PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Early 1758

July 26, 2011

Well, it seems Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I have hit a leisurely but regular pace in our Wilderness War match via PBEM, finishing a turn every three to four weeks. I achieved some substantial gains in the first turn and consolidated them in the second, but the early campaign season of 1758 turned out to be a head scratcher of sorts.

1758 Early Season Hand (British)
Campaign/3, Western Indian Alliance/2, Coehorns and Howitzers/1, Bastions Repaired/1, Rangers/1, Northern Indian Alliance/2, Indians Desert/2. Amphibious Landing/1, Call Out Militias/1.

(Like last turn, it seems that the reinforcements have largely dried up. Still, I should be able to get a lot done with this hand. I held the Amphibious Landing over from last turn, so let’s try that out.)

Jason opens by playing British Ministerial Crisis, hoping to snag a reinforcement card out of my hand and drop it in the discard pile; as I don’t have any, this has no effect. Breathing a small sigh of relief (I just know that next hand I’m getting tons of reinforcements), Wolfe moves north at a cautious pace, heading first to Hudson Carry North to link up with a small garrison left there over the winter. Jason tries again, playing Smallpox on Wolfe’s force. Unfortunately for him, he rolls a 1 and I only reduce one of my units. My response is to raise another regiment of rangers at Hudson Carry North and quietly chuckle over his bad dice rolling.

A bit later, Montcalm and force move south to Ticonderoga. I raise Northern Militia, hoping to beat back the raids I imagine will come at some point. However, Jason shifts his focus to the western frontier and Indian raiding parties start  filtering south. To combat this, I build stockades in Easton and Concord. Eventually a few raids are launched against my string of stockades, but Jason’s bad dice rolling continues and they fail. Using the campaign card I received at the start of the turn, I move Loudon and a small force from New York to New Hampshire to help with border defense. I use the other half of the campaign card to activate Monckton in Halifax. His small army performs an Amphibious Landing and lays siege to Louisbourg, where there are no troops but there is one leader, Drucour. In previous games I’ve never seen the French player sacrifice a leader in a siege, but here it makes sense: Louisbourg’s fortifications already mean I’ll be rolling on the siege table at a disadvantage, and the wily Drucour makes it even harder.

However, I have an ace up my sleeve…Coehorns and Howitzers. I reveal this on the next card play and hope my doughty Britishers can batter down the fortifications. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite turn out that way, and Monckton’s force ends the year outside the city. And it is here, my friends, that I had made my mistake. I had two card plays in the season that were actually double card plays: first the Campaign which required me to also play Amphibious Landing, and then the activation of Monckton’s besieging force with the Coehorns and Howitzers card played alongside. This left Jason with two cards and no threat of a British response.

So he did something quite dastardly; he detached Levis and a small force from Montcalm’s  huge army at Ticonderoga, marched east, tromped into Charlestown, NH, and burned a stockade to the ground. And Loudon, who was also in the area, did nothing. Typical.

We ended the turn at +1 French VP. And I wept big salt tears, shook my fist at the sky, and swore revenge…

The map mid-way through 1758. Click for more detail.

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Stop Reacting, Start Acting!

July 13, 2011

You are in the presence of wargaming greatness. Really.

Okay, maybe not. But perhaps you’re in the presence of gaming competency. And that’s probably enough for this post.

Feel like you’re constantly sitting down to two-player wargames and losing badly? You’re in luck; I’m here to encourage you, dear reader, to switch things up a bit. Stop staring at the rules, trying to find a loophole. Quit complaining about how the dice are against you. Man (or woman) up and start winning some games. “But how?” you might be asking yourself. It’s simple. Stop reacting and start acting. This might seem a trivial piece of advice, but understood properly, it will make you a winner–in board games anyway.

I find the wargamers who consistently win have two key talents. The first is that they are good at assessing the circumstances in the game at any given moment and acting in such a way that their opponents feel forced to respond directly. The second is that when they are pushed back on their heels a bit, they respond to pressure in a fashion that actually turns the tables on their opponent. These two strengths combined mean that their opponents feel increasingly stressed out as a game goes on, they make bad mistakes, and they eventually lose.

So, how do we become winners? Here are three tips that I’ve received over the years that have helped me to hold my own in wargames:

  1. Have a strategy and be willing to change it: Sitting down to a two-player game, it’s easy to spend a few moments looking at the setup and your resources in order to determine a certain path to pursue. Equally important is reassessing that strategy every turn. Ask yourself, “Is this still a viable path to victory? Does it need changing? Does it need to be abandoned?” Otherwise you end up sending good resources after bad.
    Example: In a recent game of Manoeuvre, I decided to make a hard drive for the left side of the map where there was some nice terrain. When my opponent occupied it first, I slowed down the tempo, stayed out of his range, built up a strong hand of cards, and took the positions from him.
  2. If you’re losing the initiative in one area, focus on another: This is not to say you should abandon certain areas of a game if you think you’re losing. But you need to be willing to accept setbacks in one area in order to make gains in another. Devoting some resources to another area of the board will force your opponent to consider it. He will start to doubt himself.
    Example: In Twilight Struggle, you as the U.S. player quickly realize you’re getting beat in the Middle East. Instead of throwing everything at the region, you accept that you can’t wrestle back total control for the time being. Instead, you shore up what gains you have made in the region and start quietly placing influence in another region, let’s say Africa. Now your opponent gets to divide his attention between his baby, the Middle East, and your push into Africa. “What’s he doing over there? Is there something I’m not seeing?” your opponent starts to think.
  3. Execute a riposte when you can: A riposte is a move in fencing. It’s an offensive attack delivered immediately after you successfully parry an opponent’s attack. The intent is basically to catch your opponent off guard because your response is so quick. Some gamers tend to be cautious people–they fend off an attack by their opponent, but they follow it up by moving very slowly. I find that the moment after a successful defense is exactly the right time to play a little fast and loose and take a risk. Execute a counter-attack, open up a new offensive somewhere. In short, double your opponent’s sense of frustration over his failed move by pushing him back on his heels a bit.
    Example: In the World at War series, I find that the best time to take new territory is immediately after beating off an opponent’s assault. Take out a few tank platoons, but then take a new position. Move closer to the objective. You get the drill.

Got any tips of your own? I’d love to hear your comments!


What’s the Word

July 8, 2011

A few years back my wife and I got on a kick of playing a board game together every night. Since this was before my world of board games were “card-driven” or “euro”, our choices were limited. We usually ended up playing Scrabble every night. We had fun and got better as we played.

We played with an official Scrabble dictionary by our sides. We used it on occasion to find words and certainly to verify spellings, but we weren’t allowed to bury our heads in the book until we found a word every turn – this kept the game from dragging on. I also had printed off a list of all the 2- and 3-letter words as well as the “Q without a U” words. I have no idea what some of them meant but they sure were useful. Our scores increased by quite a bit and we enjoyed the mental stimulation – not only of words and letter permutations but optimizing the score for each play as well. I look forward to using Scrabble as well as other board games as educational tools with my children (more on that in a future post).

But with work, family and other hobbies those game nights diminished. They also changed. We don’t play as often and when we do, we play Euro-style games when it’s the two of us or simpler games when our oldest joins us. However, recently the board game and especially Scrabble-itch has been scratched in a different manner: Wordsmith. It’s essentially an electronic version of Scrabble but with a different tile/letter distribution/value and board layout. The nice thing about this is that we can take turns when we have the free time, we don’t have to leave a board laying out – which wouldn’t last long with 3 kids under 5 around the house! Plus we still get to have a friendly competition in a game we are fairly well matched.

I’ve really enjoyed the ‘board game on a touchscreen’ experience with this app. I have sought out a few other games and so far it hasn’t been too bad. There is also more support from the major game publishers as well: Settlers of Catan is on just about every platform that exists. Days of Wonder has a couple of their games already on the iPad. Fantasy Flight Games recently put out a game and GMT is actively working on them.

I still prefer sitting down to a table with a board and friends, but I’m also excited at the possibilities of electronic board games in the future. Will these methods replace board games – I don’t think so. But the line between “video game” and “board game” has certainly been blurred, and in my mind, for the better.