Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: Spanish Expansion, Guerillas

January 24, 2013

When I first started playing Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, I promised myself I would play through the entire base game without ever repeating a scenario. As of 1/1/2013, I can say, “Mission accomplished!” Yesterday I met up with a new acquaintance at the Fantasy Flight Event Center in Roseville to play through the first scenario of the Spanish expansion, the Battle of Balién. Thankfully we had enough time to set up, play, switch sides, and play again. In both cases the French won, once by a margin of 3 banners and once by a margin of 4 banners.

I didn’t feel very comfortable bringing my camera into the gaming area, but I do feel just fine discussing my first thoughts about the Spanish army: They are horrible. Like whoa, dude. We are talking about huge penalties to ranged fire when they move, huge penalties to melee attacks when they move (!), and massive retreat penalties. (Which might lead everyone to wonder, “Who the heck would ever want to play this expansion?”)



Full disclosure here; both my opponent and I played the Spanish completely wrong. Once we had realized it, we didn’t really have time to have a third go-around, so we will just have to explore them further in our next meeting.

The guerilla rule does make the Spanish a bit easier to play. Basically you can spend guerilla tokens to cause the French to lose a turn. When my opponent played his token in the first bout, he did so to stop my Frenchmen from snatching up the last two banners. In the end it gained him one more turn, but didn’t improve his position any (I never received a guerilla banner in our second bout). On my drive home, I thought about the guerillas as they are represented in the game and had a little gaming epiphany. Guerilla tokens should not be used to cancel a devastating French play (like Forward!, where 9 units get activated). Instead, they absolutely must be used after a successful Spanish play (again, like Forward!).

It’s like this: The Spanish are so brittle that even if they have one successful turn, they will give up banners on the French’s next turn. So it is absolutely imperative that a player saves two similar cards, makes his first move, does some damage, cancels the French player’s turn with a guerilla token, and then follows up his previous gains with a second card that capitalizes on the first. It may be as simple as two Attack Right cards in a row, or as complicated as Le Grand Manoeuvre followed up by a Bayonet Charge, but it absolutely must do significant damage to the enemy. At first I thought the Spanish should be played defensively, but now I’m seeing that they need to only do so in preparation for very bold assaults.

Guerilla tokens are so critical to Spanish victory that I am theorizing that a Counterattack card, which allows a player to mimic his opponent’s last card play, should practically always be held in the Spanish player’s hand–until the French plays a Scout card. Then the Spanish player can play Counterattack, mimic the Scout card, and pick up a guerilla token. (This is the only way a Spanish player can gain more guerrilla tokensScout). If the Spanish player can ever get two guerilla tokens, he needs to use them back to back in order to have three uninterrupted turns.

Who says you don’t learn from losing? I’m very excited to test this out in a few weeks.

2012 Gaming Highlights

January 6, 2013

Although I don’t keep stats on my game plays anymore, I do remember certain plays over the past year. Below are some highlights to my 2012 gaming.

New Year’s Eve Gaming
My last game played of 2012 was Dixit. We hadn’t planned to do anything for New Year’s since we have 3 young kids and a 4th is immiment. But when our neighbor said they were planning on staying home we decided to have them over for some games and snacks. I grabbed Dixit off the shelf since it could handle the bigger group and the large age range (4 years up to 35+). After a brief explanation where the neighbor kids looked confused we started playing and I said, “You’ll get the hang of it.” After a few rounds everyone was enjoying themselves so I wasn’t surprised when after the first game ended they immediately wanted to play again. And then we played a third game. It was a big hit and we had a great time. I love that my kids could play and compete with kids twice their age and adults alike.

Black Friday Game Day
We had a game day on Black Friday this year. It was a great time visiting with friends and playing games. The most memorable experience was a game of TransAmerica. The first game was with my wife, me and two couple that hadn’t played before. I explained the game and we were soon off building our railroads. My wife always does well in this game and this time was no exception. I think the game ended after only three rounds and she lost only 1 point! They wanted to play again now that everyone knew how it worked. After one round in the 2nd game my wife needed excused herself to the bathroom. We quickly conspired against her and dealt her what we thought would be the worst hand. She didn’t do well that round, but even so she managed to take third place. After the game was over we spilled the beans and all had a good laugh. [Editor’s note: Margin of Victory Games does not condone cheating.]

More Cheap Games
Although this one isn’t a gaming session it is one of my highlights: my game collection has increased greatly and I didn’t have to pay much for it. I use my lunch breaks a couple times per week to visit 2nd hand stores like GoodWill and others. I’m amazed at what gets donated to these stores and I’ve had some great luck this past year. I scored a brand new copy of Rune Age – which is an interesting take on the deck-building genre by Fantasy Flight. I also picked up copies of Can’t Stop and Bohnanza and have played each more than a dozen times with family.

I can now say I’ve owned and played a copy of Jati. I found this in a thrift store for a mere $2. Back in the 1960s 3M (yes, the Post-It Note people) used to make games. They made a couple hundred prototype and review copies of a simple abstract game called Jati. However, they decided not to produce the game and scrapped the remaining copies. However, several copies (probably most of the review copies) still exist. There’s a German site that tracks the number of owners and claims a mere 57 copies in existance. So the one I found would have only been the 58th surviving copy. For collectors of the 3M Bookshelf series of games it is their Holy Grail. My wife and I played one game and found it rather uninteresting. But it was cool to be a brief part of gaming history. I sold my copy for much more than $2 and couldn’t be happier.

Spies in the Dark
My top gaming highlight of 2012 is, without a doubt, a few of games of The Resistance on Memorial Day weekend with my family. Earlier in the evening a thunderstorm had rolled in. We were actually in the middle of a game of Bohnanza when the power went out. We were almost finished so we grabbed some candles and flashlights and finished the game. Since it was still early and had wanted to keep playing games I pulled out The Resistance. The dim lighting really added to the atmosphere and helped hide the spies’ identites. We played 3 games in a row and then finally had to call it a night.

I know that 2013 will provide some more good gaming memories. I’m also looking forward to getting some new games to the table as well as several classics. What was your favorite gaming moment of 2012? And what are you looking forward to in 2013?

Virgin Queen – A Disappointing Start

January 2, 2013

I never thought I would play a game of Virgin Queen even though I’m a big fan of Here I Stand. Our group hardly ever gets HIS to the table due to the number of people who really know the game well enough to play plus the time commitment. So why learn another game that would never get played? But with John now owning a copy the likelihood of playing it had increased dramatically. So when the opportunity for a PBEM game with John and a few others I had played HIS with before arose I jumped. Here’s how the first game of VQ went.

Virgin Queen
Campaign Scenario
July 3, 2012 to January 3, 2013

Ottoman: John!
Spain: WB
England: SB
France: DN
HRE: Me!
Protestant: AU

After I got my power assignment I took a look at the rules. Fortunately a big chunk (army movements, battles, etc.) are identical to the HIS rules. The new stuff looks really interesting and how it will work in the game. I decide my goal for the game is to score higher than John.

Turn 1
5 / Patron of Arts & Sciences: I’ll use this for the event.
2 / Morisco Revolt: Sell to the Ottomans!?
4 / City State Rebels: There’s a familiar card! I might save this to use on Metz next turn. A treasure would be handy to use with this.
5 / Foreign Volunteers: Instant Army.
3 / Ruler Falls Ill: This card is the VQ version of Haley’s Comet, but less powerful.

I initially thought that a good way to rack up VP would be to get the ruler of Central Europe, but after taking a look at the map I quickly dismissed that and instead allied with John’s Ottomans. I also allied with Spain and tried to marry away a daughter. I’m not sure if it was the best idea to do so, but it’s early in the game. I also gave away 3 Mercs to Spain for a card draw and 1 to France for free for hopes of sweetening a deal for next turn.

Card Draw:
3 / Nostradamus’ Prophecies: I think I’ll use this just to get a look at more cards.

Spring Deployment:
Nobody moves. This turn will be used to build armies and try to get some early bonus VP from artists and scientists so I keep my Patron home card. I also decide to pick Catholic as my religious preference. I had no idea what to pick but picking a side has a higher risk/reward so I went with one.

Action Rounds:
I use my first impulse to take a look at some more cards with Nostradamus:
2 / Taxis Family Couriers: I have mercs each turn to use for diplomacy and this is low CP so I ditch this one and keep the other:
5 / Holy League: 5 cp will be useful. And if the Ottomans can get a couple of VP I’ll use the event to try to get Venice on my side for some more boats.

Then I go for the for the miscellaneous VP that – while risky – can’t be taken away from me. So I patronize an artist and a scientist. I also add some influence into Venice as it looks like the Ottomans will make it to 14VP for me to use Holy League. I build up my army through Foreign Volunteers and some CP in case things sour between the Otts and I.

Meanwhile France is able to fight off the English in Edinburgh and then is able to ally Rome through a Papal Bull. This puts him dangerously close to an auto-win! Fortunatly I have Holy League and score Venice and its powerful fleet. The turn ends with some failed marriages – costing me a card – but I manage to score some VP and the Ravelin to defend my keys. I’m looking forward to Turn 2 and some more excitement.

Turn 2
5 / Holy Roman Intercession: I’ll use this for the event (see the diplomacy phase)
2 / Morisco Revolt: Held over from last turn.
5 / Holy League: Again… I’m glad France doesn’t have this.
3 / Ruler Falls Ill: Again… Did anyone shuffle?
4 / Rising in the North: I’m not sure the board will allow the event to even be attempted so another good CP card.

I again agree to ally with the Ottomans, but then Spain has a proposition. Go to war with the Ottomans and he’ll attack in conjunction. I also give my 4 Mercs to him (which I find out no one else wants) and I’ll get a treasure in return. I figure it’s as good a chance now with all my CP to put up a good fight. The treasure should help get my army in place as well so I agree. Plus this way I get to attack John!

Spring Deployment:
I move my troops into Pressburg waiting to pounce.

Action Rounds:
The rounds starts with the Otts scoring some more VP and then before I even get to take my first impulse in which I will unleash my powerful HRE horde on Buda the game ends. France plays Eloquent Ambassador and realigns Venice. The French get an auto-win before it really begins. And even worse John’s Ottomans have 17VP to my 13VP (with my religious preference).

So my first play of VQ didn’t go as I expected. First off, the game lasted 5 months for essentially what was one turn. Between holidays, conventions and other issues the game seemed to drag on. I can’t fault VQ for this it just was bad timing for this particular PBEM. As far as gameplay… well I don’t really think I got far enough into a game to really experience what makes this game different than HIS. The religious struggle, spying and other intricacies of diplomacy were basically never given a chance. I’d like to try this again to get a more in-depth play.

As the HRE I felt like I was playing a minor power – which I basically was since it is a minor power when less people play the game. The HRE just don’t seem powerful enough to actually fight off a determined Ottoman force. So they are forced to get their VP through the end of the turn art and science rolls. I also thought the game added complexity where there it wasn’t needed. Activating the minor powers gave the impression of many people having the chance at gaining an ally, but basically with +3 or +4 influence added before a die roll the chances were slim. I think the HIS version of activation would have sufficed.

But it’s not all bad. I think the diplomacy phase in this game has more options. The marriages and my 4 Mercenaries to give away certainly gave the powers leverage to negotiate instead of relying on the luck of the card draw. HIS and VQ really shine when good diplomacy occurs and all the powers can scheme against and with each other. Having more power and options to do this is definitely a good thing. I also like the treasures – although I really wished I could have used mine.

So I guess I’d give HIS the edge, but I’ll need a few more plays to really make a decision. What do you like better?

2012 Personal Retrospective

January 1, 2013

Once again, it’s time for the statistical breakdown of last year’s gaming! I continued to keep a record of games played throughout the entire year and present my 2012 retrospective (2011 retrospective here, 2010 here, 2009 here):

Games played: 98 (down from 121 in 2011, a 20% drop)
Wins: 41 (41%, down 1% from 2011)
Losses: 57

Average time between games: 3.7 days
Best game month: March with 17 games played (mainly due to a Metro Game Day)
Worst game month: June and July with 3 games played each month (due to teaching summer school)

Two player games: 45 (45% of all games played)
Two player wins: 26  (58%, a 3% increase from last year)
Multiplayer games: 53 (55% of all games played)
Multiplayer wins: 17 (32%, an 9% increase from last year)
Multiplayer second place finishes: 20 (37% of all multiplayer games)

Most regular two player opponents
1. Sara (21 plays, 11 wins)
2. Rick (7 plays, 4 wins)
3. Russ (3 plays, 2 wins)
4. Joe (3 plays, 1 win)

Most popular games of the year
1. 7 Wonders (16 plays,  4 wins)
2. Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (11 plays,  9 wins)
3. Hive (9 plays, 8 wins)
4. Cribbage (8 plays, 4 wins)
5. Ingenious 6 plays, 1 win)

Games played for the first time: 12 (12%, the exact same as last year)

Most of these statistics came out as expected. My wife is stillmy most regular opponent and continues to be a very challenging adversary in our favorite games.

As I stated last year, I’m less concerned with winning than I used to be, though I will still be keeping up the yearly retrospective. My new year’s gaming resolution is simple: once again, try to get recently unloved games to the table. Here I Stand…wow, it’s been a while.

Happy New Year! I’d love to hear about your slightly less obsessive personal gaming retrospectives in the combox.