Twilight Struggle Session Report: The American Perspective, Mid War

March 26, 2012

You might remember that a few months ago Rick and I started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL (the first post is here). Today I continue my commentary on the mid war. When we last left off, I had amassed a 12 point lead, but the Soviets were thick as thieves in Western Germany and the Americas.

Turn 4
U.S. Hand: 2/Decolonization, 2/Defectors, 4/Red Scare or Purge, 2/Formosan Resolution, South America Scoring, 3/U2 Incident, 2/Latin American Death Squads, Europe Scoring, 1/Kitchen Debates

Not a great hand. I’m still holding onto Decolonization because there’s been no breathing room with which to send it to the space race, and now there are two scoring cards to deal with. Crap.

Well, it’s still obvious that it’s time to headline Defectors (nothing like twice in one game!). Luckily, I stop Vietnam Revolts and southest Asia remains American for now. Amazingly, Rick doesn’t coup anywhere on the first action round, opting instead to spread influence in the Middle East, so I take my shot and drop my only 4 op card on Venezuela. I achieve success and manage to match the Soviets in South America. Rick answers with Middle East Scoring, which nets him 3 VPs (US now at +9). Confident that there’s not much I can do in that area, I spread more influence in Africa and score South America, netting no gain to either side. Meanwhile, Rick takes Pakistan and scores Asia, again resulting in no gain for either side. However, late scoring in Europe gets him 2 VPs (US now at 7).

With four scoring cards on the first turn of the mid-war, we both know that Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will be the focus for the next few turns. This turn I’ve picked up four of five African battleground countries, but things look pretty grim in Central America and Europe teeters on the brink!

The end of Turn 4

Turn 5
U.S. Hand: 2/Decolonization, Southeast Asia Scoring, 2/NORAD, 2/John Paul II Elected Pope, 3/Quagmire,  1/OAS, 2/Cambridge 5, 2/Liberation Theology, 3/Breznev Doctrine, China Card

Again, not a great hand, mainly because of all the low ops. Quagmire is going to be a bear to get rid of (no pun intended). I take a gamble, knowing that at least Vietnam Revolts is out of play, and headline Southeast Asia Scoring. Rick picks Lone Gunman and successfully coups Zaire. I get 3 VP in SE Asia (US now at +10).

During the action rounds, we spend a lot of influence for control of West Germany…and yes, I’m still kicking myself for letting Blockade happen. I realize far too late that the Soviets just have more ops, and eventually focus my attention elsewhere. (By the end of the turn, West Germany will have 11 Soviet influence points and 7 US points. Rookie mistake on my part.) Thankfully, Rick plays Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, and I get rid of Quagmire in favor of Brush War. While the war I ignite in Mexico fails, I later place influence in there to get to Guatemala. This sets me up for some sweet (and rare!) realignment rolls at the end of the turn, which leads to an early Soviet exit from Mexico. Booyah! The Americans also catch a lucky break as the Soviets have to Bear Trap themselves. As the turn comes to a close, I’ve made Central America a fair fight, and South America and Africa are under US domination.

The end of turn 5.

Next up…the stunning conclusion!


Cosmic Karma Session Report: Too Many Bad Habits

March 22, 2012

I got an email from John a little while back that signaled a big step forward for our blog: our first review copy of a game! It’s certainly not our usual fare, but I kept an open mind. After all, I have said, “I’ll try any game once.” So when John and his wife hosted a game day last weekend I was eager to give this game a spin.

John, his wife, my wife and I had just finished a game of Cuba (my hotel strategy beat out John’s cigar business) when out came Cosmic Karma. My wife took our 3 kids home for naptime so John, Sara, and I set up to try to attain “Cosmic Consciousness.” I was pleasantly surprised at the fantastic components – especially the player boards. There are a lot of games that could benefit from recessed areas to hold the bits while playing. With young kids in my house, players keeping the gaming bits on their boards can be difficult so this was great. John read the rules to us (what kind of person hasn’t read the rules before introducing a new game? My fellow blogger, apparently.) and they seemed pretty straightforward.

My starting board is looking good.

John started rolled the dice and he immediately gained a ring – representative of positive karma. I was up next and rolled my way into a bead – negative karma. That made three since each player starts with two and I immediately gained a bad habit – ouch! Oh well, it was early, plenty of time to catch up I was sure. We took a few more turns and then we started to have some questions. After a couple of checks in the rulebook we answered these.

The choice cards were cool with positive and negative effects on them depending on which way you happened to draw it from the pile. My problem was that I seemed to pick those cards the wrong way. Every time. My opponents, on the other hand, had better luck and continued to avoid gaining too many negative karma beads. We all went around the board once – representing one life – and were in to the afterlife. I had 2 bad habits carry over to my next life while John was around neutral karma and Sara had one habit.

Working our way through the green sections of the board we ran into a dilemma with the bridges in Land #1. It was unclear (and the rules didn’t address it at all) as to whether or not you could move onto them by choice. After a brief discussion and a few more looks through the rulebook, we ruled that you could move on to them by the player’s choice and I finally gained my first (and only) positive karma ring of the game.

I then used my stock pile of Free Will cards. This allowed me to choose how many spaces I move instead of relying on the random rolls of dice. I was able to collect all of the pieces required for my Magic Wand, Magic Torch and Magic Sword. Now I would be able to cut out those bad habits (now at 3!) and move around the board at will – victory would be mine! As soon as I reincarnated for my third try at life on earth that is.

I've collected my tools, but Sarah is ready to sprint to the finish.

Unfortunately for me, Sara had managed to collect the three Master tools on her second life through cunning use of her free will cards. Some lucky rolls and card draws allowed her to achieve Cosmic Consciousness for the win.

Looking back, I probably should have used my Free Will movement cards earlier to avoid gaining any bad habits, but then again I wouldn’t have acquired my tools as easily then. I don’t feel like I had much control overall in the game. Especially during the first trip around the board where you have little control because you don’t have any tools and very few free will cards. It’s basically a roll and move with a few choices. I likened it to playing Candy Land with the “draw two cards and play one” variant. Yes you have a choice, but one option is obviously better so the decision is essentially made for you. The Free Will cards added more control but not much.

John comtemplates a higher level of consciousness while Sarah is a peace with her victory.

Overall, it was more fun than I expected, but that was mainly due to hearing John and myself say things like, “I’ve got my Magic Sword to cut out my bad habits” or “Why not use your Magic Wand to travel the Dharma Wheels?” I also enjoyed that the game spurred some interesting questions like, “Why is the goal of the game to finish with neutral karma and not positive karma?” The theme is there and integrated into the game very well, but as a game I think one play was good enough for me.


Inside the Box: Cosmic Karma

March 18, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Cosmic Karma has recently been released by Cosmic Karma Game Partners, LLC. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from the designer, Linda Look, two weeks ago and finally got the chance to open it up this week. The game retails for $38.00 and it is available through the game’s website here. (A more traditional review of gameplay can be found here.) Basically the purpose of the game is to get rid of all negative karma you pick up throughout the game, gather three “master tools,” and pick up beneficial cards to help you jet around the board. Each time you go around the circular track, you die and go to the spirit realm, where you have some new choices to make before you are reincarnated. The first player to return to the start space with no negative karma and all three master tools wins the game. I’d categorize it as a “roll and move” game with a few twists.

As I first approached the game, the box immediately caught my eye. It’s sturdy and colorful and weighs about five pounds. The cover features a cute little monk (“Karma Boy”) meditating on a lotus flower. The note on the front says the game is for ages 13+ (in my opinion, it could be played by people much younger), supports 2-4 players (I’d imagine 4 is best), and plays in about 30-90 minutes.

And inside the box I found…wow, a lot! On top is one small rules booklet (full color), a square game board, four pawns, 2 six-sided dice, four “karma account” boards, about 200 cards of various sizes, and a small plastic tray with many small and colorful playing pieces (beads, rings, pegs, etc.)

The contents of the game.

Taken together and individually, the components are of very high quality. I was especially impressed by the eye-catching art on the board and cards, done by artist Crystal McLaughlin. Karma Boy features prominently in all the game materials, and although he’s simply drawn, he is very expressive and is often doing amusing things on the cards. The designer and artist also chose an easy-to-read font throughout the game.

The board.
A sample card.

The thing that really gets my attention about this game is the player aid (“Karma Accounts”). Rick and my wife both commented on how sturdy and helpful they were when we played yesterday. At the bottom of each account is a little depression cut right into the cardboard so your karmic beads and rings don’t roll all over the table. Very handy.

Notice the little holding boxes at the bottom.
Very thick, sturdy cardboard. Thumbs up.
A Karma Account during play. Note the holes to put the “master tool” pegs in.

The last components are the playing pieces–orange and green beads (negative karma), rings (positive karma), and sticks (habits), and black pegs representing the two halves of each of the three master tools (torch, sword, and wand). Again, these are of high quality, and come in a handy storage tray with a lid. Considering the cost of the storage tray, I’m impressed this was included: most game companies would be content with giving you a couple of plastic baggies or letting you figure it out on your own.

Thumbs up for storage!

If Cosmic Karma loses out in any way, it’s in the rulebook. Almost all of our questions were answered, but the arrangement of the rules is not ideal so you need to do some re-reading to figure out how certain rules might interact in play. However, this is not a huge problem as the rules are only four small pages, and a bit of skimming will help you find things pretty quickly.

In terms of its pieces, Cosmic Karma is beautifully presented. High quality components from a small, independent publisher are a welcome treat, and I think the people at Cosmic Karma Game Partners deserve a pat on the back for their hard work while keeping the cost of this game relatively low.

Expect Rick to post a session report in the next few days. I’ll chime in in the future with some further thoughts as well.


C & C: Napoleonics: Bussaco (Ney’s Assault) Scenario

March 11, 2012

Last Saturday while our wives were out at the spa and our dad was watching his favorite grand-daughters, my brother and I sat down for a third time to play Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. Having played the first Bussaco scenario against Russ a week before, we immediately headed to the French right flank during the same battle and played Bussaco (Ney’s Assault). Mike once again took the British, and I sided with the French. The Allied forces have a fun mix of British and Portuguese line and light troops with some specialized units (like the Guards Grenadiers) mixed in. The French, meanwhile, have their usual assortment of line and light infantry.

Setup
As the scenario opens, the British have an advance skirmish line made up of Rifles, lights, and Portuguese light troops in the center, and their main force scattered in the rear. The French, on the other hand, have a nice set of intact lines. We cracked open a Flemish sour ale and started playing.

The start of the battle.

Early Battle
My first goal was to eliminate Sharpe’s Rifles in the town of Sula, as their superior range makes them a huge threat. In fact, their position means they can take shots at any Frenchmen advancing in the entire center section. So I quickly moved up some light and line infantry and whittled them down to one block strength. (Mike then wisely ordered them to retreat.)

First things first: Kill Sharpe!

That done, Mike and I traded some fire on French right flank. In the end, I withdrew my troops; the forest makes for a nice, safe approach, but the French still face some Portuguese troops sitting on a hill, and I just couldn’t get my artillery up fast enough. As Mike marshaled his forces, it was clear this was going to be decided in the center.

Mid Battle
As Mike worked to bring together a line in the center, I brought my left and center together to form a powerful, linked line of infantry. (Unbeknownst to my opponent, I was also building up an entire hand of left section cards, hoping to make a move on the Portuguese line infantry and British cavalry on that side, but it never panned out.)

My left center midway through the battle.

I anchored my left-center line in the town of Sula, and stretched my troops toward my own end of the map from there. Some of my units had taken a beating from the murderous musket fire of the British light troops, so I cycled weak units to the rear and brought fresh ones up. Meanwhile, Mike brought his line together and prepared to assault.

End of Battle
I’m proud to say that this one ended in total carnage. General Mike played a “Bayonet Charge” and sent his Allied troops howling forward. They did a bit of damage and destroyed one unit, but he couldn’t have known that I had an “Assault Center” up my sleeve.

After the Allies’ charge.

I laid the card down and ordered two full strength French line units, one 3/4 strength line unit, and one French light cavalry. They all engaged with the enemy infantry and wiped them out (3 banners). The cavalry achieved a breakthrough too, and managed to nab the last lone British light infantry block for the victory. 4 banners in one turn–wow! Mike was truly stunned; he had thought his charge might bring him within the grasp of victory, but, alas, it only hastened his defeat.

The map at the end. Mike’s “losing face” makes another appearance.

Despite the way this one ended, I think it is a rather balanced scenario. The French get the forests for a covered approach on both flanks, while the British have a lot of hills. The town in the center will inevitably become the heart of this battle, though, and it was definitely true  on Saturday.

Stay tuned as my brother and I sit down to play the next scenario!

 


Wilderness War Strategy Guide: British

March 5, 2012

Volko Ruhnke‘s Wilderness War (2001, GMT) is a simple game in terms of its rules, but at the same time it is subtle in its gameplay. In fact, it’s the first game I ever set up and then stared at the board for an hour saying, “Okay, now what?” And there have been enough questions from newcomers to the game since its reprint that I thought it was worth cooking up a second  strategy guide for it. (If you’re looking for the French strategy guide, go here. Also, you can check out a post about the historicity of the game; then watch the sparks fly as folks argue about it at Board Game Geek.) Note: This strategy guide focuses on the tournament Annus Mirabilis scenario, which is the most commonly played scenario.

Setup

As the scenario opens, the British are in a tough spot. French victories over the past years few years put them at +4 VP, which means you need to go on the offensive almost immediately in order to catch up. You start with a strong but slow-moving force in New York, and the beginnings of a large army in Halifax. However, out west it’s a different story, as weak provincial forces hold a string of vulnerable stockades.

Facing you is the might of New France: a decent army holding down the Gibraltar of the New World, Louisbourg, and two strong armies at Quebec and Montreal. The last thing you’ll notice is the large number of auxiliary units your opponent has. These pesky fur trappers and Indian raiding parties will be the bane of your redcoats. In short, there’s a lot of work to be done, commander.

Basic Assumptions

The key to this scenario is keeping steady pressure on the French forces and consistently outscoring the enemy each turn. (Did I mention you start at a 4 point deficit?) There are many reinforcement cards for you in the deck, but it’s not a guarantee that you’ll see a lot of them–fortunes of war, and all that. However, you will see a few. Your game plan is all about building up large enough armies that you are relatively free to operate without French interference, and then lumber north, building up your supply lines as you go, for a strike against the heart of New France. The French have the benefit of short interior lines and a lot of speedy river movement, but if you can put pressure on them at two places, they won’t have enough forces to defeat you in both of those theaters.

There are three key routes to get at the enemy. The easternmost is the difficult and dangerous amphibious route through Louisbourg. The central route is the Hudson Corridor, and the western is up the Ohio River. Often a medium-sized British army is enough in the Ohio region (12-16 strength points) as long as you have some rangers to support them. (I tend to favor this route whenever possible.)

Oh, and try not to get your generals killed!

Opening Moves

For the British, your first moves are heavily dependent on what cards you get; a hand with no “3s” can really slow you down. In all likelihood, the French will come south to lay siege to Hudson Carry North. If you’ve got the cards to move a large army up there, by all means defend it. But if not, it’s probably time to destroy it on your own (-1 VP) and bring in reinforcements.

I’d suggest quickly building up border defenses in the Southern Department. Get your militia boxes filled if possible, and if you can, create a string of stockades with colonial troops placed at every other stockade. This will let you get intercept rolls with every infiltrating French unit that comes your way.

As stated above, go on the offensive early and try to pick two avenues of attack. If I pull good leaders early, I prefer the Ohio River Valley because the French will likely not want to send huge numbers of troops that way, and capturing Ohio Forks will net you an extra VP.

Keep Your Eyes Open For…

Head for Louisbourg if the French abandon it, but keep in mind that it’s best to attack the “Gibraltar of the New World” in the Early Season. That way, if things go wrong, you can have another go during the Late Season and hopefully avoid Winter Attrition. With an Amphibious Landing card and Coehorns and Howitzers or Surrender!, you can take it out quickly (though that will deplete your hand size).

Also, if you see French stockades or cultivated spaces that are being left unattended, go for them! Moving your precious auxiliaries away from your armies might seem foolish at first, but Rangers near the St. Lawrence River or approaching the Great Lakes will really mess up the French player’s day. Sometimes it’s fun to send a small Indian/Provincial force with Johnson into the Great Lakes region to accomplish this.

Last, be aware of your supply lines and keep them safe from French raiders. There’s nothing worse than approaching Montreal, only to realize that the Iroquois just torched your link to ample supplies of hardtack and grog!

Final Thoughts

You must move quickly to gain victory points. The French are simply trying to “run out the clock” while scoring some raiding VPs, and the best way to stop them is steadily move north along two avenues and make them deal with you.
 If you’re looking for more strategies to try out, you may want to read some reports of the World Boardgaming Championships final rounds: interesting stuff there. I also welcome comments from those with far more experience than I have!