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…


Washington’s War Session Report: The British Perspective, 1775

October 8, 2011

As mentioned in Rick’s previous post, we played a game of Washington’s War via ACTS and VASSAL from August to September. What follows is my perspective during the first turn.

I’ve played the Americans far more than the British (6 v.s. 3), so I decide to play against type and choose the forces of the grand 18th century empire. Rule Britannia, down with the rebels!

British Initial Marker Placement (For the King!):
Wake, NC
Fort Niagra, NY

My strategy here was to open up the backcountry a bit up north, and to force Rick to keep spending points in North Carolina to keep up with me.

Year: 1775
British Hand: 2 ops, 2 ops, 2 ops, 1 ops, Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line Mutinies, Nathan Hale: American Martyr, Benjamin Franklin Appointed Minister to France

Ick, ick, ick! Already I have no good way to move generals Carleton (Quebec) and Howe (Boston). This means Clinton will likely stay in the leader box too. Also, I’ve got to deal with two American event cards. The Mutiny card is a godsend, however. I’ll wait until near the end of the turn to ditch Nathan Hale and hope Rick doesn’t have an ops card to snatch it up.

I’m a little surprised that Rick’s first play is to raise an army in VA; this is usually the time to start plunking down political control (PC) markers right away. I adopt the southern strategy and bring General Burgoyne and 3 combat units (CUs) into St. Mary’s, GA. My plan is to lock up the larger southern states first, then strike north from a position of strength. I spend the next few card plays locking up all of Georgia and linking up to the Loyalist backwater towns in South Carolina. (In hindsight, it would have been better for me to cause Rick’s lines to Mutiny first…this was a misstep on my part.)

By the end of the first turn, I’ve got a pretty strong position, holding GA, SC, NC, and Canada. While it isn’t enough to win the game at the end of 1775, it’s about what I hoped for. And Washington’s failure to move into winter quarters just makes me smile a bit. The only downside is that the French Alliance track is moving in the wrong direction…

The end of turn one...

Washington’s War Session Report: The American Perspective, 1775

September 29, 2011

Over the next week or two John and I will be posting a session report of our recent game of Washington’s War. We decided to play-by-email (PBEM) using ACTS and VASSAL for a few reasons. First, it gave me a chance to use VASSAL. I’ve used Cyberboard in all of my other PBEM games but hadn’t tried VASSAL yet. Second, as John and I have both mentioned before, PBEM is a great chance to dive deep into a game and understand the rules. This was especially helpful for me since John has a few more plays of the game than I do. Third, we are both busy guys so getting together for a game can be tough. Playing this way allowed us to get game turns in between work, family and other obligation. Finally, it allowed us to take some notes as we played so that we could post a bit more in detail session report… so here we go!

Washington’s War: John vs. Rick
John chose the British forces and I took the Americans. I have only played as the Americans so far so I felt pretty comfortable with them.

American Initial Control Placement:
Savannah, GA
Camden, SC
Salem, NC
Richmond, VA
Frederick Town, MA
Reading, PA
Morristown, NJ
New York, NY
New Haven, CT
Falmouth, MA
Concord, NH
And RI and DE
My initial placement strategy was to put in places where the Brits would have to work to get them back. A specific example is Falmouth, MA. If John wanted to flip that he’s going to have to move somebody over there and I don’t think he would expend resources to do it. I soon realize I probably should have covered some of the ports better to prevent Brits from showing up where I don’t want them.

Year: 1775
American Hand: 3op, 2op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op
This hand highlights my biggest problem with this game. The deck of cards is very large because of the separation of events, end of turn, battle cards, and operation points. This means hand you are dealt each round can vary wildly. In other games you can usually do damage control with each hand, but I find this game less forgiving. But it’s early in the game so time to just start plopping down control markers.

I choose to go first and put Arnold and 3cu to Alexandria, VA, to protect the Congress from the south. Then with my 2nd card I put PC markers into Baltimore and Long Island to protect my ports. Playing my only two big cards right away my have hurt me but I wanted to start off strong. I’ll bring in my other reinforcements later when I have a better handle on what John is up to. I put down another PC marker and then John hits me with Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line Mutinies – no more PC markers this turn. I bring on Gates and 1cu to Albany to put a speed bump in the way from any northern aggression. I then move Arnold down to Norfolk, VA, to flip that at the end of the turn. John discards “Nathan Hale, American Martyr” but I can’t grab it with my remaining 1op card so I just discard it. John then is forced to play “Benjamin Franklin: Minister to France.”

The game board at the end of 1775. So far so good.

Then John points out my big mistake: I forgot that Washington is not in a Winter Quarters space so Washington is now down to 2cu. That discarded card DID have a use and I missed it. But with the French Alliance up 4 spaces I’ve got my sights set on the lone unit in Fort Detroit.

I’ll pause here and let John update you on his side of the story.

Board Gaming over the Internet

May 12, 2010

Getting 6 people together to sit down and play through a full game of Here I Stand is difficult. With most people working during the week, the weekends are the only option that would allow enough time to fit in a game. But these often fill up fast with family, religious and other obligations.

However, technology allows some new options. There is real-time online play of games through websites, on gaming consoles or other devices. There is also the option is to play a game long distance by sending each move by email. Previous generations may have played a game of chess with their pen-pal by sending each move in a letter through snail mail. Now moves can be sent through email to speed up that process. Having played a few games with a couple of these systems, each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The most obvious advantage is that the games can be played from your own living room. No need to get everyone together in the same place. This will save on travel time and gets you right into gaming. For better or worse, the session is more focused on playing the game. I feel more comfortable playing with strangers over the internet than inviting random people to my house. But when I want to play my with my normal gaming group, the social enjoyment I get out of gaming suffers.

I’m sure we’ve all done this with our board games: set-up up the board on the table and play through the game in multi-night sessions. I recently played a game of Twilight Struggle with my wife. We just left the board on the dining room table for a couple of nights. However, with small children in the house we ran the risk of the board getting changed between plays. Usually these online systems allow a way to save the game progress so that you can start where you left off at a later time. A full play through of a long war game can be broken into a few shorter sessions over a longer time period. That huge time commitment is now broken into bite sized chunks that are easier to manage. It may allow you to brush up on rules or rethink strategies before your next play. However, the game can also drag out to weeks or even months before it is finished.

Real Time
Russ has a good post on his experience with Settler of Catan on the XBox. I have played a dozen games using the website Wargameroom. One advantage of playing on a computer is that the rules are all programmed into the system. Only your available options are shown or are allowed to be carried out. This means no cheating, but more importantly it is a great way to help you learn the rules. Usually though you learn them the hard way. You think you are about to assault that fortress when the option to assault isn’t available because you haven’t met all of the requirements. A turn is wasted, but the next time you play you’ll remember that rule.

The real time aspect allows for a quick fix of a game. The board is set-up for you. Calculating dice requirements, card shuffling and rule checking is done instantly. There is very little down time that allows a longer game to be played much more quickly. It is a good option to get some gaming in on a tight time budget. Opponents can be found quickly through a chat room or even instantly with the use of AI opponents. The social aspect of gaming is mostly gone and a game that involves negotiations is greatly hindered. How do you convince or bluff a pre-programmed response?

Play By EMail has also been a mostly good experience. Each player has a copy of the board on their own computer and a move file is sent as each person plays. Probably the most common program used is Cyberboard to track the board and generate move files and the website ACTS to track the play of cards and handles the random stuff: card shuffling and dice rolls. Each player checks their email at least daily and takes their turn. In a game that involves a diplomacy aspect, this is also handled by exchanging emails.

The huge advantage of this system is the long time between turns. For someone learning a game, they can check the rules or even ask for help on forums between moves to better understand the strategies and intricacies of a game. I’ve found that my understanding of the 40+ page Here I Stand rulebook has vastly improved. Diplomacy can be fun because is can be done simultaneously and in secret. No one has to know you sent an email to one power where in a Face-to-Face (FtF) play everyone saw you leave the room together.

Of course, the major disadvantage of this system is the long time between turns. Once the diplomacy phase is over, carrying out those plans for just one turn could take months. Waiting for a person to take their move isn’t fun. In a FtF game a minute can seem like an eternity. Try waiting 10 days for your opponent to take his turn because he was on vacation and then got stuck in Europe because of a volcano (actually happened).

Overall Impressions
I think using technology to play your favorite board game is a great idea. There are certainly some great advantages for new players and people who can’t make big time commitments. However, nothing beats staring down your opponent in a good ol’ face-to-face play of any game.