Monday, August 20, 2007

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

It continues to be games-a-gogo for yours truly this August with a bumper weekend's gaming, most of which was a pleasant surprise (in more ways than one).

Battlelore and more
It all began Friday night with a visit from Ros. I'd been promising to introduce her to Battlelore for some time, and we finally got round to it. So it was back to Agincourt and another chance to save the day for the English in the topsy-turvy world of the Battlelore Uchronia.

This game was an important test of my enthusiasm for Battlelore. Y'see Ros is exactly the sort of person at whom Eurogames are aimed: she likes competition without destruction and prefers player interaction which is about negotiation instead of conflict. So, for example (as regular readers will already know), she really likes Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, and for all the familiar reasons put forward by fans of those games. (You could check the BGG:Settlers and BGG:Carcassonne forums if you don't already know what these reasons are and you're interested in finding out more.)

Now I really like games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne myself. I really do. I enjoy playing them and also appreciate them as designs. But among all the familiar family games I grew up playing were games like Risk and Campaign. Plus I was a teenage tankie who shared with his brother the fun of writing our own wargames rules for our model collections, and I gravitated to professional tabletop rules and then board wargames in my teens. So there is a part of my gaming self which always yearns for the chaos and carnage of all-out battle.

So, after Ros' and my 24-game stint of Carcassonne in recent months, I couldn't help but feel it was time to step up to some butt-kicking dice-rolling for a change of pace. Battlelore struck me as the best battlegame in my collection for this purpose. I felt that Richard Borg's Commands and Colo[u]rs(!) system offers the ideal style of gameplay to appeal to Ros (who is an avid and regular Bridge player) as her introduction to tactical battlegaming. Moreover I suspected that the chivalric fantasy themes of Battlelore would appeal more to Ros than those of Memoir'44 or Commands and Colours: Ancients. On top of that, I hoped that the wide range of options offered by the fully expanded Battlelore will entice Ros into many future games.

And? Well?

I can report we got off to a good start. The limited range of options offered by her hand of Command cards made it easy for Ros to start making decisions from among an otherwise bewildering array of options, the underlying logic of most of which were beyond her understanding as she got her first ever Battlelore army moving. With the minimum of coaching she was able to form her army up nicely as my English archers maintained a steady hail of largely ineffectual fire.

The first moment of contact was indecisive IIRC, and I could see Ros' spirits wilt. But it wasn't long before the dice started going Ros' way. By this time she was standing up to watch every dice land in the dice box. The moment of her first truly decisive attack was telling: instinctively exulting as she swept my little plastic men from the board, Ros was almost as quickly taken somewhat aback. But she could scent victory and would let nothing get in her way, of her rampaging cavalry especially.

Ros' well-earned triumph followed shortly thereafter: 4-1. I decided I could live with that. I knew there'd be another day. ;)

0-1 :b

Usurpers dethroned!
The pleasant surprises began on Saturday with a call from Bill inviting us to a family boardgames night. I accepted with alacrity.

First, I regain my kingdom
The evening began with a 5-player game of Settlers of Catan (in which we all made sure to play the proper expanded board, unlike the last time we'd played- d'oh!). Facing each other across the island of Catan we had:
  • Radka, the unchallenged queen of Catan at our table.
  • Bill and I, both smarting from Martin's recent romps to victory.
  • Daniel, chomping at the bit to reassert himself after winning at his first ever game many moons ago.
  • Ros, keen to establish her winning credentials among a new group of players.
As cut-throat a bunch of colonising desperadoes as you could expect to encounter in virgin lands in other words!

The distinguishing features of that night's isle of Catan were, IIRC, a relative paucity of 6-point, 8-point and brick regions. And the gameplay? Looking back I would say that Development cards were one of the key features of the game. The particular nature of the resource base meant that lots of Development cards were being bought- we all often had both the resources and the time to spend them. The inter-turn building rule of the 5-6 player game meant that many of us were buying these Development cards in other players' turns, so that we could play them immediately in our own next turn. The net result of this was these cards were bought and played more often than is typical in an average 3 or 4-player game.

The upshot of this was that we entered the midgame with Bill in front thanks to his Largest Army while the rest of us were developing our own colonies quite nicely. For my part I was in a desperate life-or-death race based on a potentially fatal flaw in my initial setup. That flaw was the absence of Ore in my initial resource base. Without city-building resources I would be doomed.

I had only 1 way out- a 5-road build towards the centre of the board from my coastal fastness. A Road Building Development card helped me on my way, as did some careful use of the Robber to deny road-building resources to Radka and Daniel, who might've chosen to develop their own colonies towards my strategic target. I achieved my goal, but it was a close-run thing.

My road-building efforts drew attention to me thanks to the Longest Road, thus putting me in pole position for potential spoiler play via the Robber. And Ros started to build her own roads towards precisely the nexus I was aiming at just as I was collecting my resources for my final build. One or two different resource rolls or more favourable trading agreements were all it would've taken to pip me at the post to give Ros the endgame position I was aiming at, and Ros' excoriations when I finally got that settlement built (thanks again to inter-turn building) was sufficient proof that she knew this as well as I did!

And so I entered the endgame in front, with Bill a close second. This was a very dangerous position to be in. Y'see, among the many gaming skills Bill enjoys is that of being a silver-tongued devil. Last Saturday this came into play to distract the other players from his own potentially winning position while he was (with some legitimacy it must be said) rallying everyone to pick on the person in front- namely me.

On Saturday night this almost worked too: it turned out that Bill was a mere single Sheep card from gaining the resources he needed to build sufficient roads to steal the Longest Road from me for the win. In the end though the dice failed him where they didn't me, and I was able to play Year of Plenty to build my winning city.

I won by 2 points over Bill, with everyone else on 7 points. But it could easily've been very different: Bill could've lost his Largest Army but taken the Longest Road off of me. This could easily've kept the game open long enough for everyone to reach 8 or 9 points thus being in with a real shout in a whole different denouement.

1-0 :)

Then I establish my kinghood
We then moved on to play 3 games of a favourite of Radka and Daniel's: Ivanhoe. I won all 3, even after Bill decided to join the last game after having sat out the previous 2 (his Ivanhoe record against me is at least as good as his recent Up Front record!). Perhaps Bill sought to intervene to stave off the terrible fate he saw looming? I don't know, but it was to no avail in any event.

I'd love to be able to put all this down to skill, but I can't. I did play my cards well for sure, but there was also at least one time when I took a great risk in playing out most of my hand, so that I was liable to get shut out of the rest of the game while everyone else raced ahead of me. I also enjoyed some luck with the other players confounding each other so that they couldn't get ahead of me while I sat rebuilding my hand.

No matter. Be it luck or judgement, the night was mine. You can be sure that my fellow players (some at least!) were as despondent as I was delighted, although I must tell you that I was modest enough to forbear a victory dance... ;)

4-0 :b

Finally I show those French a thing or two
Returning from chez King, Ros and I rounded off our own evening with a rematch at Agincourt.

Looking back at our first game, I had concluded that my main mistake was that I hadn't been aggressive enough, ie. that I'd spent too long sitting back firing with my archers, so that my army wasn't well prepared for the moment when the French made contact. For the rematch, I was determined to change this. I did.

Dealt a Foot Onslaught card in my starting hand, I set out to form up my medium and heavy foot to exploit this to attack the French with an unexpected 2-hex charge into melee. This didn't go entirely to plan because I split my forces thanks to misreading the Foot Onslaught card, but I was still able to launch 2 medium and 1 heavy foot units right into the the French lines, then to push them further forward with the other Foot Onslaught.

Ros gamely tried to retrieve the situation, but the cards and dice were against her. I won 4-1.

Revenge aside, what was interesting about this game was the ideas it prompted about how to deal with the knotty problem of teaching basic battlefield tactics to a player to whom this kind of gameplay is utterly new. This problem is amplified by the very nature of card-driven games like Battlelore, where you simply can't separate your knowledge of your own cards from the advice you give your opponent. I hope to return to this another time.

1-0 :)

Curse you Biggles, curse you!
The weekend's (pleasant) surprises were rounded off with a call from Andy, who had some unexpected time on his hands, and was angling for some games of Wings of War. A quick visit to Static Games- our FLGS- later, we sat down to Dawn of War: Wings of War, featuring Andy's 2 Spitfires against my 2 Me109's.

Maybe it was the fact that I was too caught up in the weekend's existing medieval mindset to play my 20th century aerial steeds to their best advantage; maybe it was just that I played really badly (and I have to confess that my first game demonstrated the worst wingman play I've yet shown, with my 2 planes ending up halfway across the table from each other); or maybe it was just sheer dumb luck (and I'm sure that even Andy would admit that- short of outright one-shot kills- some of his shooting was superb beyond reasonable expectations... Hmm?).

Whatever the cause, I lost 1 plane then exited my other with just 1 damage point remaining in our first dogfight. In the second I feared my first plane's days were numbered thanks to its taking an initial 13 damage (out of 19) in our first pass. That'll be the last time I play chicken with 1 plane against 2 then I guess. My fears proved correct, although I did manage to down 1 of Andy's Spitfires in the same (IIRC) deadly pass which saw my own plane crash and burn.

The hopes thus raised were not realised. Luck was with Andy and my remaining Me109 was lost while his last surviving Spitfire flew home on spit and polish (2 damage left out of 17!). My 2 pilots parachuted into the drink quietly adding Goering's name to Biggles' as the object of their curses.

0-2 :(

Weekend's tally
Grins ;)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Got game!

With barely a pause for breath, the gaming has continued since the post-Claymore bash.

Back to the front
Katana has been on a top secret mission lately- too secret even to tell the GM, so Bill and I resorted to some more Up Front when he came round last Wednesday. We played 3 games:
  • 2 plays of City Fight featuring Bill's Germans against my British.
  • 1 play of Paratroop Drop where I took my American paras against Bill's Germans.
The details of one of the plays of City Fight completely escape my mind, other than the fact that Bill won. Actually, no, that's not true: I've just remembered that at one point I neglected to play a devestating fire attack against one of Bill's moving groups (his firebase IIRC) because I'd momentarily lost track of the Relative Range, a blunder so elementary I could easily exhaust my vocabulary of superlatives reiterating how stupid I was. Other than that I expect I was somewhat tanked, since my memories of that night's gaming have that sort of tinge about them.

The other play was more memorable, although no more successful. What happened in that game was that my British firebase strolled forward to what I'd planned would be a -3 Building at Range Chit 1- a pretty safe move early in the game. Bill's German firebase opened fire, promptly malfunctioning his LMG, which helped ensure that my own group was completely unaffected by the fire attack. With a Brush card in my hand as well as the -3 Building, I sensed an opportunity: my group hit the Brush instead of the Building, so that I could advance to the Building at Range Chit 2 instead of just at Range Chit 1.

Even as I was doing this, there was a nagging voice at the back of my mind telling me that I was making a mistake. And so it turned out. Bill managed to repair his LMG with no difficulty naturally enough. My firebase did manage to entrench in the Brush, but that didn't help: a series of Wire cards helped ensure that they'd been reduced to 3 men before they finally made it to that same Building more than a deck later.

Now this could've been put down to misfortune- as Bill tried to suggest, but I knew better. Y'see, there was no doubt whatsoever that the move I made would've been a very strong if I'd pulled it off. The problem was that I was relying on too much luck to get there. First I had to hope that the German LMG would remain broken long enough so that I didn't suffer in the Brush. And second I needed to draw a Movement card quickly enough to get forward. Both of these went against me.

In other words: the move would've been a smart play if I'd had that second Movement card in hand when the opportunity presented itself. Or perhaps if I'd been playing the Germans, the Russians, or the Japanese. As the British I should just've taken the definite gain I'd planned on and established a strong position from which to start dishing out the fire attacks against the German firebase. Hardly a numpty play like so many from the post-Claymore bash, or that missed killer fire attack from the previous game, but a sign that I've got a lot of old lessons to relearn to get my Up Front game back up to scratch.

The third game was much more straightforward. Paratroop Drop is an entertaining scenario in which the attackers set up at random. That is: the attacking player defines 4 groups, and their Group ID and Range chits are determined by random selection. Well not quite: the defender has some control over the Range chits (he picks one at random then chooses which attacking group to place it on), giving him the chance to drop an attacking group or two right under his guns. Once in place the attacker's objective is essentially to form up the squad in the hot dropzone.

Our game that night went easily for me because two of my adjacent groups landed at maximum range from the German defenders. So they were able to form up then advance, instead of forming up under heavy fire. An easy victory which taught me nothing I'm afraid.

1-2 :(
(But at least it's better than 1-6!)

Andy and I take to the skies again
With just the 2 of us presest during Andy's regular Sunday visit last weekend, we quickly decided to have a go with the new Wings of War: Watch Your Back stuff I'd picked up at Claymore the previous weekend. So we jumped straight into the combined Famous Aces and Watch Your Back scenario All Quiet on the Western Front. This scenario features 3 planes on each side:
  • Allied: a Sopwith Camel, a Nieuport 11 and a SPAD XIII.
  • Central Powers: a Fokker Dr.I, an Albatros D.Va and a Halberstadt D.III.
We managed to fit in 2 plays, and the result was essentially the same each time: the Allies won with the Central Powers losing 1 plane before the other 2 beat a hasty retreat. The difference was that I lost my Fokker Dr.I whereas Andy lost his Halberstadt.

What surprised us both about this was that we'd expected the Nieuport 11 to be more of a liability to the Allies- its 10 damage points makes it the most fragile plane in the game. It does have good guns though. And it has to be noted that the Nieuport might be a worry because it's fragile, but the Halberstadt is a worry because it's just plain rubbish- dead slow and stop with no fancy manoeuvres to pull (the Nieuport's no faster really, but it does have 1 or 2 nice tricks available). It does have the same good guns as the Nieuport, and it's not nearly so fragile, but you don't have to fly the thing long before you're cursing it for the clunker that it is!

Andy and I both had a lot of fun playing these 2 games and Fantasy Flight Games' entire Wings of War series has rapidly become a firm favourite we're happy to play pretty much anytime. We'll just have to become better pilots so that we can play it more quickly!

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't note a very important fact: Andy's last plane to exit the table in our second (his Albatros IIRC) had only 1 damage point remaining, and he'd oh-so-luckily taken 0 damage from a hit the turn just before the plane exited. Talk about jam, eh?!

1-1 :)

And yet more!
Erm, I expect I'll be grounded soon chaps
Donald had an unexpected free night yesterday, so he called round for some gaming. And guess what? We started with a game of Wings of War: Dawn of War!

This being Donald's first game that meant we'd be playing the old match-up of the Spitfire and the Hurricane against the Me109 and the D.520. Random selection of sides gave me the British. Good I thought- maybe this time I can keep the Spitfire flying.

I started with a minor variation on my familiar sideslipping and turning-in from the side tactics, while Donald started with the beginner's variation on the tactics Badger had tried in his first game. That is to say: he started to split left and right to come round behind me only to loose the plot completely as he worked to come to grips with basic flying. The upshot of this was that his planes were separated for most of the game and I chased his D.520 across the table and back.

I couldn't believe the luck Donald was having with this flying brick. Time after time I would shoot at it and the thing would still be flying. Meanwhile my own Hurricane had taken a couple of heavy hits. Eventually though I had both my planes flying straight in at the D.520. Unfortunately for me though the Me109 drew a bead on the Hurricane- another solid hit. One more like that and the Hurricane was lost. Luckily the Me109 fluffed its turn and the Hurricane survived.

By this time my Spitfire had passed the D.520 and was pulling an Immelman to get back into the fight. So I was faced with a choice: the Hurricane could break for the sake of survival, or it could fly straight in at the D.520 and hope for the best. Luck wasn't with me, and I lost the Hurricane. The Spitfire was soon in a good position though, and that damned flying brick was finally shot down with my next attack. I had taken 10 shots to kill the thing, which had been reduced to 2 damage points out of 16 when the Spitfire finally delivered 11 damage in 1 attack.

So now it was down to the Spitfire against the Me109. Both planes were undamaged (although Donald didn't know this, since the Spitfire had a 0-damage chit on it), so I was expecting a long fight. It wasn't to be though. Donald got a bead on my Spitfire almost straight away, and promptly drew the Explosion chit, downing my plane with a single shot. A 1/60 chance- what lousy luck! You can be sure that I turned the air blue for a wee while after that!

I save my honour at Kursk (or do I?)
Donald wanted to play Memoir'44 next, so it was off to the Russian front for Scenario 42: Ponyri.

Random selection gave me the Germans, which was both nice- look at all that armour, and daunting- look at all those dug-in Russians (3 artillery units in particular) and those minefields.

My initial hand gave me 2 left section cards, 3 right section cards (including Assault- ie. all my units) and Armour Assault. Getting all that armour moving for 2 turns had its appeal, even if the minefield would prevent the tanks from actually closing in for overruns. But I wanted some cards for my attack up the centre towards Ponyri before I committed to this. So I began on my left.

A turn later and I could see myself getting bogged down on my left without being ready to go in the centre, so I changed my mind and bit the bullet: Assault on the right. This brought 5 of my armour units into a nice line in front of the minefield, from where they promptly opened fire on the Russian tanks. A couple of turns later I'd broken the Russian line and I was 1 VP up on the exchange. Plus I was beginning to draw the kind of cards I'd need to make a decent attack on Ponyri, the capture of which was key to my strategy, seeing as it was worth 2VP if I could hold 3 hexes against Donald's 2.

And that was where the battle was decided. The game ebbed and flowed a bit, but the war of manoeuvre was over after my massed tank attack and it came down to a meatgrinder as I fed more and more infantry into Ponyri in the hopes of holding it while I sought elsewhere the VP I needed to win. I pulled it off in the end, but I was more than just a wee bit lucky: Donald was hampered by a 4-card hand and the fact that we mistakenly played the Russian command rules.

Erm, sorry about that Donald: although we weren't playing my Expanded Nationality rules, I forgot that as standard the Russian command rules only come into play when specified by the scenario. Your comments about the Russian command rules after the game suggest that this had a significant effect on your play.

Anyway, where I was lucky was that Donald wasn't able to feed his right flank infantry into the Ponyri meatgrinder. This could've had a decisive effect on the crucial battle. An entertaining scenario all-in-all, and one I'm keen to revisit, especially with the appropriate rules in play, expanded or otherwise.

1-1 (Ahem.) ;)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Got game!

The Claymore mega-session
So, as I wrote the other day, the post-Claymore gaming bash took place a couple of weekends ago. This year's was particularly epic. Martin was there as usual. So too was Alistair, an old friend of Bill's who was visiting with the express purpose of getting in some gaming. Our regular host was absent this year, so Martin drove Alistair and myself back to Glasgow from Claymore, where Bill's arrival chez yours truly was awaited with the aid of some games of Up Front.

What followed was a weekend's gaming so intense that I couldn't've detailed it all even if I'd sat down to write it up straight away, let alone at this remove. So I'll have to restrict myself to listing what we played and noting some highlights (or otherwise, as may be).

In the space of those 2 sessions, we saw played:
The scores were as follows:
  • Up Front:
  1. Alistair: 6 games out of 11.
  2. Bill: 3 games out of 3.
  3. Martin: 3 games out of 5.
  4. Me: 1 game out of 7.
  • Judge Dredd: Martin.
  • Cosmic Encounter: Bill won every game, including 1 solo victory, 2 joint victories with Alistair, and 1 joint victory each with me and Martin.
  • Settlers of Catan: Martin won both games.
  • Combat Commander: Europe: I won 2 plays of scenario 4 against Martin.
This left overall totals on the weekend as:
  • Alistair: 8 (out of 19).
  • Bill: 8 (out of 11).
  • Martin: 8 (out of 15).
  • Me: 4 (out of 17).
The first thing that readers will notice is that someone who was there those 2 sessions was keeping detailed records. I confess: it was me all along. Against the inevitable references to my sphincter I can only reply that I am a blogger after all, so these little details count. I must also note that the 4 of us there assembled that weekend are highly competitive gamers (as the trash-talking which went down made clear!). So vague references to who did, didn't or might've won what simply wouldn't've done!

The next thing that I'm going to bring to my readers' attention is that this was a truly awful weekend's gaming for me! And it wasn't just that I won a meagre 4 games out of 17 played (one of them being a joint victory at Cosmic Encounter more or less gifted to me by Bill). No, it was that I spent most of the time playing like a numpty!

In Cosmic Encounter for example I kept using my powers badly, if I remembered to use them at all.

And that game of Judge Dredd is probably the worst I've ever had. I was sitting on 4 points (thanks to the 'Gila Munja' card) well into the mid-game, which left me wondering if I'd get any arrests at all. This all the more so since I was playing with 3 master-finkers whose deviousness knows no bounds. My only comfort at the end of that game was that I won't have to endure a second term of Chief Judge Rex after he stole my office at the Grand Hall of Justice the last time Bill and I played. At least Chief Judge Lum lives far away, so he can't rub my nose in it quite so regularly. (Bitter, moi? Surely you jest?)

As for the Up Front? What can I say? Some of it could be put down playing the weaker side in difficult scenarios, or to luck (and it can, really!), but a lot of it has to go down to bad play against someone who was on the ball and who was playing the game with the right measure of aggression and daring, namely Alistair.

Take our 3 plays of the Japanese versus the Russians in 'Patrol'. I was happy to play this scenario to try out the variant Japanese setup I had used against Bill a few months ago. Our first play of this was a closely fought win for Alistair IIRC. The post-mortem led us to the conclusion that, if the setup was viable, I had lost because I hadn't pushed the Japanese forward in the aggressive manner required. So we tried again, and I did, winning with a cakewalk. Seeing what the Japanese could achieve with this setup, Alistair simply adapted his own, creating a mammoth Russian firebase with the result that my own lads died in droves as Alistair won a cakewalk of his own. So much for my variant setup was the conclusion of our post-mortem on those games.

It was the kind of flexibility demonstrated there by Alistair that I just didn't show in my games, 'preferring' instead to plug on with poor plans in the face of increasingly desperate situations. Painful as it was (and it was), I have to say that this sorry tale has reconfirmed my love of Up Front. I'm looking forward to playing more soon, and to applying the lessons I learned that weekend.

Of course, my gaming that weekend wasn't all bad: I did win those 2 games of Combat Commander against Martin. I was playing the German defence in the chateau which I have tried and failed to capture against Tony before. This was a bit of a worry to me: Martin is a great gamer, quick on the uptake, aggressive, and never afraid to take risks. So I was faced with the very real prospect that it would fall to Martin to have the honour of being our first player to win this scenario as the Americans.

That honour is still mine to win, but only just. In our second play Martin got closer to winning than I've ever managed. The key to his strategy was the smart use of smoke coupled with bypassing the chateau to gain VP by exiting his units off my board edge. This puts pressure on the German defenders in a way in which my frontal assaults of the past have simply failed to do. The result was a nail-biting game which demonstrated all the virtues of Combat Commander. And, because Martin insisted I record and report this: it is a measure of how close he came to victory that I had no leaders left, and was just 2 more eliminated units away from surrendering when I finally won thanks to Sudden Death while my MG nest was hosing down his platoon making a dash for the board-edge. Gaming is rarely better than that!

I can in all honesty report that some smart cardplay on my part (much smarter than most of my Up Front cardplay that weekend it has to be said!) played a definite role in my eventual victory. That said I must also report that sheer dumb luck played at least as great a role. Perhaps not quite so extreme in its sheer dumbness as my Egorov moment in my recent game against Tony, but a pretty hefty dose of good fortune in my favour all the same.

My own story aside, Alistair, Bill and Martin's weekends had their own highlights.

Alistair's no doubt includes his 5-1 run of victories against me at Up Front, which included several more cakewalks than the one I have already noted. Of all these, I expect that defeating my Russian Guards with his Volksgrenadiers in some 2 decks in our play of 'Elite Troops on the Attack' is one which he will savour for some time to come.

Bill meanwhile will be happy to be reminded that he won every game of Cosmic Encounter and Up Front that he played.

For his part, Martin will certainly be pleased with his own Up Front record. Two very convincing victories at Settlers of Catan which left the rest of us wondering how he'd done it will be very satisfying too no doubt. But something tells me that he'll be happiest of all at having won the prize of prizes: the best office in the Grand Hall of Justice in Megacity One. Curse you Chief Judge Lum, curse you! ;)

- Once more unto the breach! (Or: Still no room at the inn)
- Easter extravaganza #3: country-house carnage

Monday, August 13, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Ho hum, another Claymore

It's been nearly a fortnight since I posted last. This was because I've been particularly busy lately, not because my mood has swung so low I can't face the keyboard. Just thought I'd let my regular readers know the good news. Anyhoo, onwards.

A couple of weekends ago saw the first Saturday in August, meaning that it was Claymore Saturday. Run by the South East Scotland Wargames Club, Claymore is probably Scotland's largest and certainly Scotland's longest-running wargames convention. It is also caught in something of a timewarp, being essentially a hardcore miniatures games convention.

The event is held in the indoor athletics track at Meadowbank stadium in Edinburgh. When you go in you are confronted by 3 rows of exhibits: a central row of gaming tables flanked on each side by trade stands. There is a real sense of bustle for sure, but the area is cramped and gloomy. And that's all there is to it. There are no other rooms. There is no space for other activities, let alone for gamers to come along and do their own thing.

On top of all that, when you look at what's laid on, well, to be honest, it leaves me pretty cold. The gaming tables are given over to a mixture of demonstration and participation games. I really don't get this demonstration games thing. I mean to say: why should I want to watch other people play their games instead of playing games myself? I simply cannot get my head around the mentality which thinks that this is a worthwhile activity to lay on at a public event.

And the participation games are by and large little better. Why do I say that? Because most of the participation games are ongoing games which the public can join in with. That is to say: they are not games designed to be run to completion over a short period. This would seem to me to reduce any members of the public who decide to join such a game to the level of a place-filler in someone else's game.

Now maybe I'm being unfair here. There are a lot of nice models on the tables at Claymore each year, and I can well understand their appeal. I'm even faintly envious of people who have some of the miniatures collections on show. So maybe the visual spectacle itself is indeed an attraction which will help grow the hobby. And likewise not all the participation games look like demonstration games with room for a few people to join in. So maybe they too are an attraction whose power is lost on me.

But year after year I go to Claymore, and I end up feeling the same way: for all its charms, this is a backwater of the wider hobby, a timewarp in which D&D, Warhammer and Mt:G might never have happened. More and more too I find myself wondering if this is exactly what the organisers prefer. Whatever: it's their club and their event, so they can run it as they please. I just think it's a shame that our Scottish gaming community continues to lack the sort of event which represents all aspects of the hobby, which presents them attractively and comfortably, and which- above all- offers people as much time as they'd wish to play as many games as they can fit in.

If Claymore is as unattractive as I'm painting it here, why do I bother going at all? I mean, I typically pay my money at the door and only hang around for an hour or so before finding something else to do. There are several reasons. First is sheer nostalgia. I did my student drop-out days in Edinburgh 20-odd years ago. So the sheer beauty of the city is overlaid with poignant memory. On top of that there is the chance to spend some money, which I did this year naturally enough. Finally- and most importantly- there is the Claymore games bash, where I meet my old buddies, drink beer, and while away the hours playing boardgames until we drop. I wouldn't miss this for the world. This year's session was particularly spectacular. More on that anon. ;)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Got game!

More Badger-baiting
Last week's bumper boardgames bonanza continued on Thursday when Badger appeared for an evening's gaming. We were pleasantly spoiled for choice when it came to where to start:
In the end Badger couldn't resist the lure of the new, and we began with Wings of War: Dawn of War.

Spitfires wasted on me?
Given his choice of sides, Badger chose the Axis. So he took the Me109 and the D.520 up against the Spitfire and the Hurricane. Deciding to stick with a winning strategy, I started by sideslipping ready to turn in so that I could bring the guns of both my planes to bear on a single enemy. I'm beginning to feel that the winningness of this strategy is more luck than judgement, since my turn was too late and too shallow as it was against Tony last week!

Badger meanwhile had hit upon a good counter-strategy: he split to the left and right then turned inwards to bring both his planes in on my Spitfire. I knew that sooner or later someone would come up with a good alternative strategy to my own!

It didn't take long for Badger to start cursing the flying brick that is the D.520, but he was still able to get enough good shots against my Spitfire to send it spinning earthwards with disturbing ease. My Hurricane pilot was clearly more experienced than the Spitfire pilot though, because he was able to down the Me109. The game ended when Badger flew the D.520 off the table. A win! Well maybe not: unfortunately Badger was confused about the victory conditions, thinking that he'd get the VP for this instead of me. Hmm, so I think that we'll have to put that one down to a draw really.

Enthused by the game, and out for blood, Badger readily agreed to have another go. Yet again my Spitfire was the first plane to go down (this time suffering the first explosion yet seen in my plays of this game). What is it about these darn Spitfires? On the face of it they're no more vulnerable to fire than the Hurricanes, yet they always seem to be the first British planes to go down!

I was now doing everything I could with my Hurricane to keep it flying while getting a bead on the enemy. Luck had a lot to with it here as the plane took quite a few hits with no effect. Badger's frustration with the D.520 helped- he just gave up trying to get it back into the flight and flew it off the table. This over-confidence was to prove his undoing. As our planes twisted and turned in the corner of the table, he misplanned a manoeuvre, with the result that his Me109 flew off the table! Another draw!

And so, yet again, Wings of War proves to be a palpable hit.

1-1 ;)

We answer the call to arms
Dinner and a Doctor Who repeat out of the way, Badger was keen to try out Call to Arms, the new Battlelore army deployment system. Time was at a premium, so we just plumped for the first scenario, appropriately called First Encounter.

The core mechanics of Call to Arms (CtA) are really very simple. First, you set up your map:

Then you choose your deployment deck. There are 6 7-card deployment decks in CtA- 3 for each side. Each deck shows an average of 4 units, giving you the unit types and where you will set them up on your side of the map. Your deck chosen, you draw 4 cards at random from your deck. Then you look at them and decide which card will be your Vanguard, your Middle Guard and your Rearguard, and which will be your reserves. This done, you set up the Vanguard units on your right flank, your Middle Guard units in your centre section, and your Rearguard units on your left flank.

To round off the setup the player with the most light units deployed is designated the first player. The other player then chooses 2 of his reserve units to set up, after which the first player does the same. And that's about all there is to it in CtA's simplest version, known as the 'Impromptu Mode'. (If you want more detail, you can download the rules here.)

Random selection gave me the Standard banners, who set up on the bottom of the above map, and which I soon discovered is the side that gets the dwarfs. I grabbed a deployment deck at random (probably deck A), drew my cards, made my deployment decisions, and was soon set up. I had a reasonable mix of cavalry, medium and heavy infantry, and some archers. My set up looked to be without obvious weaknesses. I was content, and pleased at how quick and easy the whole system was.

With me having the dwarfs Badger had the goblins naturally enough. This meant that he had the most green units, so that I had to deploy my Reserves first. Still no problem. Then we chose our Lore Councils (we just had to play the Lore game, naturally enough!). I choose a level 2 Commander, a level 2 Cleric, a level 1 Rogue, and a level 1 Wizard (that's C2/Cl2/R1/W1 in BL jargon).

And off we went. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but I tanked Badger in this first game. I do remember that I was able to play both Forest Frenzy and Hills Rumble. Neither had any great number of targets, and each rolled particularly puny dice against those targets they did have in any event. IIRC, the turning point was my Mounted Charge, when my 3 cavarly units were able to do some useful damage.

Mind you, my memory might be failing me here. Maybe this was the game in which I played Greater Portal to swap a dwarf medium infantry with a goblin archer unit, which hapless goblin unit I was then able to trap behind 2 units of my own and then pound into game-winning oblivion in 2 turns. However it went down, the score was 6-1.

Undaunted as ever, Badger wanted to try again. I chose deck C this time, and ended up with a strong force of heavy and medium infantry- mostly dwarfs- deployed on my left and in my centre, and a mixed medium and light force deployed to my right. Badger meanwhile was deploying an unpleasant looking horde of goblins across from me, having drawn at least one of the goblin 5-unit deployment cards from his deck. He was also setting up a Hill Giant with its rockpile.

I too had a creature up my sleeve, on my Reserve card. Facing Badger's Hill Giant I naturally wanted to take the unstoppable Earth Elemental, but Badger and I decided that the Reserve rules prevented this- you have to set your reserves up on your back row, while the Earth Elemental by definition sets up elsewhere. I was already feeling a little bit worried about the amount of cavalry massed against my own lone mounted unit, so having this choice forced upon me just added to my sense of impending doom.

The opening game lived up to those feelings of gloom as Badger was having pretty much everything his own way. But I did manage to get two good things going for me. I was able to manoeuver into a nice defensive formation on my right, at the same time creating a position from which I could support my centre. And my powerful left- 2 medium and 1 heavy dwarf foot, plus another heavy- more than held their own against Badger's attack on that flank. I was soon able to launch a counter-attack spearheaded by my lone medium cavalry unit and that Giant Spider.

Looking back I'd say that it was the Giant Spider which won me the game in the end. I used its mobility to get round the flank and then the rear of Badger's army, where it picked off 2 (maybe even 3?) of Badger's depleted units. I've never seen a Giant Spider do so much. Without it, I'm sure I'd've lost a game in which I sneaked a 6-5 victory.


All-in-all then Badger and I both really enjoyed our introduction to this latest member of the ever-expanding Battlelore family. We're both looking forward to trying it again, especially on the Epic scale. ;)