What I Hope to Play at BGG.CON 2014

I will return to BGG.CON this year, and I get to bring a friend this time! Yes, Julie will join me for the first time! This will be my ninth visit. Of course Jim will be joining, but sadly not Jill :-(. I screwed up my hotel reservation early on (booked the prior weekend) so we are staying a short walk away at the Grand Hyatt.

I looked over my backlog of games I've been wanting to play and cherry picked a few to propose to play at the convention this year. I'm usually not eager to play the new hotness from Essen so many of these are from past years.

  • Navegador (2010) -- I like most of the Mac Gerdts games and generally love the rondel mechanic. This was a big hit back at BGG.CON 2010.
  • Letters from Whitechapel (2011) -- Looks like a great deduction / chase game and is very highly regarded even three years after publication.
  • Village (2011) -- Classic Euro worker placement. Jim and I will have to be convinced to learn this vs. playing our classic BGG mainstay Pillars of the Earth.
  • Empire Express (2012) -- I know Jim used to play a lot of crayon rail games and I've played twice. It always seemed a bit long and tiresome, but I love the core mechanisms. I'd like to see if this express version hits the mark.
  • Terra Mystica (2012) -- This game is ranked #2 on BGG and I still haven't tried it... don't think Jim has either. Gotta try it.
  • Bruges (2013) -- I've played many of the Stefan Feld dice games and have enjoyed them all, so looking forward to trying this release from last year.
  • Russian Railroads (2013) -- Several folks in my game group say this was the best release in 2013 and... I haven't played it yet. Worker placement with railroads, so I'm in. Jim and I wanted to play last year but had a hard time finding an open table.
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2014) -- One of the new hot games that I want to try. I think it might be in high demand in the hot games area so I suspect you'll see this on my list again next year.
  • Alchemists (2014) -- Ditto for this game. Might be in high demand.
  • Nations: the Dice Game (2014) -- Love Nations the board game, hoping I'll like the dice game.
  • Red7 (2014) -- This is one of the Essen release card games that I think Julie will like. Hopefully it will be in the library.
  • CUBIST (2014) -- This is an Essen release abstract game that has you building structures with dice that you roll first. Looks like fun and very cool to look at.

Operation Market Garden

I hosted part 2 of my 60th anniversary of 1944 WWII major operations in Europe last weekend. This time it was Operation Market-Garden, the largest failed military offensive involving an airdrop in the history of mankind.

Back in June I hosted a similar event to celebrate Operation Overlord (aka D-Day). It was a great event and a good introduction to war gaming for several folks, but I wanted to change things up a bit this time around. We played a mix of operational and strategic games with tactical games. This included games ranging from Normandy '44 to Combat Commander: Europe scenarios focused on smaller tactical operations.

Market-Garden is most interesting, I believe, because of the scale and audacity of the entire operation. It was so counter to the normal caution exhibited by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery that even the Germans found it hard to believe it was happening while it was happening. The idea was fairly simple: capture a key highway through the heart of Holland to connect the north-eastern edge of the allied forces that had so recently broken out from Normandy with the northern entry to the Ruhr valley in Germany. While doing this, bisect the key depleted German forces in this region and force an obvious surrender and end of the war by Christmas 1944.

Capturing this highway via normal conventional techniques would be a long slog given the terrain of criss-crossing rivers and canals, swamps, causeways, and... bridges. The Germans were sure to blow bridges and bog down the allies once they caught wind of the overall operation. This is where Monty's audacity exhibits: how about if the allies drop several airborne divisions of infantry, light artillery, and supplies to capture the key bridges and intersections, thus securing a pathway for the primary ground armor and infantry forces (XXX Corps)?

So while there were very interesting local tactical operations along the way, the terrain and overall allied plan is what makes this operation noteworthy in the first place. I wanted games that reflected this scope and would give participants a sense of the allied challenge and why they failed.

Did I mention there were a few German SS divisions hanging around that the allies didn't know were there?

Monty's Gamble - Market Garden

The centerpiece game for the day was Monty's Gamble - Market Garden, an area impulse game released in the 90s that I had never played. Doug and I had chatted about this day quite a bit and I knew this was high on his list of games to present and teach. He came up with the brilliant idea of a team based session that could support anywhere from 3 to 6 players. We ended up having 9 players total that day, with 4 wargame newbies, so we split it into 2 groups. Five would play Monty's Gamble and four would play the Memoir '44 historical map and scenario for Market Garden from the expansion Tigers in the Snow.

We used the setup and map for Monty's Gamble to introduce the operation and its strategic challenges (and surprises) for all of the players. That was probably my favorite part of the day - having Doug explain the initial context for the operation to everyone there, with a few of us chiming in from time to time adding additional factoids (see, the "Replacements" episode of Band of Brothers too place primarily here by Eindhoven, etc.). Maybe his just wasn't necessary for Overlord given how familiar even non-military junkies are with Normandy, but it sure was a nice touch for Market Garden.

Still, sigh, we didn't get nearly far enough into this game. I think we made it though day 3 with things looking pretty balanced and maybe even edging towards the allies. Myk and I played the Germans with Doug, Matt, and KC taking the Allies (KC had the British 1st Airbourne, Matt the two American airborne divisions, and Doug the XXX Corps).

Memoir 44 - Market Garden

The others played the Memoir '44 scenario and it lasted a solid 3-4 hours. I think this might be a hidden gem in the inventory of M44 scenarios. It is hard to find and one of the only large historical maps (I.e., you don't need to use the terrain tiles to construct the map - it is printed to match the historical map for the entire operation). I borrowed this from Eric and will be keeping it for a while unless he demands it back sooner as I want a chance to play it myself with Matthew.

While I'm sure I distracted my teammate with my many departures to take care of grilling burgers and answering rules questions for M44, I think it was a good day for all involved.

In December we will conclude allied operations with a day of Bulge operations. There are so many good games to choose from.

Youth Football Starts

I'm coaching 8th grade football again this year, again with my good friends Brian and Jack. This is our 5th year coaching this level together and likely to be our last. For various reasons (two of us will be empty nesters next summer) we are likely to hang up our Sherwood Youth Football coaching hats for good after this season.

Which leads to the questions: What do we want this season to look like? and, What goals should we have?

The 2013 season was no cake walk. We had a decent seasons win/loss-wise, making it to the playoffs and holding our own in a playoff loss. Most of the kids (I think) had a great experience and are playing again this year on the HS freshman team. I see them around the town (I just saw one today at the HS) and they are eager to talk about their ongoing football experiences. But not all was rosy last year: parent relationships were the worst we've had in our experience, and some of this dysfunction transfered over to player relations.

It would be easy to blame the parents and shirk accountability, but we were part of the problem. I think our mistakes fell in two categories:

  1. Allowing ourselves to get pulled into confrontational conversations that eroded relationships. We may not have initiated the conversation, but we allowed it to happen when we could have walked away or smiled and asked to defer the conversation until cooler minds prevailed.
  2. Not enforcing natural consequences and outcomes for player behavior. In a few instances, generally to take the path of least resistance or to mitigate problem (1) above, we didn't carry out proper discipline or adjust our depth chart (player A starting over player B) when we should have. I think this undermined our authority and sent the wrong message to the players and parents who were doing things right. Not that these incidents were very visible outside of a very small number of players.

Given this backdrop, let's talk about how we'd like 2014 to play out.

We've recommitted ourselves to making this a great team and football experience for the players. Personally I'm smiling more, yelling less, and finding more ways to connect personally with each player. I'm getting to know the parents on a more personal level, finding ways to engage them into support activities for the team. Julie has filmed our games for years and I've taken care of film processing and uploading to Hudl. I've delegated that completely to a parent (this was very hard for me). We are working on a new no huddle play calling systems and I've enlisted three different dads to help with some fabrication and production work to support us.

Secondarily, we want to focus on the bottom third of our kids and help them over perform. Sherwood is one of the few programs in all of greater Portland that will field two 8th grade teams this year, and as a result we will face several other teams that draw from larger communities that have a single team. Our talent pool will not measure up, but if we can coach up the weaker kids and properly prepare them perhaps we can steal a game or two that otherwise we should lose.

Over achievement this year probably means a 5-3 season. I'll check back in November and report on how things went.

It is hard to contemplate that this could be my last season coaching. I wonder if there might be some other venue for me (or maybe the three of us?) in the future where impact could be magnified. After watching Undefeated, Brian and I wonder if there might be some high school out there somewhere that could use a volunteer staff to turn around a program and establish a foundation for the kids.

Compounded, Forbidden Desert, and Up Front!

I played three different new-to-me games in the past week. I'm in the midst of my transition out of routine board gaming and into the daily (awesome) grind of football coaching. Gotta get gaming in while I can.


First up was a game I Kickstarted called Compounded. Given the chemistry theme you might think this is an educational game, but it really is just another resource acquisition and set collection game. We had a blast playing it though (four players) and the production quality is stellar. I'm not sure of all the differences between the current retail version and what I got via Kickstarter so don't be surprised if things look a bit different.

A brief description of the game:

  • Players collect raw elements as their base resource (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and sulfur). These elements are usually randomly drawn from a bag and occur with frequency (ostensibly related to natural occurring frequency, e.g. hydrogen much more common than sulfur)
  • You are collecting these elements in order to acquire compounds comprised of these elements
  • The key choices in the game (my opinion) are what compounds to claim and what advancements to take. On each player board is a tracker where you can advance among multiple capability categories. These can bring more elements to the player each turn, allow them to have more claim markers out on compounds, put out more elements on compounds each turn, and allow for more element storage between turns.
  • There are special one shot and permanent improvements that a player can also obtain as a side effect of acquiring a compound or advancing along a research track
  • The game would be a boring min-max engine building puzzle if it weren't for compound volatility. Some compounds don't like to sit on the shelf waiting to be completed and will eventually blow up. Don't ask me to explain how it works thematically that a compound not even started will combust. It is this feature that adds some randomness and risk taking. You can also take advantage of how elements spray out from an explosion to advantage other compounds you've claimed

We played with four and I think opinions were positive if not overwhelmingly so. There's an educational aspect to the game in that the compounds seem to be somewhat accurate in terms of elemental components and structure. At least that's what the chemist in our group claimed.

Forbidden Desert

My family enjoys Forbidden Island as a great cooperative gateway game for kids and adults, so I recently picked up its successor Forbidden Desert. This has a bit more going on without losing the simplicity of the original. Instead of an island sinking into the water you have a desert storm ravaging the terrain. The storm movement brings it's own chaos, and combined with more complexity in how the treasures are discovered the game requires more planning and coordination. We struggled to win our first game on easy level. This is a keeper and should be good with kids.

Up Front - Doug checking rules

If you are a wargamer you've probably had some exposure to the Kickstarter saga surrounding the reprint of have classic game Up Front. I Kickstarted the game and have no expectation of ever getting a copy. But Doug has one and we played last weekend!

Up Front - Chris hand

This is the game that was supposed to evolve and popularize the tactical system in Squad Leader through a few key mechanisms:

  • A better simulation of local combat command by reducing the amount of control the player has. In Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader) each player has god-like visibility and command. Up Front does this by limiting actions to the cards in hand.
  • Increased fog of war along at least two dimensions: you don't always know what terrain you will find as you advance, and you don't know what actions the other player can conduct
  • Economy of actions through hand tension: do I take this one action with a squad and nothing with the others, or do I discard and draw with the hopes of a better hand on next turn?

If this sounds like Combat Commander there's no coincidence -- the inflict of Up Front on CC is obvious. Up Front however fully abstracts out the map and counters - this game is pretty much all about cards. Engagement and range or managed through a relative range calculation as units advance. I get the feeling however that this part of the system could have used more development and refinement as I had a hard time grasping the mechanism and mapping it to some reality.

Up Front - Berserk

Doug and I played the first two scenarios and I loved it. I also won both games but the second scenario should have been a loss. Doug was playing the Russians and had me on the bring of elimination (one more unit kill and it would be an automatic win) but I held on with some fortunate back-to-back attacks. Three or four consecutive kills led to his units going berserk then charging my unit, only to die quickly in close combat.

Thanks Doug for teaching this classic!