Adventures in a Gaming Land – Quote of the Con

The auction at Consimworld Expo is a hoot. Most of this arises from the auctioneer, Alan Emrich, who is sharp, fast, and funny. He delivered at the auction what was for me, the quote of the con.

Setting: Alan has been on his feet for about forty-five minutes, acting as auctioneer. In that time, he has sold several Napoleonic themed games: games about Napoleonic campaigns, or battles, or both.  The next game he is asked to auction is Napoleon’s Last Battles.  His response:

“Boy, that Napoleon guy sure got around!”

Brilliant.

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Adventures in Arizona – Friday

I started my gaming week with Wellington, and ended it the same way; Mark Kramer invited me to try out, under his guidance, the brand new Wellington’s War game from designer Hans von Stockhausen and Pacific Rim Publishing, and I accepted.

The game is about the Napoleonic campaign in Spain from 1808-1814. It comes with an extra large map (32″ x 48″), big hexes, and 100 blocks with stickers to attach to represent the military units. In addition there are decks of cards – one for events and one for commands – and some counters to be used as markers.

There are 12 turns in the campaign scenario, and a shorter 5 turn scenario that runs (I think) from 1812-1814.

w_1

System

The game system melds card driven techniques with buckets of dice for combat resolution. I am not keen on either of these mechanics, so the game started from a bit of a disadvantage. However, while I wouldn’t buy it, the game play was enough to convince me that for gamers who have no prejudices against these systems, it would be a good buy. It has a lot of tactical and operational depth, plenty of options, and more than its fair share of chaos.

The game turn starts with an event card drawn and played immediately by both sides. This is a very clever and well worked part of the system, because the designer has kept the focus on historical events occurring within a reasonable time. He achieves this by limiting the cards in the event deck, and having the contents tweaked according to the game turn. (So, in certain game turns, you add certain event cards.) Also, some events trigger the addition of other cards to the deck. It sounds deterministic, and it probably would be except for the fact that typically you are only drawing two events per turn (there can be more) so it is by no means certain what will happen and what will not. In other words, there is still an element of tension over the events, and that is a good thing.

After that, each player draws six command cards from that deck (seven in turn one). This is like Hammer of the Scots in that the cards limit what you can do. So, when I drew a hand of cards with values of one and two, it was not a surprise that the victory point score went in favor of Mark, as he had drawn cards with values of three and four.

w_2

With these cards, you can draw units, move units, conduct sieges, and so on. Battles are fought at the end of round of card play, and use – as already mentioned – buckets of dice. For those not in the know, this means that units roll a number of dice equal to their strength, hitting on a number determined by the type of unit. Also, combat is in order according to the unit rating with A units firing before B rated units which fire before C rated units and so on. It works, but I do not like it.

At the end of the turn you deal with attrition; essentially, it’s hard to amass big forces without suffering losses.

In Winter turns you check Victory Points (VPs). The map is split into areas. Controlling the areas gives you VPs, but these differ for each side.

w_3

Things I Liked

  • The rulebook is 30 plus pages, but it’s actually very accessible. So, unless you face an opponent struck down with analysis paralysis, this has the potential to be quite a quick moving game. You will not finish the campaign game is a single afternoon or evening session, perhaps needing two.
  • The game is not scripted; I could see several different strategies for each side, and am sure I only scratched the surface.
  • There’s some neat unit differentiation – the Spanish guerrillas, for example, are a real pain for the French – without a material rules overhead.
  • The events deck must have taken a long time to fine tune. I was very impressed with how this worked.
  • The game has simple and effective mechanisms that reflect the political situation, and thus the availability of military force for each of the main combatants.
  • Any game with fog of war is a game with added tension.

Overall

If I were a fan of card driven games using buckets of dice for the combat system, I would buy this. If you are a Napoleonic gamer for whom these two features is not an obstacle, I recommend you give it a look.

Finally

For the record, I was just about losing when we called the game. I could blame my crappy hand of command cards, but it’s also fair to say that I was making all sorts of errors, and being punished by the more savvy, and experienced, Mr Kramer.

Thanks to Mark for his patience in explaining the rules, tolerating my questions, and my whining about the cards I kept on drawing. He made it a very enjoyable session, despite those damn buckets of dice!

 

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Five for Friday

I can only say that if the week goes by quickly when I am in Israel, it goes by even quicker when I am at Consimworld Expo. But it’s here, and I need to offer the usual selection of links, even if only to show that I do recognize there is life beyond gaming. So, here they are:

Shabbat Shalom!

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The longest wait is forever

The Queen is on an official trip to Germany – a visit that will include a stop at a concentration camp. The headline set me thinking about why the Queen has never made a visit to Israel. Such members of the Royal Family that have visited, have always done so with officialdom stressing – and stressing, and stressing, and stressing – that the visit was a personal one. So, the question is not only, why hasn’t the Queen visited Israel? Why hasn’t any member of the Royal Family made an official visit to Israel?

During her reign, the Queen has made official visits to many countries in the Middle East, including:

  • Bahrain
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

Despots, dictators, racists, and terrorist supporters. Apparently it’s OK to visit those countries. But Israel…

So what’s the problem with Israel?

  • Is the Royal Family antisemitic?
  • Is the Royal Family anti-Israel?
  • Is the Royal Family prevented by the Arabists at the Foreign Office from going on an official visit to Israel?

Whatever the reason, it’s an excuse, and a rude state of affairs that contributes to the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.

Who will call them out on this? Or are we waiting in vain?

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Adventures in a Gaming Land – Clipping

If you want your counters to be clipped, and clipped consistently, this is the way to do it:

x_laminator

It’s a tool used in the print industry, to put rounded corners on material. One gamer spotted its potential to clip counters, and it has caught on like wildfire. So much so, I understand, that the manufacturers tweaked their design to accommodate this new market.

This was the first that I had seen one in the flesh (so to speak) and I must say it was impressive. It is easy to use, and so much better than hacking away with a sharp knife like I do.

I do not have one. Yet.

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Adventures in Arizona – Thursday

So, back to Ukraine ’43. When we resumed the game, the German side were back at the Dnieper river, pursued by the Soviets. There were not enough units for a complete defense, but gradually – thanks to replacements and reinforcements – a defensive line was constructed.

Unfortunately, it was weak in places. And the Soviet side eventually broke through. From that point on, as much as matters before had been desperate for the Germans, they were even more so.

Each turn, the Soviets drove forward, picking up VP here and there. Each turn the Germans tried to do some damage with their panzer forces, and to stall what seemed like the inevitable.

With a couple of turns to go, the Soviets launched an offensive on Kiev that would have won the game, had it been successful. The Germans held out.

Kiev holds out

Kiev holds out

Then, out of nothing, Nicholas cobbled together a strike force that smashed into two of the big Soviet stacks and sent them reeling. That bought the Germans precious time.

The Soviets needed 30 VP to win. With two turns left, they had 28 VP. With one turn left, they had 28 VP. That meant, in the final turn, it all came down to the minor city of Nikopol. Surrounded by the Soviets, would they hold out?

Nikopol at the center of the storm

Nikopol at the center of the storm

Yes. Incredibly, at the end of the campaign game, victory could have gone either way, depending on the fates in that last turn.

It had been a hard fought victory for the German side. Nicholas must take much credit for this, as he was much more thoughtful in the positioning of the defenders than I was. His sense of the danger was better developed than mine. (Though I could claim something for having suggested the garrisoning of Nikopol.)

Marc and Daaniel had been unlucky at times during the game. With them having to do most of the attacking, they had suffered from too many low die rolls. Had these gone differently… On the other hand, the weather was way too kind to the Soviets.

A great gaming experience, played with terrific gamers, in a wonderful atmosphere – just like I expect at Consimworld Expo. Simply wonderful.

 

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Adventures in Arizona – Wednesday

My next game was Ukraine ’43, about the Soviet summer 1943 offensive that took them from outside Kharkov, all the way to Kiev. The designer is Marc Simonitch, and it is newly published by GMT Games.

Luckily for me, the designer had arranged to bring along a 125% enlarged version of the game maps, and offered to host the session. He was joined by Daniel Thorpe, and they took the Soviet side. Nicholas Markevich and I were the German side.

Setting up

Setting up

The game is a playable and good looking monster; it has two standard sized maps in the recognizable Simonitch style – that is a compliment by the way – and a campaign game of 21 turns. (We were playing the campaign game, but there are three smaller scenarios included.) The counters are larger sized, with clear and attractive coloring throughout. The counter stacking is minimal, and the system is accessible and easy to understand. Mastering its nuances are another matter.

The situation is that the Soviet side have to drive hard to keep up at least to the historical performance. This is because each turn has a benchmark of victory points, and if the Soviets do not get close enough to the benchmark – within six, they lose. On the other hand, if they can achieve six more than the benchmark, they win an automatic victory. This means there is a level of tension in every turn as both siodes have one eye on the situation, and one eye on the victory point track. Victory Points (VP) incidentally come from control of specified (and marked) locations, with the possibility of extras for the Soviet side that can exit units off the Western map edge.

At game start, the Soviets have massive resources on hand. They will break the German line. So the question for the German side is when to pull back, and to where. Timing is everything.

The Germans pull back from the defensive line - too late?

The Germans pull back from the defensive line – too late?

We managed 11 out of the 21 turns, and at the end of that session my conclusion was that the German side had waited too long to withdraw. Although our panzers had snapped back at times, the Soviet side had kept on going and it looked as if there were almost no German units left to form a line. The only hope was that the Soviet side were at the end of their supply chain, and there was a steady (albeit small) trickle of reinforcements and replacements. Would it be enough?

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Theater of the absurd

The UN, and all its offshoots, strikes me as a theater of the absurd. The totalitarian regimes criticize the democracies. The torturers and abusers of human rights assail those who value life, liberty, and freedom. And the terrorists (and their sponsors, useless idiots, and ideological bedfellows) accuse those fighting terrorism of being war criminals. While that theater does, occasionally, put on a good and proper show (ie, does something right that actually contributes something) that does not excuse the unintentional farces that form the bulk of its promoted output.

As an aside, while transferring flights in Heathrow Terminal Five, I saw a lot of adverts for the work of the UN. Really? The UN needs to spend money on advertising? How the hell does that contribute meaningfully to its aims. It seems like a total waste. (Not unlike the UN itself.)

It will therefore come as no surprise, that I join with those who sharply criticize and denounce the latest output from that body, the UNHCR report on the last Gaza conflict. There is so much to be said, and not enough time, but even if only for my own sake, I wanted to highlight the following commentaries:

We may not want to buy a program for the Theater of the Absurd. But we can still critique the performances.

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Adventures in Arizona – Tuesday

To cut to the chase, at the end of several days of gaming, the Allied forces conceded to Napoleon at Waterloo. For all that commentators criticize the Sicilian Ogre for his mishandling of the battle, his gaming counterparts put that right.

Their approach was as follows:

  • To cancel the all out assault on Hougomont, and replace it with a careful, cautious approach from a safer angle.
  • To send out substantial blocking forces so as to prevent the Prussians from doing very much.
  • To hammer the left side of the Allied line using a combination of Guard and regular infantry, preceded by an almighty Grand Battery of artillery.
  • Once they had driven the Allies back, they kept up the pressure until, eventually, there was nowhere left to fall back to.

So, before I forget, a thank you to Clark Daggs, Chris Fasulo, Vinnie Fasulo, and John Foy for their part in making this an awesome gaming experience. It was a pleasure, gentlemen.

The end

The end

Next up, some comments about the game system:

  • Chris Fasulo designs games by reading the history, and working from there. He is not a great believer – and may be unique in this – in seeing what other designers have done.
  • When I first read the rules, I thought the combat model would not work.
  • In essence, troops have a cohesion rating (called “Level of Order”) as well as a combat strength. Combat results affect the cohesion. Units can be badly beaten up, but can also recover.
  • To kill units, you have to hound them to destruction: grind down their cohesion, and keep at them.
  • The combat model does work. It is not perfect. For example, I question whether units could truly recover 100% of their cohesion. But, every combat model has its shortcomings, and so should not be discounted for that reason alone.
  • The game has big stacks of counters at times. This either bothers you, or it doesn’t. That apart, it is very playable. There is some fiddly reference to charts, but that is nothing. It is way, way faster than the other tactical games at this level of this era that I have seen.
  • The counters badly need some way of showing an obvious divisional affiliation – because you move by divisional formations, in the main.
The Prussians were really up against it

The Prussians were really up against it

The gamer in me wants to go away and think of ways of cutting down the stacks, and maybe – dare I say it – tweaking the Levels of Order system. But first I have to work out how to get hold of a copy without being clobbered for import tax. The game has just been released, and there were no copies for sale. (Boo!) On the other hand, it meant that those of us who played it were having a  truly unique gaming experience.

In the top right, you can see the Allies pushed against the map edge

In the top right, you can see the Allies pushed against the map edge

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Adventures in a Gaming Land

Today was the day when, among other events, the dealer room opened. Decision Games, Legion Games, Lost Battalion Games, Pacific Rim, and Victory Point Games all had stuff on show and for sale, with GMT, MMP, and other companies’ products available through Decision.

As well as the games fro sale, there were gamer accessories. What’s a gamer accessory? Glad you asked:

adicetray

A dice tray. Perfect for the gamer in your life!

In addition, John Kranz hosted tonight’s welcome assembly. As the person who had traveled the longest distance, apparently, I was introduced to the crowd and received a game as a special prize. (Cool!)

There was a short but entertaining talk from guest of honor Mark Herman, and we spent some time remembering absent friends, such as the late John Hill.

Tomorrow I am going to tray and get some pictures of the games on offer in the main hall (or at least some of them) to give you an idea of the diversity of stuff being played.

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