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.


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…?


Manoeuvre: Distant Lands – My Playtesting Experience

August 24, 2011

Months ago, game designer Jeff Horger put out a call for playtesters for a Manouevre expansion. I immediately signed up. Not only is Manoeuvre one of my favorite games it would also give me a small glimpse into how a game gets made. Now that Distant Lands is on the P500 list I can finally talk about my experience.

Behind the Scenes
One of the reasons I signed up was to get a feel for what goes on with making games. I was sent a bunch of files that contained the rules and components for the Japanese army. The first thing I did was look through the rules and immediately had some questions. The new rules were pretty straightforward, but I wanted some clarifications. My other concern was with some of the components.

These don't look like the originals.


These are what I'm used to.


The new maps used completely different graphics and the units didn’t have the infantry and calvalry symbols on them. Instead they had a single box white box to represent infantry while two boxes represented cavalry. You’ll notice the Japanses don’t have any cavalry.

Japanese Army Tokens


The response I got back on the new map graphics were that he had been using the different graphics for many years and that “[he was] so used to it [he] didn’t think twice about it.” I think this is one part of game design that is key: have several people that are not familiar with the game and components play it. They will point out mistakes and missing information very quickly.

I then printed and cut out the units and cards. I was thankful for my wife’s scrapbooking supplies which I used to adhere the units to some chipboard. Then I sleeved all the cards. Plain pieces of paper in card sleeves worked very well for the small size of these cards.

The components I made turned out pretty well. I should note that I changed the colors of the cards to use less ink for printing. I would assume the final components look much more like the original game.


Once all of that stuff was out of the way it was time to play.

Playing with a New Army
I tend to like expansions for games – they can breath new life into a game that hasn’t made it to the table in a while. Or in the case of the Distant Lands, they can force you to rethink your best strategies.

My wife and I sat down for our first game and both instantly liked the new rule: Advance to Contact. In your first turn of the game you are allowed to move up to 3 different units, in the 2nd turn you can move 2 units. After that it’s back to normal. This change gets both players engaged much more quickly.

The two Japanese map tiles contained more marsh and lake features. The new ‘cluttered’ maps helped to slow down cavalry. The Japanese units were mostly unaffected by this. I’m curious to see just how many new map tiles come with this expansion. Although the base game already has enough for 6 simultaneous games.

The deck of cards had some unique features as well. Here is the breakdown of the Japanese deck:
• 40 Unit Cards
• 3 Forced March Cards
• 3 Supply Cards
• 2 Committed Attack Cards
• 2 Redoubt Cards
• 2 Death with Honor Cards
• 8 Leaders
Two things will stand out right away: eight leaders and the Death with Honor cards. The Death with Honor cards allow you to eliminate a unit and then inflict hits on every adjacent unit. Normally in Manouevre you try to surround a unit to eliminate it more easily. Now if you play against the Japanese you have to be careful that surrounding a unit isn’t exactly what your opponent wants you to do. I my games I usually only used one of these cards. Inflicting up to 4 hits can be powerful but losing a unit isn’t a decision to take lightly.

The leader and unit cards also act slightly differently. The other armies work together to drive their opponents back. However, each Japanese unit is self contained. They each get 2 normal attack cards and their bombard. They also get a volley only card and an attack card with a pursuit roll. These five cards are supposed to represent the “samurai, ashigaru, cavalry, artillery and teppo” in each of the clans. The 6th card for each unit is actually a leader. The leaders for the Japanese can only command the 1 unit they lead. Only one of the leaders, the Shogun, can unite up to four of the clans. Although the units start at fairly high strengths of 6, 7 and 8, the Japanese are weaker than the other nations because of their deck. A handful cards containing a leader and a few different unit cards for most armies was quite useful – with Japan it was a disadvantage.

The strength with the Japanese was keeping the units somewhat isolated. It allowed you to march single units to your opponents side of the board. Each unit was self contained. I cycled through my deck quickly while building up attacks with each unit separately. If things started to get bad for a particular unit I would sacrifice them while doling out hits.


Conclusion
Overall I really had a good experience. It got me really excited about the new armies for Manoeuvre (Chinese combat rockets!). I am also proud to have been able to help out in the creation of what I’m sure will be a successful expansion. I was a bit overwhelmed at just what has to go into making a game – and this was just an expansion! The amount of time and thought that has to go into creating a set of rules and components is massive. And then the refinement after playtesting… But it certainly gave me a jolt to get working on my own game ideas.


Manoeuvre: Starting Hand

August 19, 2011

In the tournament scenario of Manoeuvre, the players each pick their starting hand of 5 cards. I had never really given much thought to what kind of strategy to use until our recent Toeurnament. I had tried a couple of things in my games and I’ll share some of my thoughts on those as well as some others that I saw in this BoardGameGeek.com post started by Joe.

Mobility
In this start you pick out your Forced March, Supply and Withdraw cards to quickly move multiple units. Choosing this starting hand will really depend on the battle field. If there are some key defensive strongholds to grab quickly it could be useful to move in fast. However, Supply cards are very valuable with their dual use so I would choose to save these for later in the game. Playing this against the fast Ottoman cavalry it may not be as effective.

Strong Defense
In this start you select the bombard cards which generally have the strongest defenses for the units. This hand allows you to move your troops into position while fending off your opponents attacks. If combined with some of the mobility cards above or a Redoubt it could be quite effective in securing those towns and hills. This type of play will force your opponent to wait until he can coordinate his attacks better. If you can play the rest of the game holding on to those spots and disrupting your opponents ability to make a coordinated attack you could really frustrate your opponent. I initially didn’t give this strategy much credit, but the more I think about it the more I like it. I will definitely give this one a shot.

Card Dump
The strategy with this card selection is to take all 5 unit cards for the weakest unit and immediately discard them. This is a way to cull your deck of all the cards from that weak unit you planned on leaving behind. I like this strategy if you know your opponent tends to cycle through their deck slowly. Anything you can do to use your big cards, reshuffle quickly and use them again is to your benefit. The downside is you may be giving your opponent an easy kill. However, I think it’s a good trade-off.

Strong First Strike: Single Unit
Similar to the strategy above, but instead of discarding the cards you use them. This could be done with any unit. You push that unit out front right away to and use all their cards in one strong blow. If this is a strong enough attack you can take out a unit right away and make 5 cards in their deck worthless. This is a little hard to pull off as you are relying on the luck of the die. I actually like a slightly different approach of using them all on the defense. Causing hits against your opponent on their turn. Ideally you would follow it up with an attack or bombard to finish off the freshly wounded unit.

Strong First Strike: Multiple Units
In this strategy you are again going for a strong initial attack to quickly eliminate a unit. This gives you the advantage of more units plus it puts worthless cards in their deck. The cards you select here are a leader and 4 unit cards. The idea is that the hand gives you the ability to put together a multi-unit attack with the help of a leader. The unit cards could be of two of each of two units or all different – just so long as the units are clumped together.

This is my favorite start, but I would throw in one minor difference of adding a mobility card to your hand. Adding in the Supply or Forced March cards can help you move your forces into position more quickly. The Withdraw can either be used to spring the trap or as a contingency plan if things go bad.

What Else?
If you are the British or Americans you could grab your Spy to find out what your opponent has planned. I’ve also seen a ‘grab-five-bombard-cards-and-ditch-them-because-I-always-fail-those-rolls-anyway’ strategy. I’m sure there are others. What have you tried that works?


Columbia Block Games only 99 Cents?!

August 8, 2011

I saw the following ad on BoardGameGeek this morning:

Try a game for only 99 cents!


I clicked the link thinking it was for a mobile version of the game. It took me to Columbia‘s page for Juluis Caesar with the following info:

Welcome BoardgameGeek User. How’s this for a fair deal? You get to try Julius Caesar for just 99 cents and we pay for the Priority Mail shipping! You’ll have the game in 2-3 days. Play it for a month! Your credit card will automatically be billed the $64.00 balance if you keep the game. Or return it with no further obligation. Credit card required. USA only. 1 game only.

Interesting concept. Board games are often purchased after someone has actually played the game. Once they know what the game is like they will be much more willing to put down the $40-80 a new game costs. The deal appears to work with Hammer of the Scots as well (possibly other games too?).

My personal theory is that it takes so long to put all the stickers on those blocks that by the time you’re done the 30 days will be up. In all seriousness, I wish them well. But I have my doubts. And what about those of us who take advantage of this offer and decide the game isn’t worth the $60-65? Will Columbia Games be offering a new “pre-stickered” version of their game with the returns?


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.


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.