Inside the Box: Washington’s War

August 24, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Washington’s War is Mark Herman’s re-imagination of the first true card-driven wargame, We the People. It is a medium complexity war game of area control set during the American Revolution. I glimpsed the prototype at the  WBC 2009 and have been interested ever since. It retails for US $60, but can be found online for around $40 or so.

As with all of GMT Games’ recent releases, the box is sturdy and appealing, boasting a beautiful detail of John Trumbull’s Battle of Princeton. The back of the box states that the game can be played in 90 minutes, but in my experience, this would be after a few longer plays of 2-3 hours.

The box itself contains two counter sheets, a large poster-sized map, 110 cards, full-color rule and play books, two player aid cards, and two dice. In all, the production quality is very high for a war game, rivaling the components of most Euro games (minus the wooden pieces, of course).

The contents of the box.

The rulebook is slightly above average in terms of its style and layout. I always like to see a table of contents and index, and the color illustrations break up the text quite nicely. I also appreciate the section defining terms. However, some of the section placement seems odd. For instance, there is a whole section on movement which talks a lot about moving into battle, then there’s a break for how to place reinforcements on the board, which is then followed by those battles that were talked about earlier. Here I Stand is my gold standard for a rulebook with its easy to reference bullet-pointed procedures, and Washington’s War isn’t quite up to the task. There are a few mechanics that have different rules for the Americans and British, and it would have been nice to see a summary table of the differences between the two sides and ditto for the player aid cards. Also, there are several exceptions buried in the rules which did not make their way onto the final map, and a small reminder box would be very helpful.

The playbook is excellent, and it comes with a lengthy example of play, two pages of strategy tips, and two pages of design notes. What I like about the example of play is that it shows a few blunders on the part of the players, and this represents a real departure from the latest Twilight Struggle playbook, which shows two world champions duking it out. The player aid cards are also in color, and help out with the combat, but still don’t contain the key differences between the two sides. (I’d suggest Major Sholto’s Player Aid instead, which quickly summarizes the differences.)

The 110 cards are usual GMT fare–rather thick and glossy, with some nice period artwork. The layout is reminiscent of  We the People and Wilderness War, and they aren’t as clean as Here I Stand. I’d recommend putting these in card sleeves as soon as possible. The cardboard counters are of very high quality. Generals have nice portraits with detail and depth, and the round army counters are bright without being garish. My bad eyes have no trouble distinguishing any of the counters at a glance. There was one misprint; some of the square colony control markers weren’t printed correctly, which means you’ll have to use extra hexagonal ones. This is a small gripe, but with such low counter density, I’m not sure how that one made it through the final editing process.

One of the two countersheets. Dig that French navy!

The map itself is very thick with a nice black border running around it. I’d say the board is on par with Power Grid or several over Euro games. It’s beautifully done, and it feels like you’re looking at a quality color map out of an encyclopedia or textbook. The artists avoided putting similar colors next to each other, and it doesn’t feel too busy like the Wilderness War map. I think the low counter density helps a lot too; you can just sit and admire the map, and unlike a lot of earlier GMT games, this will definitely get people’s attention if you’re playing in public.

Overall, I am very impressed with the artwork and production value of Washington’s War. Upon opening the box,  most people will think, “Wow, I got my 40-60 bucks worth here.” Hopefully this is just another sign of where GMT is headed with all their future games!

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Here I Stand: The Minor Powers

August 23, 2010

In Here I Stand the players command one of the six Major Powers in the game. However, there are also four Minor Powers that play a big part in how the game unfolds. They can be allied to some powers, conquered through war or used as pawns during diplomacy. Below are some of my recommendations of how each Minor Power, and the cards that affect them, can best be used.

Sorry Luther, but you’ll have to sit out this strategy discussion. Also, first up is Hungary/Bohemia which is only relevant to the full 1517 scenario. The discussion of the others powers is pretty relevant regardless the scenario.

Hungary/Bohemia
• Keys (units): Belgrade (1 Regular), Buda (5 Regular) and Prague (1 Regular)
• Spaces: Breslau, Brunn, Pressburg, Agram, Mohacs and Szegedin
• Major Powers: Ottoman and Hapsburgs
• Activation: Diplomatic Marriage and Defeat of Hungary-Bohemia
• Deactivation: None

The Hungarians act as a buffer for the Hapsburgs against the Ottomans. The typical start for the Ottomans sees them sieging Belgrade and then moving to wipe them out in Buda with a fairly easy field battle due to the 5 regulars present. This gives the Ottomans 6VP (2 Keys and War Winner) and starts the war with the Hapsburgs. It also gives the Hapsburgs a key, Prague, due to the new alliance with the Hungarians.

Taking a look at the power cards and board, I think it is in the Ottomans best interest to hold off on the Buda field battle. The Ottomans need 1 key to give them an extra card which they will get with Belgrade. The Hapsburgs need 2 keys. If the Haps take Metz, the Ottomans defeating Hungary gives the Haps their 2nd key and that extra card. The Ottomans are better off holding their cards, building forces and potentially taking out the Knights of St. Johns before giving the Haps a gift.

Unless the Hapsburgs draw Diplomatic Marriage in the 1st (or possibly 2nd) turn, there isn’t much the Hapsburgs can do about the Hungarians. If they are able to activate Hungary right away, it will slow down the Ottoman advance. The Haps can control the 5 regulars in Buda to force an Ottoman siege versus the field battle. The Ottomans will have to spend more time and/or CP than they would like to march West, but it certainly won’t stop the Turkish advance. I would recommend saving that marriage for another minor power…

Venice
• Keys (units): Venice (2 Regulars, 3 Squadrons)
• Spaces: Corfu (Fortress, 1 Regular), Candia (Fortress, 1 Regular)
• Major Powers: French, Papacy, Ottoman and Hapsburgs
• Activation: Venetian Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage and Papal intervention
• Deactivation: Venetian Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage

In my opinion, Diplomatic Marriage, should almost always be used by the Papacy, French and Hapsburgs to activate Venice. The Venetians can be a powerful ally against Ottoman piracy with their 3 squadrons and two fortresses. The Venetian fleet can also help gain naval superiority for assaults on ports. And in winter, moving the regulars in Corfu and Candia in Venice give you a fully defended key.

Since one of the ways to activate Venice is by a Papal intervention, this is often used by the Pope during negotiations. The French or Hapsburgs would be my first choice for a Venetian declaration of war (DOW). These powers may be declaring war on other powers and they may have an extra CP to discard. This way they can get something from out of it. The Pope benefits because he can hang excommunication over their head if they don’t follow through on all the terms of the deal. The Ottomans could be used for a Venetian intervention as well, but the Pope is likely no match for a strong Ottoman force if the deal goes bad. Plus, the Pope can not excommunicate Suleiman.

If the Pope draws Venetian Alliance after Venice is already an ally, they can use this 4 CP card for the event to build up to 6 CP worth of units. I would guess that the card would be used for CP rather than the event in most cases.

Once allied, deactivation is always a possibility but would require the right powers – Ottoman or Pope – to get the right cards. And even then, it may not be worth the CP to do this. This is yet another reason that Venice should be the favored ally for these powers.

Genoa
• Keys (units): Genoa (2 Regulars, 1 Squadron, Andrea Doria)
• Spaces: Bastia
• Major Powers: French, Papacy, Hapsburgs, Ottoman (kind of)
• Activation: Andrea Doria, Diplomatic Marriage
• Deactivation: Andrea Doria, Diplomatic Marriage

The Genoans are a strong ally as well. With Andrea Doria, as the only non-Ottoman naval leader in the game, the other powers in the Mediterranean certainly want to have him on their side. However, Doria can cause problems: If one of the other two powers (able to) plays Andrea Doria for the event, Genoa is deactivated AND reactivated to that power. This swing in units, keys and VP can be dangerous.

For this reason Genoa should be activated near the end of the game. It would be wise to hold the card Andrea Doria as long as possible to activate Genoa. In the tournament scenario this may easier to do than the longer scenarios. If the French or Pope draw Andrea Doria they should highly consider spending the 5 CPs on a war and assault on Genoa than activation. Once Genoa is conquered you won’t have to worry about it switching control with the play of a single event card.

The second part of the Andrea Doria event card will likely never be used. A power would have to activate Genoa earlier in the game, and go to war with the Ottomans, and move Doria into a sea zone with two Ottoman controlled ports. Then when Andrea Doria is played you have the chance to take away up to three piracy VP and draw a card. The power playing the event also draws a card. I can see this event occurring for the Hapsburgs as they would likely already be at war with the Otts and try to position Doria near them to prevent piracy. However, 5 CP can probably be spent else where.

Scotland
• Keys (units): Edinburgh (3 Regulars, 1 Squadron)
• Spaces: Stirling, Glasgow
• Major Powers: French, English
• Activation: Auld Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage, French intervention
• Deactivation: Auld Alliance, Diplomatic Marriage

Scotland will play a part of every game of Here I Stand. Obviously, the English should use Diplomatic Marriage to activate Scotland as an ally if they draw it early. They’ll get a squadron, 3 regulars and save the time and trouble of a war. However, chances are the typical English strategy early in the game will be to kick those pesky Scots off their island.

The French should carefully consider intervening if the English declare war on the Scots. The French could negotiate a deal with the English: France will intervene in an English home card DOW and move the Scottish troops to Glasgow. The French get 3 Scottish regulars come winter and the English should have an easy time taking an empty Edinburgh. The French should look for an alliance on the following turn.

But be wary of the English asking the French to intervene, they may just be looking for a free DOW on France. If a satisfactory deal can’t be struck, the French may just want to let Scotland defend itself. The English may spend more CP than they would like trying to take out 3 units in an assault.

If the French do intervene, England should be sure to take political control of both Glasgow and Stirling. If France and Scotland are allies, the French can use Auld Alliance to bring 3 French regulars onto any Scottish controlled home space not under siege. Used later in the game with an English alliance, these 3 Catholic troops can wreak havoc to the Reformation in England.

Summary
• Don’t be in a rush to knock out the Hungarians.
• Venice should be your number one choice for an ally.
• Activate Genoa towards the end of the game.
• France and England need to discuss Scotland.


Summer Gaming Highlights

August 16, 2010

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted, but a master’s thesis and a baby on the way sidetracked me just a wee bit. But while those events meant less gaming, they did not mean that the quality of the gaming dropped. So, a few highlights:

Games Purchased: Well, let’s call them “games gifted.” I got both Cosmic Encounter and Dominion for my birthday and have enjoyed them both immensely. Just this week my brother and sister-in-law got me Washington’s War as a groom’s dinner present before their wedding. Best. Present. Ev-ar.

Games Sold: After a thorough analysis of my gaming spreadsheet, I realized that neither Wellington nor Last Night on Earth had been played in over two years. Ebay for those two. I’m rather surprised at the prices I got for both of them, around 50% of their original purchase value. I guess games depreciate more slowly than cars. Go figure.

Games Played: Summer is always obligatory cribbage season in my household, usually while camping or visiting the in-laws. I played most of my games this summer waiting around in the hospital for the baby to come. I’m winning in cribbage, but still no baby quite yet. Russ and I duked it out in Washington’s War back in mid-July, which was fun but a little confusing on the first play through. We’ll definitely make it up in the future, however. I’ve also gotten in a few games of Wilderness War, two online and one with Russ just a few weekends ago. I’ve learned a lot about British strategy and now am itching to play the French some more. (I also managed to start a large grease fire while cooking dinner for Russ and my wife in between game turns, but the dinner eventually turned out okay, and it didn’t affect my gameplay later that evening, so…). There was also a very memorable game of Dominion in late July with three attack cards in use and no defense cards. This led to a lot of good-natured cussing on everybody’s part, but a lot of laughter too.

Whether or not this will truly be a Summer of Victory is still in doubt, but a few weeks remains. More soon on how that all turns out.


Play in Public Campaign

August 4, 2010

Looks like we’re a few days late on this one, but there’s still time to get out there play a game and maybe even win something. For the month of August, Seize Your Turn announced the Play in Public Campaign. It is pretty much like it sounds, grab your favorite Euro, war, or non-traditional board game and go play in a public place. Take a few pictures and follow the rules here or here and you may even win something.

The goal of the PiP Campaign is to create a positive public perception of mature board gamers and maybe even create some new gamers. With that said here’s some tips for a successful outing:

  • Throw out the “Wood for Sheep” t-shirt and try a polo shirt or button down with the sleeves rolled up. Present yourslef as clean and well groomed. Let the board game draw attention and not you.
  • Try the bar or a coffee shop instead of the gaming store. Make sure to buy a pint or a latte before spreading out over a table. Bars and coffee shops are usually social places, so playing a game shouldn’t cause a problem, but be mindful of how long you occupy the table.
  • Pick a game that’s visually appealing and isn’t too large. If you find yourself pulling multiple table together to play you may make yourself more of a problem than an ambassador of board gaming. Choosing something with colorful with interesting pieces like Tobago draw people’s eyes to you game and can make a great conversation starter.
  • Enjoy yourself. Board gaming is supposed to be fun. And everyone likes fun, right?

So, one last question. How much will you give me to play Cash and Guns at hardcore biker bar?