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Friday, July 05, 2013

In the eye of the storm: June gaming roundup

More games than you can shake a stick at
June saw a glut of games after the recent months’ paltry pickings I noted a few weeks ago- a total of 21 games played in 15 sessions. The Saturday crew turned up again for the first time in several months, and Przemek made a return appearance too. But it was 13 games of Combat Commander which turned regular hearty fare into a veritable whirlwind of boardgaming, thanks largely to the enthusiasm with which Gav and Liam took to the game after I’d managed to persuade them to give it a go: fully 10 of those games were games of CC against Gav and Liam.

Alien wars and other inhumanities
Eclipse: new gaming horizons in the penumbra
I picked up a copy of this hot new 4X multiplayer game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) early in 2012. It was an instant hit with my players and has seen play matched in recent years only by Battlestar Galactica and Cosmic Encounter,  a fact that is all the more noteworthy when you consider that Eclipse is a pretty intense game which can take as long as 4 hours or more when you’re not familiar with it. This familiarity has to be hard-won by repeated play and the Saturday crew have proved willing to play often enough to achieve that. So when we got together for our first Saturday games group in some 6 months, everyone was keen for another adventure in space, and I was primed to introduce the new material from the game’s first boxed expansion- Eclipse: Rise of the Ancients.

The expansion’s new material went down well, especially the new alliance rules. These resulted in Badger and me facing off against Gav and David while Sparky sat on the sidelines trying to keep out of trouble. When the dust settled the result was a first- a dead heat between the 2 alliances, with the added twist that Gav noticed that he’d’ve won if he’d broken off his alliance with Dave at the last moment. We all agreed that this had been a particularly dynamic and exciting game, and I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to our next visit to the universe of Eclipse.

Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity: A Party Game for Horrible People is a cardgame of interestingly up-to-the minute pedigree: the hard copy was funded by Kickstarter, and it’s available for free as a PDF download under a Creative Commons license. It was David’s copy we played with that Saturday and it certainly didn’t look like he’d pasted it together, so I guess he must have supported the Kickstarter.

The rules of the game are simple enough: the game is played in hands. Each hand one player is the ‘storyteller’. He draws a black card which has a story hook on it. Everybody else has to secretly play one (occasionally two) white cards to give the story its punchline. The aim is to get the biggest laugh from the storyteller to win the hand. The game is won by the player who wins a pre-agreed number of hands- we went for 10 in our game that Saturday.

I liked this a lot, although I confess I thought my fellow players were of a particularly witless turn of cloddish humour (or does that just speak to my own crap sense of humour…?). My strongest memory of the game was the sinking feeling when, after my own punchline card had produced a good reaction from that hand’s storyteller, a card would be revealed which was an obvious instant winner. Not much cop from a would-be winner’s point-of-view, but an entertaining experience in competitive gameplay all the same. Gav was the winner on the day IIRC.

Cards Against Humanity is a fast and entertaining filler game with undoubtedly the simplest rules I’ve ever seen since the days of family games in my childhood. I’d certainly play it again in the future.

Late extra: a little bit of Ivanhoe
Ivanhoe has seen a lot of action at my table and a lot of coverage here at RD/KA!. I’ve played it on two occasions since 2011 and the days of Liam’s obsession with the game, which resulted in hundreds of plays that left me quite burnt out. So I was pleased, that Saturday night, after everybody else had left, when Gav agreed to a few games; doubly so when Liam turned up just in time to join in; trebly so when I won all 3 games. A suitable vindication, I thought, after my wretched performance at Cards Against Humanity.

Score
Righteous Sir John
Rebel Alliance 1
Dark Jester 1
Evil Empire 0
The Quiet Man 0

Blowing off the dust: Fighting Formations
I previewed Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division- Chad Jensen’s follow-up design to Combat Commander, back in 2009; and Badger and I played a couple of games on its release back in 2011. We were for some reason underwhelmed and the game has languished on the shelf ever since. So I was pleased when Przemek agreed to a game on his most recent visit last week. We played the introductory scenario, naturally enough. It proved as easy to teach as it had when I introduced the game to Badger and I’m pleased to say that the response on both our parts was more enthusiastic than it had been when Badger and I played. This certainly has something to do with Przemek’s frustration with card-driven command and control systems and I think that Przemek’s enthusiasm was infectious.

There’s not much else to report about this game other than my satisfaction that we played it and both enjoyed it, and that we’ll be returning to Fighting Formations at the earliest possible opportunity. Oh, and I was prompted to have a solitaire game a couple of days later to help me get my head round the rules a bit more.

Score
Time called an honourable draw.

The star attraction: Combat Commander
The gloomy forest and elsewhere
As already noted, Combat Commander was at the heart of this month’s bumper gaming bonanza. It all started with 2 games of Combat Commander: Pacific against Badger, the highlight of which was a closely fought play of Scenario #M2. The Gloomy Forest from Battle Pack #4: New Guinea.

I was playing the Japanese in pursuit of objectives I can no longer remember. Badger had assembled a big firegroup in the middle of the village which was dishing out terrible carnage to any of my units which put their head over the crest of the hill, so I was forced to work my way slowly up the jungle on the left flank, which Badger had filled with his wire, naturally enough.

A key turning point came when Badger’s own flanking force manage to sneak past mine to make a dash for Exit VP. Unluckily for him my 3rd platoon arrived right under his nose just before his units managed to exit. With the aid of an MMG, all that other firepower, and Enfilade actions, I was soon able to make short work of them. Badger was never really in the hunt after that.

Score
Lucky man
2
Man with no hap 0

Gutsy Gav
Gav and I played 4 games of CC last month (I’d already introduced him to the game at the end of May). We played 3 games of CC:E then switched to CC:P when Gav liked the sound of the subtle differences between the latter and the former.

#2. Hedgerows and Hand Grenades: Gav enjoyed his second victory, this time with the Americans in the bocage. It was a bit of a massacre but most interesting was that he forced a surrender with a sniper (a first?)! Gah! Actually, also noteworthy were my terrible tactics. I tried to hold ground when I should’ve been trading ground for time- twice! A VP/casualty count showed that I would’ve been right in the game if I’d pulled back when I should’ve- and I could’ve.

#3. Bonfire of the NKVD: Gav's Germans forced a surrender on time 4. There was only 1 trigger on a 12! The crucial moments were:
  • My ‘killer’ stack defending the primary objective- #5, and to some good effect as well, was gutted by the elimination of both its MMGs.
  • Gav followed up my misfortune with an overstacked melee to seize objective 5, resulting in a massive 37VP swing in his favour. He forced the surrender by killing 2 more units in melee a couple of turns later.
My consolations were:
  • Gaining 10 exit VP.
  • Getting all 3 'reinforcement' type events- perhaps a first?
My main mistake in this game was my wire placement.

#4. Closed for Renovation: This is a scenario I was delighted to play again. I was particularly keen to play the Americans because I hadn’t hitherto seen them capture the chateau, despite maybe 3 or 4 attempts. Gav duly obliged. I must sadly report that the chateau still remains in German hands, despite my best efforts: and, just like my last best effort, I had a flamethrower storming its way through the chateau when the game ended. In the post-game chat Gav and I agreed that my game had suffered from 2 key problems:
  • I hadn’t moved my main force promptly when I had the smoke whose purpose was to cover their attack; this meant that my flamethrower assault was unsupported.
  • I spent too much time on the end-run Exit VP tactic which Martin had tried before; we concluded that this is a rather pointless distraction when you'll have to capture the chateau to win in any event.
So, even though I failed to capture the chateau again, I know what I’ll do the next time I get a chance to have a crack at it.

#A. Grassy Knoll: I remember this as a particularly brutal introduction to CC:P, and another scenario which the Americans have had a hard time winning. After seeing my latest effort, Gav agreed with me. I started sneaky: sitting out of LOS until I’d picked up 2 Asset Denied orders, then Advancing a unit into LOS so that I could eliminate Gav’s MMG with a double malfunction. Cheeky I know- and shocking to Gav to boot, but I also know what it’s like trying to move across that map. I still had a hard time of it thanks to overstacked melees and Ambush actions. In the end I threw one last force at the primary objective in a desperate effort to win a melee against the Japanese. Gav’s cards, and luck were against me, and I was slaughtered. Another scenario the Americans have yet to win despite several tries.

Score
90-day wonder? 4
Too-grizzled veteran 0

Laudable Liam
LIam got in on the CC act too early in June. We played 6 games in all during the month.

#1. Fat Lipki was Liam's first game, as ever when I’m introducing new players to CC. He too took to it well, forcing my Germans to surrender on +11VP. His VP were down to double exit VP, to which he played to very smartly and which I foolishly ignored until it was too late. There was also a devestating turn of fortune:
  • I get reinforcements and choose a rifle squad which I put in place to block his rifle squad which was about to exit.
  • I break Liam’s rifle squad with double Hand Grenades.
  • He rallies (on <=4!) generating a sniper that breaks another of my rifle squads, which he's about to melee.
  • I consequently lose that melee despite my Ambush.
  • My last-ditch melee on my baseline ends the game.

Liam's 2nd game was Fat Lipki again, mostly because I wanted yet another go as the Germans. I’ve taught CC:E to 5 people in the past few years. Each time I’ve played the Germans and lost- giving the Russians to the beginner is the best move, so I was wondering what the Germans’ winning tactics might be. I lost to the Initiative card after a melee which cost me some 8VP (an entering reinforcing Soviet team beat a German line squad in melee, a turn before the squad would've exited; x2 Exit VP in force), but I'm still satisfied with my basic setup and plans.

#112. Sonnenwende: Liam had kept talking about Stalingrad so we played this by way of a ‘gentle’ introduction to city fighting. My Germans won on 8VP. Liam's strong position was undone by 4 time triggers in close succession:
  • His deck.
  • 2 12s- out of his deck, on a single fire attack (the 2nd was straight off the top of the new deck).
  • My deck, for Sudden Death and game end.
Liam would probably have won if he'd had a deck or so of extra play.

#101. Rubble Rousers: we were actually in Stalingrad this time (and getting closer to Stalingrad proper). My Russians won on 10VP. I cleared out the SE corner in short order. Liam retreated his remaining forces back to OBJ4 (my secret OBJ= 2VP) in good order. Then 4 premature time triggers brought the game to an early close before Liam could counterattack. I think I’d’ve held on anyway.

#36. Sea Devils: finally we got to Stalingrad proper, with all that entails. I took the Germans and lost again. I lost 3 leaders in the course of this game, including Sgt. Pfeiffer who amazing arrived as reinforcements almost immediately after the leader of my HMG platoon was KIA. Pfeiffer replaced the lost leader only to die himself almost immediately. I got 1 lost leader back as Walking Wounded and my hero arrived too, so that eventually I had 3 proper fire and manoeuvre elements again, but by that time it was too late really. I lost, unsurprisingly.

#37. Dom 31: Liam tried his hand at the Germans with whom I lost against Badger back in 2009. Liam got his opening manoeuvres off in good order but then got bogged down as he tried to take down my strongpoints with fire attacks. It wasn’t until after my reinforcements swarmed on that he realised this just wasn’t going to happen. So he launched a mad charge through the open with both his platoons. His HMG platoon was mown down by my own MMG strongpoint, but his other platoon was still in good order when a succession of time triggers brought the game to a rapid conclusion. Still, the sight of Liam’s forces charging towards objectives which I knew could win him the game was enough to give me some nervous moments.

Score
The keen green 3
Too grizzled for words 3

Afterthoughts
After more than 200 games I’m something of a CC veteran, yet both Gav and Liam have handed me my ass with remarkable frequency. I clearly have plenty more to learn then. I think I have learned 2 things in particular from the recent series of games.

First, I think I’ve finally cracked the German tactics for Fat Lipki. Obviously this scenario is very dependent on the random objectives, but both Gav and Liam wondered how the Germans could win, as did I. Some time ago I’d realised that my standard plan, holding the objective 5 building (AKA. the ‘pond house’) with Lt. von Karsties and a squad w/LMG, was a bad idea. This position is just too vulnerable to the MMG firegroup the Soviets can assemble in the treeline. So I abandoned that. My problem then became that I was trying too hard to be aggressive, sending units into the woods searching for ways to engage the Soviets in melee. I’ve given that up too.

The map here shows a movement-based strategy. It requires an absolute maximum of 10 movement cards to execute. The idea is to hold positions to cover Soviet moves: stopping them making a free dash to grab the pond house in the centre; and being ready for OpFire against any units trying to make a dash for exit VP down the right flank. These dispositions leave 1 German squad free to run for exit VP. Everything should be concentrated on moving this squad once it starts: the Soviets have more than enough local superiority to be able to overwhelm it in melee if it gets caught; so it has to keep moving. No plan in any game is perfect, least of all in CC, but I think that I’ve finally worked out the wrinkles of the best plan for the Germans in Fat Lipki. And it only took me some dozen games or so!

Also, I’ve noticed that I still fall into the same trap far too often when I’m on the attack: I fail properly to coordinate my attack. That is to say, one of the elements of my attack will have made a good advance and be going great guns, while the other(s) are languishing on or around its baseline. Then, when the attack which has got going inevitably bogs down (it always will- always) then I don’t have any forces in position to assist my beleaguered units by putting pressure on my opponent. So, I may be getting tanked, but at least I’m learning something. Fingers crossed at least.

And that, dear readers, is that. Until next time, good gaming. ;)
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