Some Thoughts on PBEM Gaming

June 28, 2011

Looking back over my board game records, it’s clear that I haven’t been playing a lot of games in the past few months. There are a lot of reasons for this: my wife working in the evenings, shouldering new new personal and professional responsibilities, other hobbies like roleplaying and homebrewing taking a front seat, etc. But with a bit more time at home this summer, I have been picking up a few play-by-email (PBEM) games; I mainly play these turns when the baby is taking a nap, or in the late evening once she’s in bed. These online games include the Blog v.s. Podcast Smackdown previously mentioned, as well as a few different games in the engrossing and delightful Combat Mission series of computer games. Still, if I had the choice, I’d stop PBEM gaming and stick with face-to-face experiences instead; online gaming is sort of like caffeine-free, diet soda–it’s a paltry substitute for the real thing! However, online games still have their place in the way I approach the hobby:

Learn a Game, Learn New Strategies: Since I really got into boardgames five years ago, this is what PBEM has been all about for me. I post a message on a forum looking for someone who knows the rules cold so I can learn from them. This is how I came to understand Wilderness War and Here I Stand, two games that have a pretty steep learning curve. Then I take the lessons and bring them back to my own local group. Incidentally, sometimes I have ended up paired with some really talented opponents who have shown me new strategies.

Engage in a Competition: When there just aren’t enough folks around to justify a local tournament of sorts, I head to PBEM gaming. I was able to participate in a Here I Stand tournament this way (and got past the first few rounds!), and also participate in several Combat Mission tournaments. Again, the level of competition is fierce and I end up learning a few new tricks to bring back home. This can lead to revitalizing our local group’s interest in a game too.

Keep a Gaming Connection Strong: Living where I do, some of my gaming buddies are pretty far away. (Russ, for instance, is a 45 minute drive away on a good day!) So a PBEM game allows us to keep playing something even when circumstances keep us apart physically. This is true with my dad too; we’ve played a lot of Combat Mission over the years because playing it in “hotseat” mode takes hours, but PBEM is five minutes a day.

In the end, I greatly prefer the social interaction of a face to face game. Play by email will always be a distant second to it, but it can be helpful. I think it makes me a better gamer, but even as I described my three reasons for online play above, I realized that it all comes back to my local group and my friends.

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Family Reunion Time

June 24, 2011

Next week I’ll be taking a much needed vacation with my family. We’ll be heading to Wisconsin Dells to relax, have fun doing some touristy stuff and most importantly visit with my extended family. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen some of my cousins – who, like me, are now married with children – the last time I saw a lot of them were at my Grandparent’s funerals. I’m looking forward to chatting and spending time with them. And when we get together we play games.

I have fond memories of visiting my Grandparents’ house as a kid. The crossword puzzle was always completed by Grandma before we were even out of bed. Playing Boggle against her was a losing affair. And at night we gathered around the dining room table to play poker and “Cayman Rummy” – a rummy variant they invented while vacationing in the Caymans.

They’re will be plenty of card games being played, but here’s a list of games I’ll be bringing for the trip. My criteria for bringing a game are: portable/small, easy to learn, plays quickly and multiple players. Obviously not every game meets all 4 criteria but here we go:

Travel Blokus
Although this is only for 2 players, how can I pass up bringing one of the few games specifically designed for travel. Plus the game can be taught and played in about 15 minutes.

TransAmerica
This is one that meets all 4 criteria. I’ve had good success introducing this game to several people and they all enjoy it.

Dixit
Another game that has been a hit after introducing it to several people. I think people enjoy the creativity it allows.

Space Hulk: Death Angel
I think some of my cousin’s children will be approaching – or already in – their teens years. I’m thinking I should be able to get a group of young men to rally together and slay some genestealers. Plus the box is so small I can’t justify leaving it behind.

Wits & Wagers
A trivia game for up to seven people that isn’t boring. Plus it plays quickly. Although the box is pretty big… maybe I’ll throw the components into a smaller box to make room for another game.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

I’m bringing this instead of regular Carc for two reasons: 1) my little sister has the Big Box so I don’t want to be redundant if she brings that and 2) it’s my most recent game acquisition so it still has that new game shininess.

King Me!
Another one that meets all 4 criteria. I actually like this game more than I thought I would after a few plays. A little bit of psychological warfare in a small package.

I’ll let you know how these games go over.


PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Late 1757

June 20, 2011

With only a few interruptions, Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I continue our Blog v.s. Podcast smackdown. The first turn saw some substantial British gains, but nothing is certain in war!

1757 Late Season Hand (British)

Massacre/1, Amphibious Landing/1, Amphibious Landing/1, George Croghan/1, Raise Regiments/2, Governor Vaudreuil Interferes/3, Courier Intercepted/3, Call Out Militias/1, British Politics/3

(This turn I have a few more high cards to move around my slower generals. However, I’m missing any reinforcements from Britain…well, I think it’s rinse and repeat this turn; head up the Hudson Valley and do some damage.)

On the first play, Montcalm comes raging back south and his sappers remove my Fieldworks at Hudson Carry North. In a straight up battle (28 British strength points v.s. 31 French, Wolfe v.s. Montcalm), I defeat the French forces but don’t manage to kill any leaders. +1 VP to the British. Then I raise some provincials to make sure Wolfe is one column higher than Montcalm’s force on the combat results table.

A bit later, Jason allies with some Western Indians, while I bring Dunbar and his forces north to Hudson Carry North to make absolutely sure I can whomp on Montcalm. However, he replenishes some of his depleted units with a reinforcement card, which causes me to nix that idea. Realizing I’m likely not going to be getting further VPs this year, I concentrate on border defense, building stockades and raising northern militia as Jason starts sending Indians down to the Southern Department to raid.

Luckily, I beat off his Indian raids and decide to take a calculated risk–I send Wolfe and company north to Ticonderoga, hoping to take it from the French before year’s end. The French successfully raid and burn a stockade in Easton, but Wolfe takes Ticonderoga with no problems. +2 VP to the British. The season ends with Montcalm repairing to Quebec, and Wolfe to Albany. I elect to hold onto my last card so I can use it in Early 1758.

As 1757 draws to a close, I reflect on the fact that I’ve done pretty well considering I only had 1 infusion of British Regulars in 18 cards! I won two pitched battles and took a French fort, dropping the 4 VP gain the French begin with to 0. In addition, my raid into New France negated the only VP gain Jason was going to get by the Easton raid. But who knows if the gods of war will smile upon my hardy redcoats and provincials in 1758…

The map at the end of 1757. Click for a larger image.


Wilderness War: PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Early 1757

June 14, 2011

In mid-April, Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I agreed to wage the French and Indian War anew in a play-by-email game of Wilderness War. We decided to keep it simple and stick with the six-hand tournament scenario, Annus Mirabilis. This scenario has a great sense of asymmetry. The French have already made decent gains at this point in the war and are simply trying to hold on to what they have. The British are getting serious about winning and lots of reinforcements are streaming in from the homeland. However, they have a pretty limited amount of time in which to win some much-needed VPs. Jason takes the French and I agree to play the British.

1757 Early Season Hand (British)
British Regulars/3, Indians Desert/2, Provincial Regiments/2, Treaty of Easton/2, Rangers/1, Fieldworks/1, Amphibious Landing/1, Lake Schooner/1, Call Out Militias/1.

(I notice right away the problem with this hand: Very few 3 ops cards to activate the notoriously slow-moving British commanders. And while there are some nice reaction cards such as Fieldworks and Lake Schooner, using them as such means my opponent gets some free card plays at the end of the turn. Hey, at least there are some reinforcements. My plan is to increase militia presence in the northern sector, get reinforcements on the board quickly, and start moving a force toward Ohio Forks in the west if possible; it’s one of the two spaces I need to occupy to get the auto-win. Hopefully this last move will force Jason to move forces west, thus relieving the pressure on the Hudson corridor and giving me breathing space while I wait for a better hand.)

Jason opts for a standard opening move, shipping Levis and company from Quebec to join his best general, Montcalm, in Ticonderoga with a strong force in order to threaten my fort at Hudson Carry North. Not having a lot of “3” cards to use to jockey for position, I play my British regulars card and hope for the best. Lady Luck smiles upon me as Wolfe, my best general, arrives in New York. I split the three units between Halifax, New York, and Alexandria to keep my intentions secret.

Jason then orders Montcalm from Montreal to Ticonderoga–his large army is 27 strength points! In response, Wolfe heads up the Hudson and meets up with Webb in Hudson Carry South. Montcalm pushes through to Hudson Carry North, but Wolfe intercepts into the space. I set up fieldworks and beat him a bloody fight: French lose 8 unit steps, British lose 6. +1VP for me! I then place Rangers at Charlestown, NH so I can start raiding around Quebec, which is empty of forces at the moment.

The French general Drucor evacuates Louisbourg and heads for Quebec to back up Montcalm to the south. My rangers head to Trois Rivieres to raid–this is a space he can’t intercept into. This raid is successful as my boys burn some farms, steal some livestock, and get out of town. +1/2 VP, rounded up at year’s end.

Then Jason reinforces Montcalm’s bloodied troops with Victories from Germany. Dang. I think it’s pretty important to bloody the French early as it’s really hard for them to reinforce as the game goes on, but he had the right card for the job. The season ends with a fizzle, not a bang, as I build some stockades so my settlers are better able to fend off raids, and he sends troops from Quebec to reinforce Mr. Montcalm. I cause two Indians of his to desert, trying to drive down the size of his force.

All in all, I didn’t really achieve my original purpose, which was to dilute his forces between two or more avenues of advance. Nevertheless, it was a great campaigning season for the British! I’ll admit winning the first major battle was just a bit of dumb luck; I drew Wolfe early, aced the interception roll, and had Fieldworks ready, but I’ll take the victory point all the same. I was also pretty happy to have gotten some raiding in–that’s pretty rare for the British early on.

Look for more updates in the coming weeks as we battle our way through the second half of 1757. Oh, and if you want to hear about this all from Jason’s point of view, listen to episode 46 of the Point 2 Point podcast.


Manoeuvre Toeurnament: We Have a Winner!

June 12, 2011

Sara and Joe were able to finish up their two games in the Semifinals of the Manoeuvre Toeurnament. However, routing for Sara didn’t give her the boost she needed to take down Joe. He was also able to win in just two games. That gave him an edge in his army pool for the final games. Joe and I met up earlier this week to duke it out for the title of Manoeuvre Toeurnament Champion.

Game #24:
I knew with my 5 armies left I was at a disadvantage. I had the French, Austrians, Spanish, Ottomans and Americans left. Only 1 of the top 4 heavy hitters. Joe had the French, Russians, Prussians, Austrians, Spanish and Americans remaining. Fortunately Joe rolled a 10 and selected first. He chose the French and I went with my plan: throw the first game. I had to sacrifice one of the weaker armies so that I could get more favorable match-ups in the next two games. I went with the Spanish.

The first game wasn’t much of a match. The overpowering French army quickly scored hits on my guys. The Spanish reduced a few French units but I never drew the Guerrillas at the right time to prevent restoration. Joe didn’t take any play lightly so that at the end of the game, the Spanish lost 5 units while all 8 Frenchmen were at full strength.

Joe was now up 1 game to none, but I knew the next two would provide me with a good chance.

Game #25:
This time I rolled the 10 and selected the French. Joe deliberated and then selected the Prussians and their strong volley ability. The game started out well for me. I was able to move my units up and then foil Joe’s plans with a well timed Withdraw. The Prussians continued on though and took out the first unit of the game. My French traded that unit for one of his cavalry.

We each then positioned our units on the board hoping to set traps for the other. Some were successful while others fell through. We continued to trade hits and soon we were each down 3 units with about two thirds of our decks through. With nightfall coming, Joe pushed his Prussians forward. I allowed him to gain some ground so that I could take out two of his weaker units. I had reduced one and moved my cavalry in position to fire a bombard: 2d6 against a unit that was reduced to 3. I rolled the dice: snake eyes. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was forced to follow up with an attack card I was hoping to save for the other unit. I took out 4 of Joe’s Prussians but the 5th unit held up in the woods would not quit. I was able to reduce it just to have them restored or supplied.

Nightfall approached, but with Joe’s Prussians well on my side of the board I didn’t stand a chance. Prussian get a well fought nightfall victory against the French.

Congratulations to Joe! Our 2011 Manoeuvre Toeurnament Champion

Final Toeurnament Stats:
Here’s the final army usage and win loss records.
French 3/5
British 6/3
Russian 5/5
Prussian 5/5
Austrian 1/1
Spanish 1/1
Ottoman 3/5
American 1/0
The top 4 armies and the Ottomans were the most used. The lowly Americans were only used once but won.

Conclusion:
Overall I think the Toeurnament was great. We had been talking about doing something like this, but just never got around to it. Now that it’s over I’m looking forwards to next year’s. In our group of friends, we always like some friendly competition. We play to win and generally don’t like to lose, but still have fun either way. Playing games where each win mattered added a certain intensity and rivalry that we all really enjoyed.

This also got us thinking as to how to run a tournament for other games. I think our next game to try will be open to a broader audience. So keep your eyes peeled for future posts about a possible Carcassonne Tournament. Please leave any suggestions on how to run it in the comments. Meanwhile, I’ll start working on a Golden Meeple trophy.