Better Fields of Fire

Recently I continued my ASL adventure (AKA ‘losing streak’) with a game against Josh, playing the scenario Better Fields of Fire. It is set in September 1944, with elements of a US Infantry Regiment trying to take a fortified defense position from some German paratroopers. I was the attacker, and Josh the defender.

I knew the odds were stacked against me when I read the past records available online, suggesting a 2-1 ratio of German to American victories.

I knew that things were only about to get worse when my first shot of the game from my heavy mortar ran me out of WP ammunition. And they did get worse.

Josh set up a forward defense of two stacks of dummies. I dithered about whether they were real forces or not, and in the end made the wrong guess. So, I spent precious time and firepower attacking them.

Until about the halfway point in the game, no American squad passed a morale check. No wonder the advance was going slowly. Worse was that Josh had about four snipers, three of which were effective. I did generate an extra hero, and he actually made it into the fort.

We called the game after the German reinforcements arrived. By then, my force was weaker than the combined defending forces and reinforcements, and there was no way I would have been able to hold on to the victory point area.

Not my finest performance, but still an enthralling gaming experience. However, probably one of the fewest scenarios I would not be keen to play again. It’s a one shot effort.

I’m hoping for a performance improvement in 2019…

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Normandy: The Beginning of the End

This has been on the table for the last wee while. It’s the latest in the War Storm Series (my review of an earlier version is here) and this is a good improvement. In a nutshell, the rules are better, though there are still gaps. And the proofreading and translation is not perfect. But, it’s a highly playable system, easily tweaked, and delivers a lot of gaming goodness. The components are gorgeous. Highly recommended.

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Wargame Catchup

Since finishing my game of Zama, here’s what’s been on my game table.

Continuing my play of the Simple Great Battles of History system, I had a run through of The Catalaunian Fields. This is battle that came with the Attila module for Cataphract, a GMT published game designed by Richard Berg and Mark Herman. The battle pits a Roman/Visigoth force with a suspect bunch of Alans against Attila, his Huns, the Ostrogoths, and other allies.

In this era, the overwhelming combat encounter was bow and arrow armed light cavalry engaging in hit and run fire. Close combat was to be avoided by these light troops. The system does a good job of replicating this, but it can be tricky working out how to bring enough force to bear so as to be able to inflict high enough casualties. Games with such forces seem to take a bit longer. I wrapped this one up when the writing was on the wall for the Huns. Their repeated attacks against the suspect Alans had been for naught, and the combination of Visigothic heavy and light cavalry, had been much more effective.

I really like the system, but probably prefer the battles of an earlier era. There’s something about the light cavalry archers that doesn’t appeal to me.

That having been said, next up was a later battle, albeit a different system.

Another Richard Berg design, again from GMT,  Infidel is the third in a series of four games called Men of Iron. The system is a cousin of Simple Great Battles of History, with a combat system that does not involve tracking hits, and a lean command and control system.

The game has six scenarios in the box, and I chose to play Dorylaeum, the 11th century battle in northwest Anatolia between a Crusader army and a Seljuk army. The Crusader forces have fallen into a trap, and are doomed unless their reinforcements – the part of the Crusader army that the Seljuks appear to have forgotten about – can heed the call and arrive before it’s too late.

The scenario features lots of chivalrous knights against lots of less than chivalrous light infantry archers who, like in the Attila scenario, will hit and run. So, it was interesting to compare the systems and the playing experience.

In my replay, the Crusaders made too many bad reinforcement rolls, and were carved up before help arrived.

The command and control system is easy, and while it is very solitaire friendly, you do have to keep track of who went last with what. I would prefer to avoid that bookkeeping, though it is fair to say you probably don’t need it for face to face play as each player will surely remember what’s going on!

On balance, I prefer SGBOH, but now having properly dipped my toe into the system’s waters, I will probably have a go at others in the series.

Time for a complete change.

Skies Above the Reich is a solitaire game designed by Mark Aasted and Jerry Smith (again from GMT) which puts you in command of a group of Luftwaffe pilots trying to bring down the bombers that are pulverizing the Nazi empire.

The game is played in seasons, each comprising several missions. In each mission, your pilots encounter bombers and escorts, and have to get in, do some damage, get out, and survive well enough to take part in the next mission. Pilots can acquire expert skills, and green replacements can try and lose their rookie disadvantages. (Rookie pilot losses are horrendous.)

The rulebook presentation is extensive, and shies away from traditional structure. It leads you through a turn, and does a great job of getting you into the game without having to read the rules first.

It’s a challenge for you to win – which is how it should be – and gets harder as you progress through later chronological seasons. I found it tough enough in 1942, so dread to think how hard the 1944 or 1945 seasons would be to play.

I was very impressed by the design, the physical production, and how easy it was to get into the system and understand it. I’m not that big a fan of air warfare, and in the end that is probably why I put it away. The game just wasn’t holding my attention enough. There’s nothing wrong with the game; it just doesn’t seem to fit my personal tastes well enough.

That’s better. Now I have caught up in my wargame blogging.

What is next, I wonder. I’m off to find a game to play.

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Bloody Bois Jacques

I continued my ASL education this week, with a game against Ran of the scenario Bloody Bois Jacques. Set in Bastogne, December 1944, the battlefield is a heavily wooded area which an attacking force of 9 USA squads (plus leaders, two heroes, and some machine guns) must make their way through, against a defending force of 8 German squads (plus leaders, machine guns, and artillery support).

There are a couple of scenario special rules which are a bit quirky, but do mostly work, representing fire lanes for the defenders. Basically, units in foxholes can see through woods hexes that would otherwise block line of sight. But the enemy cannot see the foxholes (or the units in them) until the fire lane is used.

I was the attacker, and Ran was the defender.

I should have known it would not be my lucky night when I failed two out of three deployment rolls in the first Rally Phase. Not a good omen.

Anyway, I split my force across the board, in two rough groups, seeking to drive on and get to the exit area that would give me victory points.

On my left flank, I put about half the squads plus both heroes. I led with a half-squad to scout ahead, and he made good progress, so the rest followed. I bumped into his hidden force and actually did a good job of forcing them back, as the Germans traded space for time.

On the right, the rest of the squads plus the machine gun, had a reasonable first turn. But then the artillery arrived. My troops on the right got clobbered by the artillery, and although many rallied and recovered, they were not able to get to the exit area in enough numbers, in time.

The key, therefore, was the deadly effectiveness of the German artillery which switched back to my other force and then harassed it to death. My two heroes who were the point men on my left flank, were wiped out by the artillery, along with supporting squads.

Although I had a chance of winning in the last turn of the game, Ran’s continued success with his artillery put an end to that, so he was able to claim another victory. (Exasperating.)

Ran did not fail a single battery access roll. He would have needed to roll a 12, but didn’t. Indeed, he did not roll a 12 the whole game. I only rolled one, but it was for a pin task check. Ran always drew a black chit for artillery availability. Although the odds of him drawing a red chit – meaning the artillery would have been unavailable – increase with each black chit draw, it never occurred.

Although I lost, I don’t think my play was bad. (Even more exasperating.) For example, I believe I got the fire/move balance about right which may be an improvement. However, I might have made the wrong call about committing to a couple of close combats. I find that if the right thing is to commit to a close combat, and I do the right thing, I am rarely successful in the close combat. So, maybe I should not have been surprised the close combats did not go well. If they had, I might still have sneaked a win, despite the awesome German artillery. (Double plus exasperating!)

Anyway, despite the loss, the game itself was the usual intense and enjoyable experience with time flying by, and there’s always a chance the next game will turn out better. Thanks to Ran for his patience and hospitality.

 

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Zama

Get ready, get steady…

I am terrible at blogging about my game playing; I guess I would rather play games than write about them. However, let’s see if I can change that as from this point on.

On the table, the battle of Zama from the game SPQR from GMT Games. The battle is the one which brought the Second Punic War to an end, with Scipio Africanus beating up Hannibal. The game system is Berg and Herman’s Great Battles of History (GBOH),  with SPQR being one of many games in that series. I am using the Simple version (SGBOH). There’s a reason.

I came back from my time at ConsimWorld Expo determined to spend more time playing my wargames, as opposed to reading rules and thinking about playing them. One direct consequence is that I have shied away from more complex systems, preferring material that I can get to the table quicker.

I started with full blown GBOH and the game Hoplite. Once I got started, I played every game in the box except for the monster Platea. I then moved onto Great Battles of Alexander (GBA), again starting with the full game system. At some point, I broke out SGBOH and tried it. Wow! So much faster. So much more fun. With SGBOH I can get through a medium sized scenario in under a couple of hours play, maybe three at a pinch. I decided to stick with SGBOH.

I did all the GBA battles, save for Gaugamela, before moving on to SPQR.

As is usual for me, my playing of the games has started a blast of reading (and rereading) relevant historical material. And, as always, it’s fascinating to note what historical elements mentioned in the literature are represented in the game system, and how.

In short, I’m really enjoying this.

Now, let’s see if Scipio can triumph again.

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Heaven and Hell

This month I was able to get together some of the ‘old’ gamers for a session. And quite a session it turned out to be, too.

Avri, Azriel, and Rosalynn were introduced by Efrat to Heaven & Ale, a tile placing game about monasteries and beer.

The rules explanation took a while, but the players seemed to agree that the game was not that complex once you started playing. Of course, there’s a difference between playing the game and being any good at it, as I know only too well.

“That’s a fine – hic! – brewery you have there.”

Rosalynn and Azriel were quite, patient, and dogged. But neither were able to break out of the build up stage and develop a meaningful set of tiles and interactions to seriously challenge the leaders until it was too late.

Efrat, who had played the game before, seemed to be knocked off her stride by doing the rules explanation. Avri seemed to ‘grok’ the game quickly, and he was soon in contention. Then, in the last few turns, he left everyone behind and ran up a massive score. I think it may have been more than everyone else’s score added together…

Although the game seemed a tad on the long side for me, the players were not troubled by that. All had a good time, with a very healthy post mortem taking place to figure out what went wrong and how they could improve things the next time.

While they were brewing their ale, Peleg and I played Commands and Colors: Napoleonics. This is a light wargame, played with blocks on a hex grid, and units being activated by cards drawn from a single deck. There are special cards with surprise effects, and dice to resolve combat. Nevertheless, there is a decent amount of skill in the game.

French still holding on

We played the first scenario, Rolica (17 August 1808). Wellington vs General Henri Delaborde, with the Anglo Portuguese on the attack.

I took the outnumbered French defenders, and Peleg the Anglo attackers.

I rebuffed Peleg’s early attacks using my cavalry as a sort of fire brigade. First it won on the right, then it raced across and won on the left, then it raced back to the right.

I was 4-3 up (needing 1 Victory Point for the win) when Peleg’s artillery produced an amazing bombardment that got him the 2 VPs he needed, for a 5-4 win.

It was very exciting and a ton of fun. We will definitely do that again.

Thanks to all who came, and especially Efrat for bringing along that quite intriguing brewing game.

 

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ASL Catchup

I have been remiss in blogging about gaming, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing – and losing.

A summary of all my ASL games since the last blog post about it would be: I played, I lost. Pretty demoralizing, even though playing ASL remains the most enthralling, engaging, absorbing, and exciting wargame experience I have ever had. The essential conundrum is that the only way to improve is to play, and yet if every play is a loss, it somewhat saps the enthusiasm. I have tried one session as purely an observer, watching Ran and Josh playing a scenario I had already played with Josh. I did learn a lot. Putting the right lessons into practice at the right time is the main challenge.

Also, I doubt – despite protestations to the contrary – that it’s much fun for my opponents to keep on winning. I haven’t figured out a solution, and maybe I never will. But meantime, I am still playing.

Last time out, Ran, Josh, and I played Second City, a 1944 scenario featuring a Soviet assault force (Josh) trying to steamroller through a mixed infantry and tank group of Hungarian defenders (Ran) with a couple of Panthers and decent German infantry support coming on as third turn reinforcements (me). This allowed me to watch the initial turns, trying to take on board the lessons, occasionally asking questions.

Josh’s assault force almost, but not quite, wiped out the Hungarians. Unfortunately for him, Ran exacted a high price. When my force came on in, it was able to put paid to the bulk of the remaining Soviet armor threat, and take up good defensive positions. (I would have struggled to do this entirely unaided, but Ran’s guidance was excellent and he better deserves the credit.) That set of moves plus a flamethrower led attack that wiped out some forward Russian attackers ended the scenario.

ROAR records 17 German wins against 2 Soviet, so the outcome seems to follow the trend and suggests that the scenario is not well balanced.

Now, a pause for lessons learned.

Setup: as defender, do not setup somewhere that the attacker can use his firepower to too much effect. In this case, the Soviets start with a half-track toting 24 firepower, and that is to be avoided.

Gun crew: don’t forget final protective fire.

Tanks: don’t give the opponent a side (or rear) shot, even if it has a low chance of success.

Broken main armament: think about whether you need to repair the gun. Failure gets the tank recalled. Maybe the machine guns will do the job.

Smoke: think about the different ways this can be used, including placing smoke in an enemy occupied hex. Don’t forget vehicle smoke launchers.

Stacks: avoid, avoid, avoid.

I’m sure there were more lessons, and hopefully I have properly absorbed them. Thanks to Josh and Ran for the continuing education, and their patience.

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Turning the red planet green

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Five gamers. Hmm. Terra Mystica, Puerto Rico, or Power Grid

One gamer called off.

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Four gamers. Hmm. Acquire, Tigris to Euphrates, or Dominion

One gamer called off.

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Three gamers. Hmm. Alhambra, Ticket To Ride, or Game of Thrones

One gamer called off.

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Two gamers. Sheer and me. So, I asked Sheer, and Terraforming Mars got the nod.

In all seriousness, if only for a moment, it meant that Sheer could teach me to play this game – one I have been looking to play for a while – without any distractions. We took it easy, and before long we were up and playing.

If only I knew what the good cards were!

In short, each player is a company tasked with terraforming Mars, the famous red planet. Each company has its own special power. The extent to which Mars is improved is measured by its temperature, oxygen level, and ocean coverage. Each player is dealt cards and uses these cards to acquire the necessary building blocks to acquire the necessary cards to acquire…you get the picture.

Being card driven, there is a substantial luck element. Sheer’s house rule to alleviate the effects is a good one: using a 7-Wonders type drafting mechanism for each batch of new cards. It adds time, but was well worth it.

Like with many of these types of games – with a ton of cards and card interactions – Sheer’s extensive previous plays gave him a big advantage. I knew that before we started, but it was all about learning the game, and Sheer probably had some of the enjoyment drained out of the experience as well since he faced such a modest challenge. But it was fun, and I think Sheer enjoyed competing against himself to see how far he could boost his average score. Quite far, methinks!

Red was doing well. I wasn’t red…

I am even more keen to play the game after that first exposure. It took us, including rules briefing, about three hours. The problem is, with more than two players, it may be too long for a single night’s play midweek. Maybe I will need to wait for another night of call-offs!

Thanks To Sheer for coming and teaching me the game. A keeper.

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Entering the arena

Avri, Azriel, Efrat, Rosalynn, and Sheer joined me for this week’s regular gaming session. Surprisingly, Mr Prompt (aka Sheer) was last to arrive, and late, so a group decision was made to kick off with Between Two Cities. I’m not sure if there was a connection, but another rarity occurred: Sheer finished in last place. Who won? Glad you asked. I did. Sort of. Actually, it was a tie between Azriel and me, but for some strange, illogical, unfair, and prejudicial tie breaking rule, Azriel won. So, I sort of won, but Azriel really won.

So far as the game play itself is concerned, there was a quick rules briefing required for some, but once started the play was straightforward. The different scoring for different types of tiles is neat, and although there is some considerable luck, there is more skill than may at first appear. I like it well enough to keep playing it.

We then moved on to 7 Wonders.

  • Efrat had never played it before, and – inevitably – struggled. She hung on like a trouper, however, and kept fighting for every last point until the bitter end.
  • Rosalynn cornered the science cards and amassed a might 40 points in that category alone. Unfortunately, there was little else on her scoreboard.
  • Avri went for a military win, did well enough with that and finance, but otherwise made little impact.
  • Sheer added to his military prowess with some blue and yellow cards, doing well enough to finish 3rd.
  • Azriel scored well in the final rounds, picking up some decent guild cards, and important sets of science cards. He was 2nd.
  • My blue card strategy turned out to be a winner. A couple of guild cards in the closing rounds made sure of victory.

Rosalynn went off for an early night, and the five remaining tackled Titan the Arena, a classic Reiner Knizia design.

The game is built on the theme of monsters fighting in an arena, with one eliminated each round. You start with eight, and stop when three are left standing. Each monster has a special power (extra draw, extra discard, swap cards, and do on) but you can only use the power if you play a card of that type, and you control the monster. Control is determined by the strength of your bets. You have poker chips to signal your bets, and each round the value of your bet is decreased. There is also a maximum of one secret bet per player which is tricky. It’s valuable if it survives, but at the outset it is a guess, really, of who will survive no matter the cards in your hand.

All were new to this except me, so I explained the rules and led by example, making a suicidal secret bet, and then desperately trying for some respectability. Let it be said that there was a lot of backstabbing in this game, and some of it even had a point…

Avri put me out of the reckoning, then Azriel, Sheer, and Efrat got in a tangle. I stayed clear, but still finished last. Most others were huddled above me in the ‘respectable score’ region, with Efrat a clear winner. Good, clean fun.

Thanks to all who came. It was fun.

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