Monday, March 30, 2009

A world at war

The history
Lugged home 5 weeks ago amid much grump and bitching, and having started to lurk on the sidelines just a bit too long, my shiny new Axis & Allies: Anniversary Edition finally hit the table yesterday; and in a full 6-player game to boot. This was a landmark Sunday session for more than one reason:
  • We hadn't been 6 on a Sunday since the first session of my WFRP campaign (back in the days before RD/KA! believe it or not!).
  • This was the WW2 strategy game I'd waited all my life to play.
The setup
Saturday night gave the first hint of what the A&A:AE experience was going to be about. I'd read somewhere that setting up in advance was advisable to speed play, and I could easily see the point:
  • There are a lot of pieces to set up.
  • I wanted everything to go off as smoothly as possible so that everyone would like the game.
The subsequent hour and some spent sorting out and deploying pieces across the expansive board gave me a foretaste of what turned out to be Sunday's key experience, that of a game strangely compelling despite being uncommonly gruelling.

The choice of sides thrown open as we awaited Dave and Tony, Donald chose the Japanese, and Andy plumped for the Italians because he thought that their tiny forces would enable him quickly to cut his losses should his worst fears about the game be realised. My suggestion of smokers versus non-smokers lined us up thus:

  • Germans: Me.
  • Italians: Andy.
  • Japanese: Donald.
  • Americans: Dave.
  • British: Tony.
  • Russians: Gav.
We played the 1942 scenario because I assumed that starting later in the war would shorten the game (an unfounded assumption it now seems); and I'd figured we should play the short 13VP game, because I thought that'd give us our best chance of getting finished (another unfounded assumption it turned out).

The game
We started at 2pm and played until about 7. It was taking us an hour per game turn, which meant that we each played 5 turns in 5 hours. That was a bit of a shocker. I mean to say, we've all become used to playing games in which you get a turn every few minutes or less, and in which you might well be engaged during other players' turns in any case. This is very much the cutting edge, be it Euro, Ameritrash, or just plain wargame.

By contrast, 45-50 minutes downtime per 5-10 minute turn is about as 'old-school' as it gets, and it certainly proved distracting, if not outright burdensome. Turn structures of this ilk are not to everyone's taste, and it has to be said that some were heard yesterday to wonder why they were bothering at all. The turkey's clucks were almost audible.

Yet, the game's qualities rode out our frustrations so that we're all looking forward to the next time despite yesterday's inconclusive outcome after all that effort. We realised that it wasn't just a matter of the first-game learning curve; A&A:AE just isn't a game for a Sunday afternoon with a Monday morning to follow.

I certainly enjoyed my first taste of the A&A economics engine and combat system: attacking with the Wermacht at the height of its powers; capturing Leningrad, Stalingrad and Moscow by early 1943; Russia was mine as the game came to its inconclusive end. Andy - a possible sceptic because of his professed lack of interest in WW2 boardgaming - was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed his ramage through the Mediterranean and into Africa. Tony's highlight was surely his 2-phase 2nd front which captured France while I was preoccupied with conquering Russia.

These and other events in the game were really exciting. As the battles unfolded round by round we often found ourselves stood around the table, cheering our sides on. And I relished the groans of dismay (echoed even by my allies) as Germany's resource base and income burgeoned thanks to my exploits on the Russian front.

Teething troubles aside then, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition was a success, if not an instant hit. As Gav said, it's "advanced Risk". This mechanical simplicity makes the game accessible and quick to master, while the wider range of units and the expanded economic system give it real depth. The secret of the game's success yesterday, I expect these qualities will be put to the test again just as soon as enough of us can find the time. ;)

For those who might want to take a look at the rules before their next game, look here: A&A:AE rules.PDF.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Will I? Won't I?

HERO Games have confirmed a release date for the first products of the new 6th edition of the classic rpg, formerly known as Champions. These products are:
  • HERO System 6th Edition.
  • HERO System 6th Edition: Combat and Adventuring.
They will be released at the Origins game fair in the US in late June.

I love the HERO system. It's still the strongest and most flexible rpg reality engine out there, and certainly my go-to game for flashing blades or gunplay. But I barely used my 5th edition HERO rules in 7 years (those few games with Katana back in 2007 are all, IIRC). Also, I thought that HERO5 was something of a bloated monstrosity compared to the sleek 4th edition, and I fear that the 6th edition will turn out grosser even than the infamous HERO 5th edition revised.

One thing I think I can say for sure: I won't be loading up on 6th edition product the same way I did with 5th edition, which occupies shelf width surpassed only by my WFRP2 collection. ;)

[From Purple Pawn]

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A small but satisfying landmark

This is my 300th post, a landmark I at first would've hoped to have reached long before this, year 5 of RD/KA!. After all, I managed 99 posts in the 5 months of 2005 after I launched this blog with my impressions of the Glasgow Worldcon, a 20/month posting rate which'd've put my postcount in the region of 2000 if I'd kept it up in subsequent years. Ah well, such are the vicissitudes of the bipolar blogger's life.

Still, 300 posts is quite respectable for a hobby blog, representing:
  • 1½ posts/week for 186 weeks.
  • Remainder 21.
Or, in the form of a viable publishing schedule:
  • 1 post/week.
  • 2/posts/month for 44 months.
  • Remainder 26.
Everything else aside for the moment, my biggest hope for the future of RD/KA! is that the 7-month bloglag of 2007-08 will be the last such massive writer's block I have to endure. Time will tell. Fingers crossed! ;)

Friday, March 27, 2009

A moment to marvel at...

As regular readers might already've guessed, and as my facebook friends will already know, the old mood swing kicked in recently, slowing down to a near trickle the flood of articles which already promise to make 2009 RD/KA!'s best year since 2005. I first noticed this a couple of weeks ago in the form of a change in my sleep cycle which signalled my mood swinging below the median.

The inevitable next phase began just this week, with decreased energy levels, poor motivation and attendant psychological disturbances. The upshot of all this is that the various activities I've been enjoying for the past few months start to become painful to contemplate, let alone engage in.

I actually have a better plan than ever to deal with this: exercise. I'm going to have to start to make good on last year's idea of regular gym attendance and swimming. I'll keep you informed.

Meanwhile: onwards, to bigger and better treasure!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cards, command and combat #2. Fun in Stalingrad!

And so Combat Commander hove to on the table late last Thursday.

Offered his choice of revisiting the 2 already played CC:P scenarios (we couldn't play any more because I've not yet got round to clipping the rest of the CC:P counters); playing some of the new C3i scenarios; or trying out the new Battlepack, Badger plumped for the latter. I confess I was a bit surprised, knowing how much Badger hates cityfights. All the better for me then. Off to Stalingrad it was.

Scenario 35. Spartakovka Salient
Actually we began in the small town of Spartakovka on the northern outskirts of Stalingrad itself. Set in late August, Spartakovka Salient features the early phase of the battle, as German units raced for the Volga, and a city whose name they'd've recognised, but which would otherwise have looked as if it was going to be just another landmark in what was turning out to be a glorious summer for the German army on the Russian front.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's official, and now public!

Yesterday was my birthday, and it came with an unusual present. Regular readers will remember my posting, only last January, about my intention to GM a Combat Commander tournament at UK Games Expo 2009. A recent flurry of activity saw the official tournament page uploaded to the UK Expo site yesterday by event organiser Richard Denning.

Thanks to Richard for his efforts getting my stuff sorted. Thanks are also due to Rob Bottos from CC@CSW, whose advice helped me decide the event's format.

Andy and I have got our hotel booked, and we're now just waiting for tickets to be available. After that, well, I guess I'll just have to make sure that everyone has a good time. And there will be an 'everyone'! The tournament already has 5 confirmed entrants, and 2 or 3 times that many possibles. So, dear readers, wish your humble scribe good fortune if you will, and see if you can't make it to Birmingham for the 5th, 6th and 7th of June 2009.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cards, commands and combat #1. Golden Oldies

Badger and I enjoyed something of a WW2 tactical megasession last Thursday as I'd said.

Up Front
As brilliant as is Combat Commander, 2 years solid play had left both me and Badger looking to ring the changes a bit in our gaming sessions. And as much as I want to see Conflict of Heroes in action again, there really was nowhere else to go to reopen our gaming horizons than back to the great grandaddy of CDG's, Up Front.

Badger was quite happy to have a go. He'd won his 1st and 2nd games against me after all, way back in 2005 (although I must point out, for Badger's benefit, that our Up Front score stood at 2-1 in his favour on Thursday night, not 2-0 as he'd imagined). I gave Badger the standard scenario I offer to players new to Up Front: Germans against my Americans in Patrol.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Badger's been on holiday from work lately, so we sat down yesterday to a long-awaited WW2 tactical session. The evening also saw me cooking the first of several seafood dishes I'll be doing over the next few days. Something I've hankered after for a while, I think I've indulged the whim now to cheer myself up a bit in the face of my mood's recent slide below the median.

Last night's recipie was Oven-roasted Fish with Potatoes and Salsa Verde. This is another Delia, originally from her How to Cook Book Two, the white series infamous for teaching such things as how to boil an egg. At least she wasn't suggesting people go out and buy pre-fried onions as in How to Cheat at Cooking (sheesh).

This recipie has all the hallmarks of a classic Delia:
  • Simple ingredients list (don't be fooled by the long list for the salsa verde - you can pick it all up at a half-decent supermarket).
  • Easy preparation using basic techniques and few processes.
  • Ideal for preparing in advance for last minute heating in the oven, this dish could even be kept in the fridge overnight.
It was a success, although I did overdo the pepper just a bit (Badger didn't have to order pizza though!).

Tonight's menu... Fennel and mascarpone risotto with scallops and prosciutto.

I'm busy working on the report of our games from last night. In the meantime here is the 2nd of those 3 seafood recipies. I've never tried this before, although I've been cooking risottos for years, and I like fennel - as regular readers might remember. So I'm looking forward to trying out something new; just what I need to cheer me up, like I said. ;)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Toasters, toasters, everywhere!

Battlestar Galactica
An unexpected visit from Gav (last seen at G3's 10th anniversary bash) plus Dave's presence ensured our first long-awaited 5-player game of Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game last Sunday.

The initial dice-off gave us the following cast of characters upon whom would depend the fate of humanity:

  • Gav: Starbuck.
  • Dave: Saul Tigh.
  • Me: Laura Roslin (I'd enjoyed the Presidency before!).
  • Andy: William Adama (he wanted those nukes obviously!).
  • Donald: "Chief" Galen Tyrol (Donald reluctantly succumbed to our collective insistence that we couldn't do without a 'Support' character).
The 1st thing we noticed was that there is no Cylon Sympathiser in the 5-player game, so that we knew precisely the threat we would face, if not exactly when it would appear.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Doomed, we're all Doomed!

So, Andy got his chance to lay down some smack as the Invader in Doom on Sunday. Donald and I took our 2 marines into the final scenario. It wasn't pretty. We only managed to get through 1 door, after which we just got bogged down by wave after wave of spawns.

We weren't helped by our luck: the number of attacks we missed was just painful, driving our results at least 1 point below the mean. Andy, on the other hand, enjoyed average luck, our constant dodging notwithstanding. On top of that, whenever Donald and I did pull something useful together, Andy'd have an Invader card in his hand to screw us over!

My marine wasn't much help either. My skills were Tough, Medic and Sniper. Tough gives you +1 armour, which was fair enough. Medic proved useless. I'm sure the ability to play the Ready action and use an order to heal 1 wound is something that'll've made the difference to winning or losing a game of Doom, somewhere, sometime; but on Sunday I just couldn't afford to spend an order on it when I had constantly to dodge while surrounded by Andy's Invader hordes. Sniper wasn't much better. What I really needed were skills which made my marine much more aggressive.

Our tactics let us down too, our respawning tactics in particular. Doom is a game in which the marine players can expect to get killed. So the trick is not so much avoiding getting killed as making sure that you can use getting fragged to respawn somewhere useful, ie. forward. Unfortunately Donald and I kept putting ourselves in positions from which we could only respawn backwards, so that we had to fight our way back to where we'd been. And when I did eventually spawn forwards, the Hell Knight guarding the door was more than a match for me.

We met our end shortly thereafter.

Evil Andy
Puny humans 0

I enjoy Doom now as much as when I originally played it 3 years ago. I like the core system and the viewpoint it creates; I like the challenge of the scenarios; and, as fond as I am of the extra richness of Doom's sister game Descent, I still enjoy the more pared-down feel of Doom.

Also: I checked the FAQ; we missed a couple of things in our game:
  • Blowthrough requires you to roll for the extra attack(s) after you've subtracted the dice.
  • You do get an attack for Watchful when a figure is moved adjacent with Knockback, but only 1.
I said last week that I expected Munchkin would "take its due place at the table as entertaining filler in the future". I confess I didn't expect that to be quite so soon, but Andy and Donald seemed keen, so off we went for a couple of games.

Routine finkage, general screwage and other high jinks aside, the details of the games are hazy now. All I can really report is that:
  • Andy won the 1st game.
  • I played a really neat trick in 1 game, looking for trouble with a Bullrog, Mate and Friendly in my hand, which netted me 10 treasures!
  • I won the 2nd game.
  • I'm still enjoying my return to Munchkin madness!
Evil Andy 2
Donald 0
Me 1

Andy had to leave early, so Donald suggeseted a game of Memoir'44 after dinner. I was keen for some vengance after our last game, so I readily agreed.

Dinner was Simple Stroganoff from Delia's Complete Cookery Course (online variants here). With just 7 ingredients and no processes more complicated than browning meat, this really is simple cooking, but it's always been a hit when I've cooked it. It's also another good recipie for getting most of the work done the day before.

We wanted to try out the new air rules, so we plumped for the 1st scenario featuring them in the Air Pack's compiled scenario book. That turned out to be Utah beach, a scenario originally published on the Days of Wonder M44 site. The revised version features 2 changes:
  • Landing craft.
  • Air rules.
The landing craft are handy in beach landings (no!), enabling units in the sea to reach the beach in a single move.

The air rules are more complicated. There are 2 new command cards added to the game: the Air Sortie cards. These are used to bring 1 of the 8 airplanes into play. Once in play an airplane can be ordered using section cards just like any other unit. In fact, they must be ordered or you'll lose them. Airplanes can move 4 spaces, and can move through any terrain and/or units.

Airplanes often have to make Air Checks at the start of their turn. An Air Check is a dice roll based on the kind of terrain in which the airplane begins its turn and the number of adjacent enemy units and/or airplanes; eg. towns have an Air Check value of 2, which would be 2 dice. If any of the dice are grenades, then the airplane is lost, and it'll be worth a victory medal to the opposing player if any of their units were adjacent to the airplane.

Each aircraft can also carry out 1 or more different special actions. These include the obvious strafing - a more flexible but less powerful version of the Air Power card in the command deck; as well as useful tricks like ground support - negates the terrain protection against close assault of hexes adjacent to the airplane; or ground interdiction - units adjacent to the airplane at the start of their turn can't move. Oh yes, and the Japanese Zero has kamikaze.

The air rules proved decisive in our game, which was largely down to my good luck in drawing an immediate Air Sortie card. I picked a P38 Lightning for the sake of the aforementioned ground support. I then promptly played an Assault, and my entire centre rolled into action. With the help of the Lightning, I was able to clear the 1st bunker without too much difficulty, although Donald's fightback meant that I was actually behind for most of the game.

My momentum in the centre exhausted, I had some some units getting shot up on my right, and my left was still to be committed. Making the most of my P38, I sent it after Donald's unit dug in on the hill on the left. I got lucky with a flag, which meant that I could move up to seize the hill with ease. Shortly after this Donald used his airplane - a Fieseler Storch - on a rescue mission, which enabled him to save a 1-model infantry unit from destruction. It was too late for Donald though. His covering forces were broken and I had a simple run through the left flank exit point for my game-winning victory medal.

Andy 2
Donald 0
Me 2

After 1 play I have mixed feelings about the air rules. The way in which air power appears and disappears is pretty decent, giving a good impression of how little control battlefield commanders had over air power in WW2. And the rules are pretty straightforward and simple to use, although I did find confusing some of what the rules say about the play of Air Sortie cards. So the air rules work OK. I have to confess I'm just not yet sure if Memoir'44 needed them in the first place. ;)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Javascript japes

Ground Zero
Checking out an alert from a facebook friend Friday night I was led here:
Ground Zero: Google Maps and Nuclear Weapons
This mapplet shows the thermal damage caused by a nuclear explosion. Search for a place, pick a suitable weapon and press "Nuke It!"
How could this avid fan of Nuclear War resist?

Unfortunately, as ever this blogger template is cutting off the side of the active google maps, so I'm just posting a screenshot of a strike on my home town, Dundee. I found Ground Zero simultaneously fascinating and disturbing in that way which will doubtless be only too familiar to my readers. Most strange for me perhaps was the reaction of my inner GM, which was to wish that I'd had access to this device back in the early 80's.

I used to play Aftermath regularly back then with 'Uncle' Martin GM'ing. Seeking to run my own post-nuclear game set in Britain (Martin's was set in Canada), I decided to try to make the dimensions of the thermonuclear holocaust as authentic as possible. So I started searching for information on the subject of presumed Soviet strike plans and their projected consequences. In the end I gave up. This was back when the Reagan and Thatcher's 2nd Cold War against the Soviet 'Evil Empire' was in its first full-throated cry, and I just found too horrible to contemplate the future I was seeking to make into my roleplaying campaign.

So I felt strangely ambivalent when, toying with Ground Zero, I found myself thinking how useful it would've been back when I was trying to set up that post-nuclear Aftermath campaign. I mean, you could just pick all the locations, make the strikes, save the maps, and then you could no doubt save them all to a single map, perhaps even to Google Earth. Fascinating and a touch disturbing like I said, not least because of that taste of GM's glee.

On a lighter note
Poking around Carlos Labs, the creators of Ground Zero I also found their online Spyrograph toy (this one does paste nicely into RD/KA!, but check out the link for an explanation of how it works):

I had one of these when I was kid, so playing around with it again online was fun.

Carlos Labs are clearly big fans of Google:
"At the moment, Google represents one of the strongest forces in the creation and distribution of Open Source software, and we want to apply this knowledge and code to solve practical problems for our customers."
I really don't know how Google's activities are advancing the Open Source movement, but I do like a lot of their applications and gadgets. Picassa is a current favourite of mine. It's the best photo album software I've ever used. ;)