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.


PBEM v.s. Jason of Point 2 Point, Late 1758…and the end.

August 29, 2011

Over the course of the summer, Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and I continued our leisurely but regular pace in our Wilderness War match via PBEM. You may remember that I cut the French turn down to size  in the first turn and consolidated my gains in the second turn, but a daring foray by Jason into New Hampshire set me back on my heels a bit in the third turn. However, things started looking up in late 1758.

1758 Late Season Hand (British)
Provincial Regiments/2, Cherokee Uprising/3, Fieldworks/1, Ambush!/1, Call Out Mililtias/1, Northern Indian Alliance/2, Colonial Recruits/2, Stingy Provincial Assembly/2, Mohawks/1

(Similar to turns two and three, I have no British regulars coming across the pond to help me. Looks like my provincials will have to make do with some Mohawk allies. I begin to despair of ever making substantial gains.)

We open the second half of the year with General Levis and his French army hightailing it for the Green Mountains to avoid getting attacked after their dastardly foray into New Hampshire (which put Jason up to French +1 VP at the end of last turn). I play a card and activate General Monckton, who again misses his opportunity to breach the thick walls of Louisbourg (now renamed Minas Tirith in my mind).   Then panic strikes me and my hardy British troops as the French land their reinforcements at Quebec! This means I’ve got a decent sized force breathing down my neck.

But then…annus mirabilis indeed! I make one last desperate push to take the Impregnable Fortress of North America ™ and…Monckton gets the job done and TAKES Louisbourg. The British rejoice (+3 VP to me) and my lobsterbacks are now up 2 VP. Jason sees the writing on the wall and leaves one regiment at Quebec as a speedbump as the other two join his main force at Ticonderoga. He then moves my provincial assemblies to supportive from enthusiastic to stop any further British provincial regiments from being raised. In the meantime, the Mohawks ally with the British. I plan to do a bit of raiding up north if I can spare the cards.

A bit later, General Levis heads back into New Hampshire to beat up on Loudon, one of my worst generals, and a lonely detachment of British regulars. I’m thinking he’s hoping to take another stockade and defeat my troops in battle to boot. I let him move into my space, call up the militia, and play Fieldworks in a desperate attempt to fend him off. Jason rolls the dice, checks the results table and sees that, yup, my worst general just beat his force (British now at +3 VP). They retreat in shame, and Jason concedes the game, knowing it’s pretty tough for his French to snatch up 4 VP in two more hands.

And thus ends our blog v.s. podcast smackdown. It was a lot of fun, but I will admit that a lot of card draws and dice rolls went my way. Jason is a good-natured and talented opponent, and I greatly appreciate him taking time to play me. And there’s already talk of a rematch…

The last battle. While I feel sorry for Jason, I did have to laugh at his consistently bad dice-fu. Nothing can explain it

The final map. The British take Louisbourg and only inch up the Hudson Valley corridor, but it's enough to send the French a-runnin'.


A BattleMech Shakedown

August 25, 2011
MechWarrior 2 Cover

This image was burned into my mind as a youth.

It was the first computer game I ever bought with my own money: MechWarrior 2. The game of giant battling robots and clan honor captured my imagination. While the FASA catalog included in the box hinted at a much larger world to explore, I had no local gaming store to sell me products or tell me where to start. And, perhaps most importantly, I had no more money to indulge in such a game.

Fast forward to last Friday night and all that changes. In a fit of nostalgia, fueled by free rules, John and I sat down to have our first ever ‘mech on ‘mech slug fest. The previously mentioned free rules are the Classic BattleTech Quick-Start Rules; a 31 page–including cover, two fictional stories, and play aids–rule book. The rules presented are a subset of the full BattleTech rules, not surprising considering this is a quick-start.  However, what is interesting is that book presents one set of rules and then has you play a scenario using those rules. In this case, you first learn the basics of movement, attacks, and line of sight and then slug it out with two BattleMechs. Next, combat vehicles are introduced and you field a ‘mech and a tank in the next scenario. Finally, infantry is introduced and the scenario sees each player bringing a ‘mech, a tank, a conventional infantry unit, and a battle armor infantry squad to bear. It successfully taught the game in increments and something I wouldn’t mind seeing more games do.

While the game provided a nice diversion and a great opportunity to get together and game, at the end, we were both left with that “having eaten a twinkie” feeling. Something light, fluffy, but with no nutritional value. Or in board gaming terms, something that keeps you occupied, but doesn’t require hard decisions nor do you spend time analyzing what led to your win or loss. As a wargame, the twinkie feeling is probably the last thing you want your players, and especially potential players, left with.

I blame this on the subset of rules the authors decided to showcase. BattleMech combat was so simplified that it became just move and attack. The things that set BattleTech apart, like heat management and critical system placement and damage were removed from the rules. The one cockpit shot of  the game was wasted. It wasn’t enough to destroy the ‘mech, and chances are another roll of snakes-eyes wasn’t about to happen. It would have been far better to see rules that focused solely on ‘mech combat and introduced the previously mentioned heat and systems rules in later sections and scenarios rather than vehicles and infantry. Let’s face it, you can get tanks and soldiers in a number of war games, big stomping robots armed to the teeth, less so.

But this decision is probably a result of how the Classic BattleTech rules are presented to the player. It seems the quick-start rules are supposed to teach you the basic system. Then the introductory box set build on those basics to teach you the tactics and decisions you need to make. Which  in turn to leads you to the 300+ page Total War rulebook that explains all the rules and possibilities in detail.

BattleTech Boxed Set

Where, oh where, art thou?

However, this model is flawed. The introductory box sets sell out in no time. They become more like collector’s items for those already into the game, than gateways to the game. Even my awesome gaming store that just about has everything, The Source, didn’t have a box set. And on eBay, there is only one listing with a buy-it-now price $25 more than MSRP. This means, going from the quick-start, right to Total War. If the end product is a steak dinner, don’t start me with a twinkie. Give me a twinkie, if the end is a cake.

As it is, the quick-start fails both as a recruitment tool and as a teaching tool. It doesn’t separate itself from any other hex based wargames, by showcasing something unique or interesting and it is so far removed from the full rules in Total War that there no need to bother with them in advance.

It would be interesting to hear from a veteran BattleTech player how they see the quick-start rules and if they find it a useful tool in teaching people to play the game. But for me, I was let wondering if this is a game I’d enjoy with the added complexity or if it isn’t worth my money. As it is, if a fit a nostalgia take me again, I’ll probably spend my time seeing if I can track down Ghost Bear’s Legacy. I never did get a chance to play MechWarrior 2’s expansion.


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.


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.