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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pwnage and ownage

A bloglag starting with a long weekend visiting family has stretched out to more than twice as long as that thanks, above all, to the 'block'. Efforts to break on through had finally awakened a glimmer, but it was still a slog. Thank goodness then for Badger's visit last night.

Glorious carnage!
This phrase could so easily've applied to dinner as much as to the games that followed. I was cooking haddock with bacon and mushrooms, one of my favourite quick recipies from Good Food for Busy People- a book which delivers exactly what it says on the cover. Tasting while stirring everything together for the final five minutes' cookoff I immediately knew something was wrong. Sure enough, I had grabbed the wrong jar of red powder from my spice cupboard: those 2 added teaspoonsfuls of paprika were actually cayenne pepper; a disaster in the making on a par with the great pepper catastrophe of 2008.

I was able to save our meal with the application of my favourite natural yoghurt- cooling; and some lime juice- sweetening (should've been lemon juice). Not only was there a gratifying absence of pizza, but Badger even went back for another helping. Funnily enough, that haddock with bacon and mushrooms was the recipie I was cooking during last December's hot fat incident of idiot infamy. Lucky I'm not superstitious I guess!

Conflict? Yep... but heroes?
It's been nearly 6 weeks since Badger and I last played Conflict of Heroes - Awakening the Bear, so I was pleased to start with a couple more plays. Wanting to explore a single situation in more depth the better to cast light on the game, I'd suggested going back to firefight 1 and playing it twice, swapping sides. Badger'd been agreeable.

What went down
Random selection gave me the Germans first. My strategy was to win as many of the objective's 5VP (1VP/turn) as possible. To this end I mounted an attack that developed in 3 phases:
  • Phase 1: prepare my base of fire and jumping-off points for the assault (light blue-grey):
  1. A rifle squad and an LMG team group move up in the centre.
  2. My second LMG team enters into cover to maximise its immediate firepower (spending 1AP to enter left it 6AP- 3 shots).
  3. I angle for an assault on the Russian MMG position, sending the last rifle squad to dash up the left flank.
  • Phase 2: Suppress the enemy by fire and clear the objective (medium blue-grey):
  1. I reposition my LMG's: for dispersal in the face of enemy fire- in the centre; and to improve my field of fire- on the baseline.
  2. My free-ranging rifle squad gets round behind the Russian flank.
  • Phase 3: in for the kill: taking the objective on the way, my centre rifle squad runs forward to support the Pioneers entering from the NE (dark blue-grey).
Badger wasn't sitting still while I was doing all this, naturally enough. His early fire was more effective than my own frankly risible efforts; eg. 3 shots, all with +2 w/CAP, all missing; and I remember a few tense rally checks. But the first big stroke of luck was mine: an instant kill which gifted me the objective. Meanwhile my end run up the open flank was going great guns because I was keeping the MMG pinned down. The threat this squad posed was to prove decisive.

Looking to rescue the MMG team, Badger sent both his reinforcing rifle squads straight into that northeastern wood in turn 2. This was successful with a dose of brutal close combat. And so turn 4 opened with my Pioneers and a rifle squad facing off 2 Russian rifle squads and the MMG in those woods. I won initiative and pointed out to Badger that I could win right there and then. And I did: thanks to close range/close combat FP modifiers and with the aid of CAP's to boost dice rolls, those Pioneers took out all 3 squads by themselves for a turn 4 wipeout!

I had learned 2 big lessons from Badger's Russian game:
  • The defenders shouldn't move too early; hold your fire and your positions until you see how the attacker commits himself:
  1. In the north, my MMG held and did what it could to pin down Badger in the centre, moving out late on for the sake of mopping up.
  2. I moved a rifle squad adjacent to the objective, where it promptly improvised hasty defences.
  3. My SMG squad moved to cover, from which position it proceeded to kill a German LMG team which was making a break for the southern flank.
  • You have to cover your rear against those Pioneers:
  1. I moved the 2 squads straight into position in turn 2 (X marks the spot).
  2. They were screened and covered so that Badger had little choice but to charge straight into my guns and hope for the best; he wasn't lucky there.
The threat to my rear thus removed, my remaining 4 units had little difficulty in finishing off what remained of Badger's platoon in a turn 5 wipeout.

Score
Badger 0
Me 2
:D

Afterthoughts
Conflict of Heroes continues to impress me. For example, I've read people on CoH@BGG questioning the replay value. This is understandable I'll venture: firefight 1 is played on a mapboard 17x11 hexes- that's roughly 3 bounds by 2 at 7AP/bound; with just 10 playing pieces; 1 fixed objective; and only 5 turns. Nonetheless Badger could see that the system's learning curve is enough to keep these introductory firefights interesting to begin with. Thereafter I would expect the intrinsic situational complexity of the bigger firefights to keep them fresh for many plays.

The texture of the dynamic gameplay I I applauded back in October becomes ever clearer too. CoH uses a straight Igo-Ugo turn sequence with the simple addition of the most elementary AP accounting. The swathes of lengthy one-sided turns from so many iterations of this most venerable of game mechanics disappear here in the subdivision of the gameplay into its constituent atoms.

The resulting minute interactivity creates more than just an authentically parallel unfolding of each side's manoeuvres; it also enables superiority in numbers to be expressed in measures of space and time. That is to say: you can swamp your opponent when their units are all committed and can't react- a gain of time; and the threat of this might force a tactical retreat- a gain of space. Open to local superiorities too, all of this is nothing more than the schwerpunkt, one of the key concepts of the military science through which the Wermacht theorised and organised its legendary blitzkrieg.

CoH's unique AP/CAP system is at the heart of this, naturally enough. I'll comment on that another time.

Have at ye!
We rounded off our evening's gaming with a bash at Ivanhoe. Badger had been enjoying a good run lately in our 2-player sessions of this favourite cardgame. He was no doubt hoping to retain that edge and make up for the preceding proceedings, but he was out of luck. He pulled even at 1-1, then I ran up to 3-1 before concluding in style by romping home in a straight whitewash all won with the Shield- a new record I believe.

Score
Badger 1 (Tokens: 14)
Me 4 (Tokens: 29)
Best margin Me, 5-0
:0)

Ever get the feeling you've been had?
Awaited less with bated breath than with anxious anticipation, HERO6 finally landed the other week then. Last March's 'Will I? Won't I?' nothwithstanding I bought it on sight, naturally enough. I've not had time yet to digest the changes from 5th to 6th edition, let alone the new edition as a whole.

Here're some data which should suggest why:
  • Champions/HERO1 (1981): 64 pages.
  • Revised Champions Boxed Set/HERO2 (1982): 80 pages.
  • HERO3 (1984): 144 pages/416g.
  • HERO4 (1990): 220 pages/625g.
  • HERO5 (2002): 374 pages/1.2kg.
  • HERO5ER (2004): 592 pages.
  1. HERO6 Vol.1 (2009): 464 pages/2.3kg.
  2. HERO6 Vol.2 (2009): 320 pages/1.7g.
  • HERO6 Core Rulebooks totals: 784 pages/4kg.
All I will add on this topic is that I think Steve Long needs the attentions of an iron-fisted editor.

I expect there will be a measure of bitching and moaning in weeks to come as I get to grips with this bloated beast, but I'll spare you my rants dear readers. The changes in HERO6 are by no means all bad and I really do want to play HERO again. So, for the sake of a constructive approach, I'm going to work through the whys and wherefores of new elements I'll be keeping and old elements I'll be retrieving. But not today, because enough's enough. ;)
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