Saturday, June 30, 2007

Got game!

So, it's been a couple of weeks since Ros and I have had a game session, and that was a throwaway session of Ecofluxx. We made up for that last night, with a lengthy session at the gaming table.

Settlers cards
At Ros' request we began with that play of the Catan Card Game delayed from more than 2 weeks ago. This was only my 2nd game of the new edition (my first being at DiceConWest the weekend before last), but I've played the original version many times (including a memorable session of the tournament game against 'Uncle' Martin many moons ago- heh!). Ros on the other hand is both less experienced and more rusty.

Those relative levels of experience notwithstanding, the game was pretty close. Ros took an early lead with a quick city. I replied by going for settlement building, which I scouted to give me the ideal ore and grain regions for the mid-to-end game. I also built a quick Brick Factory. Ros meanwhile built herself a Library, a Knight, and scouted her own ore/grain settlement. When the settlement race ended I had 5 to Ros' 4. I was several points down, but wasn't worried yet because I was confident that my strategy was sound.

So it proved in the end. Although Ros was 10-8 up at one point, that soon changed when I hit her with the Black Knight, then quickly built a knight of my own to secure the knight token for myself. I quickly added the Commerce token to this. Ros pulled her own dirty trick later, hitting my Aqueduct with the Arsonist despite the best efforts of my Bishop. I lost some resources to a later plague thanks to this. But Ros was being hit much, much harder by plagues: she lost at least a dozen resources through the game because she never had any plague defences at all.

These plague hits on Ros told. So did my superior resource base: not only did I have more regions, but I later built the Grain Mill and the Foundry to round out ore/grain regions to perfection. I won 12-10.

With hindsight I think that Ros suffered from 3 main problems in this game:
  • Her lack of proper early development. This game was notable for the lack of regional expansion cards in the early game, and Ros built less than me. This meant that several useful events passed us both by, while Ros' resource production was weaker than it might've been, and trading was more expensive than it need've been.
  • Her lack of attention to plague protection. With so many cities going up so quickly, Ros' resource base was very vulnerable, and it took several hits of 3-4 lost in single turns.
  • Compounding the 2 preceding points: her lack of deck knowledge. This was both in general but, more importantly, in particular. That is to say: Ros rarely paid to look through the expansion stacks to refill her hand. Relying on luck to draw good cards in Settlers cards isn't a good tactic, and Ros was punished for this in several ways, most importantly by losing a game which was her's there to win.
1-0 ;)

With a Settlers cards victory so cruelly stolen from her Ros was seeking a measure of revenge, so we turned next to this, her current favourite game. After the drubbing I took in our last session I wisely kept my mouth shut about the niceties of farmer strategy. And so it turned out that maybe I had been talking some sense those weeks ago: I won 3 games!

Notable moments in the games included Ros establishing 2 separate records:
  • The largest ever city- 36pts (including only 3 pennants, so that is quite seriously big!).
  • The longest ever road- 14pts.
Of course, that city was so large because I kept drawing large city tiles which I didn't want to use myself, so I decided to use them as spoilers, making Ros' city so big that it might be impossible to finish. This ploy didn't stop Ros from completing her city in the end, though it was a near thing. But it did fulfil its spoiling purpose, giving me my best victory of the night, Ros' megacity notwithstanding.

So that's:
Carcassonne matches

4-0 :)

Friday, June 29, 2007


General wootage!
Confirmed fan of Richard Borg's Commands and Colours system that I am, it was a cinch that I'd be buying DoW's first two Battlelore expansions just as soon as possible. So when I read about DoW's generous offer of a free set of Epic BL to customers who own/buy 2 sets of basic BL, well you can imagine my reaction.

And so it was that the deliveryman arrived at my door Tuesday last with a satisfyingly large box which contained:
I haven't had time to bag and tag the contents yet, let alone to play or even digest them, but I like the look of what's before me. I'm looking forward to trying all this lovely new BL stuff out. You can be sure I'll be back with details just A.S.A.P.;)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I rolled dice! I kicked ass!

He's blue, he's bad, and he's back!
I noted in passing a month ago that Bill's Wednesday roleplaying session had devolved into boardgaming. We'd retrenched the group to just 3 of us: Bill, Tony and myself; given some thought to what it was we wanted from our roleplaying; and turned to White Wolf's high-powered anime-style fantasy rpg Exalted. We'd played an introductory session or two using some pregenerated characters.

To my surprise (I have deep prejudices against White Wolf and all their works), I found that I liked the setting and enjoyed the game. Even the system wasn't too bad with Bill's tweaks. We were getting into the swing of things well enough for Tony and I to create our own characters, about which we were happily scheming. Then, just when we were ready to go, Bill couldn't GM for a few weeks. And, just when he was about ready to GM again, Tony couldn't play for a couple more on top.

Faced with these hiccups, and with little time at his disposal to put the work into Exalted he thought it needed, Bill decided to fall back on an old favourite- HERO Games' classic superhero game Champions. I confess I was a bit surprised at this, what with the fate of this much-loved game in its bloated 5th edition being a favourite rant of ours in recent times. But I needed no 2nd bidding when Bill told me I could play Katana.

Readers who know me might be wondering why it's taken me so long to mention ol' blue pyjamas here at RD/KA!. And this all the more so when I mention that I got my first ever tryout of Green Ronin's excellent Mutants and Masterminds (about which I was enthusing as early as March last year); that this tryout came in a Katana session Bill and I played as long as a year ago. My ace new superhero game; playing Katana; and I didn't mention it? There will be astonishment somewhere when this is read I can assure you dear readers!

Katana- or, to give him his full monicker:
Katana: Sword Against Evil™
A renegade ninja who has set out to destroy the Evil that spawned him.
Here he is, in all his original Champions character-template and cheap-felt-pens glory.

Anyhoo, Katana is the first Champions character I ever created. I can remember where I was at the time- the flat, the room, the very furniture are all vivid in my mind's eye as if I could reach out and touch them. I can see myself hunched over that rulebook. I can remember the thrill of being able for the very first time to create exactly the character I wanted. And I can remember my delight as I created a character which I was later to discover is every GM's nightmare PC: the psycho loner (I seem to recall that he had 50pts of Berserk disadvantages in that first incarnation; and that's 50pts out of a total of 150pts of disadvantages!). I just couldn't help myself. Y'see this was pure self expression.

That was nearly 25 years ago. Although Katana isn't all that experienced (he should hit 50EP next week), he's still my favourite roleplaying character. So the chance to get him out to strut his stuff again for a while was more than merely irresistible- it was a much anticipated joy. And so it proved.

For his part, Tony dug out a PC I'd GM'ed for him when we first started roleplaying together- Witchblade, complete with a shiny new character picture. (From Just Walls via the random Gnomes' random Lair; thanks for that tip matey!)

Of dubious parentage (half-Fey, half-daemon), Witchblade is a technomage with a nice line in costumes and a host of handy gadgets at her disposal. She is also even madder than Katana, since she has chosen to join the War Against the Ultimate Evil (you'll've guessed by now I imagine that this isn't regular 4-colour superheroics) with combat attributes little better than those of a fit human.

What went down
The opening session was simple enough: Katana and Witchblade (who've met, but have never worked together as such- Tony and I were swapping GM'ing roles at the time) arrive separately at the British Museum in London, where they are expecting skullduggery involving a new display of Atlantean artefacts. They conceal themselves in the area of the display. Skullduggery duly beginning in the dead of night, Katana did what Katana does best: he leapt in and started some serious thwacking.

A lucky hit almost took him out right at the start, but he soon started to deliver his infamous 1-punch takeouts to the goons. Witchblade meanwhile was doing some zapping with her magic weapon- which included swiftly levelling the villains' leader (suspiciously swiftly now that I think back- was he lying doggo I now find myself wondering); while her magic forcefield was absorbing most of the punishment the goons' own magical weaponry was dishing out, but soon she too was nearly down and out.

We recovered. We prevailed. Katana easily grabbed the last goon, who had finally decided that it was time to flee. Questioning was to ensue. This was interrupted by the 6 malicious-looking daemons who climbed out through the cracked rib-cages of some of the downed goons. Relishing a fight in which he could use Shadowsword-Alpha™, Katana attacked promptly. Taking 3 blows to fell a single daemon, he realised that these were not the soft touches their human hosts had been.

Meanwhile, one of the daemons had grabbed an artefact from the museum display and was making its escape. Unfortunately Witchblade had by this time fallen under the claws of 2 daemons. Fearing that they would feed, Katana had to rescue her, thus letting the unknown artefact leave in a daemon's clutches.

Grabbing Witchblade and slinging her over his shoulder, Katana crashed out through a skylight onto the museum roof in 3 acrobatic leaps. Unfortunately the 4 remaining daemons were right behind him. This was very bad, because the leaps had cost him most of his puff (he spent most of his END pushing his leaps), and his head was swimming with the exertion of his continued flight (END exhausted, he was taking STUN damage each time he spent END- only 1d6 sure, but rolling lots of 5's was a real scunner at this point!).

Witchblade had come to in the meantime, and was firing off blasts from her eponymous weapon- to little effect unfortunately. Things were looking seriously dodgy: a couple more bad rolls and Katana would pass out, leaving us both at the mercy of the daemons. In the nick of time he pulled just far enough ahead of the evil feckers to pause for breath. This advantage was never lost, and the chase petered out in the streets below, the daemons slinking off into the darkness of the night-time alleys of London.

The rest of the session involved sneaking around, lurking, calling in a favour, and a bit of breaking and entering as Katana and Witchblade followed up leads in search of clues as to who was behind the raid on the Museum, and to their purposes. Katana was his usual brusque and obtuse self throughout, while Witchblade rapidly established good cat-fighting relations with Sarah West, the contact who owed Katana that favour. By the time the session drew to a close, we had learned that we were dealing with the Children of Atlantis, a two-bit cult who we presumed were patsies for larger powers dedicated to those tragically familiar goals: raising sunken cities and awakening Elder Gods.

Don't be misled by the brevity of my treatment of that sequence. It was a lot of fun. We got plenty of laughs, enjoyed some good roleplaying, and savoured the feeling of getting into our stride again. This was what we'd wanted. It's just that, well, the fight was thrilling (it's what Katana does best after all- hitting things). More than that though, Bill was using several variants, most important of which was one dispensing with the SPD table in favour of initiative rolls. We all liked how this worked; Bill especially because he didn't have to do any record-keeping.

More even than that: that chase sequence across the roof of the British Museum? It was as dramatic as it was precisely because of the uncertainty inherent in the initiative rolls. The fixed sequencing of the classic SPD table simply couldn't've generated the same feeling of imminent doom. I liked it a lot. (Although I have to note, Bill, that I'm still not 100% sold on the idea that using a d10 instead of a d12 is a matter of indifference.)

And that was that: the return of Katana: Sword Against Evil™, that renegade ninja who has set out to destroy the Evil that spawned him. There'll be more. :D

PS. We got 2 EP's. ;)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Got game!

Commands & Colours: Ancients
Gav and I got together Sunday there for a long-awaited session of this game I just don't get to play often enough.

Lake Trasimenus, 217BC
We reached a quick consensus to play our way through the scenarios in order, and Gav was happy to let me have another go with the Romans in this scenario, since he'd tanked me utterly the last time we played this match-up.

Last game I'd learned that priority #1 for the Romans is to get Flaminus' cohorts off their baseline so that they aren't routed into Lake Trasimenus. I was dealt a Line Command as part of my initial 2-card hand, so I was confident of achieving that much- I'd be playing that card no matter what Gav did to start with. And he began with what turned out to be a rash charge with his light cavalry, which lined them up nicely in front of my units in front of the Lake. Two-dice, swordless against supported units didn't worry me overmuch, and my battle-back was healthy. All of which got me off to a good start.

My next task (after tidying up some illegal moves which left units atop the impassible hills on the right; all those wasted orders- sheesh!) was to try to pin the Carthaginian lights in the centre, while advancing to the hills to get the advantage over those pesky warriors. Meanwhile, Gav launched a Double Time, bringing his heavy left wing into contact with the light troops screening my right. The battle swung back and forth on these 2 fronts, leaving us tied and looking for our last 2 banners for the win when the dust settled.

By this time Gav had a lone heavy infantry block exposed in his centre. For my part I was mostly exposed with depleted units which I'd pulled back on my right. But what I'd done was march the best of my infantry around the hills to my rear. This made them available to join my lone cavalry unit in its attack on the centre, at the same time taking them effectively away from Gav's strong left wing. Gav had to manoeuvre to cover this vulnerable heavy infantry while simultaneously going for the win. This proved too much for his troops.

The end came when I got my heavy and medium infantry plus my cavalry right in among his depleted units. I was rolling some dozen dice for the sake of 2-3 kills. Fortune didn't turn against me, and I won our bitterly fought battle in the nick of time 6-5: I had won at Lake Trasimenus!

During our brief post-mortem Gav and I were both struck by how empty the battlefield looked.

1-0 :)

Cannae, 216 BC
And so we came to Hannibal's greatest victory. This was a game we knew we were going to play twice, so random selection gave Gav Carthage for our first outing.

My opening strategy was determined by my being dealt a Clash of Shields card- I just had to make use of this as soon as possible, not just because it's a good card, but to get it out of my hand quickly too. So I set on the plan of advancing the auxilia on each of my wings full speed ahead to form supported cohorts on each flank. My hope was that these would entice the Carthagians into an early attack which would prove rasher than they expected. Then I would swing left or right with my centre as the situation and cards permitted.

This was duly executed, and things went about as well as could be expected. I was feeling quite confident about how I might fare as the Romans at this rerun of Cannae.

Unfortunately I went 8 turns without drawing any Centre section cards, and was therefore forced to stand against the advancing Carthaginians with my weakest troops. I did eventually get the Order Mediums card which would've brought my medium infantry forward and then through that Centre section card I was to draw. Unfortunately Gav attacked one of my light infantry units, which promptly retreated to block my mediums' exit, so rendering that card utterly useless.

My frantic and frankly desperate attacks in search of consolation victory banners couldn't turn the tide. Gav won 7-3 with me still holding my lone Centre card for the game! :(

I won the rematch as the Carthaginians, though I made heavy weather of it in a game which went right down to wire at 7-6. I think this was because I spent far too long marching the heavies on my right to form up with their fellows on my left. This meant they spent some 3 turns moving sideways instead of forwards... Erm... Not that clever in hindsight really.

Still, once they'd formed up I was able to clear my light units out of their way with a flourish, leaving me to launch a Double Time into the Roman lines. Gav played Counter Attack IIRC. It got very hairy at that point. I ended up faced with the choice of rtrying to Rally my depleted units which were liable to die- so losing me the game- on Gav's next turn; or just launching the biggest attack I could muster with those same units. I chose the latter option, and pulled it off: 7-6. Whew!

2-1 :)

Agreeing that it was time for something different, Gav was happy to join the playtest of the M44 Expanded Nationality rules. He said he wanted to try the Americans, but ended up choosing scenario#13: Arnhem Bridge- the British it was then.

Random selection of sides gave me the Germans. Outnumbering the British 2-1 looks good on the face of it; but with all that armour trapped on the wrong side of the Lower Rhine, and with only that single long bridge to get to the other side- this is a very hard scenario for the Germans. As it should be: this scenario represents the early days of the battle for Arnhem, before the Germans' material superiority had taken its toll on the British paras. (The results of a premature attempt on the bridge can be seen in that episode from A Bridge Too Far, when the SS' rash advance is utterly destroyed.)

Getting their armour out and across the river aside, the Germans face a key strategic problem in this scenario: coordinating 3 separate sections none of which can make much headway without the efforts of the others. Carefully preparation coupled with timely aggression are in order in other words. It was just pity then that I demonstrated precious little of it in my cardplay. I lost 5-2, then tried again only to do it worse, losing 5-1.


Still, I think I learned some lessons I'm looking forward to applying in a future game.

2-3 ;;)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Meanwhile...

Extraordinary good fortune!
So there I was the other day, heading off up to my GP's to collect a new prescription for Chlorpromazine (a.k.a. Largactil), which is my discretionary tranq of choice when I need a little bit extra to help me manage my hypomanic cycle. Passing Caledonia Books (my former friendly neighbourhood 2nd-hand bookstore) on my way, I decided to pop in in search of some cheap graphic novels. I did well, picking up: Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 1 (the Dread Dormammu!- memories, sigh), and The Ultimates, Vol. 1 for easy reading; completing my Joe Sacco collection with Safe Area Gorazde; and getting another major nostalgia hit with a battered old copy of Michael Moorcock and Howard Chaykin's Eternal Champion collaboration The Swords of Heaven, the Flowers of Hell, which was the first graphic novel I ever read, some 30 years ago.

Well satisfied with my finds, I was heading for the cash desk when I spied something I could barely believe I was seeing. It was a copy of the official 1945 The Story of the 79th Armoured Division. And that's not the facsimile reprint linked to there, but the original edition, with the label inside saying:

The information given in this document is not to be communicated, either directly or indirectly, to the Press, or to any person not authorised to receive it.

I last saw this book when I was still at school. A friend I used to roleplay and wargame with had got a copy through a relative. I borrowed it, and just couldn't get enough of the cornucopia of riches contained within its pages. I pleaded with my friend to let me have it, but he was wisely having none of it. I was deeply saddened, but I got over it.

I picked up the copy I found in Caledonia books to check price- £15! What a find! A quick double-take and I saw it was actually £45- steep, but by no means excessive (just check out these prices). I just had to have this book! For some reason I swithered- those graphic novels were dear to me already! But the owner of the bookstore came to my rescue, offering me a deal effectively giving me £5 off the book and £3 off the comics if I took the whole lot on the spot. I accepted with alacrity and a second trip to the ATM.

I may come back another time to show off some of the amazing contents of this splendid book. In the meantime: let joy be unconfined! ;)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stop Press!- M44 Expanded Nationality rules available to download

The latest version of the M44 Expanded Nationality rules which Badger and I have been testing recently, and which I've been discussing on M44:DoW and M44:BGG are now available as a PDF download via the BGG. The rules have undergone some serious development since the last version I posted here at RD/KA! back in April.

The new v4 includes a codification of the Plan card rules as general rules applicable to more than one set of nationality rules; a complete revision of the form of the British Marksmanship rule; German and Russian rules making use of the Plan card mechanic (ie. we finally found a satisfactory form for the Saddle Orders rule); and U.S. Army rules which start to look right in our eyes.

Of all these, Badger and I are most happy with the British rules because they have stood the test of most playtest games (although my revised form of those rules might change that- fingers crossed I guess!). The German rules look pretty good to us too- although less tested than the British rules in their current form, they are the product of the development arising from all that testing. The U.S. Army and the Russian rules look good to us, but only testing will tell whether we actually like them in the end.

Finally: in my haste to upload the PDF to the BGG, I neglected to include acknowledgements to the general M:44 communities at DoW and BGG. So I'd here like to extend my thanks to all those who've supported my work on the Expanded Nationality project. I am grateful to you all. ;)

DiceConWest 2007 #2- To the victors the spoils

Epic! Truly Epic!
And so we come to what was, for me and Badger at least, the main event of the day: our game of Epic Battlelore. We pulled 2 tables together, Badger chose to revisit Epic BL Scenario #4: Moorish Giant, and we set to setup with a will. It turned out that we were to be playing a team game: Badger and Gav on one side (which turned out to be the pennants with that Hill Giant again); myself and Sean (who made such a good showing in DiceConEast 2005's inaugural Memoir'44 tournament). We decided to ignore the special rules for teamplay in the Epic rules, went with simple joint command, and set to scheming our Lore Councils.

Here (added late I'm afraid) is the map.

My victory in our previous game notwithstanding, I was scared of what that giant could do. So the first decision I made was to take the Earth Elemental, a creature which is every bit as dangerous. Completely new to the game as he was, Sean was happy to go along with this. I then explained the virtues of: Cmdr3/R1/Wiz1- namely a 6-card hand with a Stronghold to anchor our line, and (IMO) the most flexible and powerful pair of Level 1 Lore Masters in the game. Against this, Badger and Gav mustered: Cmdr2/C2/R1.

That done, we waited until everything else was set up before placing our 2 landmarks. The Stronghold went on our left, under the archer unit- which turns out to've been an illegal play (cf. p.66; erm, sorry 'bout that Badger; at least we know it won't happen again). And the Circle of Summoning went on our right, nestled beside that hill and wood. Y'see, we'd drawn the Greater Portal card in our setup. So our plan was this: run medium dwarfs forward to summon the Earth Elemental, then bring it in and hold it ready to Portal it into the middle of our enemies' lines, there to wreak utter havoc should fortune permit. It was a good plan, and we were pleased to be able to play it.

But we had to wait a bit before we could try it out, because by the time we were ready to rumble, it was time for the prizegiving.

Badger, Gav, Sean and myself ready to rumble!

Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!
The Kniziathon prizes were awarded first, and these were extra-special this year, due to the presence of a special guest. But I've forgotten the details, so I'll move on to say that I've forgotten all the details of the Settlers tournament winners too. The results will be up on the SBGA site in due course, and I'll let you all know when that moment arrives.

As was the case at DiceConEast last year, the ticket draw was rewarding for my friends. Antony, Bill, Daniel, and Hugh all picked up 1 or juicy-looking games.

Hugh taking his pick from the pile of prizes; Daniel with his big prize from the draw; and Tony posing with his prize being upstaged by Gordon who just couldn't resist the camera!

This year, yours truly did win out in the prize draw: I got a copy of a kids' Xmas game!

I walk away with my prize to general amusement!

Back to Battlelore
Prizes and votes of thanks duly awarded and according, Badger, Gav, Sean and I got stuck in.

The game started with the usual manoeuvring, and with a minor hail of missile fire from our side which resulted in precisely no effect. The first major engagement was in the centre, as Badger and Gav thrust deep into our battlelines with their cavalry (they were cagily keeping the giant as much out of LOS of our archers as possible- all to the good as far as we were concerned). Committed to our plan as we were, Sean and I agreed to hold at first rather than counterattack immediately. This worked, and we were able to launch a timely counter-attack which repulsed the pennants' onslaught so that our Greater Portalled Elemental, when it finally went in, found itself with a much sparser battlefield to engage with than we had expected to find when we set out with our plan.

The pennants' surviving centre infantry and the giant duly surrounded the Elemental, which dealt mighty damage with battle backs and a trample (another mistake: the Earth Elemental FAQ confirms that the EE never retreats under any circumstances) before the giant finally put paid to it. But we were a banner up, and the pennants' centre had been well and truly shredded. Once Sean and I finished off the hapless goblin archers which had been the target of our Greater Portal, we were chasing 2 quick banners for a 7-point victory.

Our chance game when we drew a Fireball, then the pennants attacked our right wing, which was busy marching at full speed as we sought to swing our entire army left. An exchange of battle dice left the medium cavalry and the heavy goblins each reduced to 2 models. The Fireball put paid to the cavalry, while a card off the Epic rack left us ordering all 5 of our right units to summon up some 10 dice against the hapless hobgoblins, who died quickly. Victory, by the satisfying margin of 7-4!

Mistakes aside, this was a tense and gripping game, with lots of maneouvre. Sean enjoyed it, as did Gav. Badger is clearly looking for a measure of revenge. I, meanwhile, shall enjoy my gloating rights while they last.

Grins ;)

This game done, Badger, Gav and I headed off for a nice Italian meal. We went our separate ways thereafter. I returned to the con to pack up my games ready to head home. By this time the con was down to diehards few enough to fill only 2 gaming tables.

Five of those diehards setting out to play DoW's Mystery of the Abbey. Check out those cheerful faces, which are a measure of the friendliness of the DiceCon experience.

My own evening was rounded out in the company of Antony, and Helen and Kenneth, a couple of non-gaming friends he'd persuaded to come to the con. It is another mark of the special qualities of DiceCon that both Helen and Kenneth had a good time, and are interested in coming again.

And that was pretty much that. Well, except to note that I was joking with Gordon about my 'booby prize'. Alright then he said, have this, handing me a copy of the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit #3- TANKS!!. I had actually already decided to use my Xmas game as a present for a niece, but I was delighted to swap it for this new product from MMP.

So, another fine day at DiceCon, your friendly neighbourhood games convention. I had a good time gaming, and meeting my DiceCon friends and acquaintances. Thanks, as ever, to Gordon, Jeff, and everyone else who put in all the work to make it a success. We'll be back (and I'll be doing something with the C&C system, just y'all wait and see!). Now wait for November. ;)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : DiceConWest 2007 #1. A gathering of friends

It's been a busy week for your humble scribe since I posted my 'Last call for DiceConWest 2007' last Monday. Doing the rounds by phone I managed to get a few friends to attend. Hugh, a gaming buddy from the old Edinburgh crew made the trip for a short weekend; Gav (already known to regular readers) made an appearance; and Donald (best known as the young dwarf Mordrin in my little Old World) turned up with his daughter Natasha, both eager to try their hands in the Settlers tournament. In addition to all this, I arranged to borrow Ros' digicam so's I could take some pictures, so I had to master that too (not difficult really, but you never really know about these things when you find yourself becoming an aging technophobe as contemporary developments increasingly outstrip your capacity to keep up!).

In any event, I dragged myself from my slumbers at the appointed hour of 8am yesterday to get ready to arrive promptly for this, the 5th annual DiceConWest. Donald arrived at the appointed time and drove Hugh and I there with Natasha, which was much appreciated by yours truly, bent as I was under the weight of my big bag of games. We met Badger at the entrance to the venue- the Quality Central Hotel- and we were in! We met Andy (of Berthold, the mincing scribe notoriety) inside. Andy's interest yesterday was to have another game of Descent: Journeys in the Dark, so I claimed a table and got setup underway while he went off to sort out mundane stuff elsewhere.

It was barely 10am by this time; gamers were arriving in steady dribs and drabs; and games were already under way as people took their pick from the wide choice made available by the SBGA.

Just a part of the DiceCon gaming library.

By this time Andy had returned, so I left him to be the Overlord in Descent, which handily freed me from setup chores, and let me wander around, soak up the early-day atmosphere, and look for some suitable targets for the digicam I was so eager to try out.

I couldn't resist taking a pic of this game underway- it just looks so neat. If anyone out there can tell me what it's called and what it's about I'd love to hear from you.

In no time at all, the Settlers tournament was under way.

Donald and Natasha at the outset of their attempts at this year's Scottish Title.

Meanwhile, among the welter of familiar faces I was saying hello to and trying to put names to was Barry, who'd taught me such a harsh lesson in lore management in my first Lore game of BL at DiceConEast 2006. He and another friend of his were interested in joining the Descent game Andy was getting moving, so after a hiccup about keeping places open for other friends whose arrival was expected any time, this pair sat down to set to some serious dungeon-delving.

Swords and sandals once more
And so it was that I finally managed to get into my own first game, which turned out to be introducing Hugh to Commands and Colours: Ancients, which meant yours truly enjoyed another chance to see what can be done with the Carthaginian army at Akragas (the beating of which I'd already undertaken).

Hugh and I getting ready to start play once we'd found a table with suitable lighting.

Here's the setup which will be familiar to anyone who's played this great game even just a few times.

The game started well for Hugh: he grasped the rules quickly and moved his units confidently forward, positioning them well. I helped by making a foolish swing forward and left with Himilco's force. I really don't know what I was thinking- I could do nothing with them except beat a hasty retreat from the heavies who were soon bearing down upon them.

There was nothing for to do but turn this to my advantage. I promptly marched Himilco and his lads right across the gap between the 2 armies. The Syracusans hit them in the centre, naturally enough. All those heavies dished out some serious punishment you can be sure, but they didn't get off scot free. When the dust settled we pursued our plans. Hugh used a Line Command and Leadership cards to close in on my centre-right. I combined Himilco and Mago's best frontline infantry, formed into a column, and tried to punch a hole in the Syracusan line.

The dice flew thick and fast and I was able to win through 5-3 in the end. Hugh was a bit stunned that my crazy manoeuvres had pulled the win out for me after his good start, but I'd managed to achieve my primary tactical aim, which was to achieve a local superiority so that his heavies couldn't just smack me down. It also has to be noted that Hugh suffered from his lack of knowledge of the Command deck, and of the pace of the gameplay. This last point was particularly important with his Line Command, which was under-utilised because he didn't take the time to dress his lines first (he still enjoyed playing it mind you!). There really is no way round this in C&C:A- the only way to learn what your armies are capable of is to send them into the fray as you will and find out the hard way. And then try again.


Meanwhile, Bill and his family had arrived while Hugh and I were playing C&C:A. Late thanks to the wonders of the railway service and Saturday morning traffic, Bill and Daniel took the places which were being kept for them in the Descent game.

Andy demonstrating the cheerful insouciance typical of all the best Evil Overlords as Barry, Daniel, Radka and Bill look on in... in... well, in what exactly? I think that is best left for you to figure out for yourselves dear readers.

Settlers Cards
Not resting long content with merely sitting as an onlooker to others' gaming, Radka readily agreed to my suggestion to try a game of the Catan Card Game. I was keen to play this yesterday because I'd just upgraded my old set to the new edition, passing my old set on to the King family at Saturday night's family games session (3 games of Bill's newly acquired copy of the nice GW edition of the peerless Cosmic Encounter, a game much enjoyed in days of yore; and much enjoyed by yours truly Saturday, what with 3 wins, 1 of which was all my very own!).

Radka is a fan of the boardgame (regular readers will already be aware of her reputation there), so she was very interested in finding out how the cardgame worked.

Radka and I early in the opening phase of the game.

Radka grasped the rules very quickly and played very well. Just like Hugh in our C&C:A game, she was hampered by her lack of knowledge of the deck. And she did begin to wonder at her fate when her development stalled as we entered the midgame, while mine seemed to be roaring ahead. But as I knew would happen, her strategy paid off eventually, while her play became more assured to boot. She was able to pull back to level-pegging at one point, and was certainly in with a shout as the endgame approached the finale. Most important of all: Radka enjoyed the game, and is already looking forward to trying it again. Job done!

For my part, I like the new edition. The rules tweaks make sense of a few old anomalies, while other upgrades just make the new rules all the more playable. Well worth the £28 price of admission IMO.

2-0 :)

Elsewhere, the Descent game over, Daniel got the chance to play what I'm sure is his favourite game right now: Ivanhoe. Published by GMT, this most excellent Knizia design has sadly been out of print for some time, although a honcho from GMT has announced that it will be reprinted soon, probably this year. I know that I read this on the ConsimWorld forums somewhere- probably on the GMT games forum, but I can't for the life of me find it again. Anyhoo...

Daniel exercising his Ivanhoe skills. Did he win any games I wonder? I never found out (or I did, and forgot).


Gordon Lamont enjoying a cardgame (a Knizia I expect) at the registration desk.

It's been a good time for Gordon and his brother Fraser at Fragor Games, with their games being snapped-up by publishers all round the world. The German edition of their last Essen hit Shear Panic was on display yesterday, while Mayfair Games have an English edition in print now. The world is now waiting to see what sort of storm the Lamont brothers' new game- Hameln- will kick up at Essen later this year. Have fun guys!

Elsewhere still:

Two Up Front veterans deep in concentration as they ponder the next moves that their cards offer them.

Meanwhile, I also had the chance to say hello to an old DiceCon acquaintance- John Poulter, webmaster at Web-Grognards, who I'd first met at DiceConWest 2004. He and a friend were playing another GMT hit...

John and Richard with GMT's Twilight Struggle.

This is another card-driven game which is on my 'must-buy' list. I was amazed at how attractive it looked. Antony (yes, that's Antony of librarian-thwacking blunderbuss-toting psycho-dwarf infamy- he'd arrived earlier in the afternoon) was interested in what the game was all about. And John, for his part, was surprised that it wasn't already in my collection! It will be sooner or later John, I can assure you! ;)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Got game!

All Fluxxed up?
Ros and I were supposed to be having a game of the Catan Card Game on Tuesday last, but other things got in the way, and we had to settle for a quick game of EcoFluxx instead. I'd bought this variant on Looney Labs' successful Fluxx card game to replace Ros' copy of that game. It turns out that I needn't've bothered really, since Ros doesn't like Fluxx all that much after all. Ah well.

Meanwhile, I quite liked the theming of the EcoFluxx deck, particularly the small changes to Goals and Keepers which make it a wee bit more than just Fluxx with the serial numbers filed off.

Oh, and I won, with some sneaky cardplay. I still like this game a lot, and the more I play it, the more aware I become of the strategy and tactics of what can otherwise look like pure randomness.

Hardly makes up for the Carcassonne debacles, but still... ;)

As close as it freakin' gets
Bill was round as usual last night. Tony still laid low with illness, little could stop Bill and I repairing to the Up Front table. Fortunately, Little couldn't make it either, so Up Front it was. We chose to play a German/British Patrol, and random selection gave me the British. Good, I thought- I like the British. (Look here for a report- coauthored by myself and Ellis Simpson- about a small Up Front tournament I ran at DiceConEast 2004. This event featured some of my most memorable recent games with the British.)

Unsurprisingly, Bill went with the utterly orthodox regulation strong firebase German setup as per the old AH General strategy articles. That is to say: Cpl. Hessel and the 3 wimp riflemen (ML1 & 2) at group A; Sgt. Dettinger, the LMG, and the 4 good riflemen (ML3, 4 & 5) at group B. I went for a more viable form of the 3-group setup I've been using for the British for some time: 2 of my wimps at A; Sgt. Vasey and 2 good riflemen (ML3 & 4) at C- for a decent manoeuvre group; and everyone else at B- for a 5-man firebase with a weak ML2 riflemen to worry about a bit.

The 1st deck was quite quiet. I got my manoeuvre group out to D and into terrain (a gully at range chit 2- a good jumping-off point for some serious VP later on), while my firebase jinked sideways into terrain to cover their advance into the teeth of the firepower of that fearsome German firebase. Meanwhile the Germans didn't do much other than face- and survive- a non-trivial fire attack when they made their own advance off their baseline. Oh, and a British rifle had junked thanks to a double malfunction! I'd had to do an individual transfer to bolster my firebase thanks to that.

In any event, by the end of the deck I knew that Bill held a stream, and made my plans accordingly for my firebase's imminent advance. When I made that advance (to a -3 building, naturally enough), I hit the stream, then wire. I had the movement and rally cards needed to cope. What I lacked were the concealment cards to reduce Bill's fire attacks. The killer came when my lads dashed from the open ground they'd gone to under the wire to that building- 3 men died under the deadly hail of fire which'd just popped-up in Bill's hand. OUCH!

To cut a long story short, the rest of the game went something like this:
  • I had to regroup.
  • So my manoeuvre group retired and moved back adjacent to the remains of the firebase, the surviving members of which then transferred into the manoeuvre group.
  • I now had a group which could both lay down decent firepower and advance- both of which I'd need to do to pull back the 9VP deficit I was facing.
  • I got my first German KIA.
  • Bill noted that his own wimp 'manoeuvre' group could advance without putting themselves into my firebase's killzone- he needed to do something like this to gain VP against the chance that I could start to accumulate them myself.
  • That group hit a stream when they made their advance, then another when they immediately forded the first.
  • I laterally transferred both my groups so that the Germans in the stream were in my firebase's killzone.
  • Three Germans promptly died in the stream.
  • I indulged in some premature gloating, and suffered a moment of deja vu (flashing back to similar foolishness in Badger's and my recent M44 games); Bill punished me for this with a fire attack which pinned most of my firebase!
  • Cpl. Hessel survived everything I could throw at him in the stream, and the game went right down to the wire: we had to reshuffle the deck to complete Bill's last fire attack against 3 men, with the following possibilities:
  1. none of those 3 men pinned- I win by 1VP
  2. 1 pinned- draw
  3. 2 or 3 pinned- Bill wins by 1 or 2VP
  • I lost by 1VP in the event.

During the post-mortem Bill commended my skillful play. Also, having suffered from an inability to generate a decent card cycle because he didn't have enough groups acting, he was interested in my critique of the orthodox tactics from those General strategy articles. As with our recent Japanese v. Russian games, he could see that my defeat in this game didn't refute the basis of my return to the tactics we'd instinctively adopted when we'd first started playing Up Front all those years ago.

Curse you Cpl. Hessel, curse you! ;)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Got game!

Bitter, bitter battles
Badger came round last Friday and we managed to get in 3 games of M44: 2 more plays of M44:DoW veteran and esteemed scenario designer Brummbär's fine Normandy scenario Operation Charnwood; and 1 of official scenario #35: Nimjegen Bridges.

We chose Operation Charnwood because we'd enjoyed it the last time we'd played, and because we wanted to test out our favoured version of the variant artillery rules which have been the topic of a productive discussion over at M44:DoW.

I chose to play the Germans first; partly because I wanted to try out those variant AT rules (detailed in the M44:DoW thread linked immediately above); partly because I was keen to try out the latest versions of the Kampfgruppe and Saddle Orders rules Badger and I had agreed upon; and partly because I just plain fancied the challenge of trying to win with them.

I started really well, going into an early lead. Soon I was on 4 medals, and I was telling myself victory was assured. I was also telling myself and Badger both that even to think such a thing was to invite doom. How right I was: Badger won 5-4 in the end. I can't remember what went down; well, except for my making poor use of my first Saddle Orders plan; and Badger making equally good use of his Big Push plans to deliver the decisive blow; so we'll have to rely on Badger to come along and fill in the details. Oh, and I seem to remember that I ought to've formed a Kampfgruppe at one point, but missed my chance in the heat of the moment.

We were playing the British with the Marksmanship and Big Push rules which we had settled to our satisfaction last time. I did a routine Big Push early on. Then I came up with what I thought was a bit of a fiendish plan: I'd use a Big Push to hit Badger on my right with an Airstrike (which would target 2 units including his artillery) and a Right 3 in the same turn. This'll be fun I thought. Until, that was, I turned my plan cards over: I'd somehow managed to play a Centre 3 instead of the intended Right 3. Aaarrgh!

Seeing things start to go downhill from there, I hit on the plan of using Behind Enemy Lines to charge forward and grab Western Caen for a precious medal. I had everything I needed in my hand to pull this off and to follow it up to play for victory, including a Dig-In card which would've stopped Badger forcing my audacious infantry to retreat. But I just couldn't coordinate it all properly (ie. my cardplay was poor). In the end Badger mopped me up with a crushing 5-2 victory. Ouch!

By this time we were satisfied with the existing drafts of the Expanded Nationality rules for both the British and the Germans, so we decided to turn to the Americans for our last game.

We were playing rules tweaked from the latest version I put up. As with the British and German rules, I'm not going to go into details here, but I promise to have a version available online just A.S.A.P.

Playing the Americans, I had a tank-heavy army in terrain utterly unsuited for armour, and I was facing those fearsome Big Guns. WTF I thought: there was nothing for it to get stuck in. So I sent my river-crossing infantry across the river as quickly as possible, bringing their accompanying tank units up for fire support. There ensued a vicious firefight, which left me with 1 model from the original 12 at game-end IIRC.

Meanwhile, I was taking some pains to avoid coming under overly destructive attentions from those Big Guns. This led me to fight a holding action on the outskirts of Nimjegen while making a play for the railway bridge with combined infantry and armour. As around the Fort Van Hof Holland, the fighting was bitter on all fronts. At one point I'd quickly grabbed the railway bridge, only to be forced to beat a rapid retreat to save my depleted unit from destruction under heavy German counter-fire. I needed that bridge I realised, but I would have to time very carefully my next rush to seize it.

My chance came with a Their Finest Hour card. I really had no choice but play this: Badger had the upper hand; single-model units of mine were already saving the day by just not dying; and I had nothing else available which could turn the situation around. Plus: under the draft American Expanded Nationality rules, I'd get a mulligan before refilling my 6-card hand.

My Their Finest Hour dice roll was awesome: I got 6 orders from 6 dice! My attack went in, killing 2 German units IIRC, leaving victory actually in sight after all. My beleaguered lads held their breath in anticipation of the inevitable German counter-attack. They held when it came in. Meanwhile, I of course had drawn exactly the card needed to press home my attack, which duly went in, allowing me to sneak to victory on 6-5.

Badger was gutted- I'd escaped a 3-0 whitewash at the last moment; but he also shared my enthusiasm for the way the American rules had worked in that last attack. I was still left with the feeling that those rules need some work, but I actually found myself thinking that there is something there to work with, a feeling I've not had before about those rules.

Shrugs ;)

Hoist on my own petard
Guess what? Rosy and I got another couple of games of Carcassonne on Saturday night just past. Regular readers might remember my comments about our last games, in which I talked about my efforts to develop the strategies of the farmers' game. You might even remember (and I quote):
"my plaintive cry (after a losing game, natch!) of- how did you get those farms joined up?"
And so there I was on Saturday night, cheerfully explaining to Ros the importance of the farmers' game, and pointing out how the key strategy was related to getting farmers placed and then building the farms to link up your farmers for those valuable points. Ros was clearly taking my little lectures to heart, because that plaintive cry was heard at the end of both our games that night!

I said Ros'd been "taking my little lectures to heart". But could she've been ignoring me utterly, given the mastery of the farmers' game I've so skillfully not been demonstrating? Answers c/o RD/KA!. No spam please.


Whimper. :(

Down, down, deeper and down!
Readers curious enough to investigate my BGG boardgames collection page (and that'd be curious as both verb and adjective I'd imagine) might already've noticed this, but a couple of weeks ago I finally succumbed and lashed out the cash for a copy of the sister game to Fantasy Flight Games' remarkable Doom: the Boardgame, the dungeon-delving game Descent: Journeys in the Dark.

Holy freakin' heck Batman! Without any shadow of a doubt this is the single most awesome box of gaming goodness I have ever seen. The box is the size of 2 Doom/Battlelore boxes laid side by side. It has the heft of a rucksack packed for a weekend camping in the mountains. Inside is to be found a truly stunning array of cards, die-cut thick card playing pieces, and simply the most beautiful polythene moulded miniatures I've ever seen in a boardgame. The detailing is exquisite, being on a par with hard styrene casts, especially on the 20 hero models. Looking over them brought back to mind the excitement my brother and I shared as kids when we got our hands on the first release of Airfix's (who went bust last year- news to me!) 1/32nd scale polythene range recast in 1/76th- their WW2 German Infantry set. We'd just never seen anything like them.

I simply cannot do this game justice today. I mean to say: I've been so busy lately that I opened it, punched out all the cardboard, drooled over the models, then left it on the shelf for nearly 3 weeks because I was just too busy to find the time and energy to sort through all the bits. So I was well pleased when Andy came round last Sunday and offered to lend a hand. We set to with a will, and we soon had the monster bagged and tagged. Then we had a go.

First impressions? The game absolutely rocks! This is the game we wanted Talisman to be back in the early 80's: an honest-to-god dungeon-bash in a box, a boardgame which delivers all the richness of the D&D experience with all the classic roleplaying elements stripped out. Of course, Andy and I only got halfway through our first game. We had to stop for the latest episode of- yes, you've guessed it- Doctor Who (another superlative story BTW). So I guess these initial impressions could be undone by future experience. But I do doubt it. More soon, I trust.

Meanwhile, if any of my readers out there have the experience to compare Descent with either HeroQuest or Warhammer Quest, I'd be really interested to know how you think the games rate against each other. I've got a feeling that Descent might represent a real breakthrough in dungeon-bash boardgaming, but with a mere single 1-room TPK game of Warhammer Quest under my belt, I'm not really in a position to judge.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Last call for DiceConWest 2007

The Scottish Boardgame Association's latest annual boardgames convention DiceConWest takes place this coming Sunday (full details here). As I noted before, DiceConWest's official Scottish Settlers of Catan tournament will offer you your chance to play for a subsided trip to the world's biggest games fair in Essen, there to compete for the title of Settlers World Champion. There'll also be a Kniziathon, a tournament based on playing as many games as possible by famously prolific games designer Reiner Knizia.

That's what I can assure you will be taking place this Sunday at DiceConWest 2007. What I must sadly tell you won't be taking place is any kind of Commands and Colours tournament (at least, not as organised by yours truly). I've just been unable to put in the preparation needed. But I can assure you that I'll be there with my C&C games and other boardgame goodies to boot. I expect I'll lay on a game of Epic BL to attract some attention to this latest DoW offering. Games of M44, C&C:A, CC:E, and Up Front might also be on the cards... Bwah hah ha ha!

Meanwhile I'm hoping that I'll be able to start to shape up towards making a serious stab at a C&C tournament of some kind at a future DiceCon. Fingers crossed I guess. ;)

Start the week @ RD/KA! : An Anniversary of Note

It's been a long time since I last visited my local GW. Exactly how long I'm not sure, but I'm certain that the last gaming product I bought from my local GW was the new plastic Assault Terminators I reviewed way back in November 2005. In the meantime my miniatures hobby gave way to a revival of my interest in rpg's and boardgaming. A rapid result of this change in habits was that I stopped buying GW's White Dwarf, because it no longer served me any purpose.

Last week though, I paid a quick visit to my local GW to buy a copy of William King's Gotrek and Felix: the First Omnibus as a gift for a friend. On entering the store I was pleasantly surprised to see the friendly face of a familiar old staffer. Hearty greetings out of the way, I made a beeline for the bookshelves and grabbed what I was after. Paying, I saw a copy of the new 30th Anniversary White Dwarf. Picking up a copy of this too was a cinch- I may not be the avid GW hobbyist anymore, but I just had to have this particular issue of the old stunty on my shelves.

Thirty years of White Dwarf? Holy heck, but that makes me feel old, which of course would normally prompt some nostalgia after an Old Fart Alert. Fortunately for my readers, I've already said all I need to say on that subject: here, when I posted a link to this page chez my pal the gnome, where he'd posted a link to a downloadable PDF of White Dwarf #1.

All I need to say? Really? Well OK. I can add that the earliest issue of WD I remember owning was #16. It wasn't the first I bought, nor did I actually buy it on its initial release, but I did buy it from regular shelf stock at my first FLGS in Edinburgh, and this back in the days when WD was still bimonthly. Back then, WD only had one serious competitor for my attention, and that was Steve Jackson's The Space Gamer. The Dragon was easily available and good for D&D gamers too for sure, but that magazine simply never captured my imagination in the way that White Dwarf and The Space Gamer did.

Editorial reorganisations driven by GW's reponse to the profit slump consequent on the tailing-off of their highly lucrative The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game once Jackson's movies had passed through the cinemas; these reorganisations have in the past year led to a clamour from GW fans across the net about the declining quality of White Dwarf. Although no longer a WD reader, I would check these discussions out now and again: eg. on the Warseer and the Bolter and Chainsword forums (you'll have to do forum searches if you're interested); and here (#327) and here (#328), again at the random Gnomes' random Lair. What was most striking to me about these discussions was that- amidst the sadly all-too-familiar internet feeding frenzy- there was an authentic and startling note of anger and despair from the hardest of hardcore fans, a note that was novel to me in my 15 years as a money-spending GW space marine fanboy. That this was taking place among GW's loyal customer base at a time when the company accounts were creating rumbles amongst investors; well, this just gave many of us watching from the sidelines the distinct impression that the GW behemoth was actually teetering...

All of which leads to the point that this 30th Anniversary edition of the magazine (a mere 2 issues- mark you- after the #328 which, according to gnome's review, barely merited a meh); that this commemorative issue would have a lot of hurdles to cross if it was to live up the landmark it would purport to celebrate.

So, how did it do then?

I must be frank here: there is no way I can seriously enter into the debate about the widely recognised decline in WD editorial content which adds to players' games instead of just advertising GW product, because I just haven't seen the issues which provoked the ire of the fans. For similar reasons- but also because of the impact of sheer nostalgia- nor can I pretend that I'm here going to offer a serious review of #330. All I can do is offer a brief overview and point out a few personal highlights.

Looked at as a whole, I would have to say that WD#330 is a dazzling introduction to GW's product lines today. And this is not just the magnificent photographs of beautifully painted miniatures which are so familiar to GW customers that they can become a bit boring when you've seen them for the nth time. It is also the new product lines being advertised. Of particular interest to me was the new wargames terrain, the new Warhammer buildings and the Arcane ruins especially; and also the new dwarf miners. Beautiful to look at as completed by the 'Eavy Metal team, it was the pictures of the parts from these kits' sprues which had me positively drooling.

Y'see, let me explain a pet theory here. I am of the same age as the GW design veterans. I was making the same kits as they were in the same teenage years (or, to be more precise: kits from the same landmark ranges). For me, the sublime joys of modelling and kit-bashing in those teenage tankie days can be summed-up in 2 phrases: Tamiya and Airfix Multipose. Taken together, what these 2 ranges offered was fine detail, easy convertibility, and numerous extras giving modellers an instant spares box. If that's not a definition of the trajectory of GW plastics development since the justly legendary RTB01 beakies, then I don't know what could be.

Believing this, and watching the advances in GW plastics down the years, I have convinced myself of something else, something which is too easily forgotten amidst the- often utterly justified- customer complaints about the company's corporate policies: at its core, GW remains the dream of a bunch of gaming geeks just like any of the rest of us. Their dream was to get paid for playing games. More than that: they wanted to create a company which would more than just pay their wages- if not make them rich; they also wanted the company to provide for them absolutely the best wargames kit in the world; which they would get for free because they would work for (or own) the company. Their chosen route to realising this dream became GW, warts, suppurating buboes, and all.

If WD#330 is proof that this dream is still alive and well and living in Lenton- even if at prices putting the GW experience at the top end of the miniatures gaming hobby market; it also strikes me as proof that the harassed staffers working to respond to customer demands are showing that they can bring- to the ad copy the company's marketing strategy requires- the sort of editorial content which can give players of GW's games the added value they have a right to expect from their £4 investment in a copy of the house magazine of their chosen hobby. What I'm talking about here are the various sidebars and so on appended to the glossy picture spreads. There is no reason why these could not be as informative across any given issue of the magazine as would be full length articles. Will this develop to its fullest potential? I don't know. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I have to continue by saying that the content of the 30th Anniversary issue is often better even than that. Which brings me naturally enough to my personal highlights. These will be presented in reverse order as per tradition.

In third place: 'White Dwarf XXX, 1977-2007', the obligatory history article. I've always enjoyed reading these pieces. And I enjoy them more as I get older (it'll happen to you all, my dear readers if it hasn't started already!). As ever, I read this article with my past looking over my shoulder, whispering to me, every WD landmark a memory of my own.

In second place: 'Sons of Sanguinius', part 1 of the new Blood Angels Codex. Believe it or not, I'll be buying WD#331 to get part 2 of this. Why? Because I just love jump-packers. They're my single most favourite troop type as a diehard space marine player. They just look so cool. And although my very own Penumbra's Talons have always been a Codex chapter, I've long nurtured the idea of fielding them under their 'Blood Angels aspect', so that I could deploy jump-packing Honour Guard, Veterans, and- naturally enough- Death Company (a.k.a. 'the Verifiers' in Penumbra's Talons). And I still hope that one of these days, I will.

In first place: 'Standard Bearer', Jervis' article on the genesis of 'Sons of Sanguinius', complete with his own nostalgic take on his years at GW. There are many things I enjoyed about this article, but one above all won it its place as my ultimate highlight of this issue: the fact that Jervis could include- in the house magazine of the good business sense of chaos, death and spikey bits on a hitherto unimagined scale; that in these pages, Jervis could include a quote from E.F. Schumacher, reknowned as the author of Small is Beautiful among other works. My dad got me into Schmacher as a teenager, one of just many of my old man's deeds for which I am truly grateful. So good on yer Jervis!

And there you have it. I missed the official party, so I had to have a celebration of my own. ;)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Got game!

Once more unto the breach! (Or: Still no room at the inn)

It'd been weeks since Tony and I had last got together for a game of Combat Commander Chad Jensen's recent hit for GMT Games. So I was well pleased when he came round last Sunday for another game. We ended up revisiting Scenario 4: Closed for Renovations, which had previously seen one of our closest games- when Tony had won thanks to my game-winning melee roll being pre-empted by a game-ending sudden death dice roll because my card-draw for that dice roll was the last card of my deck. (Sheesh!) With this history, you can imagine then what was at stake in this replay.

Here's the map.
Here are the forces.

Tony set his Germans up first. He put a squad in the building to the rear of each of his flanks to prevent my going for a quick end-run strategy involving Exit VP. His remaining 4 squads with most of his MG's- the 2 HMG's in particular- went into the chateau. The wire he placed to cover the forward flanks of my lines of advance to the chateau, in the hopes no doubt that I'd be channelled into a killzone on that road in front of the chateau. And that IG? Well he took his chance- as per the scenario special rules- to keep that until after he'd seen my setup.

For my part I decided in the end to grasp the nettle of the gambit represented by Tony's setting-up a lone German squad in the building to his southeast (north to the top as usual). And not wanting to charge up the centre, that set my strategy. My stronger force- best leader, mostly elite squads, satchel charges, most of my MG's- was going to go on my right, starting in those woods to the far northwest. The rest were deployed around their leader along the north edge of the map.

My plan was to advance under cover of smoke to the sheds on my right- ie. those small buildings on the western map edge, then use them as a jumping-off point for an assault on the chateau itself. On the left I was going to deal with Tony's holding force, then split my own force into 2
  • an exit force for extra VP and later reinforcements
  • a force to bring the chateau under pressure from the southeast to back up my main assault from my other flank.
This plan avoided the deathtrap of the German wire while simultaneously split the German forces. It was a good'un I thought.

Seeing my setup, Tony promptly put his IG in the sheds. Given my plan this worried me a bit. But I knew I'd be advancing under lots of smoke, so I shrugged and carried on.

The game opened perfectly for me: Tony was subject to vicious sniper attacks; I got fistfuls of Artillery Request cards which meant that I'd soon laid all the smoke I needed for my plans; and I got my left-flank force into action quickly for their part of my plan. Something just had to go wrong sooner or later, didn't it? What happened was that I got greedy and stupid (or was that stupid because greedy?). Instead of following my plan to keep my left flank's leader, elite squad and 50-cal safe from Tony's HMG stack, I put my stack in a positon to shoot at his. Of course, that meant they could shoot back. Soon enough I'd lost my entire stack. The consequences of this were to prove more serious than just the immediate cost in troops and VP.

Worse was to come. In the midst of all this action on my left, I decided to play an Artillery request as a FFE on the chateau. The chances of damage were slim, but I needed the card cycle at that point. Of course, that artillery order generated the Breeze event which cleared away all my carefully prepared smoke! I was able to lay more, but it wasn't quite so well-placed and, more importantly- that ate up lots of valuable time.

By this time the loss of that leader on my left was beginning to tell. Y'see: I'd planned on bringing my flamethrower-toting engineers on to reinforce my efforts on my right. But their leader was needed on my left when they arrived- so that was where they had to go. And this adjustment began to tell when I finally got my right moving. To cut a long story short: when I finally got in a position to attack the IG/LMG nest, it turned out to be a Pillbox and not just a building. Thanks to poor hand management and cardplay on my part, I got bogged-down in a bitter battle to clear that position, a battle for which those flamethrowers are tailor-made.

Meanwhile, over on the right, I'd managed to get those engineers with their flamethrowers into position behind the chateau. From there they'd been able to bring down some useful smoke. As the IG/LMG nest began to exact a heavy toll on my forces, I realised that I'd have to assault the chateau soon. When those pesky Pillbox defenders finally finished-off my lads in an oh-so-close melee, I knew it was time. I charged and assault-fired with a flamethrower: result!- I broke an entire HMG stack! A bit more luck like that and I could still put this game back from the brink.

It was not to be. The flamethrowers never delivered anything at all thereafter (mostly they just couldn't see the Germans through the thick smoke swirling through the shattered chateau), and Tony was soon able to rally, then to finish me off in melee. When my last engineer squad died, I conceded (I wanted to watch the Have I Got News for You? rerun on TV).

A crushing defeat- some 24+ VP, but what a great game! And lessons learned?
  1. Greedy is stupid. If your plan involves staying out of sight of enemy kill-stacks, STAY out of sight!!. Don't sucker yourself into opportunistic plays for the sake of marginal attacks based on passing hand composition.
  2. Don't advance under the barrels of an IG unless you've got the hand needed to destroy it right away; a.k.a. the 'You Won't Win a Firefight with an IG in a Pillbox' rule!
0-1 :(

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