Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In which I am Donald's beeyatch!

A spate of cancellations reduced last Sunday's session to just Donald and me. We'd been having such fun with games of Battlestar Galactica and other multiplayer stuff in recent weeks that I wasn't quite sure how that would turn out. So I took advantage of the situation to get out some 2-player games I've not played as much as I'd like.

Starship Catan

Exactly whose idea it was to give this a try on Sunday now escapes me, but I was happy enough to give Starship Catan another go. The 2-player version of Settlers' sister game, Starfarers of Catan, I bought Starship Catan several years ago, while full in the flush of the first phase of my Settlers enthusiasm. I've played it a few times since then, finding it quite enjoyable though not as much to my taste as Settlers cards.

I have to say that Starship Catan is one of the most beautiful games I've ever seen. The full colour artwork of the top quality pieces is uniformly stunning, and the pieces themselves are a testament to the way that well-designed cardboard can enjoy visual and informational richness difficult if not impossible to achieve with the often superficially more attractive plastic pieces for which companies like FFG are well known. The overall effect in Starship Catan is of a gothic spacegoing tramp steamer, with a design redolent of the magnificent rockets in Starfarers.

Starship Catan is also very each to learn and teach. There is a Prof. Easy introductory game that runs you step-by-step through the process of setting up the seeded decks which Starfarers uses, and which takes you far enough into your first game that you'll know how everything works once you have to take over for yourself. This is a neat idea, and it really did work! Once you know how the game works, it's very easy to consult the simple and clear rules to get things rolling in the shortest possible time.

Starship Catan features 2 ships of the Catan space fleet racing to find their way back to their own galaxy having got lost through a wormhole. The play is procedural. That is to say: you aren't moving pieces around a map here; rather you are developing the contents of a static display. Each turn has 3 steps:
  • Generate resources. Familiar from Settlers, in Starfarers you get your resources from colony planets.
  • Explore the galaxy. There are 4 sectors in the galaxy, each represented by a 10-card deck. Your engine plus a d3 roll determines your speed, which is the number of cards you check from the sector deck of your choice. All sorts of things can happen as you cruise through the sectors, from pirate attacks to becoming a galactic hero.
  • Trade and build. Again familiar from Settlers, building in Starfarers is all about upgrading your spaceship. You can upgrade the engines, or the cannons - useful against the pirates; add various useful modules - eg. to increase your cargo capacity; and build new colony ships - to establish those vital colonies.
I have to confess that I'd forgotten just how much fun Starship Catan is. Just like BSG: the boardgame its procedures are slick and easy to follow, giving fast gameplay generating colourful and entertaining events.

I got off to a reasonable start in Sunday's game, which included being the 1st to upgrade my engines. But then everything just seemed to unravel for me. Donald get an early lead in the colonies stakes, a lead which included a well-placed carbon colony. This put Donald in the position of getting at least 33% more resources than me on average, an advantage he exploited to the full. "More f*&$%# carbon!" soon became my catchphrase for the game.

I didn't help myself when I kept forgetting to use my sensors module, which'd've helped me find the good cards I was looking for when I explored the sectors. I don't know who was manning those sensors, but they'll've been doing an EVA without a vaccsuit afterwards, I can tell you! I managed to hold out a bit when I grabbed the last level II module, but I was only delaying the inevitable.

Donald found another colony planet to grab his last VP for a 10-6 win. His 10VP included 1 for Hero of the People. And what a hero it has to be said: Donald had 9 fame points at the end of the game. You only need 3 to become the Hero of the People. I was nowhere near.

Donald 1
Me 0

Commands and Colours: Ancients
Regular readers might remember that Commands and Colours: Ancients is my favourite iteration of Richard Borg's successful Commands and Colours system. My last game of C&C:A recorded@BGG dates back to March last year. I'm not sure that was actually my last game. I do remember Andy and I enjoyed a couple of games last year. I also remember Donald and I played too the last time we got some 2-player gaming in.

In any event, C&C:A is a game I'd been happily getting into back in 2007, before it was knocked off the table by the advent of Combat Commander. So I was very pleased to get to play again.

Donald's and my previous game had been Akragas, so we headed off to scenario 2 and Crimissos River, Sicily 341BC. Random selection gave me Hasdrubal's Carthaginians against Timoleon's Syracusans. I was happy to get another try with the Carthaginian river-crossing here. It's a difficult operation and a worthy challenge.

I got off to an even better start in this game than I had in Starfarers. Donald threw his light right wing forward against my units who were crossing the river with satisfactory despatch. He came off worse in our early exchanges, with the result that I picked up the 1st banner, and maintained that early lead long enough for Donald to start feeling the pressure. Everything was going nicely and I was starting to feel quietly confident.

Just like in Starfarers though something just seemed to go awry for me in the midgame. A good example was my skirmishing chariots, easily attacked and pursued to destruction by Donald's medium cavalry. Before I knew where I was, the score was 4-2 Donald and he was rolling heavy infantry's 5 dice for the game, against a full strength medium infantry unit I'd got across the river and all the way into the centre of the map: 3 hits! My surviving block battled back: 4 hits! It was now 4-3 and I was back in the fight.

Back in the fight maybe, but still having a hard time. And there was nothing I could do when Donald played 2 consecutive Line Advances, bringing his carefully husbanded heavy infantry into the fray. They made short work of me, giving Donald victory on 5-3.

A suitably satisfied victor!

I remember this game as being full of 'what ifs', moments when it could've gone either way. Exactly what you want from a good tactical boardgame in other words; and what you'd expect C&C:A to deliver. 'Oh if onlys' aside, I would just like to point out that I managed to get a warrior unit all the way to within 2 hexes of the hills at the rear of the Syracusan lines. Impressive, if ultimately futile.

Donald 2
Me 0

Another old favourite displaced by Combat Commander (my last game recorded here at RD/KA! was in July 2007), Memoir'44 is a game I still have an interest in, even though it's currently hard to find time to get it on the table against the more authentically simulationist CC. As we were casting about for a game to play after dinner, Donald took a look at my new M44 stuff, and decided he wanted a game. I took no persuasion to agree.

With the Memoir'44 Air Pack untried since I bought it many moons ago, I was keen to try out one of the revised scenarios featuring the new air power rules. This took us back to Pegasus Bridge. It turned out that the scenario's use of the new air rules amounted to a variation on the old air power card - no little planes to move around the map then. Choosing to err on the side of simplicity, we played it anyway, and had a blast!

If the thoughtful revisions made to this scenario are anything to go by, then the Air Pack's repackaging of all the old scenarios is a worthwhile investment for fans of M44. At the simplest possible level, just compare the details from the new layout with the online version of the old layouts, taken from the DoW M44 site. I can't help it, I just really like the layout of those new pages. And it's not all style over substance either. There are a couple of minor rules changes which add a nice dash of historical flavour which should refresh the scenario for all but the most jaded players. Most important is the use of the night rules, which have the Allied player rolling dice each turn to see how quickly dawn breaks.

Donald played the British, so he used the models from the Mediterranean Theatre expansion, another set which hasn't yet seen action. The models in this are a bit of a mixed bag. The British infantry are a bit odd, having odd helmets that makes them look a bit more like oversized Japanese than Tommies. The artillery pieces are 25pdrs, nice sturdy looking models.

The tanks are Crusaders. My preference was for Churchills, because they were the most representative British tank which saw the longest wartime service across the most theatres of operation. Crusaders saw little action outside the Western Desert proper. Still, these are nice looking models despite the fact that they have 6 road wheels where the Crusader had just 5. This doesn't affect gameplay, but it's impossible to avoid commenting on if you're a grognard like me. I'm sure DoW have heard all about this at some length by now!

Our game was fast and furious, as you'd expect from a game of M44. I tucked 1 unit into the woods in the corner behind the Orne Bridge, sending the other unit on that flank forward to the woods to cover the approaches to said bridge. Meanwhile I decided to try out a spoiling attack. I brought a unit round the wire to advance into the woods beside the pond. Both of these units were promptly subjected to withering fire from Donald's Brits, forcing them to withdraw to the large wood at the base of my line, there to lick their wounds.

Meanwhile, I was sitting with an air strike just waiting to come in as soon as day broke. Donald's good fortune here was remarkable: the sky had quickly brightened to within 1 pip of the full daybreak my air power needed; where it hung for long and painful turns that Donald used to press forward. I got a kill with the airstrike when it eventually went in, but it was otherwise a bit of a letdown.

It was at about this time that the decisive action went down. I was sitting with a Medics and Mechanics card carefully husbanded so that I could revive my unit holding the sandbags that are the lynchpin of the position at Pegasus Bridge. Unfortunately Donald played a Firefight, enabling him to open fire with 8 dice, which proved more than enough to wipe out my unit before I could respond. When I did play the Medics and Mechanics it had absolutely no effect. An Ambush proved similarly useless.

I had no choice: I had to attack if I was to enjoy the slightest chance of pulling this one out of the bag. So I charged out for the Orne bridge while keeping under fire the units storming towards the Pegasus Bridge. It was all to no avail. Donald won by a convincing 5-1 in what had been a textbook company attack (although the game was closer than that result suggests, honest!).

Donald 3
Me 0

You can be sure that Donald was doubly satisfied with the outcome of the day's gaming. Me? I just had fun. ;)

PS. Oops! I was in such a rush to get this posted I forgot Donald's picture. D'oh! ;P
PPS. And I forgot the new M44 map. What a numpty! ;b

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