Go West

This week’s session was a genuine teaching session as I asked Sheer to teach Peleg and I how to play a new game – new to me and Peleg – Great Western Trail (GWT).

In many respects, GWT is another Terra Mystica: there are several ways to score victory points, there are lots of possible combinations of actions, the choices are difficult, and experienced players will much more readily discern the better route to take – in this game that is a literal route – and which options to exercise and when.

The theme is presented as cowboys driving cattle to Kansas. The cattle are cards and a small sub game in themselves: you start with a set of low value cattle, and you can buy more. You use cattle cards and draw from your pile. There are actions available to discard or remove cards from your deck, and you draw to fill your hand each time you go. So, there is a mini deckbuilding aspect.

Your token must make its way across the trail (route). There can be obstacles – some placed by your fellow players – and opportunities for you to build (settlements?) with action possibilities of their own. For example, a building might let you discard cards for money, or buy a person. There are three types of persons available: one helps you with your train (I will get back to that), one helps you buy cattle, and one helps you build buildings. The trail has some options as to tracks to take, and part of the game involves you trying to place your buldings on the part of the trail that best suits you and least suits your opponents.

Another stream of game activity is the objective cards. You start with one. You have to acquire certain tokens or build certain buildings to get the victroy points (VP) on the objective card. Some actions allow you to gain more objective cards. Most of the objective vards you acquire later come with a penalty in VP if you do not meet their requirements. Some even come with a one off special bonus – like being able to discard three cards – adding to the depth of that part of the game.

As well as your own token trying to get to Kansas – where you cash in your cattle cards for money – there is a train track where you move your own train counter. One action available is to move your train counter along the train track, separately from your cattle journey. Each time you get to Kansas you can place a token alongside the train track up to the point where your train is, or pay a difference. The tokens you play come from your own player board, each of which unlocks more actions and powers.

In summary, a whole lot going on.

In summary, I didn’t greatly enjoy it.

Why?

The theme didn’t work for me, and it seemed like too much hard work.  Too abstract. Too bland. Too bad. That having been said, the game does a good job of hiding the scores until the end, and that’s both unusual and welcome. And as I said to Sheer and Peleg, I would play it again if they wanted to play it, and maybe I would like it more the next time. I do admire the design skill and effort that went into this game.

If you like Terra Mystica and its ilk, this game is for you. It’s not bad to look at, though the icons are not as good as they should be. Thankfully, they are not as bad as Race for the Galaxy, and I may be being over critical since everyone else had no issue with them. It looks as if it will have lots of replay value given the many permutations and different, er, trails to victory.

Thanks to Sheer for the lesson, and Peleg for joining in.

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Mystical Lessons

This week’s session allowed Avri and Sheer to teach me Terra Mystica. Yes, I have played it before. But Avri and Sheer have played it much more often, have truly applied themselves to learning the key techniques required for success, and are both fastidious in their planning and execution. I have a laissez-faire attitude to game play most of the time. OK, I can be lazy. So, in the face of their superior game play, I am never going to be successful if I don’t focus and make the effort. This time around, I was so out of my depth I resolved to watch and try and learn so I would be better equipped for the next play of this intricate game.

Early on action

Sheer chose the race that gave him double bonuses from his temple builds. I chose the race that gave me one free build per turn. Avri chose another race, but I am damned if I can remember what its special power was…

Avri and I tried to establish cities early on. Sheer waited until the final turn to do that, when extra bonuses were available.

Avri and Sheer made full use of the turn by turn bonuses, whereas I didn’t.

As expected, Avri and Sheer were way ahead of me when we got to the final rounds. At that point, with me certainly no threat to either, they started to give me good advice. (Too late, guys!) Avri was the clear leader from about half way, getting points – or so it seemed – from everything he did. Sheer was concentrating on the long term investment he was making with his cultists. With the very last victory point calculation, Sheer went into first place for the first time and won by a measly two points. (I think both had scored 150+ so to say it was a narrow in would be an understatement.

Entertaining and educational.

Thanks to Avri and Sheer for the lesson. Watch out you two: next time we play this, I might even score half as many points as you…8)

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Wintergewitter

Recently, Ran and I played the ASL scenario Wintergewitter. It is set in December 1942 with the Russians defending a village, and having at start six squads, two half squads, two leaders, a medium machine gun, two light machine guns, and an anti-tank rifle. On game turn two, three T34-76 tanks arrive. The Germans have three squads, one half squad, two (good) leaders, a medium machine gun, and two light machine guns. But they also have four armored half-tracks and five tanks: two Panzer IV F2s, two Panzer III Js, and one Panzer IIIh.

The Russians win if, at the end of the scenario, within the village limits, they have a good order unit or a tank with its main gun still working. I was the Russians, and Ran was the Germans.

Many ASL games turn on the effectiveness of the setup. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes my setup is OK, and sometimes it is plain wrong. I have not yet mastered the art of analyzing the terrain and the situation the way experienced players can. This time, I got it wrong by trying to defend the whole village. This allowed Ran’s force to apply pressure at each point, and pick off the defenders one at a time. That was crucial. However, that wasn’t the end of the story.

So, the Germans come on and start eliminating the infantry defenders in the village. Ran uses vehicle by-pass sleaze – a very gamey but popular tactic – to freeze the defenders. One tank does this right into the hex with my anti-tank rifle. The anti-tank rifle breaks. Another infantry unit and half squad takes a low firepower shot at a hidden stack of mine. The next thing I know, my medium machine gun is out of action. Oh dear.

Ran sends his two good tanks to either side of the village, to go hull down in the wadi terrain there. That sets them up as tough targets for my tanks when they come on.

How not to set up the Russian defense in Wintergewitter

Ran slowly grinds down the defenders. My three tanks come on and swarm one German tank on the flank. One Russian tank is killed in the exchange, but I get the German defending tank and the road to the village is open.

Ran continues his grind. My two remaining tanks advance on the village, and Ran tries to bring back his other defending tank. Its main gun malfunctions and breaks and off it goes, home.

Next up, I lose one tank to a well positioned defender. My last tank must now get in to the village. Ran swarms it with his mixed bag of remaining tanks, and manages to immobilize it. Game over.

Thanks to Ran for his patience while I tried to work out – in vain – a solution to the rapidly declining fortunes of the Russian defenders.

On the dice and fate front, Ran’s sole experience was that tank gun breaking. I had the anti-tank rifle break, and also several blown sniper shots. Ran did not get a single sniper shot. I had two squads go berserk. This guaranteed their elimination as they charged into the teeth of the awesome German firepower. Heat of Battle? More like Time of Death.

I understand this is a popular tournament scenario, and can see why. It can be quite fast, and is tricky on both sides. Certainly, with a better Russian setup, it would have been more of a challenge for Ran. I still enjoyed it. ASL remains the stellar wargaming experience.

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Why, why, why?

Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I played Caylus in this week’s regular gaming session. This is an old, but venerated game. (Avri calls the two player version ‘better than chess’ so he is clearly a fan.) It uses worker placement and a combination of different resources and converters (stuff that uses the resources to generate better resources, victory points, and so on) to give you a game where there are a lot of choices, but never enough time. And those pesky things called opponents keep getting in the way.

I had played the game a long, long time ago, and I wasn’t that taken with it. But Avri’s enthusiasm appealed to Azriel and Sheer, and I was willing to go along for the ride.

Avri’s explanation of the rules was good, as attested to by the fact we had very few questions during the game, and got just about everything right. Of course, the one thing I didn’t get right was my strategy, but no surprise there.

Avri’s familiarity with the game inevitably led to him winning. But Azriel’s ferocious building program gave him a wee fright, and Sheer came even closer by dint of his usual powerful analysis. Unsurprisingly, having made all the wrong choices, I was in last place. And I still didn’t like the game.

So, why don’t I like the game? That’s for another post.

Meantime, note that I still enjoyed the night. It gives me pleasure seeing gamers having a good time.

 

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First Cristot

Ran and I played the ASL scenario First Cristot, a June 1944 encounter between the British and the Germans. I was the German player, and Ran the British.

The British infantry start at one end of the board – eight squads, two leaders, a hero, three LMGs, and a PIAT – and have to break through the German line to climb the hilly terrain at the other end of the board to claim victory. The Germans have two SS squads, three SS half squads, a couple of leaders, a medium machine-gun, a panzerschreck, and a 50mm anti-tank gun.

Both sides have tanks. The British tanks – four Shermans and a Firefly – have advanced too far ahead of their infantry and are sitting close to where the infantry have to reach. The German tanks – two Panthers – enter on the first turn to face up to the British tanks.

The scenario – played in wet weather conditions – has one quirky rule: the British player has to choose in each turn if he will move his tanks or his infantry. Since his infantry need to get across the baord, they should get most of the movement opportunities, leaving the British tanks as sitting ducks. That simply means the British tanks have to set up well, and Ran managed it in his typically skillful way.

The scenario began with a weather roll that worsened the rain. That didn’t really affect the outcome. If it had changed by having the rain stopped, that would have hevaily favored the attacker since they could then use their smoke capability to mask their advances.

Unfortunately for me, Ran’s twin pronged approach breached my thin line on one side of the board. Led by his PIAT toting hero, he had soon cleared enough room so that the victory area was in sight.

Worse, one of my tanks had its gun malfunction. Things went from bad to worse. The Firefly killed the gun capable tank, then the other gun broke completely and it had to be recalled.

By then, the British forces were well on top and I conceded.

The next day, after checking, Ran was a gentleman and told me that his overachieving hero should have died. (It was wounded and wounded again.) That did have a major impact in cracking my defense open, but given the dreadful state of the tanks’ performance, I doubt it would have made a difference.

The posted results of the scenario favor the Germans, but I think we agreed the setup challenge for the Germans is a hard one.

As usual, I learned a lot from the game. If only I could remember it…

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Running out of time

This week’s session got off on the wrong foot as we set up the excellent Terra Mystica, only to realize we wouldn’t have time to finish it. Instead, Azriel, Roy, Sheer, and I did a five lap version of Automobiles. This was new to Roy, but Sheer did a great job of explaining the rules and we were soon off and running.

Unfortunately, Roy ran out of time, so we crashed his car and had the three survivors battle it out.

Azriel was out in front first, and was steady, steady, and steady. He just wasn’t fast enough. Sheer and I overtook him on the second lap or thereabouts, after which we took it in turns to have the lead. Just as it was getting to the final lap, two awful draws by me meant my car was stuck and going nowehere, leaving Sheer an easy run to be first across the finishing line.

My pet hate about Automobiles is that with the wrong cubes drawn, there is nothing you can do. That luck element – supposedly – balances out. But I am not convinced. I wonder what would happen if we allowed a player to play two for one (or three for one) so that he could always trade for one or more cubes that would allow movement,

I then introduced Azriel and Sheer to Ivanhoe. This is a fine filler from Knizia, being a trick taking game with a tournament theme tacked on.

Azriel again was out front first, but was overtaken by Sheer. I caught up a little, but had burned my cards in too many lost challenges, and could not keep up with the pace, allowing Sheer the win after a struggle over the final tournament.

Lots of losses, an element of frustration, but also lots of fun.

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Down Mexica Way


Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I had fun this week with two closely fought and tense games.

Dominion: Prosperity was first, using one of the suggested preconstructed decks that allowed for much friendly interaction. Sheer got off to his usual quick start, and was soon amassing all the money he needed to buy the necessary victory point cards. Avri, Azriel, and I were slower in starting, but managed to generate some momentum and grab a decent amount of victory points. After a while all of our hands – suitably stuffed with VP cards – started to slow down a bit. It was at this point that I though we might catch Sheer, but alas it was not to be. Sheer held on for a win by four points, with Azriel and I behind, and Avri only one point further back.

Next, I introduced everyone to Mexica. This is a classic action point area majority game where, as usual, you can never quite do enough to advance your own plans and, simultaneously, beat up your opponents. Everyone picked up the game reasonably quickly, though Azriel struggled somewhat with the scoring. We tried to help him out, and by the end he was in contention if not enlightened. The game has two rounds of scoring, and after the first my advantage was reflected in my leading position. In the second round, Avri did all that he could to haul me back, so it was no real surprise to me that this allowed Sheer the win. Again, a tight game. And the stabbing and backstabbing – metaphorically of course – was great fun.

Thanks to my three plucky visitors for a fine night of entertainment.

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