Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
First up is Angola, which is a game about the Angolan civil war. The time is sometime in the mid-seventies. The opposing forces are the MPLA/FPLA coalition vs. UNITA and the FNLA. The former alliance is sponsored by the Soviet Union, the latter by South Africa and the United States. (Forgive me if I present that cavalierly.) So it's essentially a contest between two 2-man teams.
Without going into great detail, the game reminds me most of Junta though the two games really have nothing in common, rules. What they do have in common is that they are both tense contests between two dueling factions where swings of fortune can be quite wild but are due primarily to the decisions of the players. Randomness is present, but it is not the deciding factor. Both require some gutsy decisions—some without the knowledge of if your co-conspirator(s)!
Units range in size from companies to brigades and are as varied as internally raised volunteers/conscripts to foreign mercenaries and nationals. They are organized (or not) into columns, which players order to move through the use of a deck of Command Cards. Some columns are more active than others and some factions are less motivated than others. The cards are carefully sequenced and revealed one at a time through player rotation. This means that coordinating columns could interrupted or eliminated before their joint acts are culminated. A long way of saying "wild ride."
Like RISK, starting forces are concrete but their initial placement is not, so no two games will ever develop quite the same way. Opportunities also exist for receiving covert foreign aid. Rely too much upon it, however, and you will find yourself coming across as a stooge for imperialist powers and the populace will turn on you, granting your opponents a leg-up in in winning the game.
There's no diplomacy, but you have to remember that you win or lose as a team, so getting along with your partner and rendering timely assistance is important. The game encourages activity so camping on chokepoints and strategic objectives will only get you so far.
I've played two games with Pete A., BGGer hipshot, and Cisco S. All have been harrowing contests where either side could have won, though our first saw a stunning reversal of fortunes that carried the UNITA/FNLA faction to a narrow win. Angola! is published by MMP but was initially designed by the Ragnar Brothers—of Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga fame.
Last Friday night I returned to an old dungeon-crawling favorite in a new edition: FFG's new edition of DungeonQuest (third edition). This is what I call "the game of vicarious suicide." Players enter DragonFire dungeon with the hope of stealing a piece of the evil Wizard's treasure. This won't be easy to do, because the dungeon is stocked with lots of terrible creatures (the Dragon just being one of them) and horrible traps. All these things have your character's demise as their sole purpose. All are exceedingly entertaining to watch whether they succeed in their effort or not.
But that's not all. As the players attempt to navigate the maze and avoid the perils and pitfalls, they are also racing against time. For the doors to the Dungeon are only open during daylight hours. When the sun slips beneath the horizon then the doors slam shut, secured by great locks and spells, and then the populations too timid to meet you by day swarm out to overpower you by night.
Much of the game is a losing, solitary struggle against the game. Player interaction is mostly confined to playing the opposing monsters that the characters meet. If you encounter a monster, one of your cheerful playmates will drive his actions in any ensuing battle. It's fun to watch the faces of new players when they ask what their reward is for defeating, say, a Troll. "Oh, you won back your character's life! You get to continue to play!"
If things are going your way, you'll reach the Dragon's lair holding the Wizard's horde with only mild damage just before noon. Once inside, don't wake Daddy. In the meantime, take all the loot you want. Just don't wake Daddy! Daddy has very bad breath.
I've done poor job of describing what a riotous time it is. The swinging blade that halves your character. The Shade that can stalk you and ruin your day. The Catacombs where only the most desperate or naive tread. The pit that can open under your feet and spill you into infinity. Great fun! Good times...
Ah, but winning!... Whether you step in to take 10 gold pieces and hustle right back out or you press on to rob the Dragon and emerge with time to spare laden with riches beyond imaging, cheating that filthy Wizard of anything and everything is truly the crowning glory. But you'll be happy enough with just getting out alive!
Anyway, I played with six other players using the 6-player rules that I posted in the entry's Files section a year or so ago. Lindel the Elf won—again—with some 2300 GP's worth of loot. He doesn't always win, but he's had more than his share, for sure!
Battle For Baghdad
If you are fan of the old Avalon Hill classic Dune or it's most recent incarnation in Rex: Final Days of an Empire, you may be interested in Battle for Baghdad. This is game which is set during the the insurgency in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad. For six players, they can be the U.S. Army, the Iraqi Provisional Government, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the Sunni's, Shi'ites, and Foreign Jihadis.
The satellite map of Baghdad is broken up into various neighborhoods and locations. Players maneuver their Infrastructure and Security forces through these neighborhoods, securing specific objectives for their faction. Like Dune, their are "blows" in the form of "prestige/political" points that players move to recover and then spend on increasing their presence on the board or recovering disabled command structures.
Diplomacy is encouraged to ensure that no player runs away with the game. Thus alliances are made and readily broken as they try to keep the ball in the air. If one player can secure their faction's objectives, they win. My last game was with Vince G., BGGer Darillian, Paul M., and Nate L. We managed to keep the ball in the air for over 5 hours, the game ending in a mutually-agreed draw.
Another of my personal favorites is the Histogram classic Friedrich. This game combines elegant rules, a couple dozen pieces, a dense point-to-point map of northern Europe, and four packs of playing cards to recreate the ebb-and-flow of the Seven Years War.
In my last game, I had the honor of playing Prussia, Darillian took Austria, Nate took Russia, and novice Evan took France. I decided that time to go for the optional Prussian victory conditions in taking Prussian objectives within Austria.
Prussia mostly plays a waiting game in Friedrich. They block routes to objectives that the foreign powers are trying to reach. By forcing battles but quickly escaping, the Prussians maintain strength and give ground only grudgingly. For their part, the foreign powers are trying to maneuver around the Prussian armies and forcing them into costly battles whenever possible.
Only the best players go for the advanced Prussian victory conditions. I turned out not be one of those lofty players. Prussia succumbed after only 8 turns of play. But in the meantime, they dealt stunning defeats on the Russians and did an end-run around the French armies and snatched an early victory away from them by recovering objectives near the French border. Only Austria had the strength to overmatch Prussia. This they did by taking their needed objectives.
Not Painting Miniatures
I'm in the middle of painting and army for Samurai Battles, but I have stalled. Mainly for lack of suitable uniform guides and a desire not to slavishly follow the patterns on the game box.
Painting miniatures can be great fun, but I'm easily distracted from it. Some folks are binge drinkers. I am a binge painter. But the fit is not in me now.
I'll try to post pictures of preogress next time!