Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Got game

'Gamer mauled by badger!'
A bumper week's gaming for yours truly last week. I invited a couple of other friends to the session with Antony already recounted. Neither could make it. So I was pleased when one of them got in touch to see if he could come round Friday. He could. He did.

Badger is a natural-born gamer. Roleplaying doesn't interest him in the slightest, but give him a tactical conundrum, and look out! In fact he is, in this respect, very much like his namesake: a genial appearance concealing a vicious streak (at the table I mean of course!).

So, first thing on the agenda was to try out my new freebie...

What can I say about this wee game, produced by TriKing? Well, I can say that it is very nicely produced; that the website is very nice (I wouldn't recommend the Flash version myself though); and that I am just so utterly impressed at their chutzpah in getting a sponsorship deal from The History Channel. How on earth did they manage this I wonder?

But what about the game itself?

It is a game of arena duelling, played on a 4x4 square-gridded arena. The rules are simple and can be picked up in 10 minutes or less. Each player has a warrior- a card that is their playing piece, which enters and moves about the arena; and 4 support cards- these can be weapons, powers, special equipment, and so on.

Apart from that each warrior has some simple stats: wounds; actions/turn; an experience rating for tie-breaking; and damage (ie. how hard they hit). Each warrior (and any weapons they might have among their support cards) also has a combat grid. This shows the 8 squares that surround the warrior, if they can attack into those squares, and what the modifier to attacks made into those squares is (combat is attacker's 2d6 plus grid mod against defender's 2d6; other modifiers from support cards might apply).

To set the game up you put your warrior in his start grid (any 1 of the 4 squares on your side of the arena), and put your 4 support cards face down from left to right. This is a key part of the game: each bout lasts 5 turns; turns 1-4 begin with a new card being revealed. Some cards have immediate and/or once only effects; some can be used essentially whenever you wish; and others can be reused but can only be used once per turn. The order in which you choose to reveal your warrior's support cards to avail yourself of their abilities is therefore crucial.

That's about it. Except: you win by having the most wounds left at the end of the game (ie. this isn't a 'reach 0 and die' game). And so off we went.

Long story short: I took Beowulf to start with against Badger's Miyamoto Musashi. Got whipped. We swapped sides and fought to a draw. Badger thought that he had won this one, but I pointed out that there are no death rules in the game, and so was able to fight him to 0 wounds for the tie. Then we mixed up the support cards to bring a bit of variation for another. Badger wins again, with Miyamoto again.

This is a really neat little game. It is fast, furious, and tactical. The range of support cards is logical (if they are obvious things like weapons) and interesting (all the other stuff). The combos they offer make for sneaky tricks and tense dice rolling both. And they certainly make you want to buy more packs, because it has to be said that the replay value of just 2 warriors with a mere 4 support cards each is about as low as it can be without being nil. Unsurprisingly TriKing offer a wide range of other warriors from the classic warrior peoples of old, some of which had Badger enthusing loudly.

If that's the good stuff, do I have any complaints? Yes. Small ones, but complaints they are nonetheless.
  • Some of the printing on the cards makes key stats hard to read- graphic design that is a bit too flash for its own good if you like.
  • The no-death thing isn't explained. At one point in our games Badger thought I was dead and the game was over. I explained that there are no death rules in this game, so that I was still standing. We got on OK with this, but I can imagine how fraught a moment this might've been elsewhere. Not good IMO.
Oh yes, and I must also complain about the score at this point:

Woot! More M44! Badger is very good at this game. AFAIK this was his introduction to wargames (as opposed to Eurogames that is). We already have an ongoing rivalry. So we both approached Friday's games ready for a hard fight, and hoping for crushing victories for the sake of maximum gloating rights.

Random selection of scenario and sides left me playing the Germans against Badger's Americans in #14: Arracourt. Lovely I thought: lots and lots of tanks (all of them in fact). Against my 8 tank and 6 infantry units Badger's Yanks had arrayed: 6 tank, 5 infantry, and 3 artillery units (ie. all of them). These last in particular could range in on my forces as soon as they crossed their start line. Two American tank units and 1 infantry unit could fire on my lads even before they moved.

I was going to have fun then, but I was going to suffer too. And I did.

For me these games were all about tank tactics. With their manoeuvrability, firepower, and the overrun rules, tanks in M44 are units that you can throw forward and use to rip great holes in your enemy's lines at a moment's notice. But these flexible armoured spearheads only work in open country, and if their attacks fail, or peter out, they can get caught in the open and destroyed equally quickly.

And that's what happened in the first game. My armoured spearhead formed up, went in, and Badger's units simply refused to die at the mopping-up stage. Units of 1 or 2 models would suffer hails of 4, 5, 6 or even more dice and just sit there, mocking me. And then he pulled out some perfect ripostes, to devestating effect.

Just after my tanks had crashed into Badger's left flank and done what they were supposed to do, I remember grinning evilly at him and pronouncing him doomed. My words proved hollow. Badger's lads held the line and pipped me at the post for final victory. I maintain that fortune favoured him overall in this game, but, well...

There was only one thing to do: try again. This time everything went right, and my tanks did their job. It was still damn close though.


Up Front
Badger had his introduction to UF last year, winning 2 very creditable victories against me (the 2nd was all his own work btw). So I felt I had a point to prove last Friday. As ever with a beginner for an opponent, I suggested the basic Patrol, expecting Badger to plump for the Germans again.

Nope, he went for the Japanese, who have the hardest hand to master of the 5 nationalities with which I am familiar (I never did manage to get my hands on Desert War). Brave? Foolish? Time would tell. Myself, I briefly pondered taking the Russians, but no, I wanted solid and dependable firepower for the sake of a sure victory, so I took the British.

Off we went.

Badger's firebase got stuck in wire early deck 1, where they stayed for some 2 decks in all. But he cleverly advanced his manoeuvre group to range chit 3 which brought them to RR3 to my own firebase, from where they could support his hapless machine gun team. As a result of this the game went into an unexpected 2nd deck.

Having retrieved this situation, Badger then went on to throw his assault group forward for a range chit 4 positional victory. The veteran sergeant Vasey was ready for this though: I slapped down 3 movement cards to infiltrate my own 'assault' group to stave off defeat. A combination of hefty firepower from my firebase and good close combat finished off the Japanese bayonet men, and I was sure the game was in the bag at that point.

Still, the game had gone into an even more unexpected 3rd deck(?!). The finale was brutal, and colourful: a wounded Okimoto and a MG-wielding Togo did the Butch and Sundance thing, and just up and charged. Cue hail of gunfire and a broken Japanese squad.

This was a great game, full of incident and tension. Badger's instinctively smart play and coolheadedness under fire also suggests to me that a certain Mr. Lumsden might have to look to his laurels when it comes to being the king of the Japanese in UF.

Final score on the night:

Final note: thanks again to Gary, from Highlander Games in Dundee for providing me with my copy of Anachronism.

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