors after a near-extinction event and struggle to manipulate the time line before a second event finishes the job. Players send their workers through the timescape to collect resources, or on various spaces on the board to improve faction capabilities, complete projects, or battle temporal anomalies. Workers don exosuits to venture into more dangerous locales but the exosuits consume precious energy. At some point an asteroid hits the planet, signaling the endgame.

The sorting of the bits

After organizing the mountain of components, play moved along crisply, with Dave mastering the field for the win. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, saying it moved from an engine-builder to a VP race for a nice change of playing style once the asteroid hit. Theme-wise, opinions were mixed, but even those who felt the theme was thin weren't bothered by it. Overall, a positive first impression, good enough to warrant another visit.

Surfing the time rifts

Bill sat down with Renaud to try the latter's new WWII ETO card game. There is no map per se, with location cards serving to represent the theaters of engagement. During his turn a player may attack a card in his opponent's tableau if he has an 'adjacent' card - thus the Allied player may attack Libya if he owns the Egypt card, and so on. Players commit forces from neighboring cards if they have them, including leaders and other bonus cards if they're eligible. If the attacker wins, he seizes the target card, adding it to his own tableau.

Explaining the card map

I watched a little bit of the early war, as Renaud's Axis overran Poland and the Balkans, while Bill tried and failed to throw the Italians out of North Africa. Renaud eventually won, but in the process uncovered some exploitable anomalies that will be patched before the next time out. I like the mapless construct and the force commitment process. The cards are broken out by year so the character of each side will change over time. I don't know if that is linked to events in the game at hand, or if it forces an ebb and flow of Axis fortune. Regardless, Renaud should have another iteration ready to go soon, perhaps by GMT East.

Reaching for Egypt

Scott and Natus returned to Infidel, selecting the Harran scenario. Natus as Baldwin II was trying to drive off Scott's Seljuks, with a little help from Bohemond of Antioch. Nate's initial charge staggered Scott's troops but the Saracen counterblow cut the knightly momentum and the tide shifted.

Baldwin forces the center

The Crusaders fell back and Scott edged around the flanks of the two clumps of Edessans and Antiochenes. At this point they realized they'd been misplaying the knights, inflicting Retire results on them which should've been downgraded to Retreats. This significantly clipped the effectiveness of Nate's force, so they stamped a giant asterisk on the exercise and called it a night. A disappointing conclusion, but they enjoyed the portion they played. I believe they used Scott's modified command rules, removing some of the hinky aspects of continuity; perhaps he can comment on his tweaks.

Rebuffed on the right

Last up, Hawkeye and I settled in for some ASL, picking DB 132 One Last Victory, from Dispatches from the Bunker. It's January '45, and as part of Germany's last hurrah in the west, my Gebirgsjägers of the 6th SS Mountain Division have to take the town of Reipertswiller from a ragtag band of dogfaces from the Thunderbirds. This was the tail end of Operation Nordwind, and if the sun was setting on the Reich, my troops certainly didn't get the memo. I had 16 squads, 75% elite, five leaders, a flamethrower, a demo charge, and some other support weapons. Hawkeye had ten squads, three each of first and second liners and four green squads ready to break any SW they could get their hands on.

The defense of Reipertswiller

We fought over board 67 - I had to take a bunch of buildings in the center of town plus a piece of a clump of buildings in a far corner around E2. However, I received a flanking force in the early going, entering by die roll. The later they arrived, the fewer buildings I had to take. Ground snow was in effect, but I was wearing the latest from the Hugo Boss winter camo collection, granting me a little protection from ranged fire.

Through the screen and heading for town

Setup restrictions forced Hawkeye to set up a third of his force in a forward screen - these troops had a pair of captured German light machine guns, a couple leaders, and three squads. The rest of his boys were in town, with a refused flank ready to greet my reinforcements. I focused the bulk of my attack on my left flank, which would allow me to support the flankers, while a platoon attacked on the right to pin the defenders over there. It took me two turns to overwhelm the screen, longer than expected, so my flanking force entered without much help from the on-board force.

Rounding up some stragglers

The initial assault on the town did not go well for the Germans, with Hawkeye enjoying the benefit of stone building TEM while I was relying on hedges and woods for cover. However, once I established a foothold in some buildings the morale differential asserted itself and the GIs started to melt away. They got their licks in in close combat but I pushed them back until just a lone halfsquad held the church steeple amidst a sea of Germans. However, the clock was emerging as Hawkeye's ally and he still had a couple squads defending the final objective. I had two turns to take it and still deal with the knuckleheads in the belltower.

Stymied by stubborn stalwarts

The steeple garrison finally did the sensible thing, breaking and surrendering. Hawkeye had a wall of brokies blocking most of the paths to the E2 area, but a double-timing German squad and leader managed to thread their way through a hail of bullets to grab a building. Hawkeye sent a squad and a leader of his own to grab it back, but despite the CX state of my men, they saw off the counterattack to preserve the win. I had my doubts about this card given the disparity of forces, but the time pressure and terrain do a lot to make up for shaky GI morale. I think Hawkeye had a solid town defense, and he was well prepared for my flankers. The game may turn on how the screen performs - Hawkeye did a good job of delaying me, but lost most of the screening troops in the process. Just one more surviving MMC might have made the difference in town. Still, it came down to a final Close Combat, so I can't quibble too much about balance. I like the scenario and would try it again - it's well suited for a weekday night or a Saturday afternoon.

One last shot
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Mon Apr 3, 2017 2:45 pm
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AAR 14 February 2017 - Victory or Death, Great Western Trail, Up Front, Nexus Ops

J. R. Tracy
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We had ten players on Valentine's Day for some newish hotness and some old favorties.

Smitch introduced Great Western Trail to Dr. Rob, Baron von Schulte, and Dave. Players are ranchers driving their herds from Texas to Kansas City. There is a strong worker placement element as players divide their resources between the cattle drives themselves and buildings that enhance their capabilities.

Git along!

Dr. Rob proved to be the top cowboy, which is no surprise given the role the Seulowitz clan played in settling the west. He described it as a race game, investing his actions in cowboys and the railroad as he felt they had the most direct impact on his final score. Rob found it a bit fiddly and lacking player interaction. Smitch came away with a more positive opinion, conceding the interaction point but giving it good marks for multiple options and replayability, as the building mix can change substantially from game to game. Theme-wise, not much dust on these meeples, so you'll have to look elsewhere to satisfy your inner cowpoke.

Stockyard bound

Hawkeye continued his series of one-on-one Up Front tutorials, with Bill in the pupil's seat this time around. They worked through three British/German scenarios, advancing Bill up the learning curve. Hawkeye admitted that even as an experienced hand he still stumbles on occasional rules such as ordnance and infiltration, so the rest of us shouldn't feel so bad when we botch that sort of thing.

Relative Range 101

Mike Buccheri was up from Baltimore, sitting down with Dutch, Campoverdi, and me for a session of Cake or Death. Malloc was Sparta alongside Dutch as Corinth, while Campo ran the Delian League and I had mighty Athens.

Zenith of the Demos

With the image of a burning Acropolis haunting my memory, I aggressively built up the defense of Athens in the form of Prepare cards. However, a lucky strike against a naked Sparta killed the defending hoplite and the capital itself. This removed the direct threat to Athens, but also rendered my earlier card play moot. Further, I had no cards in hand to take advantage of a largely empty Peloponnese.

Campo and Dutch battled over the Gulf of Corinth and Syracuse, while Malloc opened up a campaign on the Ionian coast. I responded with the help of the Delian League, stamping out the Lacedaemonian colonies but not before they had racked up a tidy VP score. Incredibly, despite lacking one capital for most of the game, Sparta and her Corinthian ally had a solid lead going into the final turns.

Fatal distraction

Sparta finally reestablished her home town, but Campo and I were rapidly closing the gap. Unfortunately a clutch of Corinthian Status cards sealed a win for the Oligarchs with VPs out west and in Boeotia. An impressive win for Mike and Dutch. Besides their own deft play, I think the biggest factor was me fighting the last war. I'm used to Sparta knocking on the gates of Athens from the early going, and overcommitted to counter that threat. A reserve of offensive resources would've allowed me to occupy the Lacedaemonian hinterlands, but those cards were burned building unused walls. I'm sure I will overcompensate in some new and equally useless way next time out.

Oligarchs for the win

Last up, Natus joined Dutch, Malloc and myself for Nexus Ops. Unfortunately I couldn't find my classic neon edition so we were forced to use the hideous pastels of FFG's second release. I had Dutch to my left and Natus to my right.

Out of his element

Dutch and I skirmished lightly while I struggled with Nate over several tiles. Mike and Dutch paired up on the other side. My fight with Nate was largely a stalemate but Dutch got a tile or two off of Malloc, and was first to occupy the Monolith. I scratched my way atop the Monolith for a brief turn of glory myself, before being hurled off.

Malloc moves his minions

Dutch was clearly in the lead but we all had a shot at the win. I then made the bonehead move of the game, recruiting a Rubium Dragon and sending it forward against Dutch. He hit it with everything he had, easily burning through my inadequate escort to kill the beast itself. He then produced the card granting three VPs for the head of a Dragon, collecting a decisive victory in the process. D'oh! Still, solid Ameritrash fun - now I have to dig out the One True Edition so we don't have to suffer with the Smartie-colored critters again.
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Tue Mar 14, 2017 7:36 pm
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AAR 7 February 2017 - Quartermaster General: 1914, Quartermaster General: 1914, Quartermaster General: 1914

J. R. Tracy
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With ten gamers for our first session of February, we achieved rare consensus with everyone looking to play the same game. Fortunately we had two copies the title in question: Quartermaster General: 1914, the latest in Ian Brody's QMG series.

QMG:1914 tweaks the basic QMG chassis in ways that both improve the system and tailor it to the situation. The Prepare function (playing a face down card for later use) is now a 'free' action with its own Sequence of Play step, and an Attrition step has been added. Attrition supplements Economic Warfare, bleeding cards from opponents' hands, and occasionally your own.

Double the pleasure

Prepare cards are a little different from the earlier games. The normal function and text is ignored in favor of the Prepare symbols at the bottom of the cards. These include the Attrition symbols mentioned above, Reinforce shields that increase defense strength, Sustain Battle arrows that overcome Reinforce plays, and the Counterattack symbol which allows the defender to immediately launch an attack of his own if he survives an assault. Some cards have text alongside their Prepare symbols that restrict their use geographically and/or to particular game states.

A lonely Poilu

A given battle action might involve several card plays. The attacker initiates combat with a Land or Sea Battle card as appropriate. The defender has the option to play a corresponding Reinforce card if he has one prepared - these have one or two shields. If he does, the attacker must now play enough Sustain Battle arrows from his own Prepare tableau to match the defender's shields, or call off the attack. This goes on until someone fails to play a Reinforce or Sustain card. As before, a successful battle merely clears the target area; a future card play is usually necessary to place or build your own army in the just-emptied space.

Tsar Mitch plots an endgame surprise

The rest of the rules should be familiar to anyone who has played either of the prior games. Units must trace supply back to their home territory, which creates a natural brake to American entry as the US builds a chain of units to the front. Status cards accumulate as the game progresses, lending each power a distinct feel as their tableau builds out. Some victory points are scored via card play, but most are racked up for holding objective areas; geographic VPs are scored every two or three turns, rather than player turn by player turn as in the original WWII game. As Attrition and Economic Warfare take their toll, points may also be lost if a power is unable to play or discard cards as required.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves

With ten interested players, we filled out both games. In one game I was Britain/US, with Bill as France/Italy, Hawkeye as Germany, Jim Austria-Hungary/Turkey, and Mitch as the Tsar. My opening hand had several sweet Status cards that required three British fleets at sea, plus possession of the North Sea, so I concentrated on naval warfare while Bill and Mitch handled the land campaigns. Hawkeye spent the early game laying out a host of Status cards of his own, while Jim sprouted two objective tokens and garrisoned them for a steady supply of victory points.

Turkish delight

Thanks to Jim's VP farm and the Entente's slow start, the Central Powers built a nice lead through the mid-game. Most of the action was on the Russian frontier, but once my fleets were built my Tommies joined the fight on the continent. Hawkeye and I hammered each other with Economic Warfare - thanks to my fleets I hit Germany for 18 cards over the course of the game but Hawkeye nearly matched that in return. We traded Picardy back and forth but the real points continued to be scored out east, where Jim deployed Captain von Trapp into the Adriatic to add to his collection of money-makers.

Enjoy the turnips

The Central Powers still had a good lead with one scoring round to go, but a fresh Entente offensive in the west captured a couple objective areas. Decks were thin all around when Jim played Spanish Flu - I've rarely seen such glee on a player's face as he hit the table for nine cards total of attrition. He tapped out his own deck and took Bill and Hawkeye down to the nubs. However, with AH/Turkey out of cards and Germany too far away to respond, Mitch played Peace, Bread, Land which allowed him to pull up to five pieces off the map for a VP each. The board situation let him pull all five, considerably closing the gap. A little more economic warfare from the UK clipped the squareheads for three more points, and we went into final scoring. Our last trip around the table did the trick, as our Entente just squeaked past the Central Powers with a two point margin of victory.

Brothers in arms face down the Hun

At the other end of the table, Smitch pushed west with Germany and Campoverdi's Dave's AH/Turkey put together a VP machine similar to Jim's. However, Dave's Campoverdi's Russia steadily squeezed Campo Dave, while Scott stitched together a pair of Statuses that let him cycle UK Build Army and Land Battle cards. Along with Stéphane's France/Italy, Scott went over to the offensive in the west, and by mid-game the Entente passed the Central Powers, never to look back. Germany's U-Boat campaign provided one CP highlight, however, draining the UK/US deck by the end of the game.

The Russian buzzsaw rips through Turkey

After a few departures, our survivors convened for a third game, another close affair. Germany got a fleet into the North Sea for a steady supply of victory points, while the AH/Turkey VP factory made its third appearance of the evening. The western powers flailed helplessly with unsupported attacks, but Mother Russia did the heavy lifting to save the day. Turkey was overrun and Austria-Hungary all but wiped off the map. Even so, it remained a toss up until the Royal Navy finally asserted itself and sent the High Seas Fleet home. The Entente persevered with another two point win.

The Last of the Habsburgs strives to save his throne

It's safe to say Quartermaster General: 1914 was a big hit with our crew. It shares the bang-bang pace of the rest of the QMG family, but the elevated role of the Prepare cards increases the need for planning, alongside the vital Status cards every power needs to get into play. The Status versus 'do something now' dilemma is common across the series, but here it helps guide the narrative toward something resembling history. Status cards can be seductive traps - the best leverage your actions across several turns, but each play of a Status card bears the opportunity cost of a forgone action affecting the board state *now*. Germany in particular relies on a Status-fueled war engine, but must still dictate the action on the map.

End of empires

Germany isn't the only one with difficult choices - each power has its own issues to master. The UK/US must balance naval activity, land action, and US entry; France/Italy has two fronts to mind while building its Prepare tableau; Russia has to stretch a thin deck over the length of game; and AH/Turkey has the burden of generating VPs without much firepower to defend itself. That last part (AH/Turkey as a big VP producer) feels a bit contrived, but overall we found few false notes. Three games in, we still have a lot to discover. There is a whole suite of UK cards supporting a campaign in the eastern Med, but all our games saw them discarded in favor of other endeavors. Knowing the value of three Royal Navy fleets at sea, the Germans may start investing in a naval challenge of their own. I'm sure the other powers have options we haven't yet seen. As with Quartermaster General, I look forward to trying every seat at least a couple times; this one should have some legs before it gets old.
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Tue Feb 28, 2017 1:37 pm
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AAR 31 January 2017 - Krieg!, 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany, Advanced Squad Leader, The Others, Up Front

J. R. Tracy
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We had eleven gamers closing out January with some Kickstarter fun and a host of wargaming, some very old school indeed.

Campoverdi broke out The Others and ran the sinful side against Baron von Schulte, Smitch, Jim, and Maynard. They picked the Haven's Last Stand story with Campo lazily selecting Sloth with a bevy of Corrupted Nuns for acolytes. The heroes had to complete a set number of missions before they were all consumed by corruption.

"What...is that?!?"

A rules misinterpretation set the heroes back in the early going, as they inadvertently reset their first mission a couple times before moving on to the next. Corruption accumulated steadily (it fuels some of the most useful hero capabilities) but they ground their way through everything CampoSloth could throw at them. Finally Smitch's hero confronted a Nate-like abomination - they had no heroes left in the bullpen and Smitch's loss would end the game in a victory for sin. Smitch slew the abomination but sadly succumbed in the process. This was enjoyed by all - I can't say how it compares to other offerings in the Boss vs Hero Party field but they were happy to try it again down the road.

The wages of sin

Jim and Bill wrapped up 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany with some fierce back and forth campaigning. Bill's Prussia invaded Bavaria and swept through the kingdom all the way to Munich. This helped relieve pressure on the Italian front, as Albrecht backed off a touch given his uncertain lines of communication. Jim counterpunched in Silesia, flagging spaces and forcing Bill to split off troops to contain the threat.

Putting the boot to Bavaria

The Bavarian adventure proved unsustainable as the Austrians concentrated along the Elbe. Bill pulled back, pivoting to meet Jim in Saxony. He drove Jim back but was in turn stymied before Prague. As the hour grew late they called the game with Austria holding a two VP lead. I think they really enjoyed the game - no surprises rules-wise as it builds on proven ideas from the likes of Hannibal: RvC and PoG. I wondered if the thinnish (55 card) shared deck might make for a dull game but they said it wasn't an issue as the multi-front action gave them plenty of options. I will try this myself in a couple weeks - looking forward to it.

The Battle of Prague

Hawkeye and Scott returned to ASL and With Friends Like These, as Hawkeye's GIs closed on Scott's Vichy battery. Hawkeye's dogfaces were having a hard time of it, with the lack of cover and rally terrain leaving a good chunk of his infantry discombobulated and out of action. His armor crews weren't doing a lot better, either catching 105mm shells or putting their own rounds in backwards.

Headed back to the depot

With his right pincer snipped, Hawkeye turned to his left, led by the SSR-granted hero, Colonel Wilbur. They clawed their way within spitting distance of the buildings anchoring that flank. Unfortunately, they were well stuffed with Vichy, complete with leadership and support weapons. With his force melting away and the clock ticking, Hawkeye pulled the plug. This is a deceptively advanced scenario - the terrain SSRs, the unique victory conditions, and the troop mix combine to create enough snags to trip up players in unexpected ways. I think if they revisit this card down the road it will play out much differently.

A more promising proposition

Mark was in the mood for some throwback gaming, so we pulled down the original Krieg!, choosing a Barbarossa scenario developed by Alan Emrich for tournament play. I took the Soviets to Mark's Germans, loathe though he is to play the Nazi menace. The scenario structure presumes most of Germany's cardplay takes place 'off-map', with Germany granted forces and replacements according to a fixed schedule. He does open with the Barbarossa card, however, and all its blitzy goodness. It's assumed the Soviets have played cards 1-7, and start with 8 'pending', and Emergency Mobilization automatically occurs on the first turn of the scenario. The Germans accumulate VPs normally in the east and add them to historical achievements in the west and North Africa.

Ready for Russia

It has been nearly twenty years since I last played Krieg!, but I did at least recall that a poorly constructed defense in depth can get you rolled up in a hurry (retreating units carry along anyone they retreat through). I had a lot of freedom of setup as the Reds but I tried to avoid any avalanche-retreat traps while striking a balance between terrain and sheer mass to hold back the fascist tide. The open expanses in the south made me nervous, while I had successive river lines in the north and center. Therefore, I gave the southern third of my defense one of my two precious HQs and maybe a couple more infantry armies than the region really needed.

Army Group North on the move

Mark's attack was a thing of beauty. He did a great job optimizing the double-attack advantage of blitz turns, annihilating the Western Military District in the opening hours of the campaign. My Baltic defenders fled in terror to the next river line, and I rushed troops north to fill the gaping hole in the center. However, on the second turn he repeated the feat and added another fistful of dead Soviet infantry to my 'available' pile. My faith in river bonuses proved ill-founded. More troubling, however, was the fate of my armor assets, which were booted five and six turns down the turn track thanks to less-than-stellar Delay rolls. The one piece of good news was the Soviet mobilization schedule - every season saw a fresh horde appear, ready to greet the Nazi spearheads.

Strong in the south

Winter slowed the German pace, but I was still well short of the bodies I needed to meet every threatened axis of advance. Army Group North was in striking distance of Moscow, so I maxed out the capital's defense and protected the flanks with cav and Shock Armies. Leningrad was close to a lost cause at this point, with the Finns cutting off reinforcement paths and German infantry on the doorstep of the Hermitage. The Luftwaffe had been a critical element of German success, but each use of an air support unit consigned it to the Delay track. Mark wisely held one air unit back, however, for just this sort of opportunity. Stukas and Ju-88s helped break the southern shoulder of Moscow's defense, and by March '42 sauerbraten was on the menu in the Kremlin cafe.

Uncle Joe reaches for his go-bag

Despite the fall of both Leningrad and Moscow the Soviet situation didn't look too dire on the map. However, the Red Army had suffered terrible losses, and I had little hope of marshaling the offensive firepower I needed to deny a German auto-victory by summer of 1942. Therefore we called it, declaring a decisive German victory. I had a great time, despite getting my ass kicked. I love the Soviet situation in Barbarossa, and though no game yet really captures the feel of the campaign, I always enjoy trying to slow the German juggernaut. Mark mastered the tools, however, and stone cold smoked me. I feel Krieg's real strengths are one level above a campaign scenario like this, but I still like mechanisms like the impact of blitz turns and the fickle vagaries of the Delay die roll. This was a very enjoyable session, whetting my appetite for more of the same or perhaps a dip into Totaler Krieg!.

I was shot at dawn

Hawkeye and Scott wrapped up with Up Front, playing a Desert War scenario with Hawkeye's Italians attacking Scott's Brits, using the cool theater-specific cards from www.wargamevault.com. This looks like a daunting situation for the defending British - a mere seven men standing against twenty two Italians supporting by an AFV! However, Italian morale is always an issue on the attack - man for man they have the equal of any other deck, but they're dragged down by a lot of low-morale soldiers who constantly hold up an assault (unless you cut them loose and advance without them).

Desert action

Scott found himself repairing weapons every turn but his attacks still slowed the Italian advance. The fire of the Italian M13/40 was effective, forcing Sergeant Vasey to employ the full extent of his motivational powers to maintain order. The weight of Italian numbers eventually made itself felt, and a group of five soldiers advanced to Relative Range 3 to threaten a dash to victory. Scott took a chance and moved his MMG onto a hill, tearing up Hawkeye's point group before he could react. That was enough to wrap up the evening with a British win.

Charles in charge
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Mon Feb 20, 2017 3:10 pm
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AAR 24 January 2017 - Conan, Advanced Squad Leader, Terraforming Mars, Quartermaster General: 1914

J. R. Tracy
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We had thirteen players a couple weeks ago for a mix of wargaming and euros, including a trip to the Hyborian Age.

Mitch, Maynard, Dr. Rob, Dave, and Stéphane enjoyed a very tight game of Terraforming Mars. Stéphane had a green thumb, planting shrubbery across the planet and pushing oxygen levels hard. Dr. Rob was more an urban planner, collecting a host of city cards. Unfortunately these are crazy expensive and developing his cities precluded much other activity. Dave opted for the longer view, focusing on science and biologics for a slow but steady accumulation of VPs.

If you want a friend on Mars, get a dog

In addition to greenery, the water tiles flew out as well. The terraforming was proceeding nicely but Dave was motivated to extend the game and stopped contributing to planet development. This proved shrewd as the game ran about two turns longer than expected, allowing Dave to snag the Heat King and Banker awards funded by Mitch. Those ten points along with a whopping twenty four VPs on his cards carried Dave to a win, edging Stéphane at the wire. Ten points separated first from fifth, so everyone had a shot down the stretch. The main lessons (re)learned were never fund an award you might not get, and if a long game doesn't favor you, push the terraforming. Great session, and it was fun to see several competing strategies go head to head.

Stéphane falls for an old gag

Hawkeye is on a Torch/Tunisia kick, so he paired up with Scott for With Friends Like These, an ASL Out of the Attic scenario set in 1942 Morocco. It depicts an American assault on a Vichy coastal battery overlooking some of the TORCH beaches. Colonel William Wilbur hopped up a Stuart tank to direct the attack - in game terms he enters as a Hero riding one of four M3A1s, supported by ten second line American squads. Scott's French defend with four 105mm artillery pieces guarded by a half dozen first line squads and barbed wire fences (transformed cliff hexsides by SSR). Hawkeye had to eliminate or control all four heavy guns to win.

Rolling up with intent

Hawkeye opened by splitting his armor left and right, with infantry supporting each flank. A squad and a couple halfsquads moved up the center, ready to help either flank. The normally hilly board 8 is flattened by SSR, and woods are treated as brush - the former denied Scott good firing positions but the latter puts essentially the entire board in line of sight. It doesn't take much to persuade a 546 to take a breather, and even with the LOS hindrances Hawkeye soon had some personnel management issues to attend to as his Stuarts approached the objective. By they time they quit for the evening, his infantry was just within range, but one AFV has a broken MA and another has a matching pair of 105mm holes fore and aft. They will return to action next week.

Proud of his handiwork

Renaud and Afghan Rich dipped into Quartermaster General: 1914 for a few turns. This series gets more interesting with each release. We've had a ball with the original, which is barely tethered to history but plays in a flash and continues to feel fresh. Cake or Death has a little more scripting and hews closer to the source material, but still moves at a good clip. 1914 moves further along the trendline, encouraging players to lay a lot of groundwork before embarking on adventures, and appears to lack the wacky-war qualities of its WWII cousin. Rich and Renaud didn't get very deep into the game but it's their first try at the system, which can be bewildering at first. The first impression is positive, however, so we should see a complete game soon.

Armchair quartermasters

Last up, Smitch, Herr Fuchs, the Kaiser von Österreich, and I tackled the new Conan, freshly mined from the Kickstarter Cavern of Uncertain Quality. This is a skirmish/dungeon crawl game set in the world of everyone's favorite Cimmerian hill-panther. It uses a heroes-versus-overlord format, with a bunch of scenarios calibrated for difficulty level and party size.

Hero play is action based. Each hero has a collection of gems that serve as both action currency and hit points. A hero selects an action by committing at least one gem from his ready pool, and if he wants to juice it up he can add one or more extra gems for additional movement points, combat dice, etc. At the end of the hero turn the expended gems are swept into the fatigue pool of the hero card. You may use as many ready gems as you want, but the catch is you replenish at a pretty slow rate - if you're in an aggressive stance, you only recover two gems a turn. If you opt for a cautious stance (may only block attacks or use re-roll actions) you recover five gems. Therefore you see cycles of action and down time, as the situation demands or allows.

Destined for greatness

The hero turn is very fluid, with actions taken in any order. Heroes may even intermingle actions, such as Hero A firing a bow to clear an area for Hero B, who moves on to kill an enemy, allowing Hero A to move himself, and so on. Actions are resolved via special dice (yellow, orange, and red in ascending order of effectiveness); every hero has a base level competence for a particular action, while weapons and tools add extra dice and special capabilities. The different characters have unique abilities as well. A melee attack typically only affects a single targeted enemy, for instance, but Conan can apply excess damage against any other enemies unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

The Overlord's dashboard

The Overlord's turn is a simpler version of the heroes'. He has several different groups of minions at his command, each represented by a tile on his control board. He may activate up to two tiles per turn. The tiles are arranged in a row (called 'the River') with ascending activation costs from left to right. The Overlord expends the gems necessary to activate a group, and then places that tile at the end of the queue while the rest slide down to the left. Thus he can repeatedly activate his most capable goons, but it gets expensive. As with the heroes, the Overlord's recovery rate is limited, so he might have some downtime while he builds up a reserve of gems for a burst of activity. If all the figures in a group are killed, their tile remains in the River, clogging up the Overlord's queue - he may still choose to activate the tile just to move it to the back of the line, or permanently discard two gems to get rid of it altogether.

Laughing at danger

The scenarios are autonomous mini-adventures without an overarching campaign scheme. Each adventure assigns a map, the forces and deployment for each side (some allow for a range of hero-characters), and scenario-specific victory conditions such as retrieve a princess, discover a treasure, and so on. The scenario details are in the Overlord's handbook, so we assumed most of the information was to be kept from the heroes, but it wasn't always clear what they should know. This didn't prove to be a big issue, however.

Don't worry boys, I got this

We opened with In the Clutches of the Picts - Conan, Shevatas (thief/rogue), and Hadrathus (mage) have to raid a Pict village, rescue the princess Yselda, and return with the head of Zogar Sag, the local shaman. David took Hadrathus (despite wearing a Conan shirt), Jim was Shevatas, and Smitch was the big guy himself. I took the Overlord role. I had to decide where to hide the princess, so I put her in a hut in the center of the village, which happened to be the lair of a large and irritable snake. As the heroes entered the village, all they could see were three warrior-Picts strolling in the open, but I also had the shaman, several groups of hunter-picts, a pack of hyenas, and the aforementioned giant snake. I grabbed a few other figures from the box and kept them all within arm's reach just to keep things a little mysterious.

Seriously, I'm on top of it

The good guys quickly dispatched my warriors, which was a pity since they were my best fighters. Shevatas found himself isolated on the wrong side of town, however, so I descended upon him with Zogar Sag and the hyenas. Herr Fuchs and Smitch prepared to come to his rescue but Jim waved them off with an unfounded air of confidence. Shevatas then spent most of the scenario fleeing for his life, pursued by canines. Hadrathus and Conan had a more productive midgame. Hadrathus found a cache of exploding orbs (Hyborian hand grenades) and took out several Picts from range, while Conan crashed into and through huts (he doesn't need a doorway) slaughtering my men while searching for the princess. I finally brought out the snake, who got a couple nips in before the Hadrathus/Conan tag team took him down. The princess was discovered soon after. Time was tight, but thanks to Hadrathus' teleportation spell, they were able to scoot off the map with the booty just as the clock ran out.

Hold my beer

For our second adventure, we tried Trapped Like Rats. Conan and his old pals Shevatas and Hadrathas had a few too many margaritas and got roofied by the local bad guys. They wake up in a locked tavern basement, unarmed. They must make their way out of the locked room, navigate through the guards, find their weapons and a set of tools, and make their escape. It's night time and for the first few turns the guards are limited in their abilities as long as the heroes are careful (hide bodies, stay out of line of sight, etc).

Next victim

Conan could normally just burst through a locked door like a Cimmerian Kool-Aid Man, but that would raise the alarm early. Instead, Jim used Shevatas' deft lock-picking skills to open the door quietly, and the team tiptoed about shivving guards and dragging their bodies into corners. The Tollymon then took Jim's place as the good guys crept toward the staircase. By the time I had any freedom of action, the heroes were armed and upstairs, searching for the tools. However, I was able to bring Thak, a semi-boss minion, into play. He's an old enemy of Conan and can really fill a hallway. He delayed the heroes just long enough for the city watch to arrive and clap the heroes back into irons. It was only after we finished that I noticed this scenario was rated three crows (max difficulty) - much more of a puzzle than the first scenario and probably holds up for a couple plays.

Edging toward the exit

We had a blast with Conan - it has all the hackery-slashery you expect from the title, with good characterizations and excellent art. The system is clean and easy to use, with plenty of decisions for all concerned from turn to turn. The gem refresh mechanic forces players to take the long view, so you can't afford to just live in the moment. Planning is vital and understanding the complimentary skills of the hero team is necessary for success. I had a lot of fun as the Overlord too - not so much from a competitive point of view but more from a traditional dungeon master/show runner perspective. I think the system compares favorably with Descent: Journeys in the Dark but as mentioned, it lacks a campaign system which I know holds strong appeal for many. If you already own a solid skirmish game, I don't think you need this unless you are drawn to the theme. However, if you love the topic or have some space for a solid quick-playing battle game, check it out, by Crom!

The Most Interesting Wargamer in the World
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Mon Feb 6, 2017 1:09 pm
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AAR 17 January 2017 - 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany, Caesar's Gallic War, Up Front, Terraforming Mars

J. R. Tracy
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We had ten gamers for a lot of wargaming and a little terraforming.

Natus and Scott grabbed Caesar's Gallic War, with Scott playing the Romans to Nate's Gallic/Germanic barbarian hivemind. The game uses the Hammer of the Scots engine as a starting point, with tweaks and period chrome to better reflect the subject. Players win by pulling the tribes of Gaul over to their side, either through diplomacy or subjugation.

Nate treats with the Esuvii

The Roman legionnaires are lethal in combat (the only 'A' units and so always assured of first fire) so Natengetorix worked the diplomatic channels and recruited several tribes while ducking Scottius' haymakers. However, Scott eventually had all of central Gaul under his hobnailed sandal and Nate could do little to pry any more tribes away. Tallying up the score at game end, it proved to be a vary narrow Roman win. Enjoyed by both, but unlikely to return to the table soon. Love the designer's Hands in the Sea, though - that one *will* be returning to the table soon.

More than three parts

Jim and Bill headed to 19th century Central Europe with Compass Games' recently released 1866: The Struggle for Supremacy in Germany. 1866 uses a PoG-like engine to portray the short but decisive war between Austria and Germany that consolidated Prussian strength and set the table for several wars to come. Bill took the Prussians (and their Italian allies) against Jim's Austria and her assorted German holdings.

For the fate of Germany

The PoG roots are evident in the operations structure, large/small unit differentation, the combat resolution, and the deck breakout by period (Mobilization and War), but several elements set 1866 apart. For example, leaders are explicitly represented, interception and avoid battle mechanics are included, the game uses a common deck, and sieges are more detailed. The point to point map stretches from the Baltic to the Gulf of Genoa, with a slice of France in the west in case Napoleon III decides to intervene.

The attempt to relieve Dresden

After a stretch of mobilizing by both sides Bill got things rolling properly by popping down to the Kingdom of Saxony for a chat with Albert, the Crown Prince. Albert was having none of that and with his Austrian chum Feldzeugmeister Benedek he confronted the Prussians just outside of Dresden. Deft Prussian card play reduced Austrian strength leading to an inconclusive result. Benedek and Albert fell back to Prague, leaving the future Kaiser Frederick in control of Dresden. Frederick Charles is leading another Prussian force in Silesia, cleaning up the litter of an early-war Austrian incursion.

Albrecht in control

Down south, the Austrians have a firmer grip. The Duke of Teschen put the wood to the Italians, seizing several border spaces and daring La Marmora to do anything about it. Entering Turn 4, the Austrians hold a slender one VP lead. Looks good so far.

Smitch, Afghan Rich, Dave, and Mark turned to new favorite Terraforming Mars. This proved to be a romp by Dave, who got three shrubbery tiles out before anyone had one, and had a personal asteroid magnet that pulled down several high-value celestial bodies. Capturing all three milestones didn't hurt either, as he walked to a 15 point win.

Building a home away from home

Last up, Hawkeye and I banged out three games of Up Front. Looking for something off the beaten path, we opened with a Japanese/Soviet engagement. We tried Delaying Action, with my Japanese pursuing his Reds. A momentary lapse of reason led me to try a Banzai charge from way too far away, as my Group A chased his. I blame ASL rules bleed, as I thought my charging A Group could cut over and hit the Soviet B Group when it got close enough. Alas by Up Front's rules it was locked on his A crew, who sensibly fell back while the rest of his force cut me to ribbons. Let's just write that up as a failed experiment and say no more about it.

Bound for the land of wind and ghosts

For our second game we tried Outpost Line, with GIs versus the French in North Africa. Hawkeye's dogfaces were on the attack, supported by an MG-armed M20 scout car. I had the support of a 60mm Brandt mortar and the burden of the dreaded French single card discard. I had good fortune early, stunning the scout car, but Hawkeye methodically built the hand he needed before pounding my position. Despite my at-start entrenchments my troops steadily deteriorated from Pinned to Routed (for the lucky ones). I had no answer other than to try to knock out the M20, but that was a long shot and Hawkeye collected a tidy win.

Searching for a Rally card, questioning the justice of the universe

Last up, we played a Jungle Assault, with Hawkeye again commanding Americans while I returned to the IJA. Hawkeye had a flamethrower, and Jungle rules were in effect, making Infiltration easier. Again Hawkeye went with a methodical approach, grinding forward with good use of Gullies and favorable terrain to avoid or blunt my attacks. Meanwhile, his support group chipped away at my defense, and as his forces closed I approached the brink of my break condition (75% for the Japanese). The end was nigh when his C Group moved to Relative Range 5 with five men, with a decent chunk of the final deck remaining. All he had to do was play a decent terrain card. While Hawkeye frantically discarded and drew, searching for some cover, I infiltrated the attacking group and managed to kill one GI - one more and he'd be a man short of the four-man victory condition. Unfortunately, I failed to infiltrate a second time (it's very hard to sneak into a moving group) but the deck god smiled on the Emperor, denying any terrain to Hawkeye. Time expired with Hawkeye's troops just short of victory.

Hawkeye, always generous with the Stream cards

Hawkeye totally outplayed me, so it was satisfying to snag one win out of three games. To be fair, it was more like 2.9-.1 overall, as he was a huge favorite in the final game as well. Great fun as always, and as frustrating as the French might be, I love the challenge and will play them again in a heartbeat.
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Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:07 pm
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AAR 10 January 2017 - Black Orchestra, South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier, Storm Over Japanese Homeland, Wilderness War, Die Macher, Caveman Curling

J. R. Tracy
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We crammed in fifteen players last week for a host of new titles plus a couple cherished classics.

Mark and Hawkeye broke out the factory-fresh South Pacific: Breaking the Bismarck Barrier 1942-1943, with Mark running the Japanese against Hawkeye's Allies. Hawkeye helped playtest this and they wanted to give the real deal a try.

Fletcher looks for an opening

Though ostensibly on the offensive, Hawkeye found himself scrambling to maintain equilibrium after losing a chunk of his carrier force off Noumea. He managed to eke out a tie for the US, which as he says is closer to a Japanese win. The package looks great and should provide a manageable small-footprint intro to Empire of the Sun.

Adding a skosh more air to Rabaul

Natus and Jim wrapped up Wilderness War. Last week Nate's French stymied an assault on Louisbourg and the action moved to the west. Nate's Indian allies ran a mediocre petite guerre but did force Jim to allocate resources in response.

Barn burning

Jim took two more cracks at Louisbourg, but was thrown back each time. In the last two turns, he focused on the center, overrunning Nate's stockade line. However, Nate's guerrilla warfare finally paid dividends, generating enough VPs for a French win.

Upper Hudson hoedown

This classic still holds up - it's a testimony to my age that this still feels like a 'new' game to me, but I guess I just need to play it more. It was a close match, with Jim putting a lot of effort into the Louisbourg assaults, with troops that may have won the game elsewhere. Tough call, but one of many difficult decisions in the game.

Taking no chances

Smitch and Mitch took another run at Die Macher with Maynard and Campoverdi in tow. Mitch was hot out of the gate, winning the first election and scoring a media cube. Maynard was looking further down the road, however, setting himself up to take the third election for the chunky 80 point North Rhine-Westphalia region. A resource-drunk Maynard then went on a spending spree, ramping up poll auctions to undermine Smitch's popularity and break up a potential Smitch/Mitch coalition.

Manipulating the media

Despite Maynard's predations, Smitch made a strong late run, and Campo continued to score consistently. Mitch, however, led pole to pole winning 308 to 298 in a tight contest. Maynard came third, with Campo close behind. They played to conclusion in under four hours, which I reckon is a decent pace for a notoriously heavy game. It helps they played it recently but it's good to know it's a reasonable option for a weeknight.

Awaiting the final returns

Dan VIII rolled into town along with Passaic's Finest, to try Black Orchestra along with Bill, Dave, and Afghan Rich. This is a cooperative game with the players conspiring to assassinate Hitler, while the Reich's security apparatus strives to disrupt your activities. The conspirators try to keep the level of suspicion low while piecing together the components necessary to activate an assassination attempt. As the war progresses, eroding military support for the regime makes it easier to successfully execute a plot, but the collective suspicion of the conspirators works against you, and may unhinge an otherwise successful plot. As highly placed officials and officers, you move in Hitler's closest circles, which creates opportunities but also has its hazards. Beginning a turn in the space as Hitler or one of his committed deputies (Goebbels, Bormann, etc) leaves you vulnerable or reduces your capabilities.

Solemn consultation

In the first game, the conspiracy club was meeting regularly and making good progress, when Bill said the wrong thing to the wrong Reichsminister and found himself in a cold, dank holding cell. Dave was nearby with the ability to spring Bill from the clink but ran into a little Gestapo trouble of his own. One look at the interrogator's toolkit was all the motivation Bill needed, and soon the whole pack of traitors had free overnight accommodations and a pre-dawn appointment with Herr Guillotine.

Curtains!

The conspirators were much more aggressive in the second game, to the point of recklessness. High West Double Rye may have played a role, but the results speak for themselves. As Allied armies closed in on Berlin, Hitler met his overdue and well-justified fate, saving 12 million lives according to the handy index in the rulebook. The players really enjoyed the experience, finding the game challenging and atmospheric. Good art - very dark palette but quite legible. I don't think any rules questions cropped up, so the players hit the ground running. As co-ops go, this looks like a winner, and despite my bias against the breed I might have to pick up a copy for future plotting.

Be careful what you wish for

Scott has been translating a packet of Japanese Game Journal titles for possible publication by MMP. He just finished the rulebook and cards for Storm Over Japanese Homeland, so we put it through its paces. The game covers Operations Olympic and Coronet, the components of the planned invasion of Japan.

Target: Kyushu

As with other games in the 'Storm Over' family, cardplay is central. Airstrikes don't require a card, but all other actions do. Cards generally augment actions or restore spent units and place reinforcements, but can also serve as interrupts and responses. The game uses an area map and a roll to hit system, and units include air, ground and naval components. The Allies win by scoring more victory points (for captured areas) than they lose in casualties (scored as unit strength divided by two). The Allies also win immediately if they control the area containing the (hidden) Imperial government.

Perplexed

I took the Allies to Scott's Japan. We played with the Secret Weapons optional rule, which granted Scott a randomly drawn set of gee-whiz toys from a selection of late-war Japanese research projects. These improved the lethality of his attacks in various ways but were generally one-shot items that had to be rebuilt after use. My units were conventional but I did have an atomic bomb option just in case I couldn't get things done the old fashioned way. SOJH allows you to choose your hand each turn, so I opened with a couple Amphibious Assaults, a pair of Blitzkriegs (allows you to activate the same group twice) and a pair of Combined Operations (allowing you to activate two groups in succession). This was enough to get me ashore on Kyushu, the southernmost island. Most of the VPs were in central and northern Honshu, but I figured I'd start in the south and grind my way north.

Admiral of the Inland Sea

Capturing Kyushu's base area increased my hand size from six to seven cards while reducing Scott's. I concentrated my naval strength in the Inland Sea where I could bombard a wide swath of Honshu and launch airstrikes further north. Scott's defense of Kyushu was characterized by terrible dice, but his kamikaze strikes against the Inland Sea were much more successful, as most of my escort carriers and even a couple of fleet CVs succumbed. I seized Shikoku but another breath of Divine Wind eliminated my depleted Marines. Despite my losses, I reoccupied Shikoku and staged my air units there so they could reach the length of the Home Islands. I was soon ashore on Honshu and the combination of concentrated air and seapower was flattening Scott's ground forces. This made life a lot easier for my GIs and Marines, and as the Japanese dead pile increased the outcome was no longer in doubt. We called it at that point as an Allied win.

As bad as it sounds

We found the situation interesting but the Allied advance was inexorable. The Allies *will* conquer the Home Islands, but the question is at what cost? However, we didn't see an answer for concentrated sea and air power - I could inflict so many hits the Japanese struggled to piece together the punch necessary to pick off even the occasional casualty. However, Scott has since received some clarifications from the designer that should serve to improve Japanese attacks. It will still be a very asymmetric game, with the Japanese relying on timing and card combos to pull off one or two stinging blows each turn, while grudgingly yielding territory. It requires a particular mindset to appreciate and enjoy that sort of situation, but other titles such as Turning Point: Stalingrad have a similar feel, asymmetric but tension-filled and competitive. I think this will be worth another look after Scott makes a second pass through the rules.

Setting sun

With the fate of New France still up in the air, Dan VIII, Chris, Dave, Hawkeye, Mark and I did a little Caveman Curling to round out the evening. I teamed with Dan and Hawkeye to eke out a narrow win. The key to success in dexterity games is always bet on the flickmaster from the mountains of New Jersey.

Passaic's Finest draws a bead
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Tue Jan 24, 2017 5:20 pm
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