Lawns grow plush in the hinterlands

Newly arrived, a game that is not a wargame:

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A well written review, somewhere, intrigued me enough to add this to the collection. It’s a tile laying game for up to four people – with a solitaire version – that seems light on rules and heavy on game play.

The sturdy box stood me in good stead, keeping the components in good order despite the best efforts (ahem) of the international postal service.

An initial quick read of the rules doesn’t throw up any issues, so all that remains is to play it. I’ll maybe try the solo version over Shabbat.

Here’s the game’s page on Boardgame Geek.

1914

One recent wargame arrival is the World War 1 Dual Pack, being two Ted Raicer games – originally published in Command magazine – from GMT Games: 1914 Glory’s End covers the opening three months on the Western Front. When Eagles Fight covers the campaign in the East, from Tannenberg to the downfall of the Tsar.

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I took advantage of the availability of Vassal* modules, and tried out both during the Sukkot break.

[*Vassal is “a game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games and card games. Play live on the Internet or by email. Vassal runs on all platforms, and is free, open-source software.” See here.]

I really only dabbled with Glory’s End because there’s a hidden setup which is core to the challenge, and I wasn’t able to split my personality sufficiently to retain any of the fog of war.

I played through several turns of When Eagles Fight and had a blast. It’s a cracking package that gives you an excellent flavor of the campaign without a heavy rules overload. I’ll be giving that another tryout after I finish up this post…

Both games get the best of GMT’s physical production treatment. (The poor lads suffered a disaster with their other recent release Won by the Sword, so it is good to report that it does appear to have been a blip.) The maps are clear, easy to read, and include all the key information. The counters are chunky and impressive. The rules were straightforward and I had no issues that got in the way of playing.

The one part I do not like is that each game’s map is on the reverse of the other. I would have preferred separate mapsheets, but understand the economic arguments in favor of one sheet.

Both games are a great introduction to this period of history. And they are sufficiently accessible to be a worthwhile gift purchase for a potential gamer.

Goeben 1914

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Newly arrived is issue 287 of Strategy & Tactics, complete with the solitaire game Goeben 1914 about the German battlecruiser of that name and its early exploits in WW1. It’s designed by Joe Miranda, has a 16 page rulebook, a full size map, and 176 large die-cut counters.

I’m particularly pleased at picking this up, because Decision Games’ distribution of this to the UK (where I source most of my games) went awry, and I received issues 286 and 288 of the magazine with my normal standing order, but not 287. Apparently it had been missed and was not coming… So I was glad to plug the gap in my collection which I did by ordering direct from Decision. (The good people there slipped in a set of errata, complete with counters, for their Highway to the Reich game. That also increases the chances of me eventually spending some playing time with that desirable monster.)

More importantly from the playing point of view is that Goeben 1914 is a solitaire game. That increases the chance I will make the effort to play it, even though the topic is not one that normally greatly excites me. And I am always interested to see to what extent – if any – a designer of a solitaire game goes beyond the ‘check a table and roll the die’ for such system mechanics.

I have only skimmed the magazine so cannot comment in detail. The articles are often a mixed bag, but the general look and feel of the magazine is very good at first blush.

Incoming

Star Realms is the latest addition to my collection.

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This is a deck-building game with a spaceship combat theme, designed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle, and published by White Wizard Games.

The designers are well known within the card game world, and originally produced this as a Kickstarter project. It sort of flew under the radar, meaning it was produced and sold out quickly without much of a fuss. Then reports of the game play filtered through, and that created a demand for a game no longer in print. (The buzz may have been helped by the fact that supporters of the Kickstarter project got an electronic version.) It did not take too long for the designers to remedy that state of affairs, and now the game is widely available.

Out of the box, it’s not immediately apparent what makes this so appealing. You get 128 cards allowing a two player game. You also get two rules sheets. Then, you begin to understand some of the popularity. One rule sheet – that’s two small sides of paper – contains the complete game rules. Wow. This is a highly playable and accessible game. (The other sheet has multi-player rules for games of 3 or more players.) It’s also fast with playing times of twenty to thirty minutes reported as the norm!

Game play seems to be similar to Dominion, but with some neat twists. For example, you can play all your cards and there are no victory point cards to slow down your deck.

As another example, your goal is not only to buy better cards for your deck, but to score damage against your enemy. Both players start with, essentially, 50 points of life. When you get down to zero or less, you are out. You can track this with paper and pen, or use the cards provided.

Also, instead of you being able to see all the cards available to buy, in Star Realms there is only a limited selection for you and your opponent. So, do you concentrate on buying the cards that are good for you, or do you try and buy the cards that would be best for your enemy.

Another interesting feature, is that each of the ship or base cards available to buy belongs to one of four factions: The Trade Federation, The Blobs, The Star Empire or The Machine Cult. Each has their own style, but you can mix and match acquisitions as you choose.

Finally, you can turn this into a multi-player game by having more than one starter deck. (That’s why I bought a couple.)

I have not yet had any serious playing experience with the game, but am looking forward to trying it out.

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Hoplite

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Out of the wrapper for me is Hoplite, the 15th game in Richard Berg and Mark Herman‘s series The Great Battles of History, from GMT games. You’ll never guess what this one is about…

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I have only had a chance to briefly checkout the contents, but it’s all been good. The rules seem to have been streamlined, have added activation by chit pull, and there are some hoplite specific rules that appeal to me. There was chat on Consimworld about dud counters, but mine are fine. The production standards are excellent.

I am looking forward to playing this, but I might first want to do some reading on the topic.

Tash-Kalar

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This has been waiting a long time for an outing. After yomtov lunch, Peleg and I took it for a quick spin, managing to get in one game of the basic level.

You have a deck of cards representing your faction. Each card has a pattern. If you match the pattern with your playing pieces, that summons a creature – that may destroy something on the board. If you summon, you get bonus actions. So, careful planning is required to get the best out of your troops, and the enemy is there to get in your way. There are frills, but that is the heart of it. And it is fast. Easily under an hour.

Afterwards I checked the rules – two sides of A4! – and saw we got stuff wrong, but nothing too bad. But despite the rules simplicity, it is very rich in strategy and tactics and that little taster has left me keen to get back to it soon.

Decision at Elst

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I love tactical combat games set in WW2. But even though I think Jim Krohn’s Band of Brothers system (see here) is my new favorite, it hasn’t stopped me from indulging other flavors of the genre, like Decision at Elst. This is a new release in the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit (ASLSK) series, designed by Ken Dunn, and produced by Multiman Publishing. It’s the first of the ASLSK historical campaign games, featuring the British and German units fighting at Elst, Holland, in September 1944, as part of Operation Market Garden.

In the box you get a map of the actual battlefield (no geomorphic abstractions, here) done in the usual style. I like it. It’s clear, easy on the eye, and easy to play on. There are three countersheets (1/2″ counters) with infantry, weapons, tanks, guns, and markers. (ASLSK and its big brother ASL are marker intensive games.) As well as the rules booklet, there is a separate campaign rules booklet, player aid cards, and scenario cards. Although there are only four scenarios, the real focus is on the campaign game; a big, meaty, challenge. I suppose I should confirm that the game is self contained, so you only have to buy this to get a good taste of the world of ASLSK.

Currently I am mucking around with the scenarios to remind myself how the rules work. I think Ken Dunn did a terrific job with the rulebook in cutting the full version of ASL down to a much more digestible size. I do not like the style of writing for the rules, but that’s a personal preference, and hasn’t stopped me getting to grips with the game. My pet hate remains the fiddly tank turret rules, but I will probably use my own house rule and just ignore that for the nonsense it is.

ASLSK is an accessible system, and Multiman do a good job of supporting it (and the hobby). Although I have yet to get to the stage where I can tackle the full version (ASL) – and who knows if I ever will – games like Decision at Elst maintain my interest, and keep me at least thinking about the possibility.

If you are a novice gamer, you might be better off with ASLSK #3, as there are more scenarios in that package. But if you want to try out tactical gaming in a more historical setting – certainly as far as the map is concerned – this is a great place to start.

More wonders!

Also just arrived, a couple of expansions for the popular 7 Wonders game.

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The Leaders expansion adds cards of that type, to expand the player choices and challenge of winning the game.

The Cities expansion adds cards of that type. As well as the consequential increase in player options, it includes a team version of the game for up to 8 players.

I expect to be under pressure to familiarize myself with these quickly, and get them ready for playing.

Ghost Panzer

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Although my playing time with Band of Brothers has been limited, I remain impressed. So much so that I pre-ordered the next in the series: Ghost Panzer. It arrived yesterday, despite Worthington Games putting my address as “Ra’anana, Hong Kong.” Ahem. Somebody spotted the error and redirected it to its rightful destination.

This game features the 11th Panzer Division in some of its battles in Russia, from 1941-1943. It has a couple of introductory scenarios to ease the newcomer into the system. It all looks good – a decent selection of infantry, tanks, and weapons, and cool map art. I am looking forward to playing it.