David Dockter
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A Lot of Heart, A Little Hood: 1st MN's Winter Thaw Meets Mokszycki’s Red Winter

Our streak of 19 straight days below freezing recently broke. Spring is not THAT far off. A January thaw had begun and we're starting to stir again in god's country. Warm enough to even venture out of the nest and get some club gaming in (it is NEVER too cold/snowy to prevent that!).

We checked the calendar and noticed that it was the 151st anniversary of John Bell Hood's dismissal from the Confederate States of America Army of Tennessee (by the way, there are some great books on the AoT...and if you're looking for some great games center on General Hood: Perryville or Embrace An Angry Wind ). Perhaps a American Civil War western theatre game for late Jan? Was about to go in that direction, but somehow got side tracked. Next time I thought about what to play, Red Winter reared its head. We decided to finally get Red Winter: The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland – 8-12 December 1939 on the table at the First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society.

Background: Yah, We've Heard the Buzz...


Red Winter set up early...MMP's Talavera being played in background; Triumph of Chaos v2 playtest in foreground


Old school I go U go France 40, but these boys we're having fun with Dunnigan's old design

We've heard some good things about Red Winter (RW): VERY accessible (see Kallisto's excellent video review/playthru right here on the BGG Red Winter forum), a labour of love, FABulous rulebook/playaids and a fun gun. I'm a sucker for ANYTHING regarding the Winter War, Narvik, Norway - the Nordic front WW2 and I buy the vast majority of my games on theme (and designer). Consequently, RW was somewhat in the wheel house. However, three items prevented purchase and play:

1. It's Tactical...company level. Yuk. Not my scale. Last small scale tactical I remember enjoying was Squad Leader and Tobruk: Tank Battles in North Africa 1942many decades ago. Nothing has really bit me since, although Combat Commander: Pacific came real close (I've got to give that another whirl - it has produced some great storylines at our club over the last two years...and, we had a 12?16? member tourney not long ago).

2. It's IGYG (I go You go). Double Yuk. I've ranted about this moldy chess game mechanic in our beloved wargames quite often and wait in eager anticipation of its eventual death (it's as resilient as Franco!). So, how can I purchase yet another wargame that uses IGYG as its basic engine? I am codependent. An enabler. Bartender, "Please give me another shot and a copy of Red Winter - I'll quit tomorrow...promise!".

3. It has a lack of Friction & Chaos. Triple Yuk. Didn't look like RW had enough friction and chaos for my taste. Too much perfect control over the troops (...and in the dead of a finnish winter?!)

So, I passed...until two weeks ago. There, the game was sitting on the shelf of our local lair, The Source and staring at me....baiting me. A game on the Finnish Soviet War...great topic...and I had a fifty burning a hole in my pocket... so, what the hell.

As I was paying for the game, the clerk recommended a movie; Talvisota: The Winter War. Comrade Ivan at the 1st MN also has given it a big thumbs up - so, I had already gotten some value for my purchase of Red Winter; a good movie on an off-the-beaten-track subject.


Mayslacks in Nordeast MPLS


A half a pound or more of polish satisfactionn[/i]

After our Retro Day last week G.A.A.R. -- 01/16/15 -- A Fistful of Retro , we thought we would have a quiet Friday night. Read thru the usual posts on our blog about who wanted to play what I WANT TO PLAY: JAN 23, 2015 1st MN . There was also some chatter about a few club mates wanting to combine some gaming with a trip to Mayslacks (a local sacred bar in Nordeast MPLS) for grub. I really wanted to get in on that, but, my schedule just didn't work out on Friday. However, the gods of chaos had a pleasant surprise in store for me...

So, I posted on our club's blog that was interested in cracking the Red Winter nut and had a few takers in no time. I opened the game Thursday afternoon, poured over the components (the map is OUTSTANDING), read the rules (VERY GOOD), checked out some of the playaids and was itching to play. Sure, I Go You Go...tactical...and not enough chaos, but, it looked like the designer invested a TON OF LOVE. It was infectious: I was itching to play.

Background: This Game's Got some Heart and a lot of Accessibility: A Great Combo


A man named Pajari


...and his weak heart

A bit about the game: It's basic meat and potatoes old school with a few SMART twists. Some comments regarding the game:

Beautiful chrome. Wish it had more chrome, but, what it has is beautiful. It's got Finnish field kitchens, MON! The kitchens provide a bonus for units to repair themselves (the wonders of Finnish food) and, if captured by the Soviets, the Red Army receives a negative combat mod (according to the designer, "They are too busy eating captured sausage stew") It's a got a heart attack rule for the finnish commander (sadly, where are the other leader counters...at least one for the Red Army perhaps?).

Efficient movement, combat mechanic. It works. Easy, breezy; nothing special/new here. Old school I go you go. Machine guns and arty puts suppression (negative combat shifts) on enemy units. Units take losses (which may be repaired if you pull out the line). Losses may either be satisfied by retreat or steps (if attacking, first loss must be a step).. You can dig in. Units get more movement if they don't come within four hexes of the enemy. All easily communicated to onlookers in a few minutes.


CRT


Enough CRT mods to make Berg proud, although only one or two usually used in any one combat

Not sure how I feel about the CRT. Like the two 6 siders - the range of outcomes (in amount of hits), but don't like that the defender has almost total flexibility regarding how the losses are satisfied (either as retreat or steps)...or the lack of range in "type" (no crazy Z table results...troops rampage!).


Ranged fire...the usual mechanics - spotting, LOS (but not bad at all in this game), suppressing units, etc


Ranged fire mods that permits a player to improve the quality based upon their decisions


Build your bonfire for nice comfy sleep...if you build one, it prevents attrition at night from the harsh Finnish winter...so, a player decides whether or not to pull back and build fires or to stay exposed...another cool rule


Recovery mechanic; allows a player to improve the chance of gaining back a step for a beat up unit

BEAUTIFUL MAP. Fabulous Rulebook and Playbook The map: state of the art for hex based games.

This designer likes gamers. Here's an example of Mokszycki's strong desire to make it easy for gamers to play Red Winter: he printed the movement cost to reach certain hexes from the reinforcement space. How many games (and wasted gaming time) have we played where units appear on a hex and then you have to count (and recount) the movement cost to move them maximum towards the front? With Red Winter, the cost is printed on the map next to the road. Smart - and demonstrates the designer did A LOT of thinking about the gamer.

Operational feel Low counter density. A lot of space. A game of maneuver. All good; very engaging.

Accessibility The designer went out of his way to make the barrier to playing his game as low as possible. The rules. The playaids. The scenarios. The map. Everything. We really need A LOT more of this in the hobby. Only place the design team fell a little short was in not making a "Here's how you play this" 5 minute youtube video. Luckily, the wargame tribe stepped in with numerous vid reviews/unboxining/walk thru's, etc.

Some Chaos, but...

There is some chaos baked in with a few cool mechanics...

Night raids


Night raids...you first roll on this table to get a column mod for combat

Another nice mechanic are night raids. Basically, the Fin can send units on attacks (2x the normal movement to the attack - and "free" movement back). There's a table you roll on to see what the mods will be to the attack roll. Good thing about night raids is that you can put additional losses on the Soviets (beat them up so they'll lose time trying to mount an effective attack the next day). The trade-off? The Fins could suffer loses and they will be susceptible to attrition losses (very damm cold at night during a Finnish winter).

Lost in the deep, dark woods


Lost in the woods

If a unit moves deeper into the woods, it may get lost (and have to halt movement). Like it.

Fog of war

There's an optional mechanic for introducing some needed fog of war into the game - using hidden/dummy counters (removed when spotted/in combat), being able to only examine the top unit in a stackI think next time, we'll be using that.

Overall, there are some nice very small bits of chaos/friction, but I sure wish there were a lot more.

...good ole' Hood is sadly missing...


Let's charge the breastworks, boys! It's only two miles yonder across open field. And, we'll do it w/o artillery support.

Our friend Hood is missing in this game. You've got, basically, the old school perfect control and coordination between your troops; no beserkers... no "Hood". These pawns are dumb as a rock and have no free will. There is NO "Road to Richmond" (the wonderful card in For the People that forces your Army of the Potomac to go beserker and rush into the bastion called Richmond - and frequently get totally destroyed). No group of your troops are going to decide to either not comply with your wishes - or, for even more gaming fun - to do the complete opposite ("go George Costanza").

Here's a passage from Red Winter's outstanding playbook:

Game Note: December 8, 1939, is where the game begins.

Newly arrived at the front, the units of 1/JR16 (the 1st battalion of JR16) were tasked with weathering the Soviet onslaught throughout the critical first day of the battle. The Finnish battalion fell back in disarray when faced with an organized Soviet attack, but it bought enough time for the formations across the lake to dig in and recover.

1/JR16’s failure to hold is a bit of a mystery, but our research uncovered several possible causes. First, it appears that in the con- fusion, the Finns of JR16 were shelled by their own mortars when they arrived near Kivisalmi Bridge. Second, the mortar debacle, in combination with recon reports that a Soviet regiment was in the process of outflanking Tolvajärvi from the north, may have led the Finns of 1/JR16 to believe that the mortar shells from behind them were in fact from a Soviet force that had arrived to surround them. This is only a theory, but apparently “an order came from somewhere that positions on the northern wing had been breached and, because of the threat of being inside a motti [see 22.0], everyone had to retreat.” Third, the officers leading two of the companies of 1/JR16 were not suitable for their roles. This probably didn’t help the Finns’ resolve. Fourth, this battalion was from Tampere and was made up of factory workers used to electric lighting. The men had little or no experience in wilderness survival, let alone pitch-dark night actions in constant contact with the enemy. Special thanks go to Vesa Teräs for his work with the Finnish texts on this topic.


So, my question is, how is that reflected in the game? That chaos? This is not meant as a criticism of this fine game ("So why doesn't this taco taste more like lutefisk? Maybe, because it is NOT frickin lutefisk, you chowderhead...it's a taco!")...but rather a general lament...and two specific bitch & moans regarding mechanics: The inability to interfere as your opponent walks up to your troops and surrounds them...and the near perfect control a player has over their own troops.

There is some minimal capability to interfere with the enemy...an opportunity fire like mechanic (in optional rules - Friction Fire)...and of course "defense range fire"... but, not enough for my taste - especially at this small tactical scale...in the dead of winter...with a big bear army meeting a smart fox opponent on his terrain.

Usually, this is a show stopper for me - and why I don't play tactical games. Strategic operational? All the good ones have leaders (as thus reinforce, intercept, react and similar mechanics) and/or some "reaction zone". But tactical? They generally don't seem to have moved forward enough from the times of yore I GO YOU GO AND YOU CAN'T STOP MY PLANS mechanic (Combat Commander: Pacific a strong exception). Oh, they have moldy zones of control, but, for the most part, little innovation.

In fact, now that I am ranting, Fc*k Zones of Control: Games need Zones of Reaction. (recent example of doing it right: Empire of the Sun) Something where when you enter a hex adjacent to the enemy, a WIDE variety of things can happen based upon the quality of units engaged, terrain, etc. Think a range from not being able to enter, to being attacked, etc.

I like wargames where the opponent can interfere with the implementation of your plans...or that the gods can toss a BIG wrench or spanner...or that your lads and lassies will do the opposite of ordered (and either ruin your day or save your bacon). All the reasons we don't play boring chess...or training wheels Risk (in anymore).

Given some of the fine design mechanics Mr.Mokszycki baked into Red Winter, I would have loved to see him tackle this chaos and reflect it. Enough bitchin & moanin... on with the game he actually made!

Bootcamp Begins: Set up and how do you win this thing?


Setting up is a breeze

I ended up arriving for the evening session to play Red Winter at 7ish. Troy, the Puzzlemaster Chris Nelson and Doug all wanted to play, so we quickly got two games going. It took us maybe 10 minutes (if that) to set the game up. Of course, we choose the manly campaign game for one game (the other game went for the day two scenario; no shame there given how well designed the scenarios are). I (Fin) played Troy (Rus - and our fantastic Red Winter Dungeon Master), while Doug (Fin) played The Puzzlemaster Mr.Nelson (RUS) on the day two scenario.

I guess a few words are in order regarding the basic situation facing the players (in the campaign game)...


# on black background are Soviet VPs...20 VPs Soviets victory...Zero or less Finnish victory...there are also VPs for enemy unit loses - 3 VPs for 2 step units, 2 for single step, 1 VP for a reduced unit, 1 for every gun/engineer platoon

Soviets need to push fast & hard. Don't sweat poor odds attacks...or losses...initially. Don't let the Finns form up. The question is how much up the gut (down the middle) and how much on the flanks. Finns need to delay/disrupt the onslaught, conserve their units, form up and resist.

The Playbook contains a good section on tactics/strategy for each side. Read before playing.

Turn 1: Red Army Moves North, Well, It Tried to Move North

Fins decided to defend as far forward as possible, enlisting a Sacred Band to hold the narrow pass known as Kivisalmi Bridge (with a 2nd Sacred Band a few hexes behind it if needed). Russians attacked along the road, but decided against pressing the matter by also attacking from the frozen lake hexes (and sent 3 companies to the right flank). Russian General Troy rolled poorly (a common Russian theme this day), but did force back the Sacred Band one space. I did get to toss the heart attack roll for Pajari...rolled a "4": 1 pip away from a heart attack and early disaster.


End of T1

Turn 2: Red Swarm

Turn 2 witnessed a renewed, but again ineffective attack on the bridge and the initiation of the activity on the right flank. Fins responded by pushing SMGs to cover the approaches to the bridges and pulling Pajari back to rally units at Tolvajarvi (Pajari would remain there for most of the rest of the game - rallying units - he provides a +1).


End of T2

Turn 3: Fin's Night's Watch Mans the Wall

Turn 3: Russians continue to be unable to gain any traction. Fins completed their wall; something like 6 SMGs and arty now covering any approaches to the bridge. Russians read the writing on the wall and moved to try to crack the nut by pressuring the flanks.


End of T3

Turn 4: Fin's Night's Watch Reinforced

Russians again tried both the right flank and the center. Different time of day, same results. Russians even managed to hit some of their boys with friendly commie fire (a Bronx cheer went out in Team Finland). At this point, at least 5 Russian units had been reduced.

We did then discuss whether we were missing something (probably the case!). The Russians were using arty to support attacks, but, perhaps they were being too cautious by not risking concentrated attacks and attacking from the ice. Or, perhaps, we had missed the tactics implied by the Assault mechanic (9.0) - as the Russians did not attempt it once during the game. Well, that's why we bootcamp these things; can't wait to jump back in again with what we've learned.


End of T4

Turn 5: Bring Your Knives and Leave Your Strategy Behind!


General Ivan orders a night raid: "BRING YOUR KNIVES, BOYS!"


The Puzzle Master..."Anything that relies on tossing a 10 is not a strategy!"

A night turn. An interesting component of the game - the impact of time of day on LOS (line of sight), movement and attrition. A very cool change in tempo. Fins can really alter the depth and frontage of defense.

Team Finland felt like it had survived the first day in great shape: secure line, almost no Soviet penetration and low Finnish losses. Instead of resting on Finnish laurels, Commander Ivan ordered a series of night raids by announcing, "Time to do some really unpleasant things to the lumbering Russian bear. Let's do some night raids! We're going over the ice! Bring your knives, boys!". I asked Commander Ivan what the hell night raids were. He clued me in. I looked at a couple of options and replied, "Ok, I'm in...but, it looks like we're going to need a very high die roll on the combat table to make it work...like a 10 or higher."

Listening to us, the Puzzle Master Mr.Nelson (playing the Russian in the other game), quipped, "Any strategy that requires a 10 to work is not an effective strategy".

Commander Ivan responded, "We're not trying to write a damm book on strategy, Puzzle Master. We're not frickin Carl von Clausewitz! We're just trying to kill commies - in the middle of a cold winter's night." We ordered our first raiders south. We tossed a 6 sider on the Finnish Night Raid Table to get the modifier to use in the actual combat....out pop'd a "1": we had totally booooofed the roll. "I guess we brought pocket knives and not Bowie knives". The Puzzle Master smiled.

"Well, guess we're going to need that "10" now." A cry went out from the Finnish side of the table..."10"..."10"..."10"...the dice were tossed high into the air...Of course, out popped a TEN! "Now, THAT is frickin strategy, Puzzle Master!". Much laughter and good natured trash talkin ensued.


The implementers of the "Just roll a "10" strategy: Heroes of the Finnish Fatherland

Night attrition took an additional toll on the Russians: 4 more reduced units.


End of T5

Turn 6: Finnish Counter Offensive

With the Fins in strong shape, a general offensive was ordered. Fins managed to pull off a wicked attack on the left flank, surrounding 3 Russian companies. As a key part of the attack, Fins needed to roll a 10 or higher for the 75mm's to find their mark: no problem, another "10" tossed and another Soviet debacle.


End of T6

Turn 7: Fat Lady Singing

The Russians debated whether to enlist the tanks. A call was made to Uncle Joe on the red line. Uncle Joe refused and told the General Troy to get the lead out and get movin - or else. The Russian commander surveyed the situation and ordered yet two more attacks on the right flank and the bastion known as Kivisalmi Bridge. Before tossing dice, General Troy declared, "Okay, I'm going to rely upon that "toss a 10" strategy". The assault proceed on the right flank...an appeal to dice gods made...dice tossed...a "2": disaster yet again.

At the bridge, a similar debacle; murderous SMG fire...disruptions...poor combat rolls.

At that point, we thought it would be a good time to close the book on Red Winter bootcamp - having had a great gaming time and learning enough about the game so that our next match would be a hard fought affair.


T7: Bad strategy: rolling a snake eyes on a key attack

Regarding the other RW match (the day two scenario), the game came down to the last turn with the Russians pulling out a victory. Both players reported having a good time and wanting to get the game back on the table.


2nd game of red winter: Doug (Fin) vs Chris the puzzlemaster (Rus)

Postscript: Thumbs Up.

Forget my earlier bitchin & moanin regarding the absence of "the Hood factor" regarding what this fine game doesn’t have: this is a very good game for the local club and/or enlisting new wargamers.

Why?

1. Accessibility. Takes only a few minutes to explain. Setup? 5 seconds. Rules summaries, “here’s how you play”, - all here (except a 5 minute youtube, although Kallisto’s Red Winter videos accomplish that). There is almost zero barrier to getting this one on the table, quickly pushing counters and ....getting hooked.

2. The designer loves gamers. It shows everywhere in the design: the map, rulebook, playbook, etc.

3. The designer loves telling this particular story. Finnish field kitchens with sausage stew!

4. Basic old school meat and potatoes wargaming with a few spices circa 2012. Enough to keep the hairy arsed wargamers engaged, but not so much as to intimidate the recruits without whiskers. A good mix: solid mechanics and a few splashes of beloved chrome that reflect elements of the story being modeled.Hats off to the designer.

For other 1st MN/Sawatdee session reports:

1st MN/Sawatdee/Herr Dr Session Reports


We (bottom left -clockwise, Chris, Troy (Thank you! for dungeon mastering the game for us), Dr., Doug) had a great time with Red Winter...despite the absence of the "Hood" factor

P.S. Mayslacks. So, I'm at the Golden Gophers game Saturday with my youngest. Gophers have been TOTALLY snake bit this year - losing 4 games at the buzzer. They were playing the Fighting Illini at THE BARN. Good game. At half time the Gophers were up by 3. The Applenista and I ducked out to get a quick bite. We hit the first stand we came across (just behind secion 108-110). I looked up and what did I see? MAYSLACKS! Evidently, they opened a stand at THE BARN a couple of years ago (must be part of the young Richard Pitino effect). I quickly devored a sandwhich. Gophs went on to win 79 to 71. Life is grand...today.


Chaos grants a pleasant surprise...a mouthful of Polish satisfaction...


Gophers Win! But, sadly, still 4 games below .500 in the Big Ten: Big Dance a LONG way off

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Manu
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Very entertaining review / AAR for a wonderful game. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.
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Nik Knight
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This is one of my favorite games. Great solo and looks like a blast face to face.

Cheers!
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Jim Ransom
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"The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools." -- Thucydides, 5th century BC
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Thanks for a fair, enlightening, and entertaining review. You guys up in the frozen tundra sure seem to have a lot of fun with your game group. Well done!
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Martyn Smith
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I can't be the only person reading this to think, "Why aren't there wargaming groups like this near me?"

This was a hugely engaging overview of your engagement with this wonderful game. Whenever I read about it I feel that I am missing out by not getting it to the table. It is one of the few games where I really feel as if I know the map and seeing pictures of it conjures up memories of previous games I've played.

Thank you so much for the PERFECT Sunday evening read...
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David Dockter
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You're welcome.

Regarding getting an engaging local group of wargamers, we "restarted" about two years ago with a handful (under a half of dozen!....but now we regularly draw between 25 and 50 a Friday. arrrh). We've always had a great gaming community in the Twin Cities, and the First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society has been around for 30 years, but, club members had drifted away and we weren't adding any new ones. We were also lucky enough to have a few EiA/WiF/ASL groups scattered here and there; so very strong wargaming tribes in the area . But, we'd lost "the glue".

The key to restarting was just getting a few cheerleaders/doers for the club. If you can snag a few gamers, they'll snag many others. It sort of takes care of itself after that: events, big honkin team games, session reports/AARs, an active BGG guild, very active local gaming blogs, game co sponsored game days, etc. - fresh air & energy. As with anything, BRAND the effort and PUSH accordingly. We've even went to online club meetings to deal with the business aspect. Works fantastic. That way, we only do what we want to do on game days: game!

We haven't cracked the local universities yet - many of those in the area. Got to get the word out to them somehow.


Take off on album cover of the only band that ever mattered


Take off on fab local group, The Suburbs


Take off on commemoration of 150st ACW anniversary
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Mark Mokszycki
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Excellent read. Thanks very much for posting. Glad that you enjoyed the game!
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Thank you for chiming in, Mr.Mokszycki. And, good luck with the next game in the series, Operation Dauntless: The Battles for Fontenay and Rauray, France, June 1944 : a number of gamers at the club, First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society , are looking forward to it - including me.

Any word/update on when we may see the game published?
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This excellent effort just sold a copy of Red Winter (a used one, but still!). Thanks, Doc!
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Good. Play the game - maybe with a new recruit - and my work is done.
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David, I have no specific timeline yet for Op Dauntless, other than to say that I'll get it out sometime this year. "Real life" has thrown one curve ball after another at me for the past ~9 months or so. Work on the game continues, but the pace is still much slower than what I'd like to see.
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Martyn Smith
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duckweed wrote:
David, I have no specific timeline yet for Op Dauntless, other than to say that I'll get it out sometime this year. "Real life" has thrown one curve ball after another at me for the past ~9 months or so. Work on the game continues, but the pace is still much slower than what I'd like to see.


Sorry to hear it Mark - in regard to the 'life curveball' that is - games can always wait in the face of life-trauma.

This is not to say that I am not looking forward to OD though...

On the other hand, you have left us with RW to be going on with - that'll ease the pain for now.

I hope life's clouds rescind for you shortly...

Best wishes in the meantime...
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Martyn Smith
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Reading this session report is, when I am at work, the next best thing to actually playing the game.

It is the only session report that I occasionally re-read and each time I am still nonplussed by its quality.

Best. Session. Report. on. BGG.

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David Dockter
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Thank you for the feedback.
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