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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Conflict of Heroes on tour

Kingdom of Adventure
Friday afternoon a week ago saw a traveller- somewhat weary thanks to insufficient sleep the previous night, hauling his heavy luggage through the door of Kingdom of Adventure in sunny Kirkcaldy, there to be greeted by David, the cheerful and friendly store proprietor. My luggage was stowed in the back office and David proceeded to show me round his shop.

Kingdom of Adventure is a really nice wee shop. The ground floor is bright, airy and spacious. There is a smaller upstairs gaming room whose 6 tables make it more cramped, naturally enough, and which lacks the full length floor-to-ceiling window which gives the ground floor such a pleasant aspect. For all that this is no poky wee hole either.

David hard at work keeping his customers happy over a cardgame

David explained that this impressive space was one of the benefits of being located in such an out of the way corner as Kirkcaldy: the rent for a similar space would've been prohibitive most anywhere else. He told me too that the location was beginning to pay off: KoA has regular customers who travel in from across the region to buy their games and to play them in the shop.

I got a real sense of this during my visit. The shop was never empty during the 6 hours I was there. Staff included, there were some half a dozen people there when I arrived; miniatures painting was going on downstairs, and a card game started upstairs. Numbers increased significantly as the evening wore on. I reckon that there'd've been about a dozen and a half people there throughout the night, and 2 RPGs were run. The place was buzzing and there was a real sense of everyone being part of a cheerful crew.

Some of the cheerful crew at Kingdom of Adventure

David has clearly put a lot of effort into establishing his shop as a centre for the local gaming community, and it has equally clearly paid off. I'm pleased for David's success- the gaming community needs places like this; and I left with an oldtimer's wistful feeling of, "Oh, if only we'd had this back when I was young!"

Somewhere near Kursk, July 1943
Chilled out, loaded up with new geek treasures, and fed and watered, it was time for me to get rolling. One of David's regulars- Andrew by name, was there specially to join in with the Conflict of Heroes demo. He told me that there had been wider interest but that events had intervened- as they do, to prevent the other interested players from showing up. Young Daniel was hanging around with nothing to do. He accepted our invitation to join in against Andrew.

Andrew intent on the Soviet defence as Daniel ponders his next move

I think I made heavier weather of teaching the game compared to my first demo at Conpulsion back in March. Andrew and Daniel picked it up quickly even so, and I was able to leave them to their own devices when my old pal Hugh turned up. With Andrew and Daniel playing the Western flank all-infantry scenario I'd selected from the Cherkasskoye scenario pack, I ended up taking the Soviets against the Germans on the all-armour Eastern flank.

Holy heck but those Tiger I's are fearsome! I'd decided on a 3-pronged attack to split the German forces. Unfortunately I made the mistake of bringing on my flanking tanks individually so they were picked off one-by-one by the dreaded 88s. We went into the endgame with Hugh well in front. I did manage to retrieve the situation so that I had a real play for the win but all my crucial attacks failed me leaving the depleted Germans in possession of the field.

Hugh and I getting stuck in with the tanks

Over on the Western flank Daniel had gotten off to a slow start, but he too turned the situation in his favour so that he had a real chance of victory. At this point his troops got bogged down in the woods so that they were pummelled into destruction by the Soviet artillery.

Everyone enjoyed the game and were keen to see it make a return to Kingdom of Adventure, even Daniel who'd suffered so much under that artillery. His victory aside, Hugh also enjoyed drawing an instant kill with his first ever attack in CoH. Andrew's enthusiasm was plain to see, and infectious as he told other regulars of CoH's qualities. That was very satisfying, and I'll certainly be making another visit to Kirkcaldy's gaming mecca just as soon as I can.

Black Lion Games
Hugh put me up for the night in the cosmopolitain metropolis that is Cowdenbeath and we sat up late into the night chewing the fat and generally catching up. Then I had to drag myself out of bed for an early start to get into Edinburgh for my visit to Black Lion Games. The Black Lion is right in the middle of my old stomping grounds from the 80s so I've visited the shop several times before (in fact I bought my copy of 5th edition Fantasy HERO there as long ago as August 2004), and I'd met Liam at Conpulsion, but this was my first visit there to play a game.

Back in the USSR
Space is much tighter at the Black Lion than it is at Kingdom of Adventure, but I was soon esconced in a comfortable wee corner of the sales floor with Alan, whom I'd met at Conpulsion, and who'd turned out specially for the game. Our scenario was the Western flank all-infantry engagement from the Cherkasskoye pack.


Me and Alan in Black Lion Games

Alan was playing the Germans. He started off well enough, getting his units into position in the woods from which his attack should've jumped off. Thereafter he unfortunately got bogged down as had Daniel the night before. The result was the same: the Soviet artillery wreaked fearful carnage as, turn after turn, it ranged in on the static German forces. Still, Alan too enjoyed his game despite everything he'd had to endure, and was keen to play again at the earliest opportunity.

Afterthoughts
When you get 4 new players to try a game; when they all enjoy it and want to play again; and when the more experienced among them admire the game's elegant simplicity and can see the inherent authenticity so delivered; then you can call that a result.

As you'd expect, there were things which I could've done better. Looking at the outcomes of the 2 infantry scenarios- in which the Soviet artillery played such a decisive role, I reckon that the more experienced player should take charge of the Germans because they face the much harder task in getting forward out of those woods.

Also, I've still got everything to learn about teaching tactics to new players. Alan and I discussed this at some length over a couple of coffees after our games. As I noted back in March, I have to learn to explain my own game as I go along. This is because giving advice to new players would:
  • Overload them with information which would be not only confusing but worse than spurious.
  • Take their game away from them- essentially making it mine, which wouldn't actually help them learn anything (hence spurious).
  • Be less than completely objective; I believe objectivity about your opponent's strategy and/or tactics to be simply impossible when you're playing competitive games (again, spurious).
I guess I'm just going to have to practice hard at the new kind of table talk demo games require.

Afterwards: Brevity
I was put up on Saturday by another old friend- Jim, which led to a quiet night in the pub talking geek talk and strenuously avoiding spoilers for the season finale of Doctor Who. which I'd missed and wasn't to see until I got home.

Jim was GMing a wargame on Sunday, part of the Western Desert Operation Brevity/Battleaxe campaign he's running using veteran games designer Frank Chadwick's venerable Command Decision WW2 tactical miniatures rules, whose 4th edition is now published by Test of Battle. There were no objections to my joining in so I found myself posted as OC, 2nd Battalion, the Scots Guards.

Jim surveys the barren desert wastes

Jim's got his own campaign website which- among other things, features:
  • A map of the campaign area with point-and-click links to the tactical maps for the campaign battlegrounds.
  • The map of the area over which we were to fight on Sunday (Post 23 on the campaign map).
This is relatively straightforward stuff these days, but Jim's obviously put a lot of work into it and it's a neat example of what the net has to offer the creative gamer.

The engagement was a night action in which the British and Commonwealth attackers- commanded by Derek with yours truly as 2IC, had the objective of clearing the road to Bardia by dawn. The Italian defenders- played by Andrew, were setup hidden on the table. The British and Commonwealth forces started off-table in a column stretching down the Bardia road. My Scots Guards were at the back of the column. Also present was Alistair, an observer from the British high command.

Our attack was straightforward: Derek led, his infantry advancing to secure the gap in the anti-tank ditch. Some well dug-in Italians put up surprisingly stiff resistance. One machine-gun platoon in particular just wouldn't give in, eventually surviving to retreat all the way back to its own lines. This, and some confusion about road traffic conditions delayed the arrival on-table of my column by a few turns.

Keen to get into the action as quickly as possible once my battalion did arrive, I thought out loud about just throwing the column straight up the road in their trucks, with the result that Derek's nerves were sorely stretched. I instinctively knew that this was not a wise plan and was finally persuaded against it by Derek's constant pleas not to waste his precious trucks.

The development of my attack

In the end Derek and I just failed in our appointed task, to clear the Bardia road by dawn. The Italians in the settlment were broken and I'd've mopped it up in another turn, two at most. Derek's forces would've regrouped in the early light and cleared the hills to secure the road for any of our troops who would follow up. In other words, the result was authentically indecisive.

Afterthoughts
I've not played WW2 microarmour in over 20 years and I really enjoyed my return to the gaming of my teenage tankie years. The Command Decision rules were OK. There are some odd features of the 4th edition; eg. disordered units can't regroup at night, leaving them effectively out of action until dawn breaks. This was the subject of much discussion last Sunday. For my part, they just follow a design philosophy I abandoned back in the 80s. Still, the rules are nearly 25 years old, so they're definitely good at what they do. I'd certainly happily play under them again.

Acknowledgements
As ever when you stage an event- however small, there are votes of thanks to be offered. This time they go to:
  • David and Liam and all their friendly staff at Kingdom of Adventure and Black Lion Games: hope to see you all again sometime soon.
  • Alan, Andrew, Daniel and Hugh for joining in and giving me another small success under my belt.
  • And to Hugh and Jim for their hospitality over the weekend, which just couldn't've happened if I hadn't been able to call on the 'old pals' act: my thanks to you both.
And that's that. More sometime soon I hope. ;)
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