Lee vs Grant

After Clash of Giants: Civil War, I continued on the ACW theme with Lee vs Grant. This is a Joe Balkoski game, originally published in 1988 by Victory Games, about the 1864 Wilderness Campaign. Game scales are turns of five days, hexes of two miles across, and each strength point representing 2,500 men.

The game uses an interactive initiative system where the active player chooses a leader and, shocking for its time, rolls one or two dice to determine movement allowance. Leaders have ratings that influence the movement result, so better units do actually move faster – most of the time! The actual fighting men can become disorganized if you push them too much – force march them, or suffer adverse results in battle – so part of the campaign challenge is managing your resources, knowing when to conserve them, and when to push them to their limit. The decision about whether to fight a battle is also key, and rarely straightforward.

This Lee also has an important mission

The game comes with a batch of basic game scenarios, all of which I played – they are all shortish, taking around an hour or two at most – before moving on to the advanced game and the campaign game. There is only one scenario really, but you can choose to try for the three, six or nine turn version, with the victory points suitable adjusted.

I very much enjoyed going back to this game. In short, it was fun. It also inspired me to do some reading about the topic, including a quick run through the material I have and a scout around to see what else might be worth buying.

This game is significant because it gave birth to Joe Balkoski’s Great Campaigns of the Civil War series. The series uses a heavily adapted set of rules – with a higher level of complexity – and a change in scale to turns of one day, hexes of one mile, and steps of 1,000 men per strength point. I recently played Battle above the Clouds, and it was interesting to look back at this core design and see how much simpler it was. Balkoski was involved in the GCACW series, but it is now I think in the hands of Ed Beach.

While I am going to try more of the GCACW series, one of the core design decisions that puzzles me is the switch away from leaders affecting movement allowances. In GCACW, all Union infantry leaders, for example, roll 1d6 for movement, and all CSA infantry leaders roll 1d6+1 for movement. So ‘bad’ CSA leaders become good movers, and ‘good’ Union leaders become bad movers, so to speak. Because the GCACW games are more complex anyway, that simplification seems strange to me.

Confusion in the Wilderness Campaign

Anyway, returning to Lee vs Grant, I finished up playing the short three turn Campaign game. I did that twice, trying out different strategies, and had one minor victory for each side. I shied away from the longer campaign games, not because of the length, but because of the rules load, as much of the advanced rules only really come into play with the longer campaign games.

Offline, a correspondent complained about a certain designer who removed any fun from his games. Balkoski could never be accused of that. No doubt enthusiasts will say the GCACW is wonderful, but there’s more than enough to digest, learn, and enjoy in Lee vs Grant. Great fun, indeed.

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Gettysburg Again

Last weekend I finished up two games of the Gettysburg scenario in Ted Raicer and GMT GamesClash of Giants: Civil War. Both were a Union victory, with the CSA forces unable to seize the key defensive (and victory point) positions before the Union could grab them. Thereafter, these positions were too strong, and the CSA suffered huge losses in their assaults. The Union artillery – especially within the framework of the teleport ability such units have in the game system – was a significant barrier as well.

First, given the variable reinforcement timetable that the game uses, I am unsure how definite one can be about play balance. That having been said, there’s no way I was playing the game well enough to say I had tested it out to the limits, and I am sure others will do better as the CSA. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not complaining about the play balance; generally, I am more interested in the history.

Second, I was surprised by how well the game captured the ebb and flow of the battle. Presently, I still think it’s too easy to get round the flanks of enemy lines who simply stand still in the face of the obvious threat. This is partly related to the lack of simultaneous movement, and partly to the all seeing eye in the sky the players have. I wonder if any attempt at a fix – like a limited reaction ability – would be more trouble than it would be worth, or lead to other unwelcome consequences. Also, it’s fair to say that because you know that being outflanked and surrounded is a bad, bad, thing, there are certain defensive tactics that can reduce the potential for this happening.

Third, I used my house rule for artillery availability, and that saved a chunk of time each turn.The game is fast to play.

While this system is not going to be my ACW system of choice, it’s definitely got its place in my collection as a fast, playable, and enjoyable game package. This area of the market is too crowded already, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a turbocharged version of this system – switching to 1d10 or 2d6 resolution, more steps per unit, more variety in combat results, more command and control (like orders, for example), fog of war, the removal of the artillery teleporting ability, and maybe even adopting some of Michael Resch’s ideas from his 1914 system games –  would be well received. For now, this will have to do.

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Clash of Dice

Clash of Giants: Civil War is Ted Raicer‘s new game about the battles of Second Bull Run and Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Published by GMT games, the system is an ACW adaptation of his Clash of Giants system which covered several World War One battles in a couple of much earlier GMT releases.

Inside the box you get one standard backprinted map with the two battlefields done by the excellent Charles Kibler. Second Bull Run is done at 500 yards per hex, and Gettysburg at 270 yards per hex. There are separate countersheets of larger, well printed counters, for each battle with different variations of Blue and Gray, making it less likely you will get the wrong units appearing in the wrong battle. I like that. Continue reading

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1914 Serbien muß sterbien

I am miles behind in blogging about my wargames activity, but finally am getting round to at least posting something. 1914 Serbien muß sterbien is an operational game about the initial World War One campaign on the Balkan front. The designer is Michael Resch, and it is published by GMT Games. Essentially it’s an attempted smash and grab by the Austro-Hungarians that turns out to be more of a poke and twist against the dogged Serbian defenders.

The physical components are excellent: one standard sized map done at 8.8 km per hex, a couple of countersheets, rules booklet, scenario booklet, organization displays, and other play aids. The other scales are turns of 2-4 days, and units ranging from divisions down to regiments and smaller detachments.

The core mechanics are straightforward, but there are plenty of differences to catch you out, so careful reading of the rules is recommended. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the organization of the rulebook, but I did find 99% of what I was looking for, and on the whole the rules are tight, and the designer’s intent is clear.

The system is “I go, you go” but with a neat twist. After you move your units – with 9 movement points (MPs) plus whatever extra you want to force march – your opponent gets to counter move with 5 MPs plus whatever force march extras he risks. You can pin the enemy by declaring a prepared assault, but if you don’t he is free to spoil your plans by moving away, or bringing in reinforcements.

Force marching can degrade a unit’s combat effectiveness. This is something kept track of separately from combat strength, and well models the gradual wearing down of units in combat. It is an extra something you have to pay attention to, and is a little fiddly (only a little) but is well worth the rules cost.

After movement, you attack, then your opponent attacks. In the opponent’s phase, the roles are reversed. I thought it worked quite well. In this theater, the terrain is quite rugged and the armies are slow and ponderous. Supply is key, with an added burden on the Serbian player of having low artillery supply, and having to husband it carefully.

Combat is straight odds comparison, but the results are modifiers to a post combat effectiveness check. This is a 2d6 roll versus the unit’s current combat effectiveness. So, a typical ’10’ rated unit will stand up quite well. However, that check is where the combat result modifier impacts, meaning that if you have a +3 (for example) to your check from the Combat Results Table, it’s no longer so easy. on top of that, each side’s artillery resources can impact the check. Failing the check can degrade the unit’s combat effectiveness, or cause step reduction, or both. There are some detailed nuisances, like having to cross refer the artillery to the size of the opposing force to get the modifier. Also, step losses are not automatically imposed if the other force is small, and instead this is die roll dependent. Both these systems make sense, but they are finicky. Do they work? yes. Are they worth it? Well, that depends on what you are looking for, If you want the level of realism that the designer is trying to portray, you have to think they are worth it. I’m in the pro camp.

Austro Hungarians (blue) just about holding on against the Serbs (khaki)

I have now played the so called training scenario three times to completion, each time a draw. The first time around, the Austro Hungarians swept all before them in the initial offensive, but were sent reeling by the Serbian reinforcements from the east. The second and third tries saw a more cautious offensive which fared much better against the Serbian counter offensive.

The full scenario is too much for me to play solitaire. This is especially so as I repeatedly cocked up by attacking with units whose effectiveness level meant they should not have been able. I eventually solved this by putting the markers under the combat units, and not on the organizational displays. Further, the full scenario brings in the inevitable trenches,and I am unsure how I would enjoy that static element.

What it has given me is a taste for more of the same as part of a team game, maybe at a future Consimworld.

I enjoyed my time with this game. I liked the system, wasn’t too fussed by the finicky bits, and felt it gave a damn fine feel for the campaign. I particularly like the rules that imposed limitations based on the actual strategic plans of the Austro Hungarian forces.

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Driving to Victory

automobiles

Azriel, Rosalynn, Peleg, and Sheer joined me for the last pre-Pesach playing session, and a good one it was.

We started with Automobiles, a game that combines deck-building with a racing boardgame. This was new to Azriel and Rosalynn, but they were quickly up to, er, speed with the game mechanics. Azriel loves combinations, and was happy to do as many of these as he could, even if they weren’t the best for his chances of victory. Rosalynn, Peleg, and I competed to be second to last, as Sheer had decided he wanted to win from the back and stay in last place as long as possible. Come the final lap, Sheer made his break for the front and we all chased him. But a bad draw meant that Sheer’s bold stroke fell at the last hurdle, and I was first pass the post.

We finished the night with a combination of Dominion: Adventures and Dominion: Intrigue. It was very definitely my night, as I built up a stack of gold cards, and nobody else’s combinations got anywhere near to my buying power often enough. (I think most of the other players were still in shock from me winning the last game, as my previous efforts at it have been awful.) So, I managed the rare event of winning the second consecutive game of the night. Hopefully everybody else still enjoyed it…

Thanks to all who came for making another great night of gaming.

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Build that wall!

alhambra2

No, not a political commentary, a game session report…

This week, while Sheer fought the traffic, Azriel, Peleg, Rosalynn and I warmed up with a game of Dominion: Intrigue and Alchemy. One of the cards – Masquerade? – generated curses, and these made for a slow middle game. Azriel kept plugging away at his Golem cards, and Rosalynn had a useful combination too, so both of them scored well. Peleg was put off his stride by Sheer arriving, and the pair of them combined to achieve the lowest score I have ever seen in such a game: eleven points. Considering they started with three, and I gave them three – it’s a long story- that’s bad. Real bad. I guess it shows that too many cooks do spoil the broth. Oh, and I won. (Tee hee.)

Sheer got his revenge when we switched to Alhambra, a game tasking you with building a palace, where the length of your palace wall is as important as the gardens and buildings within the palace. He won. I had a dreadful start, but recovered well enough to finish up second, the others just behind me. It was a first time outing for Azriel, and he usually wins, but not this time. Rosalynn seemed to have a good start, but then got caught with the wrong cards at the wrong time, and she was not able to buy enough. Peleg had also done well, but seemed to lose ground in the third phase, and the game definitely ended at the worst time for him.

Thanks to all who came. Great fun.

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Eighth Wonder

7 wonders box top

This week’s session started off with Azriel, Rosalynn, Peleg, and Sheer joining Susan and me for a game of Resistance. Then, with the box top opened, the players decided they didn’t want to play that, but instead wanted to play 7 Wonders. So, 7 Wonders it was. And Resistance went back into the box. Somebody spare a thought for poor Resistance’s feelings…

In the game, Azriel’s combined military and blue building strategy was good, but not good enough. Peleg got off to an awful start, but ramped up when the guilds came out, and did quite well. But not well enough. Susan crushed everyone in the blue buildings category, but only that category. Otherwise, almost no points. Not enough points. Sheer’s approach was hard to work out. His score, consequently, reflected that. Shame. My blue buildings and guilds worked reasonably well. But not well enough. Rosalynn creamed us all. She cornered the market in green cards, and that alone was a top rated score. The extra bits and pieces she picked up elsewhere confirmed her as the deserved winner. Azriel was close behind. Nobody else was…

After that, Peleg and Sheer went one on one in Hero Realms. I think they finished a couple of games with one win each.

Azriel, Rosalynn, Sheer and I played a couple of games of Dominion: Intrigue mixed with Dominion: Alchemy. Azriel got his revenge with a win in the first game. I managed to win the second, despite the appearance of the dreaded (hated) Possession card.

And then it was time for bed.

Thanks to all who came for making it another great night of gaming.

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Back from the brink of defeat

hero-realms

With regulars Peleg and Sheer tied up in important Mossad business, it was left to Azriel and I to enjoy ourselves at this week’s game session.

Azriel chose Hero Realms to start, and we then played a couple of games using a variety of the expansion character packs. Unfortunately for Azriel, in each case I was able to thin my deck down to the better concentration of high power cards before him, and so won.

Next up we switched to 7 Wonders: Duel, one of my favorite two player games. I explained the rules to Azriel, and off we went.

The game is played in three rounds.

  • I murdered Azriel in the first round.
  • I absolutely killed him in the second.
  • And I smashed him for most of the third round.

Unfortunately for me, this game has a couple of instant victory conditions. One of these is a military victory. I had ignored the military cards, but foolishly left Azriel needing only one more military point to beat me. However, I could see the cards – we were down to the last three or four – and knew I could stop him from getting the last military card. But, silly billy me forgot the Wonder cards. Azriel had one Wonder that gave him the one military point he needed to give him the win. That will teach me. Well played, Azriel in coming back from the brink of defeat. I may have crushed you to pieces, but you truly won.

Another fun night. No wonder it takes me ages to get to sleep after the high of a games night.

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Voyage of discovery

"There will be trouble ahead..."

“There will be trouble ahead…”

This week’s session was devoted to the single meaty monster of a game that is Amerigo.  It’s a discovery themed game, with a neat action mechanism involving wooden cubes and a cardboard tower, and an action wheel. Players compete to best settle the new land and exploit its resources.

This is serious, hardcore gaming, not for the fainthearted, and not for those lacking in stamina, grit, or fortitude. Despite that (Ha!) Azriel, Peleg, and Sheer joined me, and took part in a memorable gaming experience.

First, Azriel is a gaming great who misleads his opponents by asking questions about stuff that has already been explained. And while his competitors are subconsciously ignoring him as a threat, he is consciously building a winning combination, and a chunk of victory points. His play was stupendous – in the amazingly good sense – and he took the other three of us to the cleaners. He raced ahead, lapped us all on the scoring board, and smiled sweetly throughout.

What was particularly stunning about this was that this was Azriel’s first ever play of the game. In something of this complexity, most people take at least a few game turns, if not a complete game, to understand what is going on. I did try and help Azriel with some of his early decisions, but would probably have been better giving myself some decent advice. Anyway, for a first time play, Azriel was making a mockery of the game’s tough reputation.

At this point, Peleg and I were reduced to spectators. But Sheer, who should never be discounted, refused to give up. And his pondering, slow decision making resulted in an astounding collection of victory points that brought him right up to the same as Azriel’s momentous score. According to the game rules, Sheer was the winner. According to the players, Azriel was the winner. Both played well, and despite the late hour, the fatigue, the dehydration, and the hunger – I mean, they ate almost none of the biscuits! – everybody had a good time.

If you are a serious gamer, and want a top end challenge, I thoroughly recommend Amerigo. All I can say, is thank Heaven we don’t do that every week.

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Shabbat Gaming

Last Shabbat, down south with the Berkeleys in Metar, we squeezed in time for one game among the eating, chatting, and sleeping. Anne, Gillian, Peter, Yoel, Susan and I played one game of Viva Il Re! (in English it is marketed as King Me), a light hearted game of bluff and counter bluff. It’s about getting your candidate to be king, and killing off the competing candidates. It’s easy to explain, quick to pick up and play, and doesn’t ruin relationships when you stab people in the back.

After two rounds of rapid play, Peter was the winner. Gillian, I think, came second. She killed the most candidates I think, but the strategy did not quite pay off. Anne and Susan were straight up in going to promote their own candidates, and could not escape the killing machines out there. Good fun.

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