Blog Moving!

October 4, 2011

Dear Readers:

Well, we’ve been at this address for over a year now, but it’s time for us to move to another site. You can now visit us here:

Please update your bookmarks and RSS aggregators as soon as possible; we want to keep our loyal readers! We’ll keep this announcement up for about a month, and will then dismantle this site.

ALSO, if you link to us from your blog, we’d appreciate it if you’d update as soon as possible. Thanks!

Dirty Hippy Win Criteria Makes Russ Rage

September 30, 2011

A while back, I had the pleasure of learning a new game, Shadow Hunters. Shadow Hunters is a bit like Werewolf or Mafia in that the players are out to determine who is who and eliminate their opponents. Stacked on top of that are items and special powers and a theme that’s a bit like Witch Hunter Robin meest Arkham Horror meets a number of anime tropes. I mean, what’s not to like about playing a horror of the night killing off the forces of light and neutrality?

Easy answer. Win criteria that results in just about everyone at the table winning, that’s what! At a seven player game, we had four people win. Then in the follow up game, we had five people win. People were flipping over their character cards, looking at their win criteria, checking the board, and then announcing, “I win too!”

What are we, a bunch of dirty hippies that need to have everyone win? We can just ride the coat tails of others to success? What’s next, games that give me a participation trophy for “doing my best?” Bah, count me out. I play King of the Hill, not Committee of the Hill.

I want competition in my board games. When playing Twilight Struggle, I want the Soviet player to announce his play of “We Will Bury You” with conviction. In Here I Stand, strained voices and beads of sweat means you’re playing it right. Shaking your fist at attack helicopters as they chew up your tanks in World at War, drives you beat your opponent next time.

The big problem is that when everyone wins, no one wins. There are lessons to be learned in loss and no pride to be gained in victory.

Washington’s War Session Report: The American Perspective, 1775

September 29, 2011

Over the next week or two John and I will be posting a session report of our recent game of Washington’s War. We decided to play-by-email (PBEM) using ACTS and VASSAL for a few reasons. First, it gave me a chance to use VASSAL. I’ve used Cyberboard in all of my other PBEM games but hadn’t tried VASSAL yet. Second, as John and I have both mentioned before, PBEM is a great chance to dive deep into a game and understand the rules. This was especially helpful for me since John has a few more plays of the game than I do. Third, we are both busy guys so getting together for a game can be tough. Playing this way allowed us to get game turns in between work, family and other obligation. Finally, it allowed us to take some notes as we played so that we could post a bit more in detail session report… so here we go!

Washington’s War: John vs. Rick
John chose the British forces and I took the Americans. I have only played as the Americans so far so I felt pretty comfortable with them.

American Initial Control Placement:
Savannah, GA
Camden, SC
Salem, NC
Richmond, VA
Frederick Town, MA
Reading, PA
Morristown, NJ
New York, NY
New Haven, CT
Falmouth, MA
Concord, NH
And RI and DE
My initial placement strategy was to put in places where the Brits would have to work to get them back. A specific example is Falmouth, MA. If John wanted to flip that he’s going to have to move somebody over there and I don’t think he would expend resources to do it. I soon realize I probably should have covered some of the ports better to prevent Brits from showing up where I don’t want them.

Year: 1775
American Hand: 3op, 2op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op
This hand highlights my biggest problem with this game. The deck of cards is very large because of the separation of events, end of turn, battle cards, and operation points. This means hand you are dealt each round can vary wildly. In other games you can usually do damage control with each hand, but I find this game less forgiving. But it’s early in the game so time to just start plopping down control markers.

I choose to go first and put Arnold and 3cu to Alexandria, VA, to protect the Congress from the south. Then with my 2nd card I put PC markers into Baltimore and Long Island to protect my ports. Playing my only two big cards right away my have hurt me but I wanted to start off strong. I’ll bring in my other reinforcements later when I have a better handle on what John is up to. I put down another PC marker and then John hits me with Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line Mutinies – no more PC markers this turn. I bring on Gates and 1cu to Albany to put a speed bump in the way from any northern aggression. I then move Arnold down to Norfolk, VA, to flip that at the end of the turn. John discards “Nathan Hale, American Martyr” but I can’t grab it with my remaining 1op card so I just discard it. John then is forced to play “Benjamin Franklin: Minister to France.”

The game board at the end of 1775. So far so good.

Then John points out my big mistake: I forgot that Washington is not in a Winter Quarters space so Washington is now down to 2cu. That discarded card DID have a use and I missed it. But with the French Alliance up 4 spaces I’ve got my sights set on the lone unit in Fort Detroit.

I’ll pause here and let John update you on his side of the story.

Commands and Colors: Napoleonics—The Best C&C Game Yet?

September 25, 2011

(Folks, let me open by stating emphatically this is not a review. We don’t do reviews at Margin of Victory. Rather, this is a simple explanation of why I believe Napoleonics to be the best Commands & Colors game yet published.)

I’ve only played five games of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. And yet already I know it to be a more interesting game than its cousin, Commands & Colors: Ancients, which I played the heck out of between 2005-2008.

The same card-driven mechanic is in play here, as are the left, center, and right divisions of the battlefield. Light, medium, and heavy units are now infantry, cavalry, and artillery units (all of which have some weaker and stronger versions). So on the surface, it’s basically the same game, just with a few tweaks. What’s amazing is that Richard Borg gave players more choices in Napoleonics without making the game much more complicated.

Look familiar to some other games you've played?

The three important additions are Napoleonic-era tactical decisions:

Cavalry Retire and Reform: In the face of an infantry melee attack, cavalry may evade. This works exactly the same as evasion in Ancients, it’s just that only cavalry get this option now.

Form Square: In the face of a cavalry melee attack, infantry may assume a square formation. The defending player must have a random card taken from his hand, which is then placed out of play until his unit resumes its usual formation. Attacking cavalry may only attack with one die, regardless of other benefits. The infantry battles back with one die, but if they score a retreat result on the enemy, the cavalry must move one hex away from the square (a “bounce flag”). This formation is great if your infantry get cut off and are on their own. It’s a very tough choice if they are facing both enemy cavalry and infantry, as their ability to defend themselves against the infantry is vastly reduced.

Combined Arms Attack: While attacking, you may order one cavalry/infantry AND one artillery unit to attack at the same time. You roll the normal melee dice for the cavalry or infantry unit, but you also get to add the ranged combat dice of the artillery unit in the same roll. Yup, you might be rolling 8 dice in a massive assault.

On my first read through of the rules, I didn’t think these tactics would change the flow of the game much. But about halfway through my first game with General Rick of the allied army, it was clear they were going to matter quite a bit.

In the Rolica (first position) scenario, a unit of my French light infantry found itself way out ahead of the rest of my army. Having taken earlier losses, they were at half strength and facing British heavy cavalry and line infantry. Rick ordered both units and chose his cavalry to attack first. I formed square, knowing I would likely survive the attack but also realizing that my troops would get cut to ribbons by the line infantry attack a moment later. However, if I had not formed square, his cavalry likely would have destroyed my unit, received a bonus move, and received a bonus attack against another unit. So while I lost the unit to the second attack, I denied him a breakthrough.

The game ended when General Rick executed a perfect combined arms attack. Using cards that allowed his units to move extra hexes, he arranged it so some British artillery was on a hill, firing directly down on my troops (whoops!). Then he brought some line infantry up, ordered both units, and crushed my line in a devastating combined arms attack. He rolled 8 dice in one mighty attack (4 for the line infantry + 4 for the artillery firing at point blank range). Needless to say, this caused one of my full-strength units to magically transform from neat rows of blue-coated musketeers to a pile of corpses and, alas, my French lost the battle.

I enjoyed Ancients, but I like Napoleonics even more. I feel like I have more tactical decisions to make, and thus more control over the battle. Once I factor in the varied landscape in each scenario (no more featureless plains like in Ancients) and the specialized units (rifle infantry! horse artillery! cuirassiers! oh my!), I think I’ll be playing this game for a long time to come.

"Uh oh. Form square? Stay in line? Either way, I think we're screwed, guys."

BattleTech, Carcassonne, Finca and a Surprise!

September 19, 2011

A week ago Saturday started out as expected. My wife and I got the kids ready for the day and then we headed over to a friends house – our couples book club was meeting that day. After a nice morning chatting, I headed over to Russ’ house to start a new RPG Campaign set in the BattleTech universe. The session was the first time playing for all of us. With the MechWarrior soundtrack playing in the background we went out on a training simulation to get our feet wet. We had fun but had to wrap things up at about 4:15 as people had stuff to get to.

I got in my car and texted my wife I was on my way home. She called me back and asked if I’d stop at the store to pick up something we needed for dinner. No problem. When I finally I got home I walked in the door to our lower level and started up the stairs.

That’s when it happened.

“SURPRISE!” and at about the same time I saw faces that I didn’t expect to see in my house. Lots of faces.

I was floored. And speechless. My wife was thrilled. She had flawlessly pulled off what I told her many months before something she couldn’t do: throw me a surprise party. I was sure I would pick up the clues and figured it would never happen – I would find someway to spoil the surprise. Not only did it happen it blew me away.

I finally made it up the stairs and said hello to everyone – all 40+ people! Then I looked at my cake:

The meeples placed illegally were quickly eaten.

Cake-assonne! Even the Meeples are edible.

Wow. Even better than last year’s cake and that one was great.

All I could do is ask: How…? Where…? When…? I got the answers and all the little clues I had ignored previously started to make sense. Then we dug into the food and drinks and had a blast. Later in the evening I kept thinking about the past couple of weeks. It was like watching a good movie that has a surprise twist at the end. As soon as the movie is over you want to hit play again and see all the clues you missed.

A few days later I finally recovered my wits. Just in time to celebrate my birthday on the actual day. I received some fantastic gifts – one of which of course was a board game. This time: Finca. We played that night and had a blast. I’ve since played it 5 more times and am really enjoying it.

Now all I can wonder is: will I ever be able to top that surprise party…?

Commands and Colors: Napoleonics Storage Solutions

September 15, 2011

Having spent about four hours this weekend applying stickers to the blocks for Commands and Colors: Napoleonics, I was faced with a problem: where to store them all. While it’s true that the pieces all fit inside the game box, it’s a tight fit if you bag each individual unit type, which means finding another storage solution. After digging around a bit on the web, I settled on buying a Plano LockJaw box. I found one for sale at my local hardware store. The top portion of the box fits the Portugese, British, and French infantry with plenty of room to spare for an expansion or two:

Plenty of space left over!

Meanwhile, the bottom portion can easily be arranged to fix the larger pieces–cavalry, artillery, and leaders–as well as dice, terrain, and chits. If I ever purchase an expansion, it will be easy to transfer the last three items to the original game box. This should leave space for expansion playing pieces.

Open the lid, and you've got all large playing pieces with room to spare for terrain, etc.

Once you lock everything up, you’ve got a lightweight, organized carrying case for all of your armies. I think it will drastically cut down on setup time for this game.

Who knew you could carry the great armies of Europe so easily?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Losing

September 7, 2011

With Labor Day weekend over, it is time to regretfully close the book on summer. Camping, grilling, brewing, mowing the lawn: Every day was filled with joy. That is, until I sat down in the evening to play a board game with my wife, friends, or family.

And then I lost. And lost again. And then lost some more.

Like my beloved but hapless Minnesota Twins, I spent most of the summer getting thrashed by the opposition. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know that every Memorial Day I declare a “summer of victory.” You may also remember that last year, the Summer of Victory III, didn’t go so well. However, it was nothing compared to the utter debacle that was the Summer of Victory IV: Actually, the Summer of Defeat, Don’tcha Know.

The overall number of games played went up slightly this summer, 43 compared to last year’s 38. Of these 43, I went 14-29, a .325 win average. This is a huge drop compared to last year (.447 average). In two player games, 26 in all, I went 14-12, again a huge drop off from last year, when I was 15-1-2. I attribute this to the fact that I was playing my wife a lot more, and she has proved stiff competition this summer, winning 8 of our 14 games.

The most popular games of the summer of loss were Hive (11 games played) and 7 Wonders (7 games played, no lie!). These are also the two games that Sara and I purchased together this summer, and we played them a lot. And it seems 7 Wonders is the new Carcassonne for me, as I have not yet won a single game of it. On the other hand, I finally snapped my 17 game losing streak in Carcassonne, winning for the very first time in the two years I’ve owned the game! That was a small bright spot.

In the end, I think this was a summer during which I learned to “stop worrying and love losing.” I don’t mean that I’m trying to lose, but that it doesn’t bother me like it used to. I’m much more focused on playing games that provide a bit of fun and some tough decisions as well, but even more importantly, I am enjoying the company of those with whom I’m playing.

A warmer, fuzzier John? Perhaps. But I’m still declaring a Summer of Victory V next Memorial Day!