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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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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Between Games

First, an apology to Efrat. In the report of last week’s session, I should have mentioned that she brought the Manhattan Project game we played, and I also should have thanked her for bringing it. So, belatedly, thanks Efrat!

Now onto my report of this week’s session.

Azriel, Peleg, and Sheer came along and we started with a new game to all of us: Between Two Cities. It’s a tile placement game with shades of 7 Wonders. The neat thing is that you build two cities, not one, sharing one with the opponent to your left and right. Your score is the lowest city score you have.

The game is played in three rounds, with a hand of tiles dealt to you in each round. (The middle round has duplex tiles which are somewhat trickier.) There are different types of buildings, each with its own scoring mechanism. Neat. You choose (secretly) two to play, and pass on the rest. Then, after placement, you pick up those tiles you have been passed, choose two, pass on the rest, and so on.

A city – but not a high scoring one!

The game is fast, and I suspect has greater depth than we gave it credit. For example, since you know the pool of tiles, you can guesstimate what the other players are holding and likely to play so as to improve their cities.

The scores were close, but Sheer’s two cities were top and that made his lowest score the best score. I think what was also interesting is that we played without table talk, and that smoothed and sped up play. I want to try this again.

While I remember: this game also game with a unique set of starting player cards. You draw randomly, and it tells you how to determine the starting player. For example, alphabetical by city of birth. This is a neat idea that is, of course, available to use for all games. Maybe I will adopt it as the house standard.

Then, an old favorite: Dominion: Dark Ages. We took five basic action cards and five from Dark Ages to give a slow, smouldering deck. I went for a money strategy and an early finish. Sheer and Azriel were using Rampage and Pillage cards, and Peleg was doing that too, but with a bit more variety. My strategy paid off just in time, as I was able to finish the game and claim the win by a mere two points.

We ended the night with a three handed game of Eight Minute Empire while Peleg busied himself on a conference call with Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Warren Buffet. Sheer had never played this. After playing it, he described it as ‘the worst game I have played in a long time’ so I don’t think he’ll be playing it again soon.

It was Azriel whose play was spot on, and he handily beat Sheer and me. Once again, he professed to not understand the set scoring. Once again, he scored the most for his sets…

As an aside, Sheer’s comment reminds me to note that every gamer has his own style of game that he likes or dislikes. For example, when we played Santiago, Efrat said she disliked auction based games. And then there’s my own dislike of complex abstract games. Then again, for every game we hate there will be many gamers who love it. It’s a funny old world the world of gaming. Thankfully!

Thanks to all who came and made the night so much fun. We had a lot of laughs.

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Water, water, everywhere…

This week’s session started with a five player game of Eight Minute Empire. Roy and I had played it before, but the game was new to Avri, Azriel, and Efrat. Although Azriel said he was struggling with the concept of a set, I should have remembered the lad has form in the field of misdirection. And so, once again, the youngster won, albeit just one point ahead of Roy. As expected, it was a tight game, proving this is a nifty little filler game.

Next up, Santiago. This is a 2003 game featuring a specialized turn order auction mechanic combined with tile placement and bribery. (Efrat, midst game, said she dislikes auction games and wouldn’t be rushing to play it again. I sympathize.) Avri and I had played this before, and there was a brief rules introduction before we started. There’s a lot you can analyze about the game and the value of your decisions (assuming matters work out as you think…) and Avri is well skilled in doing exactly this. Of course nothing turned out the way I had hoped, and my bold strokes turned out to be foolish foibles. Such is a life in games, sometimes! Anyway, Avri saw everything turn out well for him, and he was a relatively easy winner, with the rest of us a bit behind.

It’s early in the game, but already things don’t look good

With Roy departing to save the western world, that left four of us to plot how best to build an atomic bomb or two.

Yes, the theme of The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is to build weapons of mass destruction. It’s a card game version of a successful board game, and cuts the action down to simple bare-bones card combinations. You have a hand of five cards, each with one or two workers of different types, as well as resources. You must choose how best to use each card, and how best to use that card in conjunction with another card. For example, one card might have two scientists and a enrichment plant. Which should you use? The two scientists can be combined with some yellow cake to get you uranium. But maybe it would be better to use the enrichment plant. And so it goes. Fun. Fast. A good filler. Avri won just ahead of Efrat. Azriel and I were too busy enjoying the game play to think about anything as sordid as winning the game…(Ahem.)

A good night. Thanks to all who came.

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Eight Minute Empire

Despite the misleading title, this is a decent filler game that does a good job of synthesizing some worker placement themes into a fast, fun, and thoughtful challenge.

It’s designed for two to five players, and the game length varies according to the number of players. If you are super fast, you could finish a two player game in under ten minutes, but I would guess most games will take 30-45 minutes.

There is a double sided board, allowing you to choose what map you want to play on. Each is split into continents and areas. All players start in the same starting area (with three armies) and then the game begins by laying out six cards. The first player chooses a card, plays any price, executes the action, and the player’s turn is done.

You start with a set amount of money that has to last the game. Each card has a price according to its position in the row, varying from 0 to 3. If you run out of money, you have to take the ‘0’ card. Each card has an action – introduce new armies, move armies, build a city, or eliminate an army – and a commodity. At the end of the game you get victory points for areas controlled, continents controlled, and sets of commodities. Control comes from having the most armies plus cities in an area.

You can only add new armies to the start area (which is where every player’s army starts) or where you have a city. And you can build a city where you have an army. That means you need to think about when and where (or if) you want to take a turn to build a city.

The key trick in the game is to watch the available cards, work out what you need, work out what your opponents need, and take the card that best advances your position whilst least advancing your opponents’ positions. You are unlikely to get stuck with analysis paralysis, but the decisions are not always easy.

Susan and I played this a couple of times, once with a third (novice) player, and enjoyed it. It’s a very good example of a filler game, with a nice balance of luck and skill, and is highly replayable, even if it will take you more than eight minutes to play.

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Dead Heroes

This week newcomer Asher and I shared a game and chat session as others were busy skiing, recovering from illness, getting their hair done (hi guys!), walking the cat, or suffering a diary malfunction. We played Hero Realms. With Asher being new to Ra’anana and new to the game, there was probably more chat than game, but it was a very pleasant evening.

Hero Realms is a super fast, cut-down version of Dominion which is all about kill, crush, destroy. And Asher truly killed, crushed, and destroyed my deck. It was quite amusing to watch him ignore all my genuinely well intended advice, and for him to slip slowly towards oblivion. Then something strange happened, he recovered, and it was me who ended up in oblivion. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it happen it did and Asher was the worthy winner. Well done, Asher. Next time, I won’t explain all the rules so clearly…8)

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Among the Gamers

In this week’s gaming session, we went from deep space to deepest Puerto Rico. Quite a night.

Newcomer Efrat joined Azriel, Sheer and me for Among the Stars. a sort of 7 Wonders in space. Neither Efrat nor Azriel had played it before, but both picked it up quite well. Efrat mastered it a bit better, as she demonstrated by winning her first ever game, just ahead of Sheer.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him?

In brief, Efrat’s compact space station strategy worked. Sheer’s more strategic placements – taking positions in anticipation of cards still to be drawn – fell short because the cards he was looking for must have been among those (randomly) withdrawn at the start.

Azriel and I floundered around a bit. I know I made some bad choices. At the end, he and I were a bit behind. Anyway, as said, our newcomer was the winner. Well done Efrat.

Efrat didn’t quite manage to repeat the feat in the next game, San Juan. Again it was her first time, and she was certainly in contention. I am sure Azriel has played this a lot, but he seems to prefer some of the expansions to this base game, and his strategy just did not work here. My mistake – no strategy; I did not have a plan until it was too late. Sheer had a plan – a master plan – and it worked masterfully well, securing him the win. Well done Sheer.

Great night: two fine games, and some funny moments among the game play. Thanks to all who came.

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