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Friday, June 13, 2008

A Sunday celebration

Last week's Sunday session turned into a bit of an event: Glasgow Games Group (G3) were holding a games day to mark the 10th anniversary- to the day!- of the club's first ever meeting. As a veteran of founding night I went along, naturally enough. Andy and Donald were both going anyway, so I'd've had to go to get any gaming in any event! Gav and Tony are both founding night veterans too, so they came along as well. Badger, Bill and family all decided to join us.

Ivanhoe
It seems we just can't stop ourselves starting with this neat cardgame these days, although this time we had to play something quick because Tony could only pop in to say hello, having a party to go to (again!). So Badger joined us for a 3-hander.

I've commented before that I find this game more thematic than some give it credit for. The abstraction of the cardplay mechanics make the expression of theme less than obvious I'll admit, but it is precisely the cardplay which gives Ivanhoe its grasp on its theme. This is less a matter of the measure of theme provided by the division of the deck than it is one of how the techniques of hand-building and card management create gameplay which I find conducive to expressing the game's theme. I simply can't explain this in any more detail right now.

In any event, thematic or otherwise, our game was closely contested leaving Badger the ultimate winner.

Score
Badger: 1
John: 0
Tony: 0

Combat Commander
With Tony off to his party Badger was keen to play Combat Commander because we only had 1 scenario left to play to complete our goal of playing all 37 of the official scenarios I have. So off to Belle Fontaine, Normandy in July 1944 it was then, for a scenario featuring map #2, one Badger volubly hates. At least, he consoled himself, this particular scenario wasn't in the bocage.

It was a Night Attack though, which was going to both help and hinder each side. Drawing the Americans- the defence, what immediately attracted my attention was the penalty on fire attacks: trying to stop elite Germans infiltrating through near ideal terrain under the cover of darkness? What fun that was going to be I thought.

I drew chit M for my secret objective (#5 -the wood NE of the centre of the map worth 3VP). Added to the 2VP for the scenario-designated open objective (all 5 objectives worth 2VP) that made objective 5 worth 5VP. I decided that this was an objective I really wanted to hold, so I put a decent leader (Sgt. Divine IIRC), a squad w/MMG and a team w/60mm mortar in foxholes, gave them some support, and put the 3 wires in the road hexes to the front of the position. Badger was a bit surprised- watching me prepare my pieces he'd been betting I was going to put my HMG in that hex. Looking back now, I find myself wondering if those moments' perplexity on Badger's part at that point might not've been quite significant, but that's getting ahead of myself.

After this I put a forlorn hope in the building objective in the NE corner and another squad to hold the building in the south. My remaining units were split into 2 groups:
  • A strong platoon, including a good leader and the HMG, to hold the 2 objectives in the centre of the map.
  • Another platoon, with the weakest leader and 2 mortars, in and around the woods on my left, to hold the flank against an end run for exit VP.
The precise details of Badger's setup escape me now (we weren't taking notes), but as the game developed the situation was dominated by his assault down the eastern map edge with a strong force including pioners with flamethrowers making a determined drive for exit VP. My forces on this flank were too weak to stem this onslaught, forcing me into major readjustments of my position as I attempted to pull together a properly led platoon to reinforce my right wing. I'd pulled this off this major redeployment, and I thought the flank was secure when I gained a team w/HMG as a hidden unit, but I left it without a squad in support and so Badger killed it in close combat with a pesky hero.

Having fun at Combat Commander

If Badger was ratcheting up the exit VP in the east, at least he wasn't doing much across in the west. I'd brought what remained of my left flank covering force forward into the orchards where, with reinforcements from the central objectives, they were in position to interdict Badger's units as they debouched from their startlines. The action on this flank was reduced to an exchange of potshots which had little effect.

Badger's exit strategy was paying dividends and he went ahead as the game approached the first sudden death check. By this time probably the only thing that was stopping the Germans from completely overruning the Americans was the night attack special rule reducing the German discard to 1. However I took a leaf from Badger's book, and units from my most forward positions started making breaks for Badger's map edge. The night action helped me here too: I doubt enough of these dashes would've been successful to have made a difference if I'd had to make them in daylight, without the penalty applied to fire attacks due to the darkness.

The game was still wide open as it passed through the first sudden death check. Badger had been looking at my fully fortified position since the game began, telling me that of course it had to be worth extra VP. For some reason though he never mounted a serious attack on it. This might've been the wire, or because his attention was elsewhere and his discard limitation prevented him from developing 2 attacks, I don't know. In any event I was able to hold the position without difficulty, giving me a 3VP cushion for which I was grateful in the face of Badger's repeated attacks.

Badger and I intent on our game

This cushion, my own exit VP, and- it turned out- Badger's own secret objective all proved to be enough in the end. I won on the 2nd sudden death check, with a scant 5 or so VP in a position I knew could easily've turned against me if the game had continued. Badger was suitably scunnered! :)

Score
Badger: 1
John: 1

The Combat Commander finished, Badger headed home to watch the Grand Prix. Bill and his family and Gav had all arrived while Badger and I had been playing.

Bill, Radka and Daniel

Bill, Radka and Daniel were playing Ivanhoe, so Gav and I rounded up Andy for a go at this nice little game of corporate mining and warfare on an alien world.

Nexus Ops
Nexus Ops is a game which is growing on me each time I play it. It is simple to set up and play, and it is designed to drive the players quickly into conflict and to prevent so-called 'turtling', ie. hiding behind defences that are at least tough enough to prevent opponents from exploiting possible breakthroughs into effective landgrabs. This dynamic gameplay looks to be accompanied by suffiently wide variation in how each game will set up and play out to prevent the game becoming stereotyped under any but the most intensive of play.

Last Sunday's game confirmed my existing impression that Nexus Ops is a worthy example of simple rules generating hidden complexities. The special abilities of the different alien units; the Secret Mission cards the players draw every turn, with their special objectives; the struggle for the Monolith and its Energise cards, with their special actions:- all of these mean that players will have always have different paths to victory and different resources to fight their way there. The Secret Missions turn the mechanistically simple buying of units from the six types available into the subtle task of adapting your forces to the dictates of an ever-changing range of objectives essential to your victory as you try to line up these often conflicting secret missions to gain their VP as quickly as possible.
Andy (yellow), Gav (green) and my game as the fighting just begins


This combination- of open and changing objectives, unit variation and special powers, and special action cards- is crucial to the success of Nexus Ops as a design. They take a game that is essentially as simple as Risk and elevate it to a more demanding tactical/strategic challenge than that old worthy.

I took an early lead in our game, which Andy eventually noticed. He and Gav soon caught up. This game was notable for the appearance of lots of Rubium Dragons- the strongest unit in the game. I'm sure Andy at least had all 3 of these out on the board at one point. I know I had my first one on the Monolith, for the sake of those Energise cards. Gav eventually massed enough units beside the Monolith so that I knew my dragon's days were numbered, so I flew it on a raid into Andy's home bases, which was fun, and quite productive IIRC.

Everything was pretty even going into the endgame. Eventually I had a Secret Mission: 3VP for killing a Rubium Dragon which I was about to use to win by giving one of Gav's dragons some serious smack on my next turn, only for Gav to lay down some 3VP in his own turn, immediately preceding mine. Gah!

Final scores
Andy: 0
Badger: 1
Gav: 1
Me: 1
Tony: 0

So that was my visit to the old club. It was cool to join its 10th anniversary celebrations. 10 years. Who'd've thunk it? ;)

Finally, thanks to Donald for the photos of the games from last Sunday. :)
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