War on the Sidelines

This week’s session saw something old and something new.

The old was Sheer repeating his impressive teaching of Great Western Trail to new players: Avri, Azriel, and Ken. The new was Peleg and I trying out Columbia Games’ Combat Patrol.

There’s danger on the trail

I watched the Great Western Trail game from the sidelines and was impressed at how quickly the three newcomers picked up the game mechanics. There were very few rule questions after Sheer had finished his explanation. That having been said, how many of them were playing the game well?

Azriel was struggling a bit with the variety of choices. Also, he misunderstood how the train track victory points (VP) worked, and suffered a 10 VP reduction. Ouch. The inevitable result was that he finished fourth.

Ken seemed quite happy, working away at his strategy. It just turned out not be a very good one… Ken’s best performance was in collecting hazards for VP, but he also had a loss (7 VP) from the train track. Ken finished third.

Sheer was the favorite to win given his playing experience with the game, but Avri performed an amazing feat of game analysis. He not only worked out how to play the game, but also how to crush everyone else at the board. His score was so high that it would have taken Sheer and Ken’s combined score to just beat him! Sheer may have been misdirected from his mission by trying to keep the other players – pardon the expression – on track, but it might also be that Avri found a crack in the design.

I previously thought that the game did a reasonable job of hiding the winner. Avri thought otherwise. He also thought that once a player got in to the lead, it was impossible to catch him – given competent play – and that the lead would grow and grow. His play suggested that was true. I suspect Sheer will want a rematch, and I would like to see that, preferably from the sidelines again, if only to test Avri’s theory.

Everyone did seem to enjoy the game, and in all the circumstances it is likely to end up back on the table again, even though I don’t like it.

Away from GWT, Peleg and I played Combat Patrol for the first time. This is a block game – your forces are hidden from the enemy – on tactical WW2 combat. We played the first scenario which is a beach landing by the American forces (Peleg) against the German defenders (me).

If only I could have seen things from this angle

The rules are not that complex, and although despite that I am sure we made a few mistakes, things seemed to go well. The game plays fast, and we fairly rattled through the seven turns.

At the start, the Americans were held up by the defenders. But once the Americans broke out of the beachhead, it was just a matter of time. Peleg drew well fro his company support units – at least a couple of tanks – and they were effective. My artillery managed to kill two German steps by friendly fire. Not my finest hour on the battlefield.

Lying in wait, but badly outnumbered

Eventually, the Americans had just about cleared the map and I conceded. Well played Peleg. This was fun, and although there were some wrinkles I was not completely happy with, a reread of the rulebook should be enough to sort things out.

Thanks to all who came to make the night so enjoyable.

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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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