Solitary Enjoyment

So, four years (what!?) after my original post, I am finally getting round to playing some more of this game and adding the information here.

One of the reasons for the passage of time is the combat system. When I first played it, I fairly quickly became disenchanted by how combats are resolved. (By way of reminder, there is no combat results table. You draw chits from a random pool and, depending on whether they match the situation, they inflict hits. For example, a chit might say that at 4:1 odds, the defender suffers two hits and the attacker suffers one. Another chit might say that if the attacker has artillery, the defender suffers one hit, and so on.) What seemed to happen to me was that in too many combats, despite often overwhelming odds, nothing happened. So, I gave up on the game and put it away.

In the current lockdown situation, where we are to stay at home, I decided that I would put a solitaire game on the table. In the intervening years, almost every comment I have seen about the game has been favorable. (And I generally adore John Butterfield’s work.) So, I chose this game and went for the German solo version. I play the Germans, and the system handles the Allies.

I played through the first couple of days and reset because I was making too many mistakes. Now I am having another shot.

In no particular order, here are my comments:

  • I still don’t like the combat system. Let’s say I am enduring it.
  • The solitaire activation system for the Allies is excellent. It’s well crafted, deep, fairly straightforward to implement, and is a real challenge to the opposing live player. It’s not fast, however.
  • Considering the complexity of the processes, the rulebook is pretty damn good. Yes, there is errata, but it’s more than within acceptable limits.
  • As well as a clever solitaire system, the system the active player uses is equally sharp. Essentially you have a set of cards – each, in general, with several options to choose from – and you decide how to use them. You may have to give up a juicy combat tactic for the sake of activating a formation, or bringing in reinforcements. Decisions! Decisions!
  • The downside of all this high level of decision making is that it can cause paralysis analysis. Playing solo, that’s probably to be expected anyway. Just be aware that this is not a beer and pretzels fast blast through the Ardennes.
  • The play aids are excellent.
  • Because of the card activation – on both sides – there’s a lot of replayability.

The game comes with several scenarios. I’m aiming to properly play through the short (three-day) scenario twice to try and become more immersed in the game. Yes, I’ll have to grit my teeth and endure combat resolution. But it should be worth it. Besides, there’s another in the series due out this year, this time set in the Eastern Front. Kharkov. I think. Should be good.

 

Headline Failure

Guess who the Guardian blames for Gaza’s Covid-19 challenges?

The correct headline for this article would be:

“Can Gaza cope with Covid-19 after years of wasting money on rockets instead of investing in its civilian infrastructure?”

But there’s no chance of the Guardian printing the truth. Not when it comes to Israel.

If only the Gazans loved their own people more than they hated the Jews.

Quatre Batailles en Espagne

I finally got to play this game, one of the series by Didier Rouy of Napoleonic battles. In this box you get Ocana, Salamanca, Vitoria, and Sauren.

I have played through Ocana to a resolution a few times, and am now on my umpteenth attempt at Salamanca.

The strength of the series is that you get good maps (though the absence of hex numbers is a pain), good looking counters, and a system that at its core, works. The main drawback is that to get historical results, you need to use the command and control rules. And these are not presented as a package, but us a menu of options. Without them, for example, the superior manpower (not quality) of the anti-French forces in Ocana, means the French are unlikely to repeat their historical success. However, the command rules don’t give you the starting orders for each side meaning you have to do some legwork before you can start playing – unless you want to just line them up and let them have it.

I managed to get Ocana to work (I think).

With Salamanca, I went down a different route. I said elsewhere that I really liked the Gamers’ Napoleonic Battles Series system. The scales are similar, but NBS is much faster to play because it does away with infantry fire other than for skirmishers. In particular, NBS allows the quality of the troops to have a real impact on close combat. In this system, numbers give you the edge. So, I have been trying to fit the close combat stuff from NBS into these battles, starting with Salamanca. Let’s just say, it’s not easy. But it is fun. I have been inspired to do more reading up on the subject, and each time come back to the table with something new to try out. It’s probably a case of me enjoying the journey, because I’ll probably never get to a decent finish.

It does also make me curious about how others play these games. But that’s a post for another time.

Fiction – February 2020

A month of solid good quality reading. Plenty to enjoy here.

The first in Garry Disher’s series featuring DI Hal Challis working at the Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne, Australia. Fortunately for us readers, while Challis is a well drawn and interesting character, the supporting cast is more robust and also worthy of attention. The backdrop is superbly drawn, with nuggets of observational beauty peppering the descriptions of life and death in this part of the world. The main plot here is about a serial killer targeting young women. While the plot is not as complex as some of the genre, it has enough twists to satisfy and is credible. In short, a good police procedural novel. Continue reading

Purim Sameach!

Well, this will be a memorable Purim. Corona virus and the imposition of quarantine and isolation has had a widespread effect. The main shul minyan on Shabbat was much smaller than usual and tonight’s megillah reading similarly reduced – primarily because there are a ton of alternative smaller minyanim offering gatherings of less than 100 to comply with the Ministry of Health guidelines. Here’s hoping that very soon Corona virus will be a distant memory and never repeated.

Aspern-Essling

This is the Gamers Napoleonic Brigade Series version of the 1809 encounter between Napoleon and the Archduke Charles. I am using version 3.0 of the rules. I even made the effort of making my own counters to deal with the few later corrections made to the OOB. (There are not many games I would do that for.)

I know from past experience that doing one of the longer scenarios will not go well, because the staff work – with the orders – becomes too much of a drag. So, I have been playing the (relatively) short first day scenario.

The Austrian 6th Corps tries to take Aspern and, after several rounds of bloody fighting, fails its Attack Stoppage roll, and is thrown back.

The Austrian 1st Corps joins in just as 6th Corps is about to snap, the former keeping a wary eye on the French cavalry beginning to mass to the east. Eventually, the French cavalry attack. A couple of repulsed charges sees the Austrians about to gain the upper hand with progress in the fight for Aspern when the 1st Corps also fails its Attack Stoppage roll. And back they go, too.

Then, just two turns into their attack, the newly arrived 2nd Corps also comes to a halt.

The Austrian 4th Corps do not do so badly, and are still in reasonable shape, but the French defenders, courtesy of some rapid orders from Napoleon, form a solid enough line and the Austrian’s don’t make it to first base, aka Gross Enzersdorf.

By the time the Austrian high command have sorted out the mess, it’s too late for further action and the battle ends with the French bloodied, but still in position.

Here are my random thoughts on the experience:

  • There’s a lot to admire in the 3.0 rules. I particularly like the way close combat and infantry fire is dealt with, speeding up play considerably.
  • Checking the roster sheets is a huge drain on time. I would prefer if the A, B, and C strength ratings were ditched in favor of a simple single combat strength.
  • The orders system – and all the command and control paraphernalia – brings about a good result, but it’s clunky. For example, leaders are restricted in how many orders they can issue according to their quality. That abstraction works but it doesn’t feel right. In any event, the lower quality leaders are penalized twice – once for order writing ability and once in the order acceptance calculation.

I understand the creators of version 3.0 are working on a new system. It remains to be seen if that will ever see the light of day. Until then, this system is likely to see more time on the table. But it is not without its competitors. Basically, I’m spoiled for choice.

 

Fiction – January 2020

You can tell I’ve been on holiday. There’s a lot of reading here. (Probably some of these belong with December’s reading, but at least I remembered to review them.)

Part of my Connelly reread. This one involves a dead body found in the trunk of a car. Bosch sorts it out, but not without some more danger, some twists, and the usual inter office politics. Great stuff.

Continue reading

The reign in Spain…

On the table, (after Eylau) Talavera from the twinpack (Talavera and Albuera) of Spanish Eagles with the updated Eagles of the Empire series rules.

The series rules are a decent lot and the special stuff for Talavera is not too much to swallow. There’s still some annoying errata, but it’s at the ‘Who moved my cheese?’ end of the spectrum and hasn’t stopped me racing through the game.

I still hate the bucket of dice combat system. OK, ‘hate’ may be too strong, but I truly do not like it.

As for these battles, just like Eylau, I needed to do some reading up to fill in the background. I had some material lying around about Talavera from when I played the Gamers’ NBS game on the same battle and, amazingly, I hadn’t forgotten it all.  But Albuera was largely unknown to me beyond the briefing in the game.

The advantage of this level of game, is that the focus is high up the command chain and largely stays that way. You do not get ground down by low level combat and decision making. So, in general, the narrative flows quickly. However, the loss of detail is also a loss of color (or flavor or atmosphere) and that means the experience is awfully like playing a game that could be set anytime in the horse and musket era. Those parts that make it distinctive are not that distinctive.

On the plus side, the terrain analysis is impressive, and you do get the challenges of command without being burdened by a written orders system. It is frustrating – and realistic – to have your formations ignore your orders!

Glad this eventually got to the table, though.

Fiction – December 2019

Number 22 of the Spenser series, this was one of the better ones. Spenser is searching for a policeman’s missing wife. It quickly transpires that things (as usual) are not what they seem. The reader gets snappy dialog, a touch of sex and violence, and a story worth following. Recommended. But start at the beginning.

Fantasy romp that fell flat with me. Nothing was convincing: jerky dialog, uneven characterization, and unlikely motivations. The fantasy backdrop didn’t work. The story might have been worth telling, but not like this. Avoid.

Continue reading

Eylau

Division level combat in the age of Napoleon, using area movement, lots of step reduction, and buckets of dice for its combat. There’s a command system layered on top which gives a decent impression of the real thing (as I assume it to have been) and little touches of chaos. For example, engaged formations risk not being able to activate in the next turn. And each side’s turn to activate uses a die roll to determine how many formations they must activate. So, perfect planning soon falls apart.

Eylau has scenarios for the opening encounter, the main day of battle, or a two day all out effort. I have been playing the opening encounter scenario through again and again to familiarize myself with the rules – they are not complex, just different – and work out some tactical approaches.

Of course, it also set me off on a mission to read up on the battle…