Russ and I are playing with the BattleTech quickstart rules tonight. Giant Fighty Robots, activate!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I saw the following ad on BoardGameGeek this morning:
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?
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…
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
This is one that meets all 4 criteria. I’ve had good success introducing this game to several people and they all enjoy it.
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.
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.
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…
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.