Finishing the Pocket

A few weeks back I finished an extended session of play with Jaws of Victory. Here are my likes and dislikes.

What I liked

  • The maps are gorgeous.
  • The counters are equally nicely done.
  • The rule book, scenario book, and play aids are also of high quality.
  • Game play is immersive. (There’s a downside to this which I’ll cover in the dislikes.) While you can just push the counters around, to be successful you must come up with a plan and then execute it. For example, when and how to use artillery. As another example, which troops to commit first and which to be reserves.
  • The supply rules are a lovely balance of playability and realism. You cannot simply attack everywhere all the time. So, naturally, there are lulls as supplies are built up before the next offensive.
  • The air support rules are another wonderful creation. You can call for support but you are never sure if you will get any. It’s easy to play and adds to the suspense. (And reflects real-life doubts.)
  • The tank and anti-tank interaction is superb. It’s easy to use and delivers believable results.
  • Similar to the last point, the terrain effects and different unit types give a real sense of the limitation the actual forces faced. This is not a game where you get your powerful tank units up front and they sweep all foes away. Oh no. You need infantry, engineers, and artillery. And you need replacements to fill the ranks.
  • There are plenty of one map scenarios.
  • Achieving historical results is challenging. That’s the way it should be. The result is not scripted. I know that I only scratched the surface of the game play and I am much happier knowing that the Soviets, for example, cannot simply just attack away and succeed. I’m also pretty certain that watching an expert play this game would be highly entertaining and instructive.

What I didn’t like

  • It’s slow to play if you are doing things properly. There are three sources for this. First, most hexes have more than one unit in them, so there’s a stack with one visible and one or more hidden. Second, only infantry units with 3 steps or more project a Zone of Control. (ZOC). So, you often need to disturb a stack to see if a ZOC is in effect. Third, there are rules for armor interception. So, you may need to check to see if a stack has a potential interceptor. This is the price you pay for the level of detail on display.
  • There are lots of special rules setting up the historical restrictions on when units, for example, may be activated and where they may go in early turns of the scenario. You get the history, but it’s not for free. No, I don’t know a way around this. (Yes, I am trying to have my cake and eat it.)
  • That’s it…

In summary, this game has been one of my best buys. I spent hours playing it and enjoying it. And if I can ever get back to a convention, this will be high on my ‘to-be-played’ list because I very much want to see how the campaign goes.

Rundstedt Attacks!

For the last couple of weeks my solitaire boardgaming has been taken up exclusively with Scenario Three – Rundstedt Attacks! – from Barbarossa Army Group South. I am glad that I played the two previous (smaller) scenarios first, as they were a good introduction to this one which features more space, more tanks, and more challenges.

The scenario is on one map, and is about the initial attacks through the Lvov Gap. There are several special rules to replicate the historical limits on the forces and both players have much to do. The Axis player has to secure the Victory Point (VP) hexes and destroy enemy tank and artillery units. The Soviet player has to hold the VP hexes and destroy enemy tank, artillery, or motorized division units. Continue reading

Early Days

I finished scenario one of Wing Leader – Origins  with a narrow victory for the defending British against the raiding German forces. The German bombers absolutely pulverized Dunkirk, but in the plane-to-plane combat, the Spitfires and Hurricanes were just too good on the day for the German Bf 109E aircraft.

Next up was scenario two set in Warsaw on 1 September 1939, featuring four squadrons of Polish pilots in P.11c aircraft defending the capital against German He 111P-1 bombers and their Bf 110C-2 escorts. This one was a draw. The Polish side had the better luck with the dice overall, but the special rule giving them a favorable modifier in cohesion checks also had a substantial effect. More than once they outlasted their opponents in dogfights due to that modifier.

This was a good outing for Wing Leader.  I hope to play it again, soon. But it’s now time to move on. What next?

ASL Catchup

Gaming goodness!

So, I have this problem with ASL. I keep losing. And yet, there’s another problem. I somehow lose the will to write up the games. They are intense, and at the end of each one I am mentally frazzled – buzzing with the adrenaline of the game, but worn out from such a session of sharp focus. (Not too sharp, as I keep making mistakes, but that is another story.) Anyway, I finally made it to the keyboard after a game, and it’s time to catch up a wee bit.

I have played three of the scenarios of the excellent Hatten in Flames. I lost two and tied one. And one of the losses went down to the wire, so not too bad.

I have just finished Canicatti, scenario J51, featuring my Germans defending a mountainous position against josh’s advancing Americans in Sicily 1943. That one also went down to the wire. On the last turn, to win I needed to pass a morale check: seven or less I win, eight or more I lose. I rolled eight. Cue gnashing of teeth.

That last game featured Josh’s American forces spending three or four turns on the rampage. He completely ran through me. Then, out of nowhere, just as I was about to give up, up popped one of my two hidden anti-tank guns, and it nearly won the game on its own, felling two tanks. A melee killed off another USA tank, and I only needed to kill one more, or to have a surviving unit on the hill at the end. I failed with both, but it was close, and great fun. Six hours of gaming goodness. It does not get better than this. OK, that last bit is a lie. A win would be better…

A Day of ASL

Earlier this month, I was joined by Daniel, David, Josh, and Ran for a whole day of ASL.

David and Josh played the scenario Death’s Head Debut (SP 267).

As Josh puts it:

“Note that it is only 5.5 turns. It’s also classified as a “long-round” in Denmark, to be played Friday morning, until around 6 p.m. [Denmark hosts an ASL competition next month.]

Five and-a-half turns, no problem, right? David and I started at 10 a.m. and we called it at 8:30 p.m., with me surrendering. After three turns! And although I was badly losing, I still had a chance, but time constraints caused me to surrender. (Basically, I kicked David off the mountain, as required by the victory conditions. But I had to capture a second building and David’s tanks were roaming freely. He destroyed all my tanks and this demoralized me.)

They seemed to be having fun…

Meantime, Daniel, Ran and I played two scenarios, with Ran and I teaming up in both. We won one and lost one. It was so enthralling that I simply forgot to note what we were playing.

Too many games, not enough time!

Gaming Break

Roy and I had an opportunity for a short gaming session. We started off with Commands and Colors Napoleonics, then moved on to Keyforge.

This was a first outing for Roy with the Napoleonics version of Richard Borg’s hugely successful series. However, he had played the Ancients version, and was highly experienced with Memoir 44 (WW2) so had no trouble pitching in and playing away.

We played the Vimiero scenario, the August 1808 encounter between British and French forces (with a few Portuguese on the British side). I played the French, who were on the attack, with Roy manning the defense lines.

The scenario began with probes by the French forces which were bloodily repulsed. The victory goal was six banners (victory points). Roy had run up a two-nil lead before I even got close to a first banner.

My cards were awful, but then things changed when I drew the cavalry charge card. This allowed me to utilize my cavalry advantage – four units to two – and well and truly pile into the British lines. The killer was another wonderful card – supply lines or similar? – which allowed me to banish a key British artillery unit back to the baseline. In combination, this just was too much for the British. Although they fought hard, and did some damage, I surged ahead to a lead that was slowly converted into a win.

Next up, Keyforge. This is a game from the designer of Magic, the original collectible card game. Much of the core is similar – generate monsters and magic items, do damage, and win – by this is a very different game.

First, there is no collectible element. Every single deck in the world is unique.

Second, there is no deck building.

Third, the play doesn’t involve resources, but Houses. Each deck has cards from three Houses. Each turn, in essence, you can only use one your Houses. So, there are some tricky decisions to be made.

Fourth, you win not by eliminating the other guy, but by using the games currency – aember – to build three keys before your opponent.

Roy got off to a good start and set up a monster line of monsters. I slowly managed to get some of my team out, but Roy was soaring ahead in aember collection. He kept his lead and ran out an easy winner by three to one.

I like the accessibility of Keyforge. It’s easy and fast to play. But without the deck building, where is the skill? It will be interesting to see how this one fares, and whether there are further Keyforge type games.

 

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…

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.

 

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.