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Monday, August 20, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Got game!

It continues to be games-a-gogo for yours truly this August with a bumper weekend's gaming, most of which was a pleasant surprise (in more ways than one).

Battlelore and more
It all began Friday night with a visit from Ros. I'd been promising to introduce her to Battlelore for some time, and we finally got round to it. So it was back to Agincourt and another chance to save the day for the English in the topsy-turvy world of the Battlelore Uchronia.


This game was an important test of my enthusiasm for Battlelore. Y'see Ros is exactly the sort of person at whom Eurogames are aimed: she likes competition without destruction and prefers player interaction which is about negotiation instead of conflict. So, for example (as regular readers will already know), she really likes Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, and for all the familiar reasons put forward by fans of those games. (You could check the BGG:Settlers and BGG:Carcassonne forums if you don't already know what these reasons are and you're interested in finding out more.)

Now I really like games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne myself. I really do. I enjoy playing them and also appreciate them as designs. But among all the familiar family games I grew up playing were games like Risk and Campaign. Plus I was a teenage tankie who shared with his brother the fun of writing our own wargames rules for our model collections, and I gravitated to professional tabletop rules and then board wargames in my teens. So there is a part of my gaming self which always yearns for the chaos and carnage of all-out battle.

So, after Ros' and my 24-game stint of Carcassonne in recent months, I couldn't help but feel it was time to step up to some butt-kicking dice-rolling for a change of pace. Battlelore struck me as the best battlegame in my collection for this purpose. I felt that Richard Borg's Commands and Colo[u]rs(!) system offers the ideal style of gameplay to appeal to Ros (who is an avid and regular Bridge player) as her introduction to tactical battlegaming. Moreover I suspected that the chivalric fantasy themes of Battlelore would appeal more to Ros than those of Memoir'44 or Commands and Colours: Ancients. On top of that, I hoped that the wide range of options offered by the fully expanded Battlelore will entice Ros into many future games.

And? Well?

I can report we got off to a good start. The limited range of options offered by her hand of Command cards made it easy for Ros to start making decisions from among an otherwise bewildering array of options, the underlying logic of most of which were beyond her understanding as she got her first ever Battlelore army moving. With the minimum of coaching she was able to form her army up nicely as my English archers maintained a steady hail of largely ineffectual fire.

The first moment of contact was indecisive IIRC, and I could see Ros' spirits wilt. But it wasn't long before the dice started going Ros' way. By this time she was standing up to watch every dice land in the dice box. The moment of her first truly decisive attack was telling: instinctively exulting as she swept my little plastic men from the board, Ros was almost as quickly taken somewhat aback. But she could scent victory and would let nothing get in her way, of her rampaging cavalry especially.

Ros' well-earned triumph followed shortly thereafter: 4-1. I decided I could live with that. I knew there'd be another day. ;)

Score
0-1 :b

Usurpers dethroned!
The pleasant surprises began on Saturday with a call from Bill inviting us to a family boardgames night. I accepted with alacrity.

First, I regain my kingdom
The evening began with a 5-player game of Settlers of Catan (in which we all made sure to play the proper expanded board, unlike the last time we'd played- d'oh!). Facing each other across the island of Catan we had:
  • Radka, the unchallenged queen of Catan at our table.
  • Bill and I, both smarting from Martin's recent romps to victory.
  • Daniel, chomping at the bit to reassert himself after winning at his first ever game many moons ago.
  • Ros, keen to establish her winning credentials among a new group of players.
As cut-throat a bunch of colonising desperadoes as you could expect to encounter in virgin lands in other words!

The distinguishing features of that night's isle of Catan were, IIRC, a relative paucity of 6-point, 8-point and brick regions. And the gameplay? Looking back I would say that Development cards were one of the key features of the game. The particular nature of the resource base meant that lots of Development cards were being bought- we all often had both the resources and the time to spend them. The inter-turn building rule of the 5-6 player game meant that many of us were buying these Development cards in other players' turns, so that we could play them immediately in our own next turn. The net result of this was these cards were bought and played more often than is typical in an average 3 or 4-player game.

The upshot of this was that we entered the midgame with Bill in front thanks to his Largest Army while the rest of us were developing our own colonies quite nicely. For my part I was in a desperate life-or-death race based on a potentially fatal flaw in my initial setup. That flaw was the absence of Ore in my initial resource base. Without city-building resources I would be doomed.

I had only 1 way out- a 5-road build towards the centre of the board from my coastal fastness. A Road Building Development card helped me on my way, as did some careful use of the Robber to deny road-building resources to Radka and Daniel, who might've chosen to develop their own colonies towards my strategic target. I achieved my goal, but it was a close-run thing.

My road-building efforts drew attention to me thanks to the Longest Road, thus putting me in pole position for potential spoiler play via the Robber. And Ros started to build her own roads towards precisely the nexus I was aiming at just as I was collecting my resources for my final build. One or two different resource rolls or more favourable trading agreements were all it would've taken to pip me at the post to give Ros the endgame position I was aiming at, and Ros' excoriations when I finally got that settlement built (thanks again to inter-turn building) was sufficient proof that she knew this as well as I did!

And so I entered the endgame in front, with Bill a close second. This was a very dangerous position to be in. Y'see, among the many gaming skills Bill enjoys is that of being a silver-tongued devil. Last Saturday this came into play to distract the other players from his own potentially winning position while he was (with some legitimacy it must be said) rallying everyone to pick on the person in front- namely me.

On Saturday night this almost worked too: it turned out that Bill was a mere single Sheep card from gaining the resources he needed to build sufficient roads to steal the Longest Road from me for the win. In the end though the dice failed him where they didn't me, and I was able to play Year of Plenty to build my winning city.

I won by 2 points over Bill, with everyone else on 7 points. But it could easily've been very different: Bill could've lost his Largest Army but taken the Longest Road off of me. This could easily've kept the game open long enough for everyone to reach 8 or 9 points thus being in with a real shout in a whole different denouement.

Score
1-0 :)

Then I establish my kinghood
We then moved on to play 3 games of a favourite of Radka and Daniel's: Ivanhoe. I won all 3, even after Bill decided to join the last game after having sat out the previous 2 (his Ivanhoe record against me is at least as good as his recent Up Front record!). Perhaps Bill sought to intervene to stave off the terrible fate he saw looming? I don't know, but it was to no avail in any event.

I'd love to be able to put all this down to skill, but I can't. I did play my cards well for sure, but there was also at least one time when I took a great risk in playing out most of my hand, so that I was liable to get shut out of the rest of the game while everyone else raced ahead of me. I also enjoyed some luck with the other players confounding each other so that they couldn't get ahead of me while I sat rebuilding my hand.

No matter. Be it luck or judgement, the night was mine. You can be sure that my fellow players (some at least!) were as despondent as I was delighted, although I must tell you that I was modest enough to forbear a victory dance... ;)

Score
4-0 :b

Finally I show those French a thing or two
Returning from chez King, Ros and I rounded off our own evening with a rematch at Agincourt.

Looking back at our first game, I had concluded that my main mistake was that I hadn't been aggressive enough, ie. that I'd spent too long sitting back firing with my archers, so that my army wasn't well prepared for the moment when the French made contact. For the rematch, I was determined to change this. I did.

Dealt a Foot Onslaught card in my starting hand, I set out to form up my medium and heavy foot to exploit this to attack the French with an unexpected 2-hex charge into melee. This didn't go entirely to plan because I split my forces thanks to misreading the Foot Onslaught card, but I was still able to launch 2 medium and 1 heavy foot units right into the the French lines, then to push them further forward with the other Foot Onslaught.

Ros gamely tried to retrieve the situation, but the cards and dice were against her. I won 4-1.

Revenge aside, what was interesting about this game was the ideas it prompted about how to deal with the knotty problem of teaching basic battlefield tactics to a player to whom this kind of gameplay is utterly new. This problem is amplified by the very nature of card-driven games like Battlelore, where you simply can't separate your knowledge of your own cards from the advice you give your opponent. I hope to return to this another time.

Score
1-0 :)

Curse you Biggles, curse you!
The weekend's (pleasant) surprises were rounded off with a call from Andy, who had some unexpected time on his hands, and was angling for some games of Wings of War. A quick visit to Static Games- our FLGS- later, we sat down to Dawn of War: Wings of War, featuring Andy's 2 Spitfires against my 2 Me109's.

Maybe it was the fact that I was too caught up in the weekend's existing medieval mindset to play my 20th century aerial steeds to their best advantage; maybe it was just that I played really badly (and I have to confess that my first game demonstrated the worst wingman play I've yet shown, with my 2 planes ending up halfway across the table from each other); or maybe it was just sheer dumb luck (and I'm sure that even Andy would admit that- short of outright one-shot kills- some of his shooting was superb beyond reasonable expectations... Hmm?).

Whatever the cause, I lost 1 plane then exited my other with just 1 damage point remaining in our first dogfight. In the second I feared my first plane's days were numbered thanks to its taking an initial 13 damage (out of 19) in our first pass. That'll be the last time I play chicken with 1 plane against 2 then I guess. My fears proved correct, although I did manage to down 1 of Andy's Spitfires in the same (IIRC) deadly pass which saw my own plane crash and burn.

The hopes thus raised were not realised. Luck was with Andy and my remaining Me109 was lost while his last surviving Spitfire flew home on spit and polish (2 damage left out of 17!). My 2 pilots parachuted into the drink quietly adding Goering's name to Biggles' as the object of their curses.

Score
0-2 :(

Weekend's tally
5-3
Grins ;)
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