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).

Recent Gaming: Love Letter, Fantastiqa, and more

How about we catch up with some recent gaming?

Love Letter

I’ve been playing this about every week for the past month. It only has 16 cards and is extremely light, but still a nice diversion. It reminds me of Fluxx in complexity but Love Letter has a much better flow to it with short rounds and a total game length of about 30 minutes. It definitely plays better with 3 or 4 players than with 2, which generally devolves into who draws the better cards.

P.I.

Playing P.I. - similar to Clue and Mastermind

P.I., a surprise game from Martin Wallace given his tendency towards deeper games, is a deduction game similar to Clue or Mastermind but with a few different twists:

  • One of your opponents is holding the cards representing the crime you must solve. When you take an action to investigate an area, that opponent is responsible for answering correctly. Yes, there are consequences if you screw this up.
  • There’s a two dimensional element in the deduction process manifest in the game board, which represents a fictional city. If you’ve played Mastermind, you might remember that your opponent color codes their response to your guess based on accuracy. P.I. is similar but the 2-D aspect adds a nice twist as you see these orbits around your guesses intersect to help narrow down your crime solving.

Julie, Matthew and I played and enjoyed it – P.I. is a keeper for us.

Fantastiqa

I asked my game group if anyone has a copy and Doug obliged by bringing a borrowed copy to my game night this week. I’ve been calling this Dominion meets Elfenland (but without much of the route planning involved in Elfenland). The theme and cards are very cute with a light fantasy theme and some funny card color text. We played the partnership 2 vs. 2 game and I think everyone enjoyed it. I’m still on the fence about acquiring it – I’d like to play a 2 player long game first.

Fast Action Battles: Sicily

FAB: Sicily, fairly light wargame covering allied invasion in 1943

Whenever I get a free full or half weekend day with Jacob or Matthew I try to squeeze in a deeper strategy or war game. Jacob and I agreed to play FAB: Sicily a few weeks ago, a game covering Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in WWII. This game uses the same series rules as FAB: The Bulge and FAB: Golan ’73 will hopefully will come out sometime next year.

This game has the Axis player (moi) setup the less-than-stellar Italian beach garrisons, then the Allied player choose their beach landing strategy. I made some awful newbie choices in my initial setup and could not contain Jacob’s invasion forces. The Americans pretty much wiped the map of my garrisons and the meager German panzer and infantry forces present on the NW side of the island. I’m eager for a rematch playing the same sides so I can try a different setup strategy.

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game

We’ve taken the dive into this amazing miniatures game. The miniatures are extremely well produced and the game is easy to get into and plays quickly. I’ll write about this some more as I produced my own star field play mat and we have a few more minis to try out in a full game. We might get to try this Sunday evening.

1846

1846

At GameStorm 15 I played this 18xx game with Greg and Matt. We had a pipe dream that we could play this in four hours but only managed about five. I really like this 18xx game because of its draft mechanism for buying initial private companies. This makes it much easier to introduce new players as they don’t need to worry about company valuation, just relative value of the different companies offered.

Fields of Fire

I had a rare weekend with nothing scheduled and without Jacob or Matthew to play a long game with me, so I endeavored to attempt (for the third time) to teach myself Fields of Fire, a solitaire complex game of infantry tactics. This game has been hampered by poor rules with a very steep learning curve, but I will say that it was worth my time and I will play this again within 2 months. With much help from the revised rules, Youtube videos, and a few player help guides, I was able to complete the first scenario in about 8 hours total play time spread over a Saturday and Sunday. The game has a campaign / role playing element to it as you get to rebuild your squads between missions and level up some of the leaders and units.

Epic Boardgaming

Playing Antike with Yehuda in Israel and Jim in Indy

I’ve had some amazing boardgame sessions over the past two weeks that I’m eager to share. Earlier in December I hooked up with Yehuda (Jerusalem Israel) and Jim (Indianapolis IN USA) to play Antike over a Google+ hangout. I used my laptop to keep a camera on the game board and Julie’s iPad to keep a camera on me. G+ likes to show the video from the loudest talker so I ran my audio through the laptop hoping to keep the game board as the primary video feed.

Antike is a good design for this sort of remote game where one player can keep track of the game state because it has no hidden information (like secret card hands or victory points). Jim and Yehuda both kept a game board locally so they could mostly stay in sync and I think it helped them along. This game had the least amount of conflict in it of any Antike game I’ve ever played, with Jim going after territorial expansion and Yehuda and I pursuing knowledge. Yehuda grabbed his second “7 seas” card plus the special prize for advancing on all the know-how tracks to win the game. It took us about 120-150 minutes to play the game.

FAB:The Bulge with Myk

The following Sunday Mike came over for a full play of Fast Action Battles: The Bulge. We chose this game to commemorate the start of the Bulge on December 16. This was my second playing of the game, with the first coming about five years ago against the very same Mike out at Sunriver. This time I played the Americans — plug the gaps and squeeze the bulge!

As you can see from the photo above Mike achieved quite the bulge and almost managed to take Liege. We had to cut the game short by about 2 turns and called it a draw, which I think may have been generous of Mike.

Here I Stand - wars of the reformation 1517-1555.

On Wednesday evening this week I hosted a six player game of Here I Stand: Wars of the Reformation 1517-1555. This is a card driven wargame with the Ottomans, Papacy, Protestants, English, French, and Hapsburgs all vying for supremacy during the start of the reformation. The game involves secret negotiations and each power has a unique path to victory. For example, the Ottomans score victory points through military conquest and piracy, while the English are focused on finding a male heir to continue to the Tudor line, military conquest, exploration and conquest of the New World, and (depending on who is the English ruler) supporting the reformation our counter-reformation.

Jacob, Matthew, and friend Connor (Matthew and Connor are currently in a European History class) joined us and I suspect they would all say it was one of the best gaming experiences they’ve ever had. Five of the six players were in contention for the victory, with the French (Jacob), English (me), and Protestants (Benoit) in a mad dash in the final turn. The challenge in a multi-player wargame is that everyone will jump on the leader as you approach victory. Connor (Ottomans) nearly achieved an automatic victory through conquest when Jacob and I raced across Europe to push the Turks out of central Europe. This in turn almost allowed Jacob to achieve an automatic victory when the Protestants stepped in with some “foul weather” to deny Jacob a siege assault that likely would have won the game.

This was nine hours of epic gaming that we are eager to repeat, either with a replay of “Here I Stand” or its sequel Virgin Queen.

Recent Gaming: A Few Acres of Snow, Filthy Rich, and Power Grid: the First Sparks

A Few Acres of Snow with Ken

I’ve had some great, though infrequent, gaming sessions lately. Ken and I were able to play back-to-back games of A Few Acres of Snow, the deck building war game about the French and British conflict in North America. My first play with Jacob earlier this year was a struggle because of the breadth of actions available to each player — huge surface area of possibilities to explore which often left us scratching our heads.

In our first game I played the Brits, Ken the French. We had almost no direct conflict and focused on settling with periodic raids, just about all of which were blocked. The game ended when the British exhausted their settlement bits and I squeaked out a 1 or 2 point victory. The game lasted longer than I think it should – probably 3 or more hours. Still, we had fun learning the ropes and came away with ideas on how to approach the game differently next time around.

We switched sides in our second game and I came out very aggressively as the French, laying siege along the British northern sea ports whenever possible. We had some very drawn out battles (you can see how many cards ended up locked in a siege in the photo above) but in just about every case I was able to keep Ken on the defensive and often win settlement pieces from him (VPs!). We played the game longer than we needed to as we forgot that if a player captures 12 VP worth of enemy bits then he wins. I did, and I did — actually I think I had 16 VP before we discovered our mistake. I’m sure Ken is brushing up on his strategy ideas for our next go.

Filthy Rich

Last Friday Matthew and I pulled out one of the unplayed games in my collection: Filthy Rich designed by Richard Garfield. We played with the supposedly required variant where one the first “tax” die roll is used and subsequent ones are ignored. This is a fun if a bit wacky and chaotic game. I think it dragged on a bit longer than needed with a known outcome (I had lucky die rolls against Matthew, a rare occurrence). This is a very innovative design with the game being played in a binder with plastic card sleeve pages (imagine a book holding baseball cards).

Power Grid - First Sparks

Last night I hosted my game group game night and tried out Power Grid: the First Sparks. This is supposedly an easier, streamlined version of the original Power Grid, but I’m not sure I agree. While it takes away the auction mechanic, which can be imposing for new players, the mechanics surrounding the variable game board complicate things beyond the original Power Grid. I didn’t get the feel that this has the same compelling market tension as the original and can’t imagine wanting to play this instead. Even when teaching new gamers!

Gaming with Joe Huber

Acquire with Joe Huber

We hosted noteworthy gamer Joe Huber at Eric’s home this week for a special Thursday night gaming session. Joe was in town on business and I responded to his plea for Portland gaming. See, Joe is on a quest to get in 50 plays of Acquire to celebrate the game’s 50th anniversary so I brought my copy over to play. I hadn’t played in years, and Joe informed me that he had probably played more times by the time he was 18 than I’ve played in my lifetime.

Joe’s experience clearly presented itself as he dominated the game, though Eric admirably stayed close. Dave and I knew early on that we would be competing for third place as we became cash starved and missed out on one acquisition payout after another. Still a great game that deserved to be played more often.

Next up was a favorite of mine, Atlantic Star (aka Show Manager). This is such a well crafted game in terms of mechanisms — perfect tension as you see the routes unfold. I agree with Joe however that casting a show is a much better theme than determine cruise routes.

Finally we played the outstanding card game Saint Petersburg. This is a game I played often when it first came out, including solo plays with the PC game back in 2004. I hadn’t played since 2009 and I can’t say why – this is a great 2 or 3 player card game. A major rookie blunder by me in the final round took me from a solid 2nd place finish to last place, but Joe came out on top again for a game night hat trick.

Joe – thanks for joining us and we look forward to gaming again on your next visit to PDX.