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.


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.


Giant Fighty Robots!

August 19, 2011

Russ and I are playing with the BattleTech quickstart rules tonight. Giant Fighty Robots, activate!

Lazers! Die, evil Russbot, die!


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?


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.