Cold gold


Hockey Blast is Keith Avallone‘s tabletop dice and chart game about professional ice hockey, available through his PLAAY website. Although released in 2010 (and bought around then) it has lain at the back of one of my game cupboards, making only fleeting appearances while I considered whether to get it on the table and give it a decent workout. I dabbled, and was impressed by initial experiences, but I needed to spend more time with the game. Recently, it finally made it to the table for a proper series of extended sessions, so I could get properly familiar with how the game worked, complete some matches, and even complete a couple of solitaire series. Continue reading

Scrabble champion with a difference

This, from the Guardian, is definitely filed under “i” for impressive:

New Zealander Nigel Richards racks up remarkable victory after reportedly memorising francophone Scrabble dictionary in nine weeks

Nigel Richards’ command of the language of Molière, as the French like to call it, stretches to “bonjour” and being able to count. However, the New Zealander who has been called “the Tiger Woods of Scrabble” certainly has a way with words – even French ones. Despite his linguistic handicap, Richards has just won the francophone world Scrabble championships after reportedly memorising the entire French Scrabble dictionary in just nine weeks.

“He doesn’t speak French at all – he just learned the words,” his close friend Liz Fagerlund told the New Zealand Herald. “He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French, I wouldn’t think.”

Richards, 48, who has won the English world Scrabble championships three times, the US national championships five times and the UK Open six times, beat a rival from French-speaking Gabon in the final held at Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium on Monday. During the match, which he won by two games to nil, he even successfully challenged his rival Schélick Ilagou Rékawé’s use of a form of the verb “fureter” (to snoop). He was given a standing ovation by the mainly French-speaking crowd.


Read it all, here.

Blitzkrieg on the Western Front


This is a review of La Bataille de France, 1940, designed by Juan Carlos Cebrian and Nicolas Eskubi, and produced by Compass Games. It is based on several sessions of solitaire gaming, with repeated play of three of the available scenarios. The review is organized in the following sections:


Continue reading

Evgeny’s triumph

Almost completely off the radar – at least in the local English language press – Israel has been hosting the 2015 European Chess Championship. Follow this link to the Chessbase pictorial report on the final session, some tourist snaps, and links to other session reports.

Knowing when to stop

The next game on the tabletop after Prelude to Disaster, was St Lo. This is another older game (1986), being a Joseph M. Balkoski design, produced by West End Games.

Topic and treatment

This is about the July 1944 push by USA forces to capture the strategically significant town of St Lo in France. It has one standard sized map, a rulebook, 400 counters, a counter tray, and several play aids to store unit information.

Units are battalions and companies, with divisional assets available to beef them up. Each hex is 306 yards across, and each complete turn is a day.

There is one scenario (only), running to eight turns. In my experience, turns can take anywhere between five minutes and two hours, and that is after you know the rules and have tried out a few of the opening moves to get a feel for the synergy between theory and practice. Continue reading

Looking back at tactical level combat games

The sad passing of hobby legend (and Squad Leader designer) John Hill, has generated some wonderful reflections and recollections of times past. Rodger MacGowan‘s C3i Ops Center has done more than its fair share, and there is a rich trove of material there. I particularly recommend this piece which brings together snippets from several old issues of Fire & Movement magazine, to provide an interesting look back at tactical level combat games and their development. Even if you do not like tactical level games, you are likely to find much of interest, especially about part of the history of the hobby.

Here’s one morsel:


Normandy ’44 reflections


At the end of the seven turn scenario the Allies need 14 VPs. My Allies got 13… The German retention of Caumont and Villers-Bocage won them the game. It was close.

The thought that is uppermost in my mind after the replay, is that I waited too long to play the game. I did benefit from a tightened up set of rules, some clarifications and changes, so perhaps I shouldn’t really complain.

[Check the end of this post for links if you have missed the replay.]


Overall, I liked the game. I liked the scale, the complexity level, and the atmosphere the whole package delivers. The physical components are excellent, no doubt benefiting from having Mark Simonitch involved in producing one of his own games.  It’s playable, has depth, and enough scope for trying different strategies – as the Allies. The Germans are on the defense most of the time, though it may be that a more adventurous German defense would be more aggressive than I was.

Of the games on the topic, this is my favorite. Joe Balkoski‘s Against the Reich is probably the closest contender. I am not a Breakout: Normandy fan. I thought Richard Berg‘s June 6 was very interesting, but just did not hit the sweet spot.

So far as playing performance is concerned, looking back I know I could have done better with both sides. My incompetence, in other words, probably balanced out!


It may be a bit cheeky, but I have one criticism and one wild suggestion.

The criticism is about the rules. It took me longer than I would have liked to get the details right. Mark is a good rules writer, but it appears to me that he needs an editor with a good eye for the realities of boardgaming. For example, in rule 13.6 we are told that a retreating unit becomes disrupted. However, the explanation of the combat results table doesn’t universally mention disruption when retreating is a possibility. And I don’t like disruption being at the end of the trick retreat rules. It would have been better to have a separate (main) rules section.

As another example, the Allied player may have to withdraw certain units. It’s a minor detail, and easy to miss. It would have been good to add a reminder at the relevant part of the Sequence of Play.

One more example. The rate of movement for German mechanized forces on a main (primary) road is given as 1/3rd of an MP. But that only applies in Storm weather. So, it would have been better to have the default 1/2 an MP (which is for Overcast and Clear) with the note giving the improved rate for the rarer Storm weather.

Nothing material, but a wee bit annoying.

Now, here’s a thought I had about how to improve the gaming experience: play the game as a double-blind encounter. If the Allies do not know where the German reinforcements are massing, the tension will rise substantially. Similarly, if the Germans do not know where the Allied forces are being assembled once they breakout from the beaches… Such an approach would necessitate reserves, probes, and a bit more caution – though conversely rewarding the bold stroke. Perhaps Ultra might give the Allies some idea of what is on the other side of the hill.

Yes, that’s another retirement project!


So, belatedly, thanks to Mark Simonitch and the GMT chappies for producing this game. It was fun to play.

Replay Links

Turn 1Turn 2 – Turn 3 – Turn 4Turn 5Turn 6Turn 7Reflections