Friday, July 27, 2007

Got game!

Bloody Bessarabia
Bill was busy with something too important to put aside last Wednesday, so the next issue of 'Blades' was delayed again. This resulted in Tony and I sitting down to another game of GMT's most excellent Combat Commander: Europe. After my defeat as the Americans at the chateau of doom it was Tony's turn to choose the scenario. He plumped for Scenario 7, Bessarabian Nights.

Set during the Soviet offensive of spring 1944, this scenario features rear-echelon German infantry in action against Russian partisans on a heavily wooded map traversed by a railway.

The scenario set-up has some interesting features. First the Russian partisan units set-up randomly, using the random hex generator on their Fate Deck. This done, the Russian weapons are allocated as the Russian player wishes. Then the Germans set up anywhere they want on the map, with the proviso that all German units must be in a contiguous chain- ie. they are effectively in a column. On top of all of this, the Russians also start the game with a card in their hand which guarantees them a random reinforcement unit as soon as the German player discards (and he will), which unit can be placed pretty much anywhere on the map.

The random set-up notwithstanding, weight of numbers, those very handy SMG squads, and plenty of useful weapons give the Russian player some significant advantages in this scenario. Against this they are seriously hampered by only being allowed 1 order per turn from their 4-card hand, whereas the Germans get 3 orders from their 5-card hand. It is this limitation, and the tactical imperatives it imposes, which did for Tony's partisans in our last closely fought play of this scenario. So our game last Wednesday was something of revenge match.

What went down
Tony's set-up was mixed. Both of his leaders ended up in the southeast corner with few units available to support them. There was a significant cluster of Russian units to the northeast (near the clearing beside point 6 on the compass). The rest of the Russian units were scattered near the centre of the map or up and down the west side of the map. The satchel charges were allocated to the leaders and to 2 SMG squads, the LMG to the remaining SMG squads and to 2 Militia squads, and the mortar to a Militia squad.

The results of this set-up were that Tony's leaders were separated from the units they're supposed to lead, which would limit the Russians to ordering just a lone unit with their single order per turn. At the same time the lone leaders were exposed to my marauding platoons, whose first priority would be to kill the Russian leaders, thus throwing a spanner into the works of the Russian commmand capacity. That said, Tony's mortar was well positioned to bring some useful fire down around the centre of the map. And he'd managed to secure some objectives too. So like I said: a mixed bag.

With my foregoing comments about hunting down the Russian leaders in mind, I set up my platoons in and around those woodland paths to the west of the railway line in the southern half of the board (ie. just below points 2 and 3 on the compass). This put a Russian leader in the wood by the railway within a quick Move and Advance away for an easy kill (I didn't want to get too close straight away because of that satchel charge he was toting). The other leader was in the railway hex right down on the southern edge of the map. I could cover his attempts to move up to his troops, then mop him up at my leisure.

The first noteworthy event came with my first attack (on that first Russian leader IIRC): I drew a 12. Great result! But a Time Trigger too, and that a mere 2 or 3 cards into my first deck. I had the Initiative Card in my hand, and pondered long and hard my decision on whether or not to force the reroll. Let me explain.

One of the neat features of CC:E is that time isn't fixed the way it is in most other games: the time limit is random. How it works is this: there is a Time Track, into which goes a Time marker and a Sudden Death marker. When a Time Trigger happens (when someone exhausts their Fate Deck, or draws a Time Trigger result as I did just then), the Time marker is advanced up the Time Track. When the Time marker advances into or beyond the Sudden Death marker, there is a check to see if the game ends at that point: you draw, and if the result is less than or equal to the number on the Time Track where the Sudden Death marker is located, it's game over. If you add in the Initiative card- which allows you to reroll (or force your opponent to reroll) any dice roll as many times as either player wishes- and you might begin to get the idea that time in a game of CC:E is much more fluid and unpredictable than it is in most games.

In any case, the choice my 12 presented me with was to burn up some of my valuable time early on (with the risk that a run of such Triggers would see me under endgame time pressure before I'd even really started) or not. In the end, I chose to go with a result which I hoped would let me kill that first leader PDQ. This worked out for me, thank goodness.

While I was playing out the consequences of this 12, I faced the prospect of discarding. I briefly considered the option of not giving Tony his hidden unit so soon, but quickly decided he was going to get his unit sooner or later, so I might as well press ahead with my plans as quickly as possible. I discarded. Tony played his card and made his dice roll. Who should pop up but Captain Egorov- the single best Russian leader in the game!

Oh dear I thought. Oh dear I thought again when Tony promptly placed him right at the centre of that cluster of Russian units to the northwest. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Tony was now in a position to mobilise nearly half his force each turn. Plus he had the capability to create a truly fearsome close combat team by stacking Egorov with an SMG squad and a Green team (giving him a melee total of 15 to my best of 7). Suddenly the balance of the game had shifted very much in Tony's favour.

So, Egorov duly did what he should've, bringing that northern force storming south to assault my platoons. Meanwhile Tony's mortar brought down some useful fire on my most forward infantry beside the railway (next to point 2 on the compass). The short range coupled with the effects of airbursts made me decide on a prompt withdrawal out of LOS. At the same time I sent a platoon south to mop up a Russian squad lurking on the southwest of the map, just to make sure it couldn't screw me up with an attack from the rear.

It was at about this time that Egorov's lads crossed the railway into the woods. Not feeling ready to face them yet, I withdrew. Egorov and his lads continued their advance. By this time I had a hand which I thought was sufficient, plus I was wagering that Tony's card-cycling would leave him with a weaker close combat hand than my own. No time like the present I decided. So I played an Advance, and sent a leader and 2 squads in to attack Egorov. This was a very risky ploy. Let me explain.

Stacking limits in CC:E are very tight: effectively 1 leader, 1 squad, and 1 team per hex. Overstacked hexes result in the elimination of units. So by sending in 2 squads against Egorov's stack, I was effectively condemning myself to losing half a squad should I win the melee. But there was nothing else for it- Egorov would've made mincemeat of me otherwise, so I had to hit him with as much as possible before he could pick my units off one by one.

Then the Ambush cards were played. Let me explain again. Ambush cards are the key feature of close combat in CC:E. What an Ambush card does is force your opponent to break one of his units in the melee before cards are drawn for dice rolls. You can play multiple Ambush cards, so it is quite possible to eliminate an opposing force in close combat via a double-break without any dice rolls being needed at all. I had 1 Ambush card when I Advanced into melee. I was gambling on Tony's hand being poor. It wasn't. He had 2 Ambush cards naturally enough.

The result of this was that my best option was to eliminate one of my squads entirely, leaving me with a squad and a leader in the melee. Tony drew his card first, getting a melee total leaving me needing 11 or 12 to win and save my entire position from being ripped wide open by the rampaging Egorov. I drew a 10- mutual destruction. Deciding that keeping Egorov alive was a good idea, Tony promptly handed over the Initiative card to force a reroll- an 11! My cheers were probably heard halfway down the street. Tony's cries of you spammy git weren't so loud, but were totally justified I must admit.

This was the decisive turning point in the game. Tony tried to press home his attack, but my superior firepower and command capability made that difficult for him. For my part I was sufficiently far ahead in VP that I could afford just to sit where I was and force him to come after me. I did send a squad and leader out to finish off that leader of Tony's who'd been lurking by the railhead since the beginning of the game. We played cat and mouse for a wee while, but eventually I killed that leader too, and secured another objective.

This squad then went on to charge northwards towards an objective I wanted to grab (the railway hex on the north edge). Pausing only to eliminate another Russian squad in melee (at the cost of the leader thanks to more Ambush cards), this they did. Tony conceded soon after. I was left with 34VP.

In the post-morterm we concluded that the elimination of Egorov had been crucial to this game (no!), so much so that I expect I'll enjoy years of value from the use of the word 'Egorov' as a taunt! More than that, Tony's real problem was that he didn't regroup the rest of his forces, leaving him weak and scattered when he had to press his attack after that crucial melee.

Those details aside, what I found interesting about this game was that it was much more static than previous plays of this scenario. This was down to Egorov again. Y'see, although he died quickly, the forces he'd brought with him didn't. The result of this was that the bulk of my force stayed hunkered down in the woods where they'd deployed. I wasn't happy with this, but I needed to keep hold of at least 1 objective to secure myself against a Russian victory, and at the same time I had to maintain my forces in mutual support against the prospect of Russian advances.

All-in-all then an unusual and dramatic game.

1-0 :)

To the skies once more
Time was short after our game of CC:E, so we decided upon a game of Wings of War: Dawn of War. I ended up taking the Me109 and the D.520 against the Spitfire and the Hurricane again.

I decided to follow the same strategy as before. This left me doing the same thing as I've done in the previous games: sideslipping too fast for too long so that my turn towards the enemy comes too late and I overshoot on my first pass. Still, my extra experience told while Tony was getting to grips with his flight lessons, and I managed to shoot down the Spitfire. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, Tony's Hurricane headed for the edge of the table while I was turning to start my next pass.

I'm continuing to enjoy this game a lot. It's a vivid recreation of its subject using simple rules, making it ideal to fit in when you have the odd hour or so to fill. And there are lots of optional rules I'm looking forward to trying, plus campaign rules. On top of that, I can't wait to see the confusion of a 4-player game with 4 planes per side!

Grins ;)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Here are some quick updates on items from recent posts.

DiceConWest 2007 tournament winners announced
I noted in my report on this year's DiceConWest that I couldn't remember the names of the tournament winners, and that I'd update you all when I could. Ellis Simpson is now back from his travels, and has updated the DiceCon website. Look here for the results of the Settlers tournament, and here for the results of the Kniziathon. Well done to all concerned!

Memoir'44 scenario correction
In my report on Badger's and my last M44 session, I commented on our discussion of apparent balance problems with Scenario 40: Breakout at Klin. I followed up our own discussion with a thread over at M44:DoW, where a useful discussion was concluded when designer Richard Borg posted a correction to the victory conditions which Badger and I had found so troubling. Sometimes internet bulletin boards generate 'discussions' which drive me to distraction, and sometimes this wonderful means of communication really proves its worth. Result!

That's all for now. ;)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Got game!

Chocks away Ginger!
Andy was round on Sunday. He brought with him his new copy of FFG's Wings of War: Dawn of War, the new WW2 version of their successful WW1 dogfighting game Wings of War. I'd first played Wings of War: Famous Aces- the initial game in the series- way back in June 2004 at DiceConWest. I was immediately delighted by the game, being particularly struck by the way the cardplay system handled preplotted movement and firing in a smooth manner without reliance on tables.

So you can imagine that I was pleased to give Wings of War: Dawn of War a go on Sunday. Andy and I duly had a game, in which my Me109E-3 and Dewoitine D.520 shot down Andy's Spitfire and Hurricane Mk.I. As we looked through the available planes to see what match-up we could choose for our next game Andy made a fateful suggestion: why don't we head down to Static so I could get my own set, and then we'd be able to play, say, 2 Spitfires?

Feeling lazy, I demurred at first. Shortly thereafter though, while making tea and coffee, I realised that one of my reasons for not having already bought Wings of War: Famous Aces had been a bit dumb- I'd imagined that my gaming table would be too small to play the game. Andy's and my game having proved me wrong on that score, I decided that there was no time like the present. And so an impromptu trip to the FLGS it was then!

There, I got myself a copy of Wings of War: Dawn of War and Andy couldn't resist getting himself Wings of War: Famous Aces. A couple of beers and a bit to eat later, and we returned to my flat where we managed to get in another game and-a-half. Our complete game was a game of Famous Aces, in which my Spad XIII and Sopwith Camel shot down Andy's Fokker Dr.I and Albatross D.vA. The game which we had to abandon featured my 2 Me109's against Andy's 2 Spitfires- a draw even if I was ahead on damage.

2½-½ :)

Utterly legitimate unseemly gloating aside, what was so interesting about the games I won was that they showed how Wings of War rewards real-life tactics, which is always a good sign in a wargame. In both games my tactics were straightforward:
  • Sideslip to one side or the other, making sure that my plane with the tightest turning circle was on the inside.
  • Keep my planes together and attack just one of Andy's plans, ignoring his other plane until my initial target was destroyed.
In other words: learn how to fly a proper pair of wingmen. Once Andy knew that this was the secret, he applied himself to his flight lessons, and was soon demonstrating that he knew how to learn them.

And how does Wings of War deliver this satisfying experience in such a playable format? Simple: through the use of cards. Instead of the logpad and pencil which is the more familiar format in which hexmap-and-counter air-combat games have delivered si-move down the years, players of Wings of War use manoeuvre cards to preplan their moves. An example of this is shown below:

Here you can see the key elements of the system:
  • The aircraft card- which moves about on the tabletop.
  • The manoeuvre card- which determines the movement of the aircraft.
  • The before and after- how an aircraft moves from the back to the front of the manoeuvre cards.
It really is as simple as that. There are rules for how certain manoeuvres must be played, and there are subtle variations between the WW1 and the WW2 games, but we are still talking about a dogfight game essentially no more complicated than Monopoly.

And those subtle variations? In Famous Aces you have to plot 3 moves at a time, then execute each move in sequence before plotting another 3 moves. In Dawn of War you only have to plot your moves 1 turn in advance, but each manoeuvre card also has slow and fast options, which you have to plot with the aid of counters when you choose your card.

Combat is just as simple. Each plane has a firing arc (the highlighted area visible on the front of the aircraft card in the picture above); plus there are range rulers, which are marked halfway down their length for short and long range. When an enemy plane is both in your firing arc and within range, you get to fire at it, which involves the player of the target plane drawing for damage. Basic damage is rated in points, which accumulates (secretly) until it is greater than or equal to a plane's damage rating, at which point it is shot down. There are also various special damage results, including the explosion- which blows a plane from the sky in a single hit!

Famous Aces features a single damage deck, whereas Dawn of War features 3 different pools of damage chits. In Famous Aces short range fire draws 2 damage cards, while in Dawn of War short and long range fire will draw different chits from the 3 pools, as defined on the plane cards. Although this is slightly more complicated than Famous Aces, it makes perfect sense because WW2 planes had a much greater range of armament than WW1 planes, which typically carried a pair of rifle-calibre MG.

(You can download PDF's of the Wings of War: Famous Aces rules here and the Wings of War: Dawn of War rules here if you'd like to find out about this in more detail.)

What was so enjoyable then about my games last Sunday- apart that is, from the simple glory of victory- was seeing how the game had evolved since my first encounter with it back in 2004. Graphics aside, the core components and the way in which they drive gameplay are pretty much the same. Nonetheless, each game feels significantly different, vividly recreating the different feel of each period.

In Famous Aces you get a real feel for the nimble little planes twisting and turning across the sky at speeds which would leave their WW2 counterparts spinning earthwards in a stall. Dawn of War on the other hand gives a real taste of the high-speed sweeps and wide turns of the much more powerful planes in WW2. And the simple system and lovely components really put you 'there' in a way not often found in the old hex-and-counter air combat games.

I can still remember the way my 2 Me109's came sweeping across the table, turned, reformed and started another run in our last unfinished game, my mind searching out clips from WW2 documentaries as they did so. But pride of place must belong to the Spitfire, which has that rolling sideslip manoeuvre; y'know, the one seen in every documentary you've ever watched which has featured the Spitfire, where it rolls over and just peels off? You remember that one? Well, it's in Dawn of War, and it's thrilling to watch because of what it does to your imagination!

Great game! We'll be back! ;)

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Not got time for a full entry, so just a quick update.

Got game!
Ros and I continued our Carcassonne contest last night. Ros won 2-1 on the night, sneaking her session-winning victory in the last few plays.

Carcassonne matches

Blades: Too Many Katanas #1
Katana and Wychblayde got up to their antics again last Wednesday. The scenario involved confronting a bunch of Katana clones in the service of Katana's evil former masters. It can only get weirder.

More soon. ;)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : 4-colour friends

Off the shelves of my local library
One of the great thing about public lending libraries these days is that they offer a much wider range of services than just the familiar book-lending. Some people like to complain about this. Me, I like it, especially when I can pick up a batch of TPB's for my enjoyment. Here's what a recent trip to my local library netted me.
Black Widow: Homecoming

Writer: Richard K. Morgan
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz and Goran Parlov
Colours: Dan Brown
Letters: Cory Petit

Apart from the cover picture of a leather-clad woman with a big gun, this book caught my interest because of the name of Bill Sienkiewicz on the art credits. Sienkiewicz was responsible for Elektra Assassin, simply one of the most visually stunning comics I have ever read. I was also interested to notice that this was written by Richard K. Morgan. I have an autographed copy of Morgan's Altered Carbon, which I bought when he sat on a panel here in Glasgow a few years ago.

To my initial disappointment Sienkiewicz's work on the book was limited, with Goran Parlov doing most of the art. This wasn't too bad, because Parlov is a good artist, and his style is close enough to that of Sienkiewicz so that there is no visual clash to irritate the eye. Overall, the art in this book is in a rangy, naturalistic style, which works nicely to take you out of the 4-colour world, and into the shadow world of intrigue in which the story is set.

As for the rest of the book? Richard Morgan delivers a taut thriller, featuring rogue agents and post-Cold War intrigue, all mixed in with a nicely executed re-imagining of the Black Widow character complete with the obligatory retconning. The story moves along at a brisk pace, the dialogue is tight, and the book's hard edge is to be found as much in the socio-political asides as in the violence you'd expect to find in a post-Iron Age treatment of an assassin.

I enjoyed this a lot. It's good enough to make me want to seek out the sequel- Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her- to see if Morgan can maintain his high standards.


Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Philip Bond
Colours: Brian Miller
Letters: Todd Klein

I first became aware of Grant Morrison as a comic writer when I was visiting a friend, where I read Imperial, the TPB collecting #118-26 of New X-Men. Of course, it turned out that I'd already been a big fan of Morrison's Zenith, from 2000AD, but that's another story. In any event, I began collecting the New X-Men TPB's, and soon became enough of a fan of Morrison's work to pick up anything and everything with his name on it.

It was easy therefore to add this title to my pile when I was checking these TPB's out of my local library. It is a mark of Morrison's standing that Vimanarama was reviewed at the Guardian Unlimited, where it was called "a ripping yarn." I heartily agree with this sentiment.

At its heart Vimanarama is a simple tale of romance and adventure. It fuses the visionary cosmic adventure which Morrison does so well with an acute eye for soap-opera melodrama of the sort familiar to millions of TV viewers. The story involves young Ali, worried about the woman to whom he is about to be introduced for the purposes of an arranged marriage: first, because he is afraid she'll be ugly and stupid; and then because he's afraid the smart and beautiful Sofia will prefer a god to him. While Ali worries about this, everyone else is worried about the impending end of the world unwittingly unleashed by Ali and Sofia. Just another day in Bradford then.

Here again we have a story which zips along at a cracking pace, with twists and turns aplenty, and good jokes and some nice touching moments on the way. In other words: this is what we'd expect from Grant Morrison.

The artwork is also excellent. Bond's style reminds me of Cam Kennedy- high praise indeed IMO. His pages are clean, dynamic and expressive. Miller's naturalistic colours are lovely to look at too, and they work well when constrasted with the classic 4-colour stylings of the Ultrahadeen, the divine heroes who come to save humanity. Klein's lettering deserves mention too, for the sake of the 2 special styles he works up for the villains and the Ultrahedeen.

All-in-all then, Vimanarama is a little cracker. This could prove very useful for GM's looking for a new twist on Armageddon with which to challenge their PC's.

As an aside: I met Grant Morrison when he was on that same panel as Richard Morgan. In traditional Glasgow fashion we decamped to the pub afterwards, where I had a chance to talk with him. He's a very snappy dresser and a charming man who is a very interesting conversationalist. As a believer in magic and mysticism he is also barking mad, but in a good way!

Superman: For Tomorrow, Vol.1

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Jim Lee and Scott Williams
Colours: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh and Nick J. Napolitano

Superman is a troublesome character for me. Mostly he's just dull, too powerful and squeaky clean for my liking. In the 1980's Alan Moore and Frank Miller delivered a Superman I enjoyed reading. Since then I have read the odd TPB which I enjoyed. My hopes for this volume were raised by Brian Azzarello's name on the writing credits. Azzarello writes the wonderful 100 Bullets, which I am collecting in TPB. Jim Lee's name on the art credits was just a bonus.

My expectations weren't confounded. Framing the story around Superman's seeking out a father confessor, Azzarello delivers a tale which draws inspiration from The Authority to present the Man of Steel facing up to the moral and practical consequences of his decision to intervene directly in human politics. As you might expect from a Superman comic published in 2004 and featuring these themes, this gives Superman: For Tomorrow, Vol.1 a powerful subtext relating to the war in Iraq, a theme Azzarello plants and leaves to germinate in the reader's mind without labouring the point.

Add in Jim Lee's lovely artwork and you have a very interesting Superman story indeed. I really want to find out what happens next.

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol.18: Travels with Jotaro

Writer/Art/Letters: Stan Sakai

Stan Sakai's anthropomorphic animal tale of the bunny-ronin Usagi Yojimbo is a comic whose high reputation prededed it. Although I have no special interest in samurai stories per se, I do like Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's Lone Wolf and Cub. And, of course, there is Katana. So I was interested to see what I made of this highly popular comic.

And what did I make of it? Simple: I'm another fan for whom a complete collection of the TPB's is a goal.

Usagi Yojimbo has it all. The anthropomorphic device works really well, with the different animals giving an immediate persona to each character portrayed. Sakai's B&W line artwork is lovely to look at, with all the dynamism and expressiveness you could ask for. The stories are wonderful, with interesting plots which any GM could use for inspiration. The dialogue is good too, advancing the plot, expressing character and character relationships, and giving a real feel for the setting so smoothly that you can't see the joins. This is quality stuff exemplifying the unique qualities the comics medium can bring to storytelling.

Aliens: Nightmare Asylum

Writer: Mark Verheiden
Art: Denis Beauvais
Letters: Willie Schubert

Oh those bugs! Alien was the first X-rated movie I ever saw. Aliens is one of the greatest movie sequels ever made IMO. And I've always loved GW's take on the implacable all-consuming alien horde- the Tyranids. So I was happy to pick up this comic to give it a go.

What Verheiden and Beauvais deliver in Aliens: Nightmare Asylum is piece of hard-boiled military SF in which a group of survivors of the aliens' onslaught on planet Earth find themselves at the mercy of an utterly insane General Spears who has his own plans on how to deal with the aliens.

There is nothing fancy in this story. It develops themes familiar from the best movies in the Alien franchise. But Verheiden knows how to tell a good story, and Beauvais can certainly draw and paint. The chances are if you're a fan of this franchise you'll like this book. These chances probably increase if you're a GM who runs (or fancies running) military SF in the bughunting genre.

So I got some good reading out of this pile of TPB's from my local library. I would recommend them all to my readers. If I had to pick one to dispense with, it'd be Aliens: Nightmare Asylum. There is nothing wrong with this as such; it's just that it's the least original of the bunch. And if I had to pick one and only one? That'd have to be Usagi Yojimbo, Vol.18: Travels with Jotaro, because this is a whole new world of adventure for yours truly.

Happy reading. ;)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Got game!

Stalled before Moscow...
Last night was another Commands and Colours session with Badger. He decided that it was time to test the Russian Expanded Nationality rules for our favourite Memoir'44, so we promptly headed for Scenario 39: Operation Typhoon- At the Gates of Moscow.

Random selection of sides gave me the Germans in our first play. With all the available infantry and tank units in my force, I was well pleased.

The first thing that struck me on looking at the board from my side was that I'd need to get my forces moving as quickly as possible, because they're bunched up tight on their own board edge. The Russians had units who could bring my own units under fire immediately, so I could lose units to flags as well as hits. The next thing to strike me was how the terrain constrained the flank advances.

With these observations in mind, my opening moves involved throwing my armour forward to bring quick attacks onto the Russians. I got into the woods around Bryansk, and attacked those Russians entrenched on the western end of the hill-line, right in the centre of the map. The battle in the centre was furious, and I was soon suffering serious casualties. So I had a brainwave, and finally took my chance to form an armoured Kampfgruppe, of which more later.

The battle was being waged to and fro around Bryansk and those hills. I'd brought infantry up on my right, only to lose them when I blocked their retreat with armour units (d'oh!). Badger had brought units forward from around Kaluga and Mozhaisk to reinforce his forward hill defences.

I played Behind Enemy Lines to little avail unless memory fails me (forgetting to add my bonus battle dice didn't help). Then I threw that reformed armoured unit forward. It got across the hills and overran into the low ground to the south. Badger threw everything he had at it, but it managed to survive 9 dice while on a single model! This gave it another turn of carnage before the Russians finally took it out. And so we entered the endgame with the battle poised on a knife-edge (6-5 Badger IIRC).

I threw another armour unit forward to attack the hills, where Badger had 2 weak units. All I need was some average dice and I'd've won. The dice failed me. Badger's didn't on his next turn and I lost, 7-5.

We swapped sides for the next game. I began with Firepower. My units on the hills laid down serious attacks on Badger's armour units in the centre and on his left. I killed 1 armour unit in the centre with those 7 dice in that first turn. Badger then used his Saddle Orders to advance his armour in the centre and on his right. He reduced my westernmost hilltop infantry unit to a single model. I wasn't phased at all, because I'd cued-up Close Assault, and he'd given me more targets.

The game continued with Badger committed to clearing those units of mine off of those hills in the centre. Meanwhile I was just laying down as much fire as I could muster against his armour, especially against any units who'd suffer hits on flags. My units on the hills dealt out dreadful carnage. That artillery unit was especially heroic. Reduced to a single model it survived absolutely everything that Badger threw at it, and just kept firing and firing, to great effect.

We knew the game was mine when I'd killed 6 German armour units with only 2 losses of my own. By this time Badger had launched an attack with his left-flank infantry. That was where I mopped-up a unit to gain my eventual victory with a score of 7-3.

Having suffered this rout, Badger was determined to have another go. He applied the lessons he'd learned from the previous 2 games, and focussed his main efforts on clearing my advance guard off of those hills. My artillery was doing its stuff as usual, and I was getting ready to pick off Badger's own depleted artillery unit. Then he played Firepower to rain down 3 dice from his own artillery: 2 grenades turned up. Boom! My artillery was gone!

This had a decisive impact on the game. Badger was soon at 5 VP when I had perhaps as many as 3. I regrouped to punish the Germans when they made their final push. So Badger withdrew, forcing me to attack from a position of weakness. Knowing that I had no choice, I used the new Russian 'Urrah rule to pull together a credible attack. Unfortunately the Germans' interference spoiled it a bit- a key unit had been forced to retreat so its attack was launched from a poorer position, which proved decisive when Badger Ambushed it, killing it before it could attack. And then Badger sent an armour forward to seize the bridge by Kaluga, winning the game 7-4.


The Germans withdraw in good order
Time was short after we'd played these 3 games, so we decided to stick with M44 instead of turning to Battlelore. We moved on to the next scenario in the Eastern Front expansion set:- Scenario 40: Breakout at Klin. Regular readers might remember that I've played this before with Gav last year. Random selection giving me the Germans again, I was looking forward to another strong victory after my experience against Gav.

I wasn't to be disappointed. Badger and I played 2 games of this scenario (he gamely wanted a 2nd try with the Russians after the trouncing he suffered in our 1st game).

Minor variations aside, each game followed a similiar pattern. I would begin on my right by advancing to surround then destroy the forward Russian infantry unit. I would then follow up to destroy the 2nd Russian infantry unit on that flank before gaining further VP by occupying 1 or both hexes of Golyadi. Next I'd start laying down artillery prep. fire on the central entrenched Russian infantry units, weakening the trenchline before I sent in the Combat Engineers. If possible I'd also bring some armour out so that they could support the Engineers' advance.

In the 1st game the decisive blow was delivered with a Saddle Orders play of Infantry Assault and Their Finest Hour, which proved to be a delicious combo. In the 2nd game it was an Armoured Assault which sent 3 armoured units forward to crush the hapless Russkies. Both times I won 6-2.

Badger and I were left feeling that this scenario has balance issues. The 83-17% breakdown in favour of the Germans after 92 games which shows up on the DoW battle reports for this scenario suggests that this feeling is justified. We discussed this at some length. I won't say much about this here because I intend to start a thread on the topic over at DoW:M44. I'll let you know once that thread is up.

Grins. :)

The Expanded Nationality rules
So, how did these fare last night? I have to report that Badger and I are both happy with the rules as they work so far.

The plan card mechanic in general is working well. The ability to play 2 command cards in a single turn is a powerful one to be sure, which of course makes it fun to use. But in every case the use of the plan card requires a loss of tempo, which means that the plan card rules require nerve and timing to use.

The Germans' Saddle Orders gives them the ability to play a plan card and hold it ready for as long as they want. The Russian 'Urrah rule allows them to get their plan card played as quickly as the Germans (and more quickly than the British), but forces them to commit to the move. Badger especially made a lot of use of this when he was playing the Russians. The additional reduced hand capacity after an 'Urrah turn makes the Russian plan card rules feel right to us.

The Kampfgruppe rule finally saw use in our first game. I combined a 1-model and a 2-model armour unit into a full strength armour unit. I was later able to throw this unit into the fray. So the rule fulfilled its purpose nicely (although I can't actually remember if I got any VP back to repay the VP I had to give to Badger). Paying a VP for forming a Kampfgruppe seemed a much more sensible option than the original idea of losing a card.

So all-in-all then, we were happy with how the rules worked in play.

If the rules in play seem fine, it looks as if I can't say the same for how they are written in the current draft. Brummbär made a passing remark on the Expanded Nationality rules thread over at DoW:M44 which made me wonder how clearly the rules were written in the past. And Gav (after our recent games) and Badger last night, have both told me that they find the current draft difficult to understand, even if the rules themselves are simple enough in play. I guess I'll have to canvas for more feedback on the threads over at DoW:M44 and BGG:M44. There have been 140 downloads so far, so I'd hope to get some helpful responses. Fingers crossed I guess.

And that's it for now. ;)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Children of Atlantis #2

First to Cairo...
Last week's first issue of this new Katana/Wychblayde teamup had ended with our 2 heroes having discovered who, what, where and why:
  • Who- the Children of Atlantis.
  • What- the fragments of the Great Seal of Lemuria.
  • Where- the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo and the Guggenheim in New York.
  • Why- raising sunken cities and awakening Elder Gods.
It didn't take us long to figure out that Cairo, being closer, should be our first destination. It took us a bit longer to realise that Katana's sword and Wychblayde's polearm would make regular air travel impossible. Some time was spent considering calling on the help of one of Katana's contacts, but I felt that it was inappropriate to make this call for the sake of a taxi-service. With a little prompting from Bill we soon hit on the plan of stowing away in the hold of a plane. This proved easy to do, and we were soon in the dry heat of Cairo.

A talkative 'tourist-friendly' cabbie and a minor diversion later, Katana and Wychblayde snuck into the Museum of Antiquities in the dead of night to locate the fragment of the Great Seal to save it from the Children of Atlantis. As Katana snuck through the darkened exhibition room, Wychblayde walked boldly forward under cover of her invisibility.

Her senses more alert than Katana's, Wychblayde saw what came next before it happened. A mummy's fist shot out from between the bars of a cage, sending Wychblayde flying and knocking her cold. As ever against such creatures of darkness, Katana attacked with Shadowsword-Alpha. To his horror the mummy seemed quite unaffected by his attack. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for Katana when the mummy threw a display case at him, which hit him easily. Another hit like that and he would be KO'ed too.

Cursing his rashness Katana began to fight more defensively. This worked until frustration at the mummy's seeming immunity to his sword-strikes brought about a change of tactics which lowered Katana's defences. The telling blow landed and he was KO'ed. And so it was that Wychblayde came to to see the mummy looming over the unconscious Katana. Her efforts to turn the fight round were to no avail and she was soon KO'ed again. Our pair of heroes came to dangling from the mummy's hands just long enough to hear the museum's alarms go off before the mummy knocked their heads together and they were unconscious yet again.

Katana and Wychblayde regained consciousness lying on the floor (and not in the clutches of the leering villain as I'd expected) and to the sound of fighting nearby. Katana sprinted to the scene to see the mummy fighting 4 of the Abhoroth daemons last seen in London, while a 5th beat a hasty retreat from the scene. The fight seemed like an even match, so we went to investigate the basement which lay beyond a shattered door nearby (clever move, eh?!). Sure enough, we found that the servants of the Children of Atlantis had got there before us, and the fragment of the Great Seal was nowhere to be seen.

Upstairs, and decided to leave the mummy and the Abhoroth to their fight to follow the trail of the daemon escaping with the booty, our departure was interrupted by the arrival of a flying figure wearing gold armour marked with an ankh which made him look for all the world like an Egyptian god. He promptly joined in the battle against the daemons.

Sensing what was afoot, Katana joined in. Shadowsword-Alpha didn't let me down this time, and 2 Abhoroth were quickly felled. Now outnumbered 2-1 the remaining 2 didn't last much longer. Katana was just readying himself to attack the mummy again when the new arrival called on me to hold.

Introductions were made. Ankh and the Mummy turned out to be members of the Brotherhood, Egypt's state-sponsored superteam. More than that, Katana and Ankh had mutual acquaintances. And so it was that, on learning of what had gone down in London, Ankh agreed to use his influence to get us onto a diplomatic flight to New York so that we could try to keep the remaining fragment of the Great Seal out of the hands of the Children of Atlantis.

And then to New York
Katana and Wychblayde presented themselves at the Guggenheim museum, where we were introduced to museum director Dr. Donovan. Donovan understood the seriousness of the situation and was glad to receive any assistance we could offer, and to offer any help he could reasonably agree to.

We then found ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. Just sitting tight to wait for the cultists to arrive was unappealing not least because we had failed to stop them at that stage twice already. But setting out to investigate the Children of Atlantis in New York might leave us blindsided by the cult. A solution to this on Wychblayde's part- eg. a teleport device- was beyond her powers. In the end Katana had a brainwave [an 8 on an 8- roll on a newly acquired basic Deduction roll, bought with one of last week's EP at Bill's prompting!]- the London and Cairo attacks had both taken place at night. So we now knew that we had time to spare.

With Wychblayde checking the Children of Atlantis website, we soon learned that one Brother Edmund Stark was due to speak at one of their offices that very night. Stark was the leader from London I suspected had been lying doggo after that first fight. Things started to fall into place quickly now. A call to Ankh back in Cairo confirmed that Stark had indeed just flown out from Cairo. He was clearly responsible for the ritual implanting the Abhoroth in their human hosts. So we had a chance to prevent the attack on the Guggenheim from leaving its lair in the first place.

The denouement was quick and simple after that. We were ferried to our location in the Egyptian embassy limousine which had been at our disposal since we'd landed in New York. Wychblayde went to the meeting of the Children of Atlantis in her civilian identity. Katana lurked on the roof of the building with her weapon.

The meeting over, several people were hanging around afterwards. Wychblayde snuck out of sight, instant-changed into her costume and switched on her invisibility. Her magical powers were unfortunately detected, alerting people in the room. Noticing something was up, Katana decided to make his entrance via a skylight.

The fight which followed was fairly short. It was lengthened only by Katana's need to wait until Wychblayde joined him so he could pass her blade to her. That done, he dealt with Stark with a couple of punches. The SMG-toting goons were easily mopped-up thereafter.

Polices sirens could be heard approaching at this point. We decided to leave, taking Stark with us as our prisoner. As the day wore on we found out that our triumph was complete: the Guggenheim wasn't attacked; and Stark- who we'd delieverd to the Egyptian embassy- turned out to be wanted for crimes in Egypt. We made sure he was returned there.

We had a lot of fun with this session just like last week. I enjoyed getting into the swing of things with Katana again, and having little details of his new story develop. It was also fun working on bringing the Katana/Wychblayde relationship to life- I had Katana question Wychblayde about her powers so she could perhaps come up with a solution to our dilemma. And only just making that Deduction roll when Bill was despairing of feeding us the solution was a buzz too.

But, just like last week, the HEROmods Bill had adopted were the big star. We were all amazed at how quickly the combats run under these rules. More than that (and again, just like last week), it was clear that there is more to the initiative-based SPD system than just ease of use. The unpredictability of when you will actually get your phases is psychologically excellent. The simple fact that I have to wait for Katana to enjoy the benefits of his high SPD- instead of it coming up regular as clockwork as it does using the SPD table; this generates a frustration which makes him rash and impetuous in a way that it was so easy not to be using RAW. I really liked the way that this simple rules change brought new life to a familiar PC.

Oh, and we got 2 EP. So Katana has passed the 300pt mark at long last. And he now has the Deduction skill he's long needed to make him a proper detective. Whew! ;)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Got game!

Pride before a fall?
Ros was round again yesterday, and she absolutely had to play some more Carcassonne. She paid the price for her insistence though- I won both our games thanks to my new method of not talking non-stop about the farmers' game strategy.

I have to admit that I did enjoy some good luck; eg. I finished a city in each game with my very last tile draw. But sheer dumb luck would've surely've left Ros winning at least 1 game recently, so I'm going to indulge in some hubris and rest on my laurels until next we play.

Also, it's worth adding that Ros' fondness for Carcassonne means that it's rapidly coming up on GMT's excellent Combat Commander: Europe as my most played game of 2007.


Carcassonne matches
Smug grins. ;)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Doctor Who season concludes

-Eccleston and Tennant seasons spoilers ahead-

So Saturday there saw the final episode of the current Doctor Who season (I'd call it the 3rd season but it's not really, and I'm enough of a Doctor Who geek to respect that, even if I'm not enough of one to remember exactly how many seasons there have been). Andy suggested we should have a wee party for the occasion, with DVD's for after the season finalé. So Gav and Tony joined us for an evening of Doctor Who, curry, and bevvy.

'Last of the Time Lords', episode 13 of David Tennant's 2nd season as the good Doctor had a lot to live up to. After all, Rose's elevation to goddesshood via the Tardis so that she could save the Earth from the Dalek invasion had been absolutely stupendous. It set the bar high for Tennant's 1st season finalé. And that bar was duly raised by the Dalek-Cyberman war and the utter heartbreak of Rose's departure.

So Tennant's 2nd season had to do 2 things: establish a new assistant to take the place of Rose; and to continue to raise the game in the season finalé. The first was outstandingly achieved by the character of Martha Jones, ably played by the beautiful and charming Freema Agyeman.

The choice of such a strong contrast with Rose was astute and quite brave (is Martha the Doctor's first ever non-white assistant?- I missed 3 entire Doctors after Tom Baker, so I really don't know). This contrast was developed in fine fashion with the unrequited love theme, while at the same time the way in which Martha was established as more than just a substitute for Rose as the season advanced was a fine piece of plotting.

The pivotal importance of Martha as another assistant in the new style was underscored by the frankly magnificent 2-parter featuring the The Family of Blood ('Human Nature' and 'The Family of Blood'), surely up there in the Top 10 of all-time great Doctor Who stories. The story which followed- 'Blink'- was another great, with its bravura treatment of time-travel paradox. And so, not content with having to live up to the challenges posed by the previous season finalé, this year's episode had to top those 3 to boot.

The result was a triumph! John Simm may not have the Master's traditional goatee, but he reminded us all that an insane criminal genius can be every bit as dangerous as genocidal would-be universe-conqueroring alien hordes. I was particularly struck by the way that the handling of the Doctor-Master relationship seemed to echo that of the Batman and the Joker in the years since Frank Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns.

Anyway, I'm not going to go into any detail about the episode, because I don't want to spoil it for any of my reader who haven't seen it yet. I will just tell you all to make sure that you watch David Tennant's 2nd season as the Doctor. You won't be disappointed, because you'll be watching one of the best TV programmes on the planet right now.

-Current Doctor Who season spoiler warning ends-

If that's all I have to say about Saturday's episode of Doctor Who, it's not my last word here on the series itself. Y'see, like I said, we watched some classic series on DVD after the season finalé. We watched Genesis of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric.

I watched Genesis of the Daleks when it was originally broadcast back in 1975. I absolutely loved it. I really enjoyed watching it again, not least because of Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elizabeth Sladen. Sarah Jane was the first Doctor's assistant I had a serious crush on, because her stint in the series just happened to coincide with the onset of my adolescence (and because she is a classic English rose).

Sarah Jane aside, Genesis of the Daleks was notable for its grim scenario: a world torn by endless war in which a scientific elite are engaged in secret research under the guidance of a shrieking megalomaniac. Ultimately the products of that research destroy their creators, but not before a brutal power-struggle leaves most of the scientists dead at the hands of their leader's henchmen. The parallels with Nazi Germany were obvious to me even at the age of 12, but I was struck on Saturday night by other references which went over my head at the time; eg. to Dr. Strangelove.

The Curse of Fenric was great too. It's one of Andy's favourite series from the Sylvester McCoy period and he has been singing its praises to me since Ecclestone's appearance. I was pleasantly surprised to find my low estimation of this period of Doctor Who being utterly revised. I saw all the familiar features of the much-loved Doctors of my childhood on full display.

This extended to McCoy's assistant Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, who'd made a mixed impression on me during the brief fragment I remember seeing back in the late 80's.

More interesting than all of that though was what watching these classic series taught me about the new series, namely how much of what is so good now was always there, and exactly what it is about what is so good which is new, and why. This can be summed-up in a single word: Buffy.

I don't think I'm being terribly original here, but I believe that Joss Whedon's acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a landmark of modern action-adventure TV. As he went on to show again with the sadly short-lived Firefly, Whedon is the visionary of the genre today. So what was most striking about watching those classic Doctor Who series was that they were so clearly pre-Buffy. I believe that this is more important even than the oft-discussed importance of Star Wars in relation to raising people's expections of visual effects beyond what the 80's BBC budget could afford.

Y'see- as Andy is wont to repeat- Doctor Who was always about the story, not the effects, even back in the days when the BBC visual effects department led the world (which is why Lucas came to Britain for Star Wars). This can be seen in the classic episodes. So when that classic storytelling is revamped in the post-Buffy period, and with all that modern CGI can provide, the result is a thing of beauty.

I was reminded of this when I saw a repeat of 'Doomsday' (Tennant's 1st season finalé) only yesterday morning. I cried. I just couldn't help myself. The story, the visuals, the affect: it was all just so wonderful. Thirteen weeks a year, 45 minutes each week, I know I'll have these transports of delight. What a life, eh?

And so again: we wait...;)

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Got game!

Yesterday was another boardgames day with Andy and Tony. It was a no-brainer that the day was going to start with something by Fantasy Flight Games hitting the table. In the end, Andy stepped-up to play the Invader in Doom: the Boardgame, giving Tony and I the hope that we might progress further than we did the last time- anywhere at all that is!

Donald and Tony's heroic first victory notwithstanding, Tony and I were still a losing team. So we got the easiest mod available, giving us extra wounds and ammo, plus an additional marine card. This was encouraging, and our marine cards raised our moods all the more.

My marine- quickly christened Private Kozlowzki- ended up a Tough Medic with the Killer Instinct who was also a Tactician. This gave him the ability to heal wounds; more armour; that bonus attack after a kill which Donald had used to such deadly effect in the game linked to above; and (most important of all it turned out) the ability to move, fire and place an order in the same turn. This meant I could move up to 8 squares with 2 attacks, plus get an additional attack in the Invaders' turn with the use of overwatch (called 'Guard' in D: tB).

Tony got Alert, Front Guard, Ground Assault and Officer. The latter gave him- and me when I was within 3 squares- extra accuracy and damage in attacks, and led to Tony's marine being named Lieutenant Gorman(!). The other cards meant that Gorman could either move 2 squares and attack 3 times; or move 4 squares, attack twice, then go into overwatch.

So we had a good team: Gorman did the officer thing, and led from behind; while Kozlowski went point and got stuck in with his shotgun, chainsaw and grenades. This worked really well, especially when it was coupled with our knowledge of the board after so many previous games! In fact, by the endgame, Andy was virtually pleading with us to hurry up and win, because he was getting bored with running the Invaders in this mission.

Andy paid for his defeatism. Yes, Kozlowzki and Gorman might not've been the first marine team to get out of that complex, but regular readers might remember that Donald and Tony escaped by the skin of their teeth. Kozlowzki and Gorman on the other hand managed to clear and seal the objective room, loot it thoroughly, and heal themselves back up to full wounds before making their exit. And all this without suffering a single frag. So OK, not first, but definitely best! (We've had enough practice mind you.)

Tony and I are looking forward to taking Kozlowzki and Gorman into the next mission. Tony especially will be wanting Gorman to get some more kills to boost his meagre experience total. But then, that's what you get when you lead from behind! And I'm sure Andy is relieved not to have to return to the first mission again for some time to come!

Andy: 0
Tony: 1
Me: 1


Settlers of Catan
After this we were all quite keen on another game of Doom, or perhaps a game of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Unfortunately time was against us, what with getting dinner, and with the need to finish in time for the evening's episode of season 2 of the cracking Rome, which both Andy and I were determined not to miss. So I promised to run Descent next time, and we plumped for a game of Settlers of Catan.

Set-up gave us a very rich board, and we expected a quick game. This expectation proved unfounded, largely due to my fiendishness in keeping the robber on Andy and Tony's shared 8-lumber region for as long as possible in the opening game. Andy especially was hampered by this.

As the midgame opened Tony was in front, with at least 2 cities. I was 2nd, with 4 settlements and a solid resource base. Although he was lagging behind, Andy too had a good resource base, so he was by no means out of the game.

As more and more cities began to appear the rich board began to tell, as huge hands of resources were collected, spent, and lost to the robber. Tony managed to build a settlement and make it a city with a single build. I held my breath against a deadly 7, which didn't appear, and so I built my first 2 cities in a single turn. I was later able to build 4 roads and a city in a single turn.

The endgame began with Tony stealing the longest road from Andy to put himself on 8 points. I too was on 8 points with a victory point card up my sleeve. It was at this moment that I made what, with hindsight, I now believe to be a strategic mistake. Those 4 roads I put down were an attempt to halt Tony's advance to victory by stealing the longest road from him, and then throwing up another city (I was gaining cities on each roll of 8 by this point). But Tony was alert to this, so he dropped the robber on my 8-ore region.

At this point I should've ignored the longest road contest, and just gone for a city and a settlement, something which would've been easy with my well-developed resource base, but especially with my 6-ore region and my ore port. (I think I'm missing something in that account, but I've got the gist of it.) But I didn't, as noted. And so Tony was able to steal the game with a 2nd settlement-straight-into-a-city build. That left me 2nd on 9, and Andy last on 7.

So, although not as quick as we'd thought, this game certainly picked up speed, becoming a truly titanic struggle in the end. Well played Tony!

Andy: 0
Tony: 2
Me: 1

Ah well. :|