Learning to be The Supreme Commander

I’m hosting a week-long war and board gaming blowout event at our beach house in just over a week. We are selling the house and this is our swan song event. I hosted my first Salishan gaming weekend about 10 years ago so this is a landmark conclusion to what has been an awesome run of gaming weekends with an amazing group of folks.

The front half of the week is dedicated to big ol’ wargames. Organizing and scheduling this is a bit intense as we can’t be as adaptive and seat-of-the-pants as we typically are when playing lighter games. Many of us are playing new games that have extensive rules, which means a lot of up-front preparation. Yes, I’ve been studying and “practicing” for a game weekend.

On the docket for me for the week will be:

I haven’t played six of these games so for the past few weeks I’ve been preparing myself with either solo walk-through play, or short scenario plays with Doug.

This post is a recap of my experience trying to learn The Supreme Commander.

Reading the scenario play-through for The Supreme Commander

Supreme Commander is a theater-wide strategic game about WWII in Europe. It is in the same tradition as one of the first wargames I ever played (back around 1980 or so): Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. It came out about the same time as another European theater game, Unconditional Surrender but the two games are quite different. I’ve been exploring Unconditional Surrender with Doug and my brain hurts just trying to keep the two games straight.

I have a hard time learning games of this scope just reading the rules (the rulebook plus scenarios and example of play is 52 pages) so my strategy is to setup an introductory scenario and play through things a bit to see how the different parts work together.

Major power cards for The Supreme Commander

I setup the full campaign scenario, Europe at War, not because I wanted to play through the whole campaign but because it has pretty low counter density and pretty much only involves the (likely, but not required) German invasion of Poland plus a bit of maneuvering by the UK, France, and Italy.

The rules are fairly well written, but man are there a lot of exceptions and special rules. This is generally the case when dealing with a theater game like this that involves diplomacy, economic systems (Lend Lease, Murmansk Convoy come into play for example). There’s some oddness to how the factions are setup initially as well, with the German player also controlling Italy but with there being a chance that Italy comes in on the Allied side with some lucky diplomacy.

East front for The Supreme Commander

There were many “ah hah” moments while I played through this. For example, I don’t think it is possible to move an entire army counter via naval transport. This means it is a pretty stupid move by the UK to build up the British Expeditionary Force army right there in the UK unless you only plan to use it for defense (that’s not very expeditionary!). It seems like the right approach is to transport the individual corps units to where you want the army to form, then use the build-up action to bring onto the map the full army unit (or even a step-reduced army unit). Reading the forums on this game, it seems like this build-up mechanic is actually the key way you bring on new elite-type units as well as even mediocre corps units can potentially be built up into awesome guard or SS armies.

In the above photo you can see the east front at the start of the game. I kept the setup similar to the example of play in the book with some small variance so I would be forced to see how different choices impacted the play.

West front for The Supreme Commander

I also went ahead and set up the western front, plus the Mediterranean, as there are some build-up and deployment options for the UK, French, and Italians at the start. Should Italy rush to get more troops to North Africa, or start piling up some forces near France for a possible land grab? I really don’t have a clue as I didn’t get that far.

Supreme Commander after Polish invasion

I played through the invasion of Poland twice, learning some key mistakes on force concentration the first time through. The key mistake being not having enough force concentration. In my view, the Germans need to:

  1. Ensure that they keep infantry armies engaged to get their technology bonus. There’s a tech tree in this game, with the Germans having some elected advances to take at the start. I chose infantry and aircraft (they automatically get submarines) because the Germans start with primarily infantry armies and will need to build up tank corps extensively in the coming years. If you advance in tanks too early, they are more expensive to produce.
  2. Keep armor units engaged to take advantage of their extended advance-after-combat abilities (that’s right, this was called Blitzkrieg for a reason!).
  3. Make sure you can get the German HQ within range of Warsaw for the final battle there.
  4. Save the German air power for the key Warsaw battle.

Air and naval power are abstracted pretty well in this game, though I had a hard time understanding how the navies properly operate until I re-read the rules several times. The navies live in ports but can be deployed out to naval holding boxes during strategic naval warfare. I didn’t get into the interception rules yet but they look straightforward.

Ground support with aircraft units was easy to run. If only one side has aircraft, they will add a bonus to that side. If both sides do, there’s a pre-combat air battle to see who sticks around to help out the ground battle.

I was able to explore the diplomatic actions as well. Each side (not each country) can take a single influence action each turn to try to slide a country closer to alliance. These are costly actions, especially when trying to influence someone that is already leaning towards the other side.

In summary I think I’m ready, and I look forward to playing through some more with Ken this coming weekend. Having another person involved helps immeasurably (1 + 1 > 2) as they tend to fill gaps for the other side and help come up with reasonable answers when questions remain.

Cutting the Dish

We have a lot of change ahead of us in the coming 6 months, and being (ahem) unemployed one consideration is to minimize our fixed monthly expenses. High on my priority target list was our home landline phone and Dish Network subscription.

First, I want to say how much I love Dish. The Hopper service is amazing, and their liberal concurrent use policy has allowed Jacob to take advantage of my subscription and stream (for example) Red Zone from his apartment in Pittsburgh. That’s all done now.

This week I severed everything but the Internet service from Frontier. And apparently I had some legacy Fios bandwidth agreement so I had to rejigger that as well. Honestly it didn’t matter — I was a very early Fios subscriber and enjoyed phenomenal bandwidth for years. For the past year reality set in and I fell back to earth with typical 30-40mbs levels. My new plan supports 30M download and 5M upload.

Also, I didn’t truly cut the cord yet — I just paused the service for $5 per month. I still have a few months left on my 2 year commitment so this is sort of a separation, with a likely future divorce.

What am I giving up? Most of live network TV, unless I want to really try to make an HD antenna really work. I’m not sure that’s terribly feasible here in Sherwood. The greatest loss will be ESPN, but football season is over and we won’t be in town when college and NFL start again. I’ll also miss Game of Thrones on HBO but I know Westeros will wait for me. Future binge watch after I finish Foyle’s War in about three years.

I’m saving about $120 per month by dropping Dish and the landline. I’ve had a Netflix subscription for a long time so I don’t view that as a replacement expense. All I’ve added on so far (as a replacement) is an $89 Roku (which I think for most scenarios is superior to AppleTV) and a Hulu Plus subscription at $7.99 per month. I still have my AppleTV 2 and a ChromeCast as backups.

Update on my Wing-T Coach Activities

I’ve got a brief follow-up to my post last month on our next chapter. Earlier this month I published my first book on the Wing-T for youth football. If you are interested in this sort of thing and want to see a preview you can get a free copy of my Wing-T Belly Series book.

Last weekend I was in Pittsburgh attending the National Wing-T Clinic. I met many of the legends of Wing-T coaching and it was a great experience. Of course I also got to spend time with Jacob at CMU.

Next up for me will be running my first online web clinic for football coaches in early March.

I Ran a Magic: the Gathering Cube Draft

Magic: the Gathering Cube Draft and team tournament

I hosted a Magic cube draft tournament earlier this month and it was a blast. Here’s what I did:

  • Last summer I built what is called a cube — a collection of the best and rarest cards I’ve gathered over the past 20 years. I made the cube large enough to support 8 players.
  • I mixed up the cards and produced a bunch of simulated 16 card boosters. I made them 16 cards because it allowed each player to take 2 cards during each draft round.
  • We divided up into two teams of four, old guys vs kids, and alternated team members around the draft table.
  • I decided to use a Rochester draft format. We opened one pack at a time and put all the cards on the table. Whoever had first pick would choose one card then we went around the table and back. The last to pick then chose two cards as we wound our way back to the start player who would automatically get the last card. Each round the start drafter rotated to the next player.
  • We played round robin against every other player on the other team, so four rounds total. Then I paired up the #1 player for each team, #2, etc. The old guys crushed the young ones and I was the overall winner with my red dragon / direct damage deck. I also had a splash of white for enchantment and artifact removal.
  • Once the tournament was officially over we did some intra-team play which was also a lot of fun.

I’d like to improve the cube with more rare and powerful cards. I haven’t been a collector in ages so to complete the cube I had to pick some sub standard cards. My goal is that when a cube pack is opened, it should be extremely painful to pass up any card!