Building for a Race Against the Shadow Tournament

July 15, 2014

A few months ago ago Divinity of Number and Caleb Grace announced there would be a Race Against the Shadow tournament at the Fantasy Flight Games Center in Roseville, MN, if you want to know all the details please keep reading to find more info about this. I immediately contacted some of my buddies who play the Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game, and Mark and I began planning…to win, that is! We learned early on that the scenario would be Journey Down the Anduin, and two weeks before the tournament, my partner and I met up at a local game store. We each had built paired decks to test out against the scenario. After a few hours of testing, we identified several problems with both pairs of decks and settled on a slightly modified version of a Hobbit deck I had brought along. For the other deck, we gutted a Rohirrim deck I had put together, and each of us took it home, rebuilt, and playtested it without consulting the other. We then shared our results online and made a few minor changes before bringing the decks along to the tournament on Sunday, January 26 (more on the tournament here).

I had never so extensively played against a scenario, and I learned a lot. In addition, the Race Against the Shadow format required that we not only beat Journey Down the Anduin, but that we do it in the fewest number of turns. Injured or dead heroes don’t count against you if you can simply beat the quest before the opposing team does. I thought I would share a few insights gained during our playtesting period:

First, Journey Down the Anduin is a lot more complicated than you’d think. Plenty of decks can beat it, but doing it quickly is another matter entirely. Stages one and three require strong defenders and attackers, whereas stage two requires a hefty amount of questing. Furthermore, there are several nasty treachery cards that penalize you for having a threat higher than 35. The worst thing we discovered, however, is that the Goblin Snipers and the Wargs are impossible to deal with unless you have some way of attacking into the staging area. Since the last stage of the quest requires you to defeat all enemies in play, this can present a problem.

In this tournament format, combos are out and cheap, consistent cards are in. To put it another way, there is no time to set up any wacky moving parts. Imladris Stargazer + Zigil Miner is right out. Even Elf-Stone proved to be nearly useless in practice. In some early versions of our decks, we would win in seven or eight turns. By tournament time, we were consistently beating the quest in four or five turns because we jettisoned the more complicated gimmicks of which I am so fond.

Redundancy is key. We learned early on that having really specialized decks was problematic. If Player A is in charge of some aspect of the game and he or she doesn’t draw the necessary cards early, you may lose before you really begin. We mitigated this somewhat by including all sorts of redundancy. While my partner was playing heavy Spirit and could play Northern Tracker, I had Asfaloth and Secret Paths ready to achieve similar results. Also, We both ran with three copies of Dagger of Westernesse and Unseen Strike.

Our final lineup was a three-sphere Hobbit deck of Sam, Pippin, and Merry on one side of the table, and a two-sphere deck using Beregond, Dunhere, and Glorfindel on the other side. I’ve included the deck lists below. Feel free to ask any questions about our experience!

(Note: This tourney took place before the Voice of Isengard came out. If there is another tourney in our area, I’ll be curious to see how Doomed cards will help or harm us.)

Hobbit (Tourney) Deck: Total Cards: (55)

Hero: (3)
1x Pippin (The Black Riders)
1x Merry (The Black Riders)
1x Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)

Ally: (19)
1x Erestor (The Long Dark)
1x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
3x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Errand-rider (Heirs of Numenor)
3x Bill the Pony (The Black Riders)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)
1x Haldir of Lorien (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Beorn (Core Set)

Attachment: (21)
3x Ring Mail (The Long Dark)
3x Fast Hitch (The Dead Marshes)
3x Hobbit Cloak (The Black Riders)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Asfaloth (Foundations of Stone)
3x Elf-stone (The Black Riders)

Event: (15)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Unseen Strike (The Redhorn Gate)
3x Halfling Determination (The Black Riders)
3x Take No Notice (The Black Riders)

Rohan + Elves (Tourney) Deck: Total Cards: (50)

Hero: (3)
1x Beregond (Heirs of Numenor)
1x Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)
1x Dunhere (Core Set)

Ally: (20)
1x Arwen Undomiel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
3x Ethir Swordsman (The Steward’s Fear)
3x Imladris Stargazer (Foundations of Stone)
3x Silvan Refugee (The Drúadan Forest)
3x West Road Traveller (Return to Mirkwood)
2x Bofur (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Northern Tracker (Core Set)

Attachment: (15)
3x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
3x Spear of the Mark (The Morgul Vale)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
3x Ancient Mathom (A Journey to Rhosgobel)

Event: (15)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Feint (Core Set)
3x Foe-hammer (Over Hill and Under Hill)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Straight Shot (On the Doorstep)
1x Goblin-cleaver (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)

Draft Poker Variant

August 17, 2013

When you spend all summer house hunting, buying and selling homes and moving it goes much too quickly. And when writing about game playing usually only occurs after playing games, well, not much has happened. All that said, I have had a chance to enjoy a couple of new games this summer. And the one I’m most excited about happens to be a poker variant.

I play a cash poker game on a monthly basis with a group of friends. It’s just for fun, but the few (literally) dollars ahead or behind at the end of the night keeps things interesting. We play dealer’s choice for each hand so the games are varied. To keep things fresh we actively look for new games to try out or modifications to existing games. Some work and some fail miserably. Here’s one that has quickly become one of my favorites:

This is a 7 card stud variant. Each player starts with 2 cards face-down and 1 card face-up. After a round of betting, the dealer places N cards face-up on the table (where N is equal to the number of players). The players then select their next card from the middle with the player with the lowest current hand showing going first and the player with the best current hand going last. (We break ties with first person to the left of the dealer going first.) This is repeated 2 more times with betting between each round. At the end one more card is dealt face-down and another bet. Best 5 card hand wins.

It’s a simple variant but I love the strategy the game adds. For example: I have a 5 face-up and my choice of cards on the table include another 5. Do I take the 5 and get a pair? If I do, the odds of me now showing the best hand are pretty high. That means for the next rounds I will likely be selecting last. This means no choice in my next two cards – I’ll get whatever is left. But a pair can lead to a winning hand of 2 pair, 3-of-a-kind or better.

It’s also important to keep your eye on the other player’s cards. Do you select a card that won’t help you just to prevent the next player who will benefit from getting it? Or do you pick the card that keeps your possibilities open?

Ideally you get to pick a card that pairs one of your down cards. This keeps your opponents guessing while still getting a good draft position for the next round. Either way you play it, This variant adds an element of a Euro board game to an otherwise normal game of poker. I think it scratches that board game strategy itch in the midst of a fun evening of poker where randomness and bluffing dominate.

Anyone else play this poker variant? Or have any other poker/betting games that mix-in just the right amount of strategic choices? I’d love to try to them out.

Lord of the Rings Living Card Game: Thorongil Deck

August 13, 2013
Recently I won a contest over at Tales from the Cards with this Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game deck. If anything, playing with this deck over the last few weeks has shown me the powerful combination that LotR: LCG offers to a player; excellent mechanics married to a deep sense of theme. Kudos to the designers for making such a great game that a deck like the one below can hold its own in play while remaining entirely faithful to Tolkien’s legendarium.
Thorongil Deck
Aragorn II went by many names. In Rivendell he was Estel because he was the hope of his people. In Bree he was Strider due to his long gait, and at the close of the Third Age he was Elessar, the Elfstone. But from T.A. 2957-2980, he was known throughout Gondor as Thorongil, the Eagle of the Star. He rode with Thengel, Theoden’s father, in Rohan for a time, and served under Steward Ecthelion II of Gondor with a star embroidered on his cloak. During this time, he was beloved of the people of Minas Tirith, which caused resentment on the part of Denethor II, the steward’s son.
This deck is intended to represent Aragorn’s time serving in Gondor. From his childhood in Rivendell, he brings with him the Ring of Barahir and the broken sword Narsil, both of which he keeps in secret in his belongings. He also has brought his skills as a Ranger (Dunedain Mark) and two minstrels, who record his deeds for posterity. From his time in Rohan he brings a small contingent of Snowbourn Scouts. Most importantly, he carries in his mind Elrond’s Counsel, and in his heart he carries the thoughts of Arwen, his one true love. Rallying around the future king is a vast array of Gondorian soldiers and nobles to aid in the fight against evil.
For an added thematic challenge, Denethor may not exhaust to take the same type of action as Aragorn or Gandalf. Thus, if Aragorn is questing, Denethor must do something else that round, etc. This represents young Denethor’s growing resentment of Thorongil and the wizard Mithrandir. Give yourself a pat on the back if Denethor ends up with the Horn of Gondor because he is the steward’s son and Aragorn gets Steward of Gondor to represent the trust Ecthelion has placed in him.
This is a solo deck created for thematic purposes, though it plays quite well. Certain artifacts, such as Celebrian’s Stone, are not included because they were not in Aragorn’s possession at this point in his life, and certain characters do not make an appearance because they were not born yet (e.g. Faramir). Eleanor is included because we frankly have no idea when she was born! Many theme-appropriate changes may be made based on the quest. For instance, young Gleowine for extra card draw, Northern Trackers from the Dunedain for location management, the Lore of Imladris for healing, or any non-unique Gondorian or Outlands cards for various purposes.
For more information about this time in Aragorn’s life, please see the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, “Gondor and the Heris of Anarion,” “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen,” and “The Tale of Years”.
Heroes (3)
Aragorn (Core) x1
Denethor (Core) x1
Eleanor (Core) x1
Ally (24)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Defender of Rammas (HON) x2
Envoy of Pelargir (HON) x3
Errand-rider (HON) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Gondorian Spearman (Core) x2
Guard of the Citadel (Core) x3
Rivendell Minstrel (THFG) x2
Snowbourn Scout (Core) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Attachment (12)
Dunedain Mark (THfG) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Ring of Barahir (TSF) x2
Song of Battle (TDM) x1
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Event (16)
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
For Gondor! (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Gondorian Discipline (EaAD) x2
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Starting threat = 27
Cards in deck: 52
Leadership cards: 20 (avg. cost = 1.6 resources)
Lore cards: 8 (avg. cost = 1.5 resources)
Neutral cards: 6 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 2.8 resources)
Spirit cards: 10 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 0.9 resources)
Tactics cards: 8 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 1.3 resources)

Lord of the Rings Living Card Game: Three Types of Advantages

July 19, 2013

Since January I’ve been playing a lot of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s my first foray into a CCG/LCG format since about seventh grade (long ago, I assure you!), and I’ve been enjoying the co-op nature of the game with my wife, Rick, Russ, and others both in real life and online through OCTGN.

This game took me a while to wrap my head around, but after many, many plays, I’ve got some basic strategy thoughts I’d like to share. It’s very simple. There are five things you are trying to accomplish in Lord of the Rings:

  • Willpower: Generating sufficient willpower to quest easily.
  • Defense: Being able to block enemies efficiently.
  • Healing: Regularly getting rid of damage to keep your own characters alive.
  • Attack: Dispatching enemies effectively.
  • Encounter Manipulation: Pulling tricks to deal with locations, treacheries, threat increases, and shadow cards via interrupting events.

When I first started playing, I would focus on these five things in every deck I built…and I would lose badly. After I took a step back and thought about it a bit, I realized that those five things stated above are actually goals, not methods, for winning the game.

What, then, are the methods for success? It gets even more simple:

  • Action Advantage: The ability to have a character act twice or more in a round.
  • Resource Advantage: The ability to generate more resource tokens than usual.
  • Card Advantage: The ability to draw more cards with the added bonus of thinning your deck.

That’s it. Once you’ve got those three working, you’re good to go. However, I would caution players against trying to get all three types of advantages going in one deck. Often that takes up so many card slots that the deck cannot do much else. Instead, consider splitting up the advantage cards between two decks so that you and a partner can play off of each other.

There are obvious cards for each type of advantage. Some examples would be Unexpected Courage for actions, Steward of Gondor for resources, and Beravor for cards. But I would argue that there are more subtle combos that can be played that are actually more powerful. For example, let’s take We Are Not Idle and the Lure of Moria in a dwarf deck. The first card is great because it can gain you both resource and card advantage. However, if you exhaust all your Dwarf characters to get a bunch of resources, you may not be able to gain much because you have no one to quest, attack, or defend. So consider playing We Are Not Idle, exhausting every Dwarf you have, and then playing Lure of Moria. If you have 4 or more dwarf characters out, you still get a net bonus of +1 resource and +1 card.

Another one of my favorite combos is to play the hero Hama in a deck that is focused on the Eagle trait. If you begin play with a copy of The Eagles Are Coming! in hand, you can use Hama’s ability every turn to keep cycling that card back into play. This gives you card advantage because you’re pulling Eagles out of your deck every turn, with the added bonus of thinning your deck so that you’re guaranteed to be pulling good cards out during the resource phase. Throw Horn of Gondor into the mix, and with all those Eagles constantly entering and leaving play, you’ve got resource advantage as well. Or, if your partner is playing Horn of Gondor, you’re giving him resource advantage.

Another great combo is to used the oft-maligned 0-cost card, Cram, in conjunction with Erebor Hammersmith. Play Cram on your partner’s best attacking hero and you’ve granted him action advantage. After he’s discarded it to ready that character, play Erebor Hammersmith to pick up from the discard pile and play it again. The net result? For a cost of two resources, you have gained action advantage twice, and put into play a 3 hit point character.

As the card pool expands, it’s exciting to see more avenues open up to gain these three types of advantages. I’m playing a mono-Leadership sphere Outlands deck right now. In the early iterations of the deck, I was having trouble getting those Outlands allies on the table early. However, by utilizing everyone’s favorite combo, Sneak Attack + Gandalf, in a really weird place in the turn sequence, the refresh phase, I’ve been able to overcome this problem.

Whenever Gandalf enters play, you get to choose one of the following: draw three cards, deal four damage to an enemy in play, or lower your threat by five. In addition, you obviously get to use Gandalf’s 4 willpower, 4 attack, or 4 defense in one phase. But what if you pay one resource to sneak attack him in during the refresh phase? Do you really feel cheated if by spending one resource, you only get one of the first three bonuses? Not if you can also exhaust Gandalf, play A Very Good Tale, and discard the top five cards of your deck for two more Outlands characters to put in play.

I’ve also started looking at action advantage differently. It’s actually not just about having one character act twice or more in a round. It’s also about being able to ignore a particular challenge so that you can save allies for the actions you really want to take. So by using Gandalf to lower threat, say from 30 to 25, I might be able to ignore certain enemies and fly under the radar, so to speak. In doing that, I’m not allowing any character to act a second time, but I am freeing those characters up for questing instead of attacking/defending.

These insights probably seem obvious to any experienced players of CCGs/LCGs, but to me, it’s really been a revelation. The depth offered by this format has been really engaging for me in the past several months.

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.

Saint Petersburg Strategy

July 10, 2012

Before there was Dominion or 7 Wonders, there was Saint Petersburg. A game for 2 to 4 players that had you purchasing cards to rebuild and expand your part of the Russian city. Those card purchases created your own economic and point engine with whoever doing this the most efficiently being the winner. If you’ve played the more recent games, you can certainly see the inspiration that Saint Petersburg had on those – although all three are very good in their own right.

But today I want to break down this fantastic game a little bit. Essentially on each turn your decision is to either 1) buy a card 2) hold a card now to buy later or 3) save your money and pass your turn. The main action used being “buy a card”. Each card has a cost in the upper left and the benefits you’ll receive from that card each round on the bottom. Below are three card examples showing their costs and their benefits of money and/or points.

Example Cards from St. Petersburg

The early game of St. Petes is to create an economic engine. You want cards that will give you cash to buy more and better cards later. Also, the sooner you buy a card the sooner it pays off. Take the Fur Trapper in the cards above. It costs 6 Rubles now and only pays out 3 per turn. So it’ll take 2 turns for this card to pay off. If this is the first card you buy in the game and the game lasts 7 rounds you’ll be ahead 15 Rubles by games end. So buying as many cheap Workers as possible early in the game is ideal.

For each card of each type you already own you also get a discount the next time you buy that card. For example, if I buy the Fur Trapper for 6 Rubles, the next time I buy one it’ll only cost 5 Rubles, the next one 4 and so on. Buying the same type of card over and over again is good and helps to get a faster return on those investments.

The orange Aristocrat cards also pay out cash, but usually at a slower rate. The Warehouse Manager will take more than 3 rounds before he starts earning his keep, but some money is better than no money. With four phases in each round having cash payouts every other phase (the green Workers in phase 1 and orange Aristocrats in phase 3) you’ll get a steady stream of income to buy the cards you want.

The blue Building cards are the main ways to earn points. Early in the game I generally avoid buying too many points though. While points are what determines who wins or loses, investing in points early will take away your buying potential. In the first few rounds of the game avoid buying any expensive buildings. One early cheap building, like the Customs House shown above may not be too bad an idea. After 7 rounds those 8 Rubles will have earned you 14 points and there are 4 more in the deck so future purchases of this card can be discounted. Only towards the end of the game when money isn’t as tight is buying those higher point buildings a good idea.

However, don’t neglect the points on the other cards. Three of the Aristocrats and many of the Trading (or Upgrade) cards have points as well as money on them. These cards can offer you the advantage of an income while gaining points at the same time – the best of both worlds.

There are two point adding bonuses at the end of the game: money and Aristocrats. You’ll get 1 point for every 10 rubles you have. This is hardly something to consider in this game. Spending money on any card with points on it pays off at a better rate. But the the Aristocrat bonus can be huge. The bonus pays off 1 point for 1 different type of Aristocrat, 3 points for 2 different types, 6 for 3, 10 for 4 and so on, until you get 55 points for 10+ different types of Aristocrats. A different type meaning each orange card with a different name. In a two player game you should strive to get 8-10 different types of Aristocrats in front of you for a nice end game bonus.

Holding Cards
Often it is in your best interest to just buy cards you need as they show up. But sometimes it is better to grab that card and just hold it – usually because you can’t afford it now. This can be a good strategy when you don’t want your opponent getting a certain card. Another reason to grab a card is to free up space for the next round. Each round only 8 cards are ever on the table. For example: it is the end of the Upgrade phase and only one green Worker card will be coming out next round due to lack of open spaces. If you go first in the next round this is fine, but if you aren’t, then you will lose out on the opportunity to buy another Worker to gain even more money. It may be wise to put a card in your hand to free up another spot on the board. Don’t be afraid to put a couple cards in your hand, but make sure you buy them soon so that you can get the benefit from the card as well.

Specific Cards
Some cards in the deck just hardly ever seem worth grabbing while others I grab without hesitation. Here are some specific cards you’ll want to keep in mind while playing.
Czar and Carpenter – This card pays out like all the other workers and can be upgraded to any of the green Upgrade cards. Unless he comes out in the very early rounds though he usually doesn’t pay off since he costs 8 and there’s only one so there will be no discounts for future Czars. I usually avoid him, but he’s not terrible. Just think through his payoff and consider many of the green Upgrade cards cost less then he does so you aren’t saving any money that way.
Mariinskij-Theater – Every upgrade card is usually worth grabbing – they rarely stay on the table long. However, this upgrade card usually ends up in the discard. It gives you 1 Ruble for each orange card you have down. While money is good in this game, by the time you have enough Aristocrats to have this building pay off, you’ve usually switched your buying strategy from money to points. I rarely ever purchase this card.
Pub – This is a nice blue card to grab as costs only 1 Ruble. During the last building round you can use this card to cash out 5 points for 10 rubles instead of the normal 1.

Cards to Keep in Mind

Potjomkin’s Village – This card is used only as a blue building card for upgrading. It costs only 2 Rubles and then saves you 4 when you upgrade it. I really like having this card available for upgrading later in the game.
Observatory – This card gives you the ability to use it during the blue round to grab a card off of any deck. This is great early in the game to get more Workers or later in the game to get more Aristocrats or Upgrades. Don’t be afraid to forfeit the free card draw though to just take the alternate benefit of 1 point that round though. Going fishing for a specific card can often lead you to hold more cards than you’d like if you can’t afford the card you just randomly drew.
Mistress of Ceremonies – 6 Rubles and 3 Points every round – this is my favorite card in the deck. If I know I’ll be going first in the orange Aristocrat phase I make sure to save 18 Rubles just so I can grab this card. It pays off in three rounds all the while gaining you 9 important points. What’s not to like? The Judge and Controller are good too, but don’t quite have the appeal as the MC.

So with a few simple things to keep in mind you are ready to play Saint Petersburg:
– Get lots of money (green and orange) early
– Go for points (blue) later
– Upgrade to get the best of both worlds
– Hold cards to your advantage
Now, who’s up for a game.

Also, if you’ve never played and want to try to game. It is free to play against other people on Yucata. [And that’s not an advertisement of any sort. It’s just a website with a few dozen board games that the publishers have allowed online free play. It’s a great site and they’ve done a good job with the games. Just another way to get a gaming fix in if face-to-face isn’t an option.]

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.


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!

Commands and Colors: Napoleonics: A Few Basic Tricks on the Attack

February 6, 2012

I’ve been trying to get C & C: Napoleonics back to the table lately, as it falls has several characteristics that I find appealing, including quick playing time, simple rules, and a familiar system. (If you’re interested in playing, let me know!) After ten or so plays in the past year, I’ve built up a set of basic tactics and ideas that I think everyone should know when sitting down to play this game for the first time.

Hand Management: This is critically important in Napoleonics, more so, I believe, than in any other Richard Borg game I’m familiar with. Why? Because this game is brutal; your little block men will get murdered by enemy fire if you don’t know what you’re doing. Spend some time building up a strong hand, by which I mean 3-4 cards that will let you activate a decisive number of troops in a given section of the map. Then you’re free to push for an objective for two or three consecutive turns. On a related note, try to keep as many units as possible on hexes that “straddle” two sections so you can activate them more often. No more of this “ah heck, let’s just rush ’em” mentality you picked up from playing Ancients.

Beneficial Terrain: Again, this game is brutal. Ranged fire has the potential to seriously disrupt any attack you launch, so use whatever terrain you can. It may not seem like the -1 die modifier you get from sitting in a forest hex is all that useful, but it’s often the difference between losing two blocks or one. Also learn which terrain types block line of sight, and marshal forces behind these barriers to stop artillery and other ranged fire.

The Hammer and Anvil: This is an ancient concept in warfare, but a useful one. Whenever possible, attack the enemy with both cavalry and infantry, using the infantry to pin an enemy unit (anvil) and the cavalry to maneuver for the kill (hammer). Light cavalry works especially well, as these units are speedy and can cover ground quickly. Imagine you have one enemy infantry unit stranded in a hex. Just a “probe” card might let you activate one of your own infantry currently two hexes away from the enemy, and one light cavalry unit three hexes away from them. Close to melee range with both, and declare the cavalry attack first. This forces your opponent to make a terrible choice: form square and likely stave off the cavalry attack but be punished by the infantry, or stay in line and get decimated by the cavalry? I would argue the risk to you is quite low either way, while the chances of eliminating the enemy unit are quite high. If your opponent forms square, he’ll be powerless in the face of your infantry. If he doesn’t, chances are your cavalry will score a retreat flag and get a bonus attack.

If these French infantry close to melee range, these Brits are goners.

These probably seem like basic tips for most experienced wargamers, but Napoleonics is a gateway game, and I think there are plenty of newcomers to wargaming who need to hear this. (And if you want to have me teach you the game, I’ll always mention these three things before we play!)

And now, please be sure to watch the first 56 seconds of this movie (Scots at Waterloo) to enjoy the Black Watch advancing with kilts, guns, and pipes at Waterloo. Magnificent!

Manoeuvre: Distant Lands – My Playtesting Experience

August 24, 2011

Months ago, game designer Jeff Horger put out a call for playtesters for a Manouevre expansion. I immediately signed up. Not only is Manoeuvre one of my favorite games it would also give me a small glimpse into how a game gets made. Now that Distant Lands is on the P500 list I can finally talk about my experience.

Behind the Scenes
One of the reasons I signed up was to get a feel for what goes on with making games. I was sent a bunch of files that contained the rules and components for the Japanese army. The first thing I did was look through the rules and immediately had some questions. The new rules were pretty straightforward, but I wanted some clarifications. My other concern was with some of the components.

These don't look like the originals.

These are what I'm used to.

The new maps used completely different graphics and the units didn’t have the infantry and calvalry symbols on them. Instead they had a single box white box to represent infantry while two boxes represented cavalry. You’ll notice the Japanses don’t have any cavalry.

Japanese Army Tokens

The response I got back on the new map graphics were that he had been using the different graphics for many years and that “[he was] so used to it [he] didn’t think twice about it.” I think this is one part of game design that is key: have several people that are not familiar with the game and components play it. They will point out mistakes and missing information very quickly.

I then printed and cut out the units and cards. I was thankful for my wife’s scrapbooking supplies which I used to adhere the units to some chipboard. Then I sleeved all the cards. Plain pieces of paper in card sleeves worked very well for the small size of these cards.

The components I made turned out pretty well. I should note that I changed the colors of the cards to use less ink for printing. I would assume the final components look much more like the original game.

Once all of that stuff was out of the way it was time to play.

Playing with a New Army
I tend to like expansions for games – they can breath new life into a game that hasn’t made it to the table in a while. Or in the case of the Distant Lands, they can force you to rethink your best strategies.

My wife and I sat down for our first game and both instantly liked the new rule: Advance to Contact. In your first turn of the game you are allowed to move up to 3 different units, in the 2nd turn you can move 2 units. After that it’s back to normal. This change gets both players engaged much more quickly.

The two Japanese map tiles contained more marsh and lake features. The new ‘cluttered’ maps helped to slow down cavalry. The Japanese units were mostly unaffected by this. I’m curious to see just how many new map tiles come with this expansion. Although the base game already has enough for 6 simultaneous games.

The deck of cards had some unique features as well. Here is the breakdown of the Japanese deck:
• 40 Unit Cards
• 3 Forced March Cards
• 3 Supply Cards
• 2 Committed Attack Cards
• 2 Redoubt Cards
• 2 Death with Honor Cards
• 8 Leaders
Two things will stand out right away: eight leaders and the Death with Honor cards. The Death with Honor cards allow you to eliminate a unit and then inflict hits on every adjacent unit. Normally in Manouevre you try to surround a unit to eliminate it more easily. Now if you play against the Japanese you have to be careful that surrounding a unit isn’t exactly what your opponent wants you to do. I my games I usually only used one of these cards. Inflicting up to 4 hits can be powerful but losing a unit isn’t a decision to take lightly.

The leader and unit cards also act slightly differently. The other armies work together to drive their opponents back. However, each Japanese unit is self contained. They each get 2 normal attack cards and their bombard. They also get a volley only card and an attack card with a pursuit roll. These five cards are supposed to represent the “samurai, ashigaru, cavalry, artillery and teppo” in each of the clans. The 6th card for each unit is actually a leader. The leaders for the Japanese can only command the 1 unit they lead. Only one of the leaders, the Shogun, can unite up to four of the clans. Although the units start at fairly high strengths of 6, 7 and 8, the Japanese are weaker than the other nations because of their deck. A handful cards containing a leader and a few different unit cards for most armies was quite useful – with Japan it was a disadvantage.

The strength with the Japanese was keeping the units somewhat isolated. It allowed you to march single units to your opponents side of the board. Each unit was self contained. I cycled through my deck quickly while building up attacks with each unit separately. If things started to get bad for a particular unit I would sacrifice them while doling out hits.

Overall I really had a good experience. It got me really excited about the new armies for Manoeuvre (Chinese combat rockets!). I am also proud to have been able to help out in the creation of what I’m sure will be a successful expansion. I was a bit overwhelmed at just what has to go into making a game – and this was just an expansion! The amount of time and thought that has to go into creating a set of rules and components is massive. And then the refinement after playtesting… But it certainly gave me a jolt to get working on my own game ideas.

Manoeuvre: Starting Hand

August 19, 2011

In the tournament scenario of Manoeuvre, the players each pick their starting hand of 5 cards. I had never really given much thought to what kind of strategy to use until our recent Toeurnament. I had tried a couple of things in my games and I’ll share some of my thoughts on those as well as some others that I saw in this post started by Joe.

In this start you pick out your Forced March, Supply and Withdraw cards to quickly move multiple units. Choosing this starting hand will really depend on the battle field. If there are some key defensive strongholds to grab quickly it could be useful to move in fast. However, Supply cards are very valuable with their dual use so I would choose to save these for later in the game. Playing this against the fast Ottoman cavalry it may not be as effective.

Strong Defense
In this start you select the bombard cards which generally have the strongest defenses for the units. This hand allows you to move your troops into position while fending off your opponents attacks. If combined with some of the mobility cards above or a Redoubt it could be quite effective in securing those towns and hills. This type of play will force your opponent to wait until he can coordinate his attacks better. If you can play the rest of the game holding on to those spots and disrupting your opponents ability to make a coordinated attack you could really frustrate your opponent. I initially didn’t give this strategy much credit, but the more I think about it the more I like it. I will definitely give this one a shot.

Card Dump
The strategy with this card selection is to take all 5 unit cards for the weakest unit and immediately discard them. This is a way to cull your deck of all the cards from that weak unit you planned on leaving behind. I like this strategy if you know your opponent tends to cycle through their deck slowly. Anything you can do to use your big cards, reshuffle quickly and use them again is to your benefit. The downside is you may be giving your opponent an easy kill. However, I think it’s a good trade-off.

Strong First Strike: Single Unit
Similar to the strategy above, but instead of discarding the cards you use them. This could be done with any unit. You push that unit out front right away to and use all their cards in one strong blow. If this is a strong enough attack you can take out a unit right away and make 5 cards in their deck worthless. This is a little hard to pull off as you are relying on the luck of the die. I actually like a slightly different approach of using them all on the defense. Causing hits against your opponent on their turn. Ideally you would follow it up with an attack or bombard to finish off the freshly wounded unit.

Strong First Strike: Multiple Units
In this strategy you are again going for a strong initial attack to quickly eliminate a unit. This gives you the advantage of more units plus it puts worthless cards in their deck. The cards you select here are a leader and 4 unit cards. The idea is that the hand gives you the ability to put together a multi-unit attack with the help of a leader. The unit cards could be of two of each of two units or all different – just so long as the units are clumped together.

This is my favorite start, but I would throw in one minor difference of adding a mobility card to your hand. Adding in the Supply or Forced March cards can help you move your forces into position more quickly. The Withdraw can either be used to spring the trap or as a contingency plan if things go bad.

What Else?
If you are the British or Americans you could grab your Spy to find out what your opponent has planned. I’ve also seen a ‘grab-five-bombard-cards-and-ditch-them-because-I-always-fail-those-rolls-anyway’ strategy. I’m sure there are others. What have you tried that works?