Mystical Lessons

This week’s session allowed Avri and Sheer to teach me Terra Mystica. Yes, I have played it before. But Avri and Sheer have played it much more often, have truly applied themselves to learning the key techniques required for success, and are both fastidious in their planning and execution. I have a laissez-faire attitude to game play most of the time. OK, I can be lazy. So, in the face of their superior game play, I am never going to be successful if I don’t focus and make the effort. This time around, I was so out of my depth I resolved to watch and try and learn so I would be better equipped for the next play of this intricate game.

Early on action

Sheer chose the race that gave him double bonuses from his temple builds. I chose the race that gave me one free build per turn. Avri chose another race, but I am damned if I can remember what its special power was…

Avri and I tried to establish cities early on. Sheer waited until the final turn to do that, when extra bonuses were available.

Avri and Sheer made full use of the turn by turn bonuses, whereas I didn’t.

As expected, Avri and Sheer were way ahead of me when we got to the final rounds. At that point, with me certainly no threat to either, they started to give me good advice. (Too late, guys!) Avri was the clear leader from about half way, getting points – or so it seemed – from everything he did. Sheer was concentrating on the long term investment he was making with his cultists. With the very last victory point calculation, Sheer went into first place for the first time and won by a measly two points. (I think both had scored 150+ so to say it was a narrow in would be an understatement.

Entertaining and educational.

Thanks to Avri and Sheer for the lesson. Watch out you two: next time we play this, I might even score half as many points as you…8)

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The Poison Artist – Jonathan Moore

Caleb Maddox is a toxicologist. The strange and mysterious woman he encounters seems to have some connection to a series of killings that occur. Is she the killer?

That is the plot. The book is a psychological thriller, supposedly rich in threat, danger, and tension.

It is highly touted as something special.

The book bored me.

I found the writing overdone, and the character way too self absorbed, not at all interesting, and lacking in any aura of realism.

I could see the ending before I was far in to the start, and – though I finished it – almost wish I had not made the effort.

All books have their cliches, but if you are trying to portray the dark side of San Francisco, you really should be doing better than calling on the weather to set the scene. And that lack of imagination – ironically – also permeated through the scenes that were supposed to be fear ridden. I would describe them as a mix of pedestrian, overblown, and off kilter. They did not work.

In short, a disappointment. Of course, your mileage may vary. But if you try it and don’t like it, don’t blame me!

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Wintergewitter

Recently, Ran and I played the ASL scenario Wintergewitter. It is set in December 1942 with the Russians defending a village, and having at start six squads, two half squads, two leaders, a medium machine gun, two light machine guns, and an anti-tank rifle. On game turn two, three T34-76 tanks arrive. The Germans have three squads, one half squad, two (good) leaders, a medium machine gun, and two light machine guns. But they also have four armored half-tracks and five tanks: two Panzer IV F2s, two Panzer III Js, and one Panzer IIIh.

The Russians win if, at the end of the scenario, within the village limits, they have a good order unit or a tank with its main gun still working. I was the Russians, and Ran was the Germans.

Many ASL games turn on the effectiveness of the setup. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes my setup is OK, and sometimes it is plain wrong. I have not yet mastered the art of analyzing the terrain and the situation the way experienced players can. This time, I got it wrong by trying to defend the whole village. This allowed Ran’s force to apply pressure at each point, and pick off the defenders one at a time. That was crucial. However, that wasn’t the end of the story.

So, the Germans come on and start eliminating the infantry defenders in the village. Ran uses vehicle by-pass sleaze – a very gamey but popular tactic – to freeze the defenders. One tank does this right into the hex with my anti-tank rifle. The anti-tank rifle breaks. Another infantry unit and half squad takes a low firepower shot at a hidden stack of mine. The next thing I know, my medium machine gun is out of action. Oh dear.

Ran sends his two good tanks to either side of the village, to go hull down in the wadi terrain there. That sets them up as tough targets for my tanks when they come on.

How not to set up the Russian defense in Wintergewitter

Ran slowly grinds down the defenders. My three tanks come on and swarm one German tank on the flank. One Russian tank is killed in the exchange, but I get the German defending tank and the road to the village is open.

Ran continues his grind. My two remaining tanks advance on the village, and Ran tries to bring back his other defending tank. Its main gun malfunctions and breaks and off it goes, home.

Next up, I lose one tank to a well positioned defender. My last tank must now get in to the village. Ran swarms it with his mixed bag of remaining tanks, and manages to immobilize it. Game over.

Thanks to Ran for his patience while I tried to work out – in vain – a solution to the rapidly declining fortunes of the Russian defenders.

On the dice and fate front, Ran’s sole experience was that tank gun breaking. I had the anti-tank rifle break, and also several blown sniper shots. Ran did not get a single sniper shot. I had two squads go berserk. This guaranteed their elimination as they charged into the teeth of the awesome German firepower. Heat of Battle? More like Time of Death.

I understand this is a popular tournament scenario, and can see why. It can be quite fast, and is tricky on both sides. Certainly, with a better Russian setup, it would have been more of a challenge for Ran. I still enjoyed it. ASL remains the stellar wargaming experience.

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