Friday, May 30, 2008

Got game!

Bank holiday boardgames bonanza!
A busy weekend last week plus a cold I picked up sometime has left me unable to write much. I had Badger round last Friday for Combat Commander, then the usual Sunday session turned into a mass invasion as my old buddy Martin turned up for the bank holiday, prompting Bill to pay a visit to catch up with him. This led to a late night Combat Commander session with Martin on top of the usual Sunday boardgames. With the Monday off work thanks to the bank holiday Badger turned up for yet another Combat Commander session. Truly did my cup runneth over!

Friday night firefight
Pursuing our goal of playing all the official scenarios, Badger and I got in 4 games on Friday.

#29 'Operation Repulse'
Featuring the 101st Airborne scrounging for supplies from a glider drop, this scenario replaces the 5 mapboard objectives with secret objective chits randomly-drawn, then scattered from 5 starting hexes. Worth 5VP plus their hidden value, these 'gliders' are going to be a main source of VP for the US player- who turned out to be Badger- because they are prohibited from gaining exit VP.

My plan involved a base of fire behind the hedge for maximum arc of fire (there were no hills on the map), which I would develop up the right and/or left flanks towards the F1 & F8 objectives. Meanwhile I would be sending an assault force of fallschirmjager to grab the E5 objective, and enter the woods to threaten the J4 objective.

My plan went as smooth as these things can, and I won with 26VP and 5 kills on time 7, the first sudden death check.

#30 'Red Skies at Night'
I drew the Germans in this 1943 encounter between Russian paratroopers and a strong German platoon. The postures are an odd feature here: the supposed attackers- the Russian paratroopers fighting to establish their bridgehead, are in Recon; and the 'defending' Germans are actually in Attack. The most important effects of this are to deny the VP clock and defender-only actions, so no wire, minefields, and other unspeakable fortifications.

My plan was simple. My secret objective was S- all 5 objectives worth 1VP. I could hold 3 objectives easily, and make 1 too hot for the Russians to hold. To this end I placed my foxholes in forward positions and set up to make a quick dash into them: a squad on the left behind the crestline, an HMG nest with the leader in the middle, and another HMG on the right. I put the team ready to make a run for the objective on the eastern map edge.

With his units strung out on the map edge, just 1 leader and only 2 orders, Badger found it difficult to get any momentum behind his attack. My units took their positions comfortably and began laying down defensive fire, forcing a surrender on time 5 with 10VP.

#31 'Blizzard Baptism'
Drawing the Germans again, I drew my secret objective, H- #4= 2VP, for a total of 5. With the close terrain and the blizzard I could expect the US paras to close in. I planned on holding 2 objectives and putting up a fight/delaying action for another- the one out on the east. I laid my wire to make the western approaches look as unappetising as possible and occupied the building with Sgt. Ganz, 2 rifle squads w/LMG's and a line team. I put a foxhole in B8 to deepen the blocking position.

My base of fire was in the other main objective building: v. Karsties, 2 rifle squads w/HMG & LMG, line team w/LMG. A rifle squad in foxholes in H7 gave some cover in the centre and another went in N5, the forlorn hope in objective #5.

My plan worked in a closely fought and very eventful game- as can be seen from all the blazes and other fortifications added to the map during play. Event followed event as Badger's units fought their way through hidden wire after hidden in his main thrust for exit VP over on the east.

I was forced to move v. Karsties' platoon eastwards to the woods as Badger threatened to turn my flank for a free run at the map edge, where they were broken by an airstrike, though they survived in the end. We both got reinforcements of one sort or another aplenty: I got a team w/HMG and pioner w/flamethrower, which I threw into holding back Badger's assault down the eastern flank; Badger got a 203mm radio, which proved more frightening than effective, although it was fun to see it scatter and hit one of his own units, wired in hex O10! My own flamethrower proved a bit of a disappointment, thanks to the smoke that Badger was throwing around liberally to screen his units strung out in the wire.

The game lasted 3 additional time periods, only ending on time 10, leaving me the winner with a slim 10VP.

#32 ' Look Mom, No Tanks!'

I finally drew the Americans, and it had to be this scenario of all scenarios! I'd played this one as the Germans when Martin and I played it just after I'd got hold of Battle Pack: Paratroopers, and I'd seen the deadly efficiency of the SS close combat stacks- Sgt. Ganz, SS squad and line team for a total of 16FP in melee. Truly fearsome!

I decided that I had to have my own killer assault team: Sgt. Smith, para squad and elite team, for a melee total of 18FP. My plan involved trying to hold the Germans with defensive fire from Sgt. White, 2 para squads/MMG in the building in the east, and from 2 para squads in foxholes around the wooded road in the west. Meanwhile Sgt. Smith and his lads would be stalking SS squads, ratcheting-up double elimination VP's.

My plan began to unravel immediately. I'd put Sgt. Smith's team front and centre, which drew Badger's killer stack in, whereupon I promptly lost the close combat, leaving my plan in tatters. Then the rampage began. Sgt. Ganz and his men simply chewed-up my units as they swept across the board, exiting for double exit VP multiple times. It's a measure of how desperate my situation was that it took me until time 7 to get my first kill.

Badger won on time 8 with 35VP and 6 kills (1 short of surrender). A thrashing.

3-1 :)

The Sunday session
With 6 players due at the table on Sunday, a fast pick-up game like this Knizia gem was an ideal way to get started while we waited. Martin won.

Martin 1
Everyone else 0

Judge Dredd

The ancient rivalries of Mega-City 1 don't get much exercise these days, so it was easy for us to agree to move on to this classic GW boardgame. I was hoping that the extra new players would give me a chance to wreak my revenge for previous humiliations (A month in the games of, The Claymore mega-session). It was not to be. In a game of surpassing finkery I ended up just one lost arrest shy of victory. At least I had the satisfaction of foiling Martin's midgame rush to the winning post, which left Donald the winner in the end.


Donald 1
Martin 1
Everyone else 0

Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun! Card Game
Fired up for some serious finking, and faced with my frankly rather limited choice of decent multi-player conflict games, we decided to have another try at this game, which some of us had played once before. We had more players this time than that first time, which was all to the good.

The Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun! Card Game involves clones of various security clearances playing missions defined by cards. The players play action cards to perform the missions, or to help or fink on other players. There are bonuses and penalties for success and failure in missions, plus the penalty of execution for Traitors. Play continues, mission after mission, until 1 player loses their 6th clone, either due to wounds, or to execution. At that point, the clone with the highest security clearance wins.

The mechanics delivering this gameplay are pretty simple. Fulfilling missions in particular is typically done by placing wound or treason tokens (also used for the clones) on the mission card. This is very abstract, but the true fun of this game is in the backstabbing cardplay in any case, so that doesn't really matter. There are a few questions of interpretation opened up by the interaction of certain cards, but once they're attended to, the Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun! Card Game is a game which should play fast, furious, and most of all, fun!

I took an early lead in our game by the simple device of using my ownership of the game to appoint myself team leader. This couldn't last, as the other players eventually gangned up on me to make sure I died so that they could elect a new team leader. This passed on again to Martin and he caught up with me. The final mission plus the cards in hand left him in an unassailable position to win. Curses!

Donald 1
Martin 2
Everyone else 0

I was a bit reluctant to play Roborally when it was suggested, forseeing a long drawn out game leading to my inevitable defeat. So I insisted on a simple board with easy flags for an open race. Did I get it? Did I heck! Instead I got one of the worst, a hideous array of twisting conveyor belts and pits, alongside the radioactive core. And sure enough, while Martin took an early lead thanks to his robocopter, closely followed by Andy, I ended up footling around stuck on the conveyor loops for turn after turn.

I was eventually able to get into a position to start collecting options in the hope of doing something dangerous to Martin's bot as he headed for the last flag, but the map offered few useful vantage points for these interception tactics, and Martin cruised to an easy victory.

Donald 1
Martin 3
Everyone else 0 :(

More Combat Commander
When everyone else went home after the Roborally, Martin and I sat down to the reason for his visit, some Combat Commander. I gave him the Playbook from Combat Commander: Mediterranean and left him to find something he liked the look of. His first choice took us to the western desert.

#24 'Six Hills'
I'd played this before with Badger, so was pleased when I drew the British- the other side, and they'd been the winners last time. My plan was simple: defensive fire! So I set up Lt. Lyndhurst with the HMG and 2" mortar in foxholes on the eastern end of the high ridge. I put another squad in foxholes beside them, and the corporal with an LMG at the western end of the high ridge to forestall an Italian end run. The rest of my forces were disposed in support of this plan.

In setting up, Martin immdiately showed he wouldn't have to play 2 games to learn the lessons I'd learnt from my losing game as the Italians- he set up a platoon in the SE corner ready to make an end run for exit VP. Next he promptly set up his MG platoons using the lie of the land to break up my lines of fire exactly as I had done. Then he called down artillery on my position, which had the immediate effect of destroying my HMG nest's foxholes, so that they broke, and were eliminated to a man by the following MG fire.

In my shock I surrendered on the spot. I just couldn't help myself. It was only when it was too late to go back that we realised that it was still the first turn. What a shocker! I should've fought on. The position probably was unwinnable- 5 territorial squads with a weak leader against a full strength Italian company with artillery support? Almost impossible, especially with the way the Italians would be ratcheting up exit VP against such weak opposition. In any event, I should've fought on, if only to avoid having a first turn surrender on my Combat Commander record. Anyway, it all just goes to show how important player morale really is in the game.

#19 'Metaxas Season'
Leafing through the Combat Commander: Mediterranean Playbook looking for our next scenario Martin hit upon this one. He plumped for random selection and drew the Germans. I went for the same setup as I'd used against Badger: Sgt. Delvoie, the HMG and the cannon in the bunker on the heights with 2 squads in trenches covering the cliffs; Levasseur and a squad in trenches covering the approaches to the farmstead; the rest in the farmstead; and waited to see what Martin would do.

Martin's setup showed his ability to assess a position and his keen tactical awareness- he split his forces, putting his pioners with their assault weapons in position for an assault up the cliffs in the west.

Coming up with the right plan was one thing, executing it turned out to be another. Getting up those cliffs is a difficult and dangerous manoeuvre: the only cover from which to advance (and note that units advancing across cliffs can't carry weapons) is in view of the bunker. So the manoeuvre as a whole calls for the best available combination of move, advance and smoke grenade cards, and a lot of patience! Martin tried his best- twice- but it was to no avail. His assault troops did get close once, and their close combat ability showed its worth too, but they were destroyed by fire from the bunker each time. The assault on the bunker broken, I was free to mop up his other units.

2-1 :)

In our post-game discussion, Martin felt that this scenario is unbalanced. He might be right, although our 3-game sample proves nothing, even though it is 100% in favour of the Greeks. And the whole point of scenario-driven WW2 tactical wargaming is more-or-less unbalanced scenarios in any case, because these were the most interesting original battles. This scenario is definitely a tough nut for the Germans to crack. I'm looking forward to giving it a try, and I wonder what the statistics will look like when we finally see a German victory.

And yet more Combat Commander!
Badger left his ipod behind on Friday, and he just can't live without it. That was all the excuse he needed to come round for another session on Monday. We got 3 games in.

#33 'We Go!'
I'd played this as the Germans with Martin in our original Battle Pack: Paratroopers session last April. So my setup was easy: an HMG nest to protect the building objectives, and an LMG nest in the woods objective, then hope for the best with the random US setup. Badger and I weren't keeping notes during this session, so I can't remember much of what happened. Sufficeth to say that I won on time 7 with 4VP, a very close run thing!

#34 'Encircled at Hill 30'

I'd played the Germans too with Martin last April and had won a narrow victory in a memorable game. So I was looking forward to having another go when I drew the Germans for Badger and my last game from BP#1.

My basic idea was to develop from a base of fire to my east, using the mortar as much for smoke as anything else. Seeing Badger set up behind the crestline and in the buildings so that he could bring no effective defensive fire into the large field immediately in front of my deployment zone, I set up with a simple line abreast of 3 platoons: Sgt. Bierman on the right, Lt. Leuerbach plus an LMG in the centre, and Lt. Schrader with the HMG and the other LMG on the right. My plan was to take the buildings in the centre first, then send Leuerbach's platoon off in search of exit VP while Schrader's platoon joined Bierman to assault the objectives.

Everything went smoothly at first. I got smoke where I wanted it, and my platoons moved up promptly. Then I got bogged down in the centre. I wasn't helped by the appearance of blazes right beside the action, which seriously hindered my LOS in the big firefight. Badger recieved a pack howitzer as a hidden unit, which I killed and promptly received thanks to scrounging. I put it over on my right, and it helped me clear objective 1. It wasn't enough though. The game ended on time 7, Badger winning by 6VP. A close run thing!

#101 'Rubble-Rousers'
This little slice of Stalingrad was next. It promised to be a titanic struggle: apart from the strong OB's, each side also has a bunker complex- 3 bunkers (6 cover), 3 trenches (4 cover), 3 wire, and 3 8FP mines. Plus each side sets up simultaneously in zones defined by a diagonal line running SW/NE, so we'd be close, and in heavy cover.

My plan involved 3 forces: in the centre- a strong HMG nest to hold the main objective, which I fortified with bunkers and wire; to the west- Cpt. Egorov with all my SMG squads and satchel charges- to assault the church; and to the east- a force to work down that flank. My plan changed immediately when Badger promptly started exiting his own forward units in the NE corner. Exit VP! I'd plain forgot about those, and was much relieved- Badger had strongly reinforced the orchards so that Egorov's assault had been looking much less appealing. So he led his men off the map instead.

The result of this was that the game turned into an HMG slugathon in the centre with skirmishing in the east as I mopped-up the few units Badger had left there after making his exits. Badger pressed hard, and enjoyed some of the luck which we both needed to break the stalemate in the centre, but I held on to win with 4VP- as close as we've got this time.

2-1 :)

Combat Commander score
7-3 ;)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Extra! Which Gears of War will those be then?

A busy week for yours truly, including trips to the pictures to see the Iron Man movie (IMDb), and Doomsday (IMDb); a Combat Commander session with Badger on Saturday; and Descent with Andy, Donald and Tony on Sunday. I've started learning my way around the Linux Ubuntu OS which I installed on my external hard drive not long after my recent rant about Windows Vista. I'm too low on the learning curve to be getting much use out of Ubuntu yet, but I really like the look of it. On top of all that, the housing association sent a workman round with remarkable prompitude so that I've finally got a working shower. Yay!

Meanwhile, here's a story which came to my attention last month. Commenting a while back on this story from ICv2, Yehuda over at Purple Pawn asked "Just how many six hour space themed galactic conflict games does one need?". But are FFG really likely to dish out another Twilight Imperium or Starcraft: the Boardgame with this licence? Gears of War is a 3rd-person squad combat shooter set on an Earth beleaguered by alien Locust horde. Here is a a short sample of the gameplay.

This video gives a deeper sense of the background, shows the richness of the settings across which the battles are fought, and demonstrates the vast scale of the war for which the PC game's protags are the pointmen.

And IGN Gears of War has a rich resource of screenshots and video clips for readers who'd like a little more detail.

Reading this page on the official site gives the impression of a game of tactical combat across an incredibly deadly post-apocalyptic earth battlefield, as human soldiers and their monstrous alien foes lay waste to their surroundings with weapons of extreme destructiveness. Looking at this, I'm more worried that FFG might plump for a cheap Doom clone than anything else.

There is definitely a great board wargame in Gears of War. The question is whether FFG will deliver it. If we're not going to see a Doom clone- which would be a sadly obvious way to represent Gears of War's gameplay, then exactly what kind of game are we going to see? Here is where I think we're more likely to see a dull retread. FFG's whole 'box-full-of-toys' production approach makes me fear that the subject of Gears of War- grunts in combat against waves of monstous aliens- will mean that the new game will be a Doom-clone.

I really hope not. I'm hoping that FFG are following the approach taken with Starcraft, refocussing the gameplay at a higher level of the battle. It is being embedded in this bigger battle which distinguishes the action in Gears of War from that in Doom; and it is this bigger battle which is represented too in the wide and rich variety of settings in Gears of War; so we really have to hope I think that FFG choose to open the game up in this direction somehow or other.

Sleek, intuitive rules for the effects of fear and confusion on the battlefield, the deadly combat environment, the destruction of cover, and hidden aliens strike me as other features of the computer game which would be nice to see in the boardgame. They'd give it its identity and could prove interesting. To be true to its original the game will have to represent a wide variety of terrain features on several different battlefields; and a good system for generating scenarios will be needed to give it strong replay value. Regular readers will need no reminding where I'd suggest the designers look for mechanics to handle some of these systems!

The Gears of War boardgame could prove interesting then, depending on what FFG make of it. I'm going to be keeping an eye on this one. ;)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Meanwhile... Last week's Sunday session

My week started with a hangover after a lovely Thai meal Andy, Donald and I shared on our regular post-session dine-out last Sunday, a little 'adventure' which included my losing my glasses... Erm. Fortunately, just like the last time, I had a spare pair waiting.

As site visitors might've noticed- via the recently-added handy BBG widget which shows the last 5 games entered into my games played database, the last Sunday session saw Attack Sub, Ivanhoe, Nexus Ops, Nuclear War and Settlers hit the table.

Attack Sub

The old Avalon Hill cardgame of Cold War submarine warfare in which designer Courtney F. Allen explored the potentialities of his revolutionary Up Front (BGG) CDG engine, Attack Sub (BGG) is a game that Andy and I had played before, so I was confident that it'd prove suitable as quick filler while we awaited Donald's arrival. Picking up from where we'd left off we played scenario B, 'Search and Destroy', featuring 2 US surface vessels- the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Virginia and the helicopter-carrying guided missile frigate the USS Simpson; versus 2 Soviet fast attack submarines, the Molniya and the Skvortsov.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Extra! Combat Commander Battle Pack #2: Stalingrad- preview

I commented in my recent review that BP#1 had merely scratched the surface of what the Battle Pack expansions to Combat Commander might offer. So I thought I'd take a look at the Battle Pack #2: Stalingrad previews available on the GMT site to show readers what I mean.

Reading the BP#2 product page the first thing to strike you is that this will be a significantly bigger pack than BP#1, with twice as many new maps, a rulebook, and counters too. Looking at the sample rules and counters shows some of the new units, weapons and special rules that will ensure that Battle Pack: Stalingrad will give CC fans a whole new urban warfare experience. Obvious features like factories and sewers are present, but I'm particularly keen on the new 'Urban Snipers' and 'Ampulomets', which should bring whole new levels of danger and chaos to the battlefield. Meanwhile the 'Melee' and 'Battle' counters among the samples suggest intriguing new variants to existing rules.

There isn't as much detail available in the preview about the new maps and scenarios. But that sample OB is from a single scenario featuring 1 day's attack on the Barrikady’s Great Assembly Hall, which makes it noteworthy if only because of the sheer number of units involved, although those references to 'Group 1' and so on suggest a sequential setup which should prove intriguing.

Most interesting in the scenario stakes in BP#2 is the reference to the special multi-scenario campaign game. Without any more information all that can be said about this is that this sounds very interesting. Will it just be a system for stringing scenarios together one after the other? Or will it offer real campaign choices and consequences? The CC RSG makes me hope very much for the latter.

And there you have it. Battle Pack: Stalingrad is going to define an already familiar battlefield environment in a whole new level of detail, and will also provide an entirely new way to play your Combat Commander. Like I said, this is more than the extra maps and scenarios offered in Battle Pack: Paratroopers, and it also looks to show how easily CC can be expanded into new areas without overloading the system. Where will Chad Jensen and John Foley be taking the game next I wonder? ;)

Meanwhile... Up Front rerelease finally just over the horizon?

A family visit in the heart of rural England left me offline on Monday, and so unable to start your week dear readers. I'll do better next time. I'll take a camera too. The countryside down there is beautiful and I'm going to show it off. Meanwhile, here's the story which had already been pushed down the schedule by my last-straw rant at the steam-driven OS that is Windows. This one will run and run I can promise you!

Browsing the forums over at Fortress: Ameritrash, I found this post about the long awaited rerelease of the legendary Up Front. Sure enough, one of the staff at MultiManPublishing posted details at CSW, including the suggestion that UF might reach preorder in July. Given the infamous history of delays of the so-called 'Up Front 2000' project gamers are justified in taking this with a pinch of salt until something concrete is seen, although I would imagine that the requisite pre-orders will be filled very rapidly once MMP add UF to the pre-order list.

Regular readers will know that UF is one of my favourite games of all time. All the same this news leaves me with mixed feelings for reasons which have little to do with the caveats above. Part of this might be due to my newfound fondness for Combat Commander, and I'm certainly not keen on the increased cost the packaging of the new edition will bear, but I think it's mostly due to some of what I've read about the new edition in recent years.

In that respect though this is a good announcement from Perry Cocke at MMP. Talk of replacing all of UF's counters has been dropped. And the touted gameboard turns out to be just a learning tool rather than a necessary feature of play. So the last major discussed change which has been bugging me is the idea that the Relative Range values will be reversed in the new edition. I won't go into details of what this entails, but this struck me as an unnecessary fix of a key feature of UF which isn't really broken IMO.

Ah well, this might be a trivial revision given that we've been reassured that the core design will remain unchanged, and of course, it's not my money that's at stake in this project. MMP are going to have to do something really stupid to spoil my interest in the long-awaited new edition of this classic game. I'll be watching this one all the way. ;)