Recap of Some Games I Played in December

I've had a very active month of gaming so far! Here's a recap of the highlights:

  • Nations – played this with Jacob and Matthew and got destroyed. Could never get my engine running and felt behind by the end of the first age. The boys played a tight game with Jacob edging Matthew by one point. Nations isn't holding up well for me, but maybe I'm soured from my poor showing.
  • Jaipur – Still one of the favorite two player card games for Julie and me. When we take some time away from the game, we always seem to play it wrong the first time through.
  • Warfighter: The Tactical Special Forces Card Game – Doug gifted a spare copy of this fun, light solo/cooperative modern tactical card game. Matthew and I played the easy intro scenario again and had fun, but it was too easy. I hope we can fit in a tougher scenario before he returns to West Point next weekend.
  • Advanced Squad Leader – I look forward to this every week with Doug. We are playing through some easier infantry only scenarios and keep stumbling on new rules and small mistakes. The consistent play helps; we even took an hour this week to play over VASL so that we wouldn't lose our momentum over the busy holidays.

Objective Kiev, playing with Evan S

  • Objective: Kiev – We had a friendly wargamer social down at the Lucky Lab in SE Portland last week, and I finally got to play this magazine game. Evan S and I played a game for the first time in person and enjoyed the game, which took about two hours. The turn sequence printed on the map is wrong, so I plan to paste up a corrected one.
  • Combat Commander: Europe – Matt R came over for a full day of campaign play. We each have a “personal leader” we are playing with starting fall 1944 and through the Bulge. Matt killed my personal leader early in the first scenario! We got through two scenarios and Matt won both, though the first was very tight. I had control of the board but lost due to the surrender limit.
  • Viticulture: Complete Collector's Edition – I'm loving this game, and slowly drawing Julie into it as a medium weight 2 player game. We are able to play through in about an hour and are starting to mix in expansions from Tuscany.
  • 1880: China – I joined Myk, Chuck, and Matt for this elegant 18xx game a few weekends ago. We didn't quite finish the game, but I was destined for a second or third place showing but not too far behind. I love meandering around 18xx games, focusing on local optimization while I learn the nuances of a given game. I hope to play with Jacob and one or two others on January 3.
  • Splendor – I finally played this much hoped game, two player with Doug. Fun game but it didn't blow me away enough to consider a purchase.
  • Treasure Hunter – Played this with four players and it has more depth than I initially thought. It is a card drafting game where you are building sets of different suits, sometimes going for high, sometimes low, sometimes trying to void a suit. I'd play it again.
  • Deep Sea Adventure – This is a fun little press your luck game, and would make a great filler or pub game. On my “might buy this” list.

Untitled

  • CV – Played this the same night as Treasure Hunter and Deep Sea Adventure, and I think it compares to Splendor but with a bit more complexity.
  • Airborne Commander – Really enjoying this solitaire card game that I kickstarted a while back. It is a very difficult game and I'm struggling to just finish a scenario with positive points.
  • Orléans: Deluxe Edition – KC and I played this beautifully crafted game and he was very kind to steer me to victory. I enjoyed the game and love the production, though I wonder if the strategies are too obvious.
  • Five Crowns – Julie has been playing this weekly with a local friend and introduced me to it. It is a mass market game but pleasant fun and I'll always play it when Julie asks. Definitely has some strong luck aspects, but there's more depth to it than I initially though.

Recent Gaming: Churchill, Food Chain Magnate, ASL, and more

I go through odd but apparently predictable gaming cycles each year. Julie and I were on the road and in Ireland for about two months from late August to late October, and hardly a game was played during that period. Now that I’m back, I’m all in with a vengeance and playing multiple games each week, including some bigger and longer games.

I’ve been tracking the games I play for many years and this year really isn’t any different from past years. Last year I didn’t log a single game played from August through October. The reason of course is football coaching for the past 10 years. So the reasons this year might be different, but the result is the same. I dive back into gaming full force every November. Let’s talk about some games I’ve been playing lately.

Churchill

GMT's Churchill with KC and Ken

Churchill is the long awaited (by me anyway) three player strategy game about the WWII conferences involving the three major allies. So Stalin, FDR, and Churchill. And maybe Truman and Clement Attlee. I’m three plays into it now, including a 9 hour campaign scenario, a 5 hour tournament scenario, and a 2 hour teaching game just yesterday. Churchill is wacky as a game, and I think it needs to be viewed as an experience as you learn it. Mark Herman took an interesting and I think innovative approach to victory points and winning conditions but for mortals like me they aren’t comprehensible the first few plays. That’s because the game is “co-opetive” and hence has the odd tension of struggling together to beat the axis while trying to maximize your personal position leading into the post-war world. For me, though, playing a game like this is an immersive experience where I care less about the outcome and more about the role playing and fun with my friends.

 

Advanced Squad Leader

Advanced Squad Leader - the Guards Counterattack with Doug

Doug and I continue our immersion into Advanced Squad Leader. We are in the midst of a transition from the starter kit rules to the “big boy” full rules, so we’ve gone back to simpler scenarios without vehicles or big weapons to ensure we have the core infantry rules right. It helps that we kept our momentum even while separated over the summer, playing on VASL and Skype while I was in NY. This is a total nerd out in terms of complexity and learning time, and while humbling at times we are enjoying the ride.

Reluctant Enemies – Operational Combat Series

OCS: Reluctant Enemies with Allen

Speaking of complexity, someone decided that just pushing around a bunch of cardboard counters to simulate conflicts at the operational level doesn’t quite cover the real issues that commanders would face. Those real issues are logistics, not strategy or tactics.

 

The tactics… no, amateurs discuss tactics. Professional soldiers study logistics. – Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising

 

This is the origin of the Operational Combat Series (OCS) games, and I had my first taste this month playing the introductory level game Reluctant Enemies with new gaming buddy Allen. The game covers early WWII action between the UK (and UK Commonwealth forces) and new enemy the Vichy French in the middle east. We got about two turns into the game but I learned enough to understand the basics and have a reasonable understand of how to manage supply. We have a date for what we hope to be a full play this coming December.

 

Food Chain Magnate

Food Chain Magnate with Matt, Alex, and Greg

One awesome part about my regular gaming group is that there are always folks buying up the new games so I can sit back and try before buying. The latest Splotter game is Food Chain Magnate, a brilliant design both graphically and in game play. There’s a lot going on in this game: planning a few moves ahead, spatial tracking (how far is my restaurant from other houses and how do I set my prices), organizational design, just to name a few. I want to play this again.

Viticulture

Viticulture with KC and Ken

I picked up Viticulture and the Tuscany expansion about a year ago and really enjoy the game. In fact, I’m hoping this can become a two player game that Julie and I explore thoroughly. And when I say explore, I mean I want to play through every expansion of Tuscany!

Viticulture is a worker placement game where you send your worker dudes out each year to do wine-making activities, like planting grapes, harvesting them, turning them into wine, giving wine tours, selling wine, etc. It has a nice secret demand system over it that makes for a fun economic exercise, but it isn’t nearly as stressful as other worker placement games (I’m looking at you Agricola).

 

Moongha Invaders

Moongha Invaders with KC and Ken

My latest Martin Wallace / Treefrog game showed up recently, and I was a bit ashamed to admit I hadn’t heard of it and didn’t expect it. Moongha Invaders is a monsters-conquer-earth game with a fun twist. Each player controls a set of monsters that they can spawn and send down to the planet, but each player also has three cities on earth that they want to preserve for their own nefarious reasons. So you are trouncing around the planet destroying cities, but also taking steps (as subtly as possible) to protect your own cities. Fun beer and pretzels game (or, in our case, whiskey).

Tactical Wargaming: Advanced Squad Leader and Combat Commander

Tactical wargaming

Continuing my weekly wargaming sessions with Doug, we’ve fallen down the deep mysterious well that is Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). I won’t say that I was hesitant at all, despite my past attempts to play and learn the game (2003, 2006). My experiences playing the original Squad Leader in the late 70s with my friend Mike were in my top three early gaming highlights (APBA Baseball and D&D being the other two).

What helps is that Doug is a fantastic teacher, likely eliminating my main objection to the game which is that the rules are too dense. Technically Doug and I haven’t played full ASL yet, only the starter kits which means we aren’t playing with the full rules. Yet I have a lingering suspicion that the starter kit is the problem in the first place: there are some omissions of terminology and the rules do not have an index. Summary judgment: I think MMP did a poor job executing on the starter kits.

I had the pleasure of playing what are arguably the two most highly regarded tactical WWII wargames in the same week last week. In addition to ASL with Doug I also played Combat Commander: Europe with Matt. Perhaps you’ll enjoy some brief comparative remarks on the two.

ASL with Doug

Doug and I played the scenario Priority Target, featuring Commonwealth forces plus Greeks defending a battery of AAA from the Germans. I played the Germans and took the attack posture. Doug had a tough day ahead, with no easy way to hide the batteries and a dearth of quality troops to defend.

Doug and I have a solid mastery of infantry rules and tactics from the Starter Kit, and we are both able to play quickly which is one of the reasons we are both falling in love with the game. The flow is so nice, and you feel like you are able to plan ahead and devise a strategy. Hold that thought for later…

Tactical wargaming

I had a fairly easy go of it, but it was fun. After taking his first two guns, I was able to turn them on his own troops as I closed in with my other forces. Doug and I have both been listening to the 2 Half-Squads podcast and one point of advice is that if you are the attacker, you must attack. Or rather, disperse your forces, only prep fire when required, and press with movement and advancing fire. The main risk for me was Doug keeping rate of fire with his last remaining gun, and he struck out on some poor rolls at the end.

Tactical wargaming

That same week, Matt and I started a Combat Commander: Europe campaign using the new personal leader rules from C3I. This hearkened back to my old Squad Leader days when Mike and I used to play the campaign rules, which was almost like a role playing game combined with a wargame.

We opted to start with scenario 106, Lost Battalion, thinking this would be a good launching point for an America vs. Germany sequence starting in October 1944.

Tactical wargaming

Now I adore Combat Commander. When I purged about 30 wargames from my collection last year, this was one of the games I decided to keep. Not just keep, but I doubled down with a nice Plano box for storage and organized all of my scenarios (I have every one published) in a three ring binder with sheet protectors.

Still, the utter chaos in this game provided such a stark contrast with my ASL experience the same week that I started to have doubts. I had a plan for how to stop Matt’s battalion from escaping, but the cards and chaos (we had 3 or 4 time triggers within the first 15 minutes) prevented any material strategy from presenting.

I should take a deep breath.

Combat Commander is what it is. The chaos is what makes the fun, and to be fair Matt and I did have fun. It is like the beer and pretzels version of ASL, and it is a great intro game to teach others for the very same reason why it pales next to ASL: constrained choices. By holding a fixed set of cards, you do not have the option of doing anything and everything. This scarcity of options makes it easier to go with the flow and play very tactically, turn by turn.

Looking forward to more ASL this week with Doug. We expect to be playing full “big boy” ASL by November.

No Retreat! The North African Front – Operation Compass

No Retreat: The North African Front, start of campaign

One of the significant highlights of my post-employment life (there’s a difference between “post-employment” and “retired”!) is the weekly gaming that I’m doing with Doug. Every Thursday he and I are spending about eight hours together, mostly wargaming but also mixing in some lighter stuff like Marvel Dice Masters and Romance of the Nine Empires. I’m lucky to have a friend like Doug and Julie can attest to how much I look forward to Thursday each week.

Last week we took a run at No Retreat! The North African Front, again in preparation for my upcoming week-long wargaming blowout which starts tomorrow. We played Operation Compass which is both the first scenario and the start of the campaign game. Warning: this scenario is great for learning but Doug and I agree it doesn’t hold water as a playable competitive game. I mean how much fun can it be to play the Italians running away with likely no hope of having any pieces left at the end?

Above you can see the scenario setup at the start of the scenario and campaign. The very low counter density makes it easy to get rolling.

No Retreat: The North African Front, - running off the Italians

Let me give a brief rundown of how this game plays. On the surface it looks like any other hex-and-counter wargame, but it has some notable differences that aren’t obvious until you start playing the game. Some examples:

  • The sequence of play and turn model is very unique (to me anyway). The easiest way to think about it is that each turn is a sequence of 1 or more sub-turns that represent an offensive on a particular contested map area. Rather than try to represent the entire North African front on a single map, the designer includes a set of mounted maps that represent different regions. So as you play through scenarios or the campaign, the flow is through a series of macro turns that happen on separate maps.
  • The side that is running the offensive (and has the initiative) on a particular turn has the option after each sub-turn to continue or end the offensive. There’s an economy wrapped around this: supply. So to continue these sub-turns, the initiative player needs to pay supply points for continuation. This brings urgency to the table as the supply is finite.

Above you can see me (as the UK) preparing to run the Italians off the first map. I paid for a continuation near the end for the sole purpose of killing off his final unit to prevent it from coming back in on the next map.

No Retreat: The North African Front, setting up Map 3

Another unique mechanism in this game is the counterblow. It is a way for the non-phasing player to force the phasing player to conduct an attack if the opportunity is there. Additionally, mechanized units of the non-phasing player that are not in an enemy zone-of-control that are under a counterblow marker can move up to two hexes. For the Brits in this scenario it means that you can prevent the Italians from just running away by creating some choke-points and looking for counterblow opportunities.

Above you can see Doug trying his best to setup a front for the Italians on Map 3. He attempted to create a some trouble for me on the inland road, but I was easily able to break through on the coast and chase him down.

No Retreat: The North African Front, playing card for extra move

There’s some planning involved to pull this off. First, to even have counterblow markers you need to purchase them (they are on the flip side of the target markers that are used for attacking by the phasing player) on your own turn. These use the same supply points that you use for continuation, so planning and budgeting are important.

We also played with the extended use event cards which opened up additional opportunities. Above you can see where I played a card to allow an extra move, creating an opportunity to pretty much destroy his active forces on the map.

The deployment process when you move to a new map can be a bit confusing. The defending player sets up first and generally has the run of the board but needs to be realistic about what he can defend or run the risk of quick outflanking and losing his own supply lines. Once the defender sets up, the other player can setup as far in from his own map board as he wants, as if he has already moved through any towns along the roads as he passes in. This is what allows these initial units in their setup locations to have supply.

On the first turn on map 3 I took Sidi Omar then killed his last unit with a counterblow between Tobruk and Gazala.

No Retreat: The North African Front, why even bother with Map 2...

We started the process of setting up Map 2, then looked at the situation and said “why bother”. The Italians only had a single unit at this point and the scenario was essentially over.

Still, we got the basic mechanics down and we may just start our campaign game this week with Operation Sunflower when Rommel shows up.

Supreme Commander, Take 2

The Supreme Commander with Ken

This is a follow-up to my Supreme Commander post from last week.

Ken and I played through about 6 turns of the campaign game for The Supreme Commander last weekend, and the game is really growing on me. This on the heels of playing some Unconditional Surrender! World War 2 in Europe and thinking that there’s no way Supreme Commander can measure up. I think these are both very high quality games.

Ken and I wanted to get a good enough grasp so that we can dive in and play all day this coming Sunday at Salishan. I played the Axis powers while Ken took on the Allies. We ignored the Soviets for this play given the unlikelihood of them getting involved in 1939 / 1940.

The Supreme Commander - start of campaign

I setup my initial offensive on Poland almost identically to my solo play-through. The keys are to have infantry armies involved in every combat (there is a tech tree in SC and I chose to upgrade the German infantry, thus giving them a +1 factor when an infantry army is involved but not just a corps). A corps is essentially one step of a three-step army and is this relationship is one of the key mechanisms of the game as I called out in my prior post. It is simple to build up and break down armies and in some cases it will be critical to do so (transport, upgrading to new armies).

The Supreme Commander - #$%@ Warsaw!

Things were going so well for me on the combat front until I hit Warsaw, and consecutive rolls over three turns of 1 or 2 prevented me from eliminating the last Polish unit. This is a big deal for a few reasons:

  • I was losing steps myself with each combat, costing me valuable MSPs (Military Spending Points) in the process
  • It took me off schedule from other imperatives, such as invading the low countries or Scandinavia

Ken and I discussed this a lot and came to the conclusion that there’s no way to mitigate this. I was on the highest column on the CRT, was maximizing die roll modifiers, etc. Short story: if you invade Poland you might finish the job on turn 1, you might finish on turn 4.

While we are talking about crappy die rolls, I was trying to influence Italy through the diplomacy process and paid to improve my chances for four consecutive turns. I only needed to roll a 7 or less to succeed, and failed four straight times. What are the odds? 0.3 * 0.3 * 0.3 * 0.3 = 0.81% chance. Yes, less than 1 in 100. S#$t happens.

The Supreme Commander - the foolish Swedish invasion

I then turned my eyes north to Scandinavia, taking Denmark quickly but with eye towards Norway and Sweden. All that money I spent rebuilding steps in the stagnation in Poland combined with failed diplomatic efforts meant the Nazis had not managed to expand their navy (subs or surface). This meant that the UK had total domination in the North Sea. So while I would have much rather just gone after Norway, I had to pick Sweden (which had a much stronger standing army) instead so that I could just swim over the Baltic Sea.

Strategically this was a terrible move. With only a single surface fleet to carry my amphibious assault, I was forced to rely on just one corps landing along with an airborne drop. I had less than a 50/50 chance of succeeding, failed, and the entire operation was a bust. I did this as my last action just so Ken and I could see both an amphibious assault and an airborne drop and work through the rules. At least that’s my excuse.

Ken spent his time as the UK building his fleet and a few corps, relocating some to the Mediterranean as well as a token force in France. He also hopped over to Copenhagen to try to help the Danes. With the French he quickly built an HQ to solve some supply concerns around the Maginot line and deployed some troops along the Italian border. I should also note that he spent all of his diplomatic efforts trying for the 1 in 10 changes of swaying the Italians towards the Allies. It is a long shot for them, but any roll will succeed with a 1 so it is a reasonable chance for the Allies to take as long as they don’t have other diplomatic agendas.

A few things we still need to address as we start our game on Sunday:

  • When a nation becomes an Active Minor Nation Ally, they add to the economy (MSP) of the controlling allied nation
  • We will need to read up on Soviet annexation rules and other political opportunities and rules for them
  • We didn’t really get into strategic bombing either, but that doesn’t play a big role early in the game