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?

C & C: Napoleonics: Salamanca (Right Flank)

July 30, 2012

My brother Mike came over on Friday night and we did battle in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics once again. Like last time, Mike took the redcoats while I took the forces of the Emperor in the Battle of Salamanca (French right). I again enlisted the help of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, who through some zany time machine plot I still refuse to go into, was now three months old and giving me strategy tips. You may remember that last time I won by s sizable margin; I was looking to repeat.   Here’s the layout of the map at the start:

17 Allied units v.s. 14 French units.

 With one game under our belts relatively recently, we had to look up no rules and cruised right along. My plan was to simply wait behind the hills in front of my lines and use timely bayonet charges to rip the British to shreds. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way in the end. Mike got a great starting hand with a lot of center activation cards and began advancing his line. (Apologies for the cell phone pics that follow)

They’re fording the river!

However, the action began in earnest on the right, where my impetuous French cavalry mixed it up with British artillery. This did not go well:

Horses and canister do not mix.

“Let’s just quit while we still can,” General Josie suggested. “I need to get to bed anyway.” “Nev-ar!” I retorted in my worst French accent, and ordered more units.

“It looks bad for us, Dad.”

The British continued to exert pressure on the French right, bringing up heavy and light cavalry to mix it up. I was forced to form square, but to no avail. Meanwhile, British riflemen had taken the town in the center of the map and were peppering my infantry at the same time:

“Never surrender!”

While the center lines traded potshots, I finally got some cards to activate the French left and drove back a strong force that was advancing toward the hills. I gently reminded Mike of how combined arms attacks work when I rolled eight dice in one attack:

“See? No way you can win.”

As Mike brought more crack troops up on the left and the right, I began shifting forces away from my center to reinforce those flanks. However, the cards were against me. We were both losing units at a quick clip, and were tied at 5 banners apiece.

The map quickly empties out…

The tension in the air increased dramatically as we both realized the game was nearing its end. Mike made what I thought was a dumb move, manoeuvring a unit of Guards Grenadiers into a river on the French left within easy range of my cannons. At the same time, I didn’t actually have the cards to destroy it, and when the redcoats swarmed my last block of artillery, it was all over.

What I had to endure as my opponent gloated.

And with that, the British won, 6-5. In truth, I learned quite a bit in this scenario. First, as I only had been given one unit of cavalry, I should have done a better job of protecting it. It had far more value as a potential threat, and its presence throughout the scenario would have made Mike think twice about advancing infantry on my right. However, once I got them beat up, he had no reason to hold back from sending cavalry across the river. This forced my infantry on that side to form square and eventually get destroyed by musket fire.

Also, I’m starting to see a pattern in how our games develop. Usually we are reluctant to get involved in the center of the map because it  comes down to who has the better dice rolls and cards; in short, it gets really bloody and chaotic in the center unless you’re cautious about it. This reluctance means most of the action gets driven to the flanks, where we often have fewer units and thus more room to manoeuvre. Once those flanks are decimated, the game is almost over and we’re more inclined to activate units in the center. (This, by the way, is not something I think I would have ever caught on to if I didn’t blog about these sessions…maybe all this writing is actually making me a better player?) Anyway, I need to think about this a little bit more and see if this realization can be somehow turned to my advantage in the future.

Now that summer school is over and I have a little bit more time off, expect new sessions reports soon!


C & C: Napoleonics: Salamanca (Left Flank)

July 2, 2012

After a long hiatus during which my second child was born and my seventh year of teaching came to a close, my brother and I finally sat down on the eve of my birthday for another match up in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. After my loss at Redinha in March, I was spoiling for a good fight and got one.  Mike took the redcoats while I took the forces of the Emperor in the Battle of Salamanca (French left). I also enlisted the help of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, who through some zany time machine plot I won’t go into, was two months old and sleeping against my chest in a baby sling.  Here’s the layout of the map at the start:

15 Allied units v.s. 13 French units.

My initial plan was to use the two diagonal lines of hills in front of my troops to funnel the Allied troops towards me, unable to support each other, but “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” The early action took place on the French left, as I advanced some light cavalry and infantry to tangle it up with the Portuguese heavy cavalry:

What a mess!

My light troops quickly got in trouble and had to form square (I’m a little rusty!), but a few well-timed cavalry charges and volleys sent the Allies a-running:

Better luck next time, guys.

We skirmished a bit on the French right as we refreshed our hands, and then the action began again on the left in earnest. My French lights starting chewing up Portuguese infantry units, and they even killed a leader. In fact, the whole game they never took a scratch and were responsible for earning three banners!

“Apprêtez-vos armes…joue…feu!”

Again the focus shifted to the French right. I had manoeuvred line infantry and light cavalry against the right edge of the map, taking fire from the elite British light infantry. After whittling them down with artillery fire, I was able to use a classic hammer and anvil move. French light cavalry and line infantry both advanced on the British lights, forcing General Mike to decide: form square or not? He did, and while the cavalry inflicted no damage, the French column smashing into his square definitely did.

Caught between…um…a saber and a bayonet.

The end result.

With his right and left flanks battered, Mike tried to adopt a more defensive position, but it was too late. His British light cavalry got caught in between my line infantry and light cavalry on the French left, and it was all over. We finished the scenario in about an hour, with the French taking 6 banners to the British’s 1: 

The face of defeat.

After a three-month absence, we had to look up a few rules, but I was happily surprised at how much we had retained in the meantime. This scenario also reminded me that, when possible, we need to reverse roles and play the same scenario twice in succession. Then we can determine a winner by adding up the total number of banners taken.


Twilight Struggle Session Report: The American Perspective, the Stunning Conclusion

June 24, 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 and the second post is here). Today I wrap up my commentary. When we last left off, I dropped back a little to a ten point lead, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East were all hotly contested, and I had domination of South America and Africa.

Turn 6

U.S. Hand: 2/Grain Sales to Societs, 3/SALT Negotiations, 4/Muslim Revolution, 1/UN Invervention, 2/Voice of America, 2/Missile Envy, 2/Decolonization, 2/Nixon Plays the China Card, 2/Liberation Theology

This is a pretty mixed hand with a lot of 2 ops cards and some tough Soviet events to get rid of, but at least I’m in the lead at the start. Rick opens with Socialist Governments to pry me out of Italy, and I respond with Grain Sales to Soviets. Interestingly, I grab Central America Scoring, which I promptly hand back to him and use the 2 ops to shore up Italy instead. Now that we both know that Central America is going to be fought over in earnest, Rick plays Junta to take Italy. Thankfully, as I own Guatemala, it’s an easy matter for me to realign Mexico and eliminate Soviet influence there.

I think Rick sees the writing on the wall, so he scores Central America, which drops me from 10 to 9 VP. Then he grabs Chile with Allende, and I promptly follow up by using The Voice of America to eliminate any gains he may have made there. In the meantime, I’m using spare ops here and there to realign and take Zaire and S. Africa. Willy Brandt gives the USSR one more VP, and then Rick follows up with a successful roll on the Space Race Track (U.S. now at 6 VP). I’m seeing my lead slowly draining away, but I keep spamming ops into Africa, realigning to eliminate USSR influence, and the like. By the end of the turn, I’ve got control of Africa, domination in South America and Central America, and beat the Soviets to a draw everywhere else. And I’m feeling lucky…

The conclusion of Turn 6.

Turn 7

I won’t bother recounting my hand, because I pull two critical cards that will let me win the game if I play them right. The first is Duck and Cover! The second is Africa Scoring. I gamble and elect to play Duck and Cover! This is a huge risk. DEFCON is at 3, and this card will degrade it to 2. Also, the Soviet card We Will Bury You! is still in the deck, and if Rick plays it, that will occur first in the headline phase, which will drop DEFCON to 2. Then my card event will occur, and nuclear war will start, which means I’m responsible and lose the game. However, I haven’t seen Rick play many high ops cards for the event yet, and I’m betting that if the card is in his hand, he doesn’t want to play the event and lose the 4 ops. So I go for it.

Truth be told, I don’t quite remember what Rick did on his headline or his first action round, but it didn’t matter. My headline occurred, I picked up 3 VPs, (U.S. now at 9), and then played Africa Scoring. With control of the continent, I pocketed 11 victory points, which brought me to 20 exactly, and I  won the game. 

The end of the game.

In the end, I think this was a very interesting game. With so many scoring cards being played in turn 4, we both felt rather free to place ops wherever, knowing that there were few scoring cards to bite us. Per usual, however, the U.S. won by playing hard in the Third World.

Rick commented that while he felt the game was helpful, nothing beats face to face play, and I’d have to agree. At the same time, if there is a game I’d like to play again via PBEM, it’s Twilight Struggle. With so many decisions to be and card interactions, it’s nice to slow down, use ACTS’ game journal function to keep track of what’s been played, etc.

In the end, I guess the world decided designer jeans and cheap fast food were preferable to a worker’s paradise…


Inside the Mind of a 3 Year Old

April 21, 2012

A few nights ago my girls, ages 3 and 5, asked to play a game. They decided to try a new (to us) game: Battle Line. This is a game where you are trying to make your best formation on your side of 9 different flags. Formation strength is loosely based on the best 3-card poker hand (Straight flush, 3 of a kind, etc.) and the best formation wins the flag. For my daughters it was essentially a matching game.

I dealt the cards, explained the rules and off they went. The game was going along well. Both girls happily matching numbers and grinning whenever they got to play an elephant or horse.

The happy generals commanding their troops.

However, as the game went on they hit a snag. They couldn’t match their numbers anymore. I re-explained that they could also match colors or try to get cards in a row (like a 4-5-6). Ellie (age 5) understood and quickly started to match her colors with the rest of her cards. Addy (age 3) just stopped playing. She claimed she couldn’t play any of her cards even after explaining she could match colors. I helped her finish the game by essentially playing the rest of her cards for her. Ellie won 5 flags to 3.

My wife was out at the time so when she got back I was relaying the fun we had playing a game, but Addy didn’t finish. She reminded me of an experiment a few days before that explained everything.

I’m not sure exactly how we got involved, but over the years we’ve gotten invitations for our kids to participate in child psychology/development studies at the University of Minnesota. The kids get compensated with snacks, t-shirts, and other “prizes” in exchange for doing a few simple tasks. I have a science background and my wife an early childhood education background so we were both eager to help and see the results of these studies.

This time Addy had been chosen to help out with a study. The researcher told Addy they were going to play a matching game. Addy was shown cards with colors and shapes on them and asked to sort them by color. Addy flawlessly sorted the cards 3 times. Then the researcher asked her to sort the cards by shape. Instead, Addy again sorted them by color. The researcher said that before she could sort them again they needed to scoot the table over a bit. Addy and the women stood up and adjusted the table and then sat back down. She was asked again to sort by shape and this time she sorted them by shape just fine.

At a certain age the ability to change a pattern is an easy switch for your brain to make. However, in younger children it requires a bit more of a reset for them to change. Just the act of standing up and being distracted by something else for a few seconds was enough for Addy to make that reset. Obviously that change in our brains occurs sometime between the ages of 3 and 5 as Ellie was able to make that transition while Addy could not.

I’m eager to have the girls try Battle Line again and watch their choice pattern over the course of the game. This may help explain her decision making skills in other games. I’ll have to remember this in the future and help Addy to “reset” during the game when she gets stuck.

C & C: Napoleonics: Combat at Redinha Scenario

April 1, 2012

Just one day after my victory at Bussaco, my brother and I sat down for a third time to play Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. After pouring some fine homebrew, Blockade Runner ESB, into pint glasses, our version of the Combat at Redinha commenced. Once again Mike took the doughty Allied forces, while I played the upstart French.

First let me say that this looks like one of the most balanced scenarios in the base game. Again the Allies have a fun mix of average and specialized units, including the Guards Grenadiers and Grenadiers. The French have fewer units, but I believe that the terrain, including two large stands of trees on their left and right flank, favors them.

Early Battle
With a few games under his belt, Mike was definitely more cautious at the start. He gradually linked his left and center armies, pushing for the stand of trees on the French right, which I quickly vacated. Specifically, I wanted to pull my horse artillery back a bit so it could cover the gap in the hill line in my right-center:

Notice the gap between the hills in the right-center of the board. I'm trying to move my horse artillery to cover that gap.

The action then heated up on my right flank as the British made a hard push and I couldn’t evacuate my line infantry in time (1 banner to the British), though I did chew up the British lights a bit to the point where they were a non-issue the rest of the game. Undaunted, Mike sent in his light cavalry to tangle with my own, resulting in my unit being severely depleted. I then moved them out of the way and gave his troopers a face-ful of canister!

The impetuous British cavalry drive home the attack…
…only to be destroyed by a 1 in 216 roll from General John.

Mid Battle
As the British brought fresh troops forward, I linked the French left and center and waited for the final blow. I realized too late, however, that I had made a critical mistake. In letting the British come to me, I was largely backed up against my side of the field, which meant very little room to maneuver (or is it manoeuvre?). To make things worse, I kept pulling cards for the right section of the battlefield, where very little was going on. The British Guards Grenadiers came forward and pushed my skirmishers out of the woods. I cringed and waited for the final blow to fall…

The British begin their final push.

End of Battle
Once again, it all ended in chaos and carnage. Mike advanced a strong line of British Grenadiers and Portuguese line infantry. They took the hills in the center of the map and stared down on the center of my line. The battle looked like it might be decided by dice alone…that is, until my opponent pulled out his “Fire and Hold” card. With three rolls of the dice, he wiped two of my units from the field and left the remaining three in the center the worse for wear.

The French get peppered by musket fire.

Again, the cards weren’t coming. I feebly fired back and moved over another unit of line infantry, hoping to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But one more volley from the Allies and it was over:

Alas, the bitter end.

Although I lost by a wide margin (6 to 3), I learned a lot in this scenario about keeping enough room behind you to effectively maneuver and cycle fresh troops and depleted units. This was one of my favorite plays of C&C:N so far, in part because my brother is getting really good at the game!

Stay tuned for more Napoleonics goodness in a few weeks…


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.

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.

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!