I finished a complete play through of the historical battle scenario of Ligny 1815. The French won an easy victory, though I am sure this was partly because I didn’t handle the Prussians well, and partly because of some dreadful bad luck at crucial moments. More on that later. Continue reading
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…
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.