Commands and Colors: Napoleonics Storage Solutions

September 15, 2011

Having spent about four hours this weekend applying stickers to the blocks for Commands and Colors: Napoleonics, I was faced with a problem: where to store them all. While it’s true that the pieces all fit inside the game box, it’s a tight fit if you bag each individual unit type, which means finding another storage solution. After digging around a bit on the web, I settled on buying a Plano LockJaw box. I found one for sale at my local hardware store. The top portion of the box fits the Portugese, British, and French infantry with plenty of room to spare for an expansion or two:

Plenty of space left over!

Meanwhile, the bottom portion can easily be arranged to fix the larger pieces–cavalry, artillery, and leaders–as well as dice, terrain, and chits. If I ever purchase an expansion, it will be easy to transfer the last three items to the original game box. This should leave space for expansion playing pieces.

Open the lid, and you've got all large playing pieces with room to spare for terrain, etc.

Once you lock everything up, you’ve got a lightweight, organized carrying case for all of your armies. I think it will drastically cut down on setup time for this game.

Who knew you could carry the great armies of Europe so easily?


Not All Card Driven War Games Are Created Equal

November 8, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all Card Driven War Games are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designer with certain unalienable Mechanics, that among these are Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points. — That to secure these mechanics, Games are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the players, — That whenever any Form of Game becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Players to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Games , laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Hand Management and Victory.

Whew! Working board games into the Declaration of Independence was getting a little tough there. But did you like the part about “Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points”? I’m quite fond of that one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Washington’s War and whether I really like it as a game. Or if I just keep playing it and saying to myself, “That was fun,” it will one day come true.

Card-driven war games seem to fall into two camps with card design. In one camp is the likes of Washington’s War and Wilderness Wars (despite overwhelming evidence, you do not need to have two words starting with W in your title to fall into this camp). In the other are the likes of Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand. In the former, card are either event cards or operations cards, we’ll call these isolated cards. In the latter, cards are both event cards and operations cards, we’ll call these combination cards.

Decks made of isolated cards usually consist of half or more operations cards. The idea being that in any given hand a player  will have enough operations cards to do something. So, even the player gets poor events or the opponents events, the turn won’t be fruitless. However, experience has shown otherwise. And memory seems to latch on to the really bad hands even if they are a small minority of all hands played.

Contrasted with combination cards, even bad hands can be managed or turned out good. Twilight Struggle uses this idea to its fullest. Opponent events must occur, but you get the operations points to manage the situation before or after the event, your choice. Cards with your event may be played for the event or the operations points.

From my play experience, I favor games with combination cards over isolated cards. I prefer the decision making and hand management that comes from combination cards. Every hand, no matter how bad, seems playable. Every hand can build on the last to create a strategy for winning. Isolated cards feel like they take that decision making power away from me. Too much is dictated on the specific hand I am dealt and strategy seems like it doesn’t last much beyond a single hand of cards.

So, will I ever like Washington’s War? I think so. I just need to adjust my play style to account for isolated cards. But, it won’t be knocking Twilight Struggle from it’s throne. And knowing that not all card driven war games are create equal will help when buying future board games.

Disagree? Like isolated cards better? Let me hear about it in the comments.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that Wilderness War may not fit in the first camp. Until I can verify my original statement, it has been struck out.


Mechanics Mirror Reality in Wilderness War

April 13, 2010

Few games mimic the intricacies of a given conflict as well as Volko Ruhnke’s Wilderness War (2001). The designer uses several simple mechanics to good effect, elegantly showing the frustration players’ historical counterparts experienced in the French and Indian War.

Rivers as Highways: In early colonial America, thick forests and difficult mountain ranges necessitated the use of waterways as roads. Ruhnke emphasizes this by stating that units may move up to nine spaces via rivers, as opposed to the usual four by land. He even incorporates portages, allowing troops to move between rivers. Players quickly find themselves constructing fortifications at the confluence of two or more rivers to control these liquid highways.

A New Form of Warfare: The geographical and political circumstances of the French and Indian War ushered in a new era of warfare that confounded commanders who were stuck in their European ways. Wilderness War utilizes two types of troops, “drilled” and “auxiliary.” Drilled units need to construct fortifications to stay in supply, and suffer penalties when fighting in the wilderness without friendly auxiliaries–light, non-traditional fighters, including Indians, rangers, and French fur trappers.

Dilatory Generals: In this conflict, the British were plagued early on with slow-witted commanders who were unable to adapt to the new modes of warfare mentioned above. This is clearly mirrored in the game, as each general is assigned an activation rating. A higher rating requires players to play a high value card to activate him and his force. I’ve often sat staring at the board, gnashing my teeth as General Loudon and Abercrombie sit snug in their forts, afraid to march into the wild and take the fight to the enemy. No doubt British Primer Minister William Pitt felt the same when reading dispatches from the colonies.

Shifting Alliances and Unpredictable Events: Ruhnke also does an excellent job mixing on map realities with events on cards. For example, both sides’ Indian allies desired easy access to European goods. Thus, if I want an Iroquois Alliance (card #28), I’d better have my troops build a stockade/trading post near their villages! Likewise, if I want to Ambush (cards #11-12) my opponent, I need to have a greater number of auxiliaries than he does. Players find themselves working to maintain control of certain on-map elements to they can access card events later on in the game.

War is Hell: As I stated earlier, the French and Indian War was truly a new kind of conflict, which surprised its European participants with its unpredictability and brutality. This is also reflected in the design. Cards such as Ambush, Massacre, and Coehorns & Howitzers are powerful but rare. When they are used against me, I am surprised, but I never feel “robbed.” Likewise, leader loss is pretty high compared to most other war games, but again, this is in keeping with the historical realities of the war.

Montcalm was one of many generals who met his fate on the battlefield.

In short, these few elegant design choices serve to immerse players in the conflict in a way few other games do. When I’m playing Wilderness War, I don’t feel like a board game player, but a general, tired, bruised, and dirty, urging my motley forces through the forest to victory.


Here I Stand: Henry VIII, Warlord

November 14, 2009

I am new to Here I Stand. I had been interested in trying it for over a year, but with every game my friend John hosted, I had schedule conflicts. Had I known what fun I was missing, I may have pushed harder to get them to schedule a time that I could make. Last July, I finally made it to a game. Playing as the French in the tournament scenario, my lack of experience and knowledge of the rules caused me to flail about, get pushed around diplomatically, and squander CP like crazy. My lack of skill probably ended up working in my favor, as the rest of Europe beat itself up, ignoring the French, leading to a sneaky French victory on the back of some nice cards and optimal New World rolls.

Initial Strategy

After having a blast in my first game, but regretting not understanding the rules better, I wanted to be better prepared for the next game I played. I learned in advance that I would play as the English. I turned to John, our most experienced player, who had played the English in our last game for clarification on the only confusing rules issue for the English, the divorce and pregnancy chart. My plan was to make a deal for the divorce with the Papacy, unless I had a very high CP hand that I did not want to risk with granting card draws. While I think the divorce is valuable, my powerful home card also guarantees that Edward is born if Henry is persistent. Depending on the hand I was dealt, my offer would vary between one or two card draws or card plays. I figure that unless a disaster happened, I would be able to eventually get Edward and the 5 VP, using my home card as many times as needed. I planned on taking Scotland, and then targeting a French or Hapsburg key, picking up some New World VP’s and making England Anglican. I figured a balanced approach would allow me to draft behind the front-runner until I could use my home card’s special ability to surprise a mainland power later in the game. The best part about seeming harmless as the English is that the Protestant player can generate a lot of VP for you by converting England. They won’t do that if you are in the lead, so it was critical to my success that I strike late.

Turn 4

We had a couple new players at the table, and after a brief tutorial for them, we got the game going. My initial draw was outstanding. I had Erasmus, Paul III, Copernicus, Michael Servetus, and Foreign Recruits. I had the ability to work out a deal for the divorce, and score  3 additional VP. So much for keeping a low profile. The Pope agreed to grant the divorce, in return for the play of Paul III on my first impulse, and Erasmus on my second impulse. I also got a mercenary and a card through the use of Diplomatic Overture from the Protestants, in return for an alliance and a promise not to play Servetus until he had no cards to discard. I rolled a six–healthy Edward! The roll freed me to use my home card for a war of my choosing during the action phase.

180px-AnneBoleyn55

Anne Boleyn was spared by providing a healthy male heir

Turn 4 was exciting. The Hapsburgs were running amok after playing Diplomatic Marriage to activate Venice on his first impulse and taking Metz early in the turn. The Ottomans were getting absolutely crushed with terrible rolls. The French took Milan immediately and built a chateau soon after. The Papacy, in large part due to plays by myself and the Hapsburgs on his behalf, made some significant gains early against the Reformation. Late in the turn, with the Hapsburgs threatening a domination victory, I declared war on them instead of Scotland, and, through a naval move, put Henry VIII and a sizable force in Calais and then marched on Antwerp. The Hapsburgs were not pleased, and eliminated my mercenaries with a card and then attacked my siege force with Charles V and a slightly smaller army. The dice crashed into the box and I destroyed the Hapsburg force, capturing Charles V and leaving only one unit in Antwerp, which fell on my impulse moments later. I had to use Servetus (which the Protestant snapped up and played using his home card) for the assault, but it was well worth it. That ended turn 4, with Hapsburgs at 19, The English at 18 (9 VP this turn), The Papacy and France tied at 18, Ottomans at 17 and the Protestants at 16.

Turn 5

The next turn was certain to be interesting. I got Dissolution of the Monasteries, Diplomatic Overture, Auld Alliance, Siege Mining, and some other average cards that I can’t remember. I also was able to get the Hapsburgs to agree to an alliance even though I had taken a key and would get a card for Charles V. He certainly did not want to sue for peace, which would have granted me some combination of VP’s or card draws. The French were looking to take Genoa, and asked for an alliance, which would have prevented me from taking any keys this turn, but would not pay my fee of one card for that peace of mind. I drew a lot of cards from the deck with poor results. I got three cards worth 1 CP and one worth 4 with Dissolution and Diplomatic Overture, turning 12 CP into 7 CP. I drew Threat to Power from the Hapsburgs. I still ended up with a lot of cards to play with, meaning my opponents would be unable to react to my plays at the end of the turn. I was looking for a knockout blow, but I wasn’t sure where to deliver it, or if the other powers would perceive the English threat before it was too late.

The Ottomans continued to crash into the Hapsburgs, but finally succeeded in taking Vienna, losing Algiers to the Hapsburgs. The French went after Genoa and New World VP’s, and spent their home card for another chateau. The Protestants, aided by the Anglican movement, gained some ground, but sort of fizzled after the Jesuits showed up and negated the reformers in France and England. I decided to invade Scotland. Using my home card, I made the declaration, and the French intervened. This move puzzled me, because only two regulars and the French king stood between Henry VIII and his sizable, war-hardened force marching from Calais to Paris. I should have declared war on the French directly, but I figured I could win by taking Scotland and going after the new world. I shifted gears, took Paris (siege mining made it easy), captured the French king, and used Auld Alliance to deactivate Scotland. The French sunk my explorer. With victory out of reach, I held a couple combat cards for the next round. England 20,  Hapsburg 19, Protestant and Papacy 18, French and Ottoman 16.

Turn 6

Holding the lead heading into the turn made it very difficult to make friends in diplomacy. I was dealt a very high CP hand again, which included some nasty cards that could have been painful in the hand of another player. The French had no interest in ransoming their imprisoned king. While I was unable to make a single deal, I was able to break up a massive Hapsburg lead coalition, which was essentially designed to destroy me. I did this by convincing the Protestant that there was no way the Hapsburgs would play Catholic cards against him (easy point to make since obviously the CP would be critical for the crusade he was planning against me). A few of us also helped out our new Ottoman player by preventing a peace settlement that served absolutely no purpose for him, allowing him to eventually better his score by 3 instead of 1 (when you can’t win, play for the highest score possible). The pope decided that he could just wait to play City State Rebels. I convinced him to see how the war went, and then play it on whoever remained ahead of him. I assured him that I had no interest in converting England, so when the dust settled, he could possibly win if the Hapsburgs and French were successful in knocking me down if he conserved his CP. Seeing that their deals with the other three players were not on stable ground, the Hapsburgs and French had to change plans on the fly.

henry8joos1

Henry VIII did not live to enjoy his victory over France

I used Foreign Recruits in Antwerp on my first impulse, which meant not even a perfect roll on the City State Rebels could succeed, which would have been a likely waste of 4 CP. (I did expose myself later in the turn, and with me still in the lead the pope pounced!) No faction challenged my military directly. Had they seen my hand, they would have realized that it was a very wise choice; I could have summoned an impressive force to respond to any threat, and it would have likely resulted in them gaining no VP’s. I took Rouen early in the turn. The Hapsburgs lost Prague, and fought with the Protestant over Trier and Mainz.  They also invaded Tunis, but had that force eliminated late in the turn by Mercenaries Demand Pay. I decided to go for 24 VP and the win. I marshaled my forces and went for Bordeaux, forgetting that the Pope still held City State Rebels! He played the card, forcing me to use the Swiss Mercenaries I had planned on using to initiate the assault. I barely survived the rebellion in Rouen (1 regular remaining!) The Protestant really got burned at the end of the last turn, losing religious influence in a couple of electorates. All of England remained Catholic, except for the armies, after Henry VIII died late in the turn. The French finally took Genoa, and ended up scoring in the New  World and with another chateau.

Final: English 22, Hapsburgs, Papacy, and Ottoman 19, France 17, and the Protestants at 13.

I learned several things about Here I Stand from this session. The cards can really change your plan drastically. I had planned to dabble in everything and draft behind the leader, but instead ended up spending most of the game as the front-runner and almost completely focused on my military. Once you are in the lead the pack has numerous ways to drag you down. I was very fortunate to survive several close calls with amazing die rolls, and the Hapsburg player only dropped in VPs after his initial surge, simply because the backlash had crippled him severely, decimating his western force and costing him a key right away.

I also noticed that the Protestants were very hampered by my success. You can read about his trials in an earlier post in this blog. England is one of the easiest targets for reformation, but he could not risk giving me any additional VP’s starting early in turn 5.

This was a fun game, thanks to all the other players, and thanks to John, our gracious host! I look forward to our next showdown is tomorrow, November 15th, When I will be playing as the Hapsburgs.


Hand Management in Manoeuvre

July 28, 2009

I won’t claim to be the best Manoeuvre player (still sitting at 4 wins and 5 losses), but the fact that this game baffles me a bit has me thinking about it a lot. One of the critical elements to master is proper hand management. Unlike many other card-driven games, your Manoeuvre turn starts with a discard phase in which you can ditch up to your entire five-card hand to pull new ones from your deck. This element is made more interesting by the nightfall rule. If one player fails to kill five of his opponent’s units, the game ends when the second player exhausts his deck. The first, once he’s cycled through everything, just reshuffles and keeps going. If you add the optional “experienced/optional” rule, then there’s even more to consider; you get to run through your deck at setup and pick your starting hand.

Manoeuvre DeckAll of this begs the question: is it usually better to play your hand conservatively, letting the cards dictate your movements on the board, or is it better to play the hand aggressively, and discard often to pick up the best cards? After reflection and discussion with Mike, Dad, and Joe, I don’t think this is really an either/or thing. Instead, it’s dictated by the situation and what country you’re playing. Certain countries are more defensive in nature, and it seems best to set up good defensive positions and hold onto cards for those units. On the other hand, there are countries that really benefit from aggressive play and lots of discarding (the Ottomans, specifically, with all their cavalry and pursuit rolls). With these considerations in mind, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Early Game: If you’re playing with the “pick your starting hand” rule, pick a hand that will allow you to knock out an enemy unit quickly. This offers you more options while making some of your opponent’s cards worthless. Once you’ve done that, usually it’s time to discard quickly and set up a few more nasty assaults with your strong units.
  • Mid Game: If you find yourself ahead on the unit kill count, continue to discard aggressively and go for the attrition win. If you’ve suffered some losses, slow it down and discard more carefully. If he over-extends himself, it’s time to discard aggressively again and counterattack.
  • Late Game: Much like the mid-game, if you find yourself ahead by quite a few units, go for the attrition win. However, if it’s a close run thing, position yourself to control the most squares; this usually means not discarding as much. If this is the case, this will allow you to control the end of the game (when, as the second player, you reach the bottom of your deck).

There is also a strong relationship between hand management and initial placement. This was pointed out to me in a BGG thread; essentially the author’s strategy is to place weaker units in the back row and discard any of their cards when they come up. This strikes me as sensible–less agonizing over what to discard early on. I’d love to hear comments on this–Manoeuvre is definitely a game I’m still learning.

(Edit: Cross-posted at Board Game Geek)


Manoeuvre Session Report: Foiled Again!

July 25, 2009
Not even Les Grognards could help me.

Not even "Les Grognards" could help me.

I’ve been foiled again! Manoeuvre (4 and 5 record) is the bane of my gaming existence. In the three months since I opened the box and read the incredibly simple rulebook, I have been beaten by my Dad, my wife, my brother, and Joe. What’s most embarrassing about this is not the 4 and 5 record, but the fact that both Dad and Joe beat me as I was teaching them the game. Thursday night was no different. Over cups of coffee and a bowl of dry-roasted peanuts, Mike’s steely-eyed British came back from what looked like sure defeat to mop the floor with my Frenchmen. Oh the horror! Perhaps it was the fact that he was drinking from a General Grant mug, while I had chosen a “Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club” one. Maybe it was homefield advantage (his apartment). Or maybe I just suck at this game.

We used the setup for the 2009 WBC tournament, as I will be playing in it in ten days. Mike pulled out the Brits and the Frenchies, and I grabbed the Frenchies, hoping the Napoleon card could somehow make up for my lack of talent. We agreed to use the tournament/experienced play variant, which lets you shuffle through your deck to pick out five cards of your choosing. I took the north side of the map, we set up, and began play. Mike played a Spy card right off the bat to peak at my hand. Considering I had chosen it myself, he now knew the gist of my strategy; this was rather unsettling. However, I grabbed the high ground to the right with my Imperial Cavalry and Garde Imperial, and after some manouevering, we started trading blows.

I was able to knock out his strongest cavalry unit on the left early on by catching it between my Cuissars and Suisse infantry, and about halfway through the game, we were looking at Mike down two units. None of my guys had even broken a sweat, and I had captured a redoubt in the western woods on his side of the map. I thought I had this one in the bag. And that’s when things went terribly, horribly wrong.

We developed an interesting stalemate on the western side of the board. Mike had moved up a handful of infantry units into a long line. He was out in the open, and I moved several units to counter whatever he was planning. Instead of attacking, however, he built a second redoubt and sort of sat there. I was discarding, trying to find cards to punch out a unit or two, when he force marched some units on the eastern side of the board, surrounded a unit, and utterly destroyed it. Wow, I didn’t see that one coming, I thought to myself. Then it happened again as I was still trying to puzzle out what to do in the west.

I nailed another weak unit (take that, Dutch-Belgians!) with a combined attack from three sides. What I didn’t notice was that the unit required to advance was going to get crushed. One play later, Mike’s British took revenge for their fallen allies as he unloaded Wellington and two unit cards on me. “Let’s see, I roll 4d6+17 against…6. Okay…24 and they’re dead.” Then he took out another French unit in the middle of the board. Incensed, I trapped Mike’s 1st Regiment, weakened by an earlier cavalry charge, and smoked them.

If you’re keeping track, that put us at 4 kills apiece, with the next kill determining the winner. I began marching my Garde Imperial and Suisse regiments up the board to take out a lone cavalry unit of his when a good Forced March play on Mike’s part sent a howling horde of Scots at my poor Swiss! He laid two unit cards and a Committed Attack; I was not able to counter with a single defense card. And that was the game.

On the drive home, I thought about why I haven’t quite grasped this game yet:

  • It is abstract in the extreme, a bit like chess. This is not a historical simulation by any means. This abstraction is difficult for me.
  • I usually spend more time trying to make my current hand “work” than discarding a hand that doesn’t do much for me at the moment. This is especially true for special event cards, like Resupply or Forced March. I may not need it in the next three or four turns, but I’m really loath to get rid of them. This usually limits my options.
  • I am often so concentrated on setting up the perfect attack that I’ll make stupid decisions. I’ll leave a weak unit in danger of being surrounded and destroyed for the sake of that perfect coordinated attack. This almost never works out!

Luckily, I’ll be able to play this at the WBC this year; I’m excited to learn from the masters (though I’m definitely learning from my local group too!)

[Cross posted at Board Game Geek]


Twilight Struggle and the DEFCON Conundrum

July 21, 2009
U.S. schoolchildren practice a duck and cover drill.

U.S. schoolchildren practice a "duck and cover" drill c.1950.

One of the constant questions that I have in GMT’s Twilight Struggle (10 wins, 3 losses) is how to use the DEFCON track to my advantage. Put simply, the DEFCON track is a method for tracking how tense the Cold War is at a given moment. If you attempt coups in key areas, called “battleground countries,” you drop the DEFCON status by one point. This has the effect of putting one region out of play–that is, you and your opponent may not make coup attempts or realignment rolls in that section of the map. The DEFCON track goes from 5 (Peace) down to 1 (Global Thermonuclear War). If at any point in the game a player takes an action that causes DEFCON to go to 1, he loses the game.

The thirteen times I’ve played this game in the past seven months, we have usually been pretty lenient on this last point. If someone tries to do something which will drop the DEFCON status to 1, the other player reminds him, he chooses to do something else, and play continues. But after a recent game with Russ, we have both realized that there are certain situations in which the phasing player can actually force their opponent to drop the DEFCON track to 1 and subsequently lose. There is an even greater chance that, at DEFCON 2, the phasing player makes a move that leads to an accidental DEFCON drop, causing them to lose!

Before this, we often saw the USSR player drive the DEFCON to 2 as early as possible. This did a few things: first, it allowed him to maintain any early gains he had made in certain regions. Second, it meant that after a new turn started and DEFCON bumped up to 3, the USSR player could use his first card play to coup a battleground country and drop DEFCON back to 2 without the US player being able to do anything about it. For instance, in Sunday night’s game, I took an early lead in the Middle East and Europe, while Russ locked up Asia. Later on, I was able to take several battleground countries in Africa, and by keeping DEFCON at 2 throughout most of the game, I was able to cement my lead in three regions while ceding one (though rich VP-wise) to him.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the few times the US military went to DEFCON 2.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the few times the US military went to DEFCON 2.

Now, after a quick analysis of the deck, I’m wondering if this is such a good idea. By my count, there are 13 out of 110 cards (almost 12% of the deck) that deal with DEFCON. Three are US (Duck and Cover, Nuclear Subs, and Soviets Shoot Down KAL-007). Two are USSR (“We Will Bury you!” and Glastnost). The remaining eight are usable by either player. These include the following: Olympic Games, Nuclear Test Ban, Cuban Missile Crisis, SALT Negotiations, Summit, ABM Treaty, Wargames, and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

The question is this: how dangerous is DEFCON 2? Does it actually do more harm than good? For instance, think about this example: USSR player has dropped DEFCON to 2. He plays Missile Envy, which means the US player has to hand the USSR player the highest-value card in his hand. If he hands him a USSR event or an event that can be played by either player, it is triggered. If this card is “We Will Bury You!”, it drops DEFCON to 1. Because the USSR player is the phasing (or active) player, he loses the game. Even if it’s Olympic Games, all the US player has to do is choose to boycott, which also degrades DEFCON. Again, the USSR is the phasing player, and he loses. Whoops! Or take another example: DEFCON is at 2. US player plays Lone Gunman. The USSR player gets to look at the US hand, and then use the point to “conduct operations” at that moment. He decides to start a coup in a battleground country. This degrades DEFCON to 1, and because the US player is the phasing player, he loses.

In the examples above, you’ll note that there are a few cards which give immediate ops points to the other player, or read something like, “Pull card out of opponent’s hand. If it’s an event for your side and/or an event for both sides, the event occurs.” From my count, these include the following: Lone Gunman, CIA Created, Five Year Plan, and Missile Envy. (Note: I’d include Grain Sales to Soviets, but that does let you pick a card and return it to your opponent’s hand if you don’t like it.) If you’re keeping track here, this means there are a total of 18 cards that can mess with DEFCON and/or spell disaster in that situation. That’s 16% of the deck! I know that some will say, “But John, you can shoot a lot of those cards into the Space Race.” My response to that is…sometimes. A lot of the cards we’re talking about are 2-value, which means they can only be played into the Space Race on the first four boxes. And CIA Created and Lone Gunman? Those are 1-op cards.

I thought Twilight Struggle was intense before this, but now…well, let’s just say after doing a bit of research into the potential, I’m a bit stunned! How can a player protect himself against such disasters? A couple of things come to mind:

  • As a turn begins, think about where you want DEFCON to protect your holdings and/or encroach on other regions. In addition, think about how your opponent might use the DEFCON track to his advantage.
  • Especially in the Mid-War, when Bear Trap and Quagmire are in the deck, ask yourself whether or not it is too risky to have DEFCON at 2. Without The China Card and a few bad Quagmire/Bear Trap rolls, you might be required to play an event which degrades DEFCON or allows your opponent to opportunity to do it.
  • If you have The China Card in your possession and DEFCON is at 2, think about playing it (even if it’s not an optimal play) in order to hold a card like CIA Created or Lone Gunman over until next turn, when DEFCON will go to 3 for at least one card play.
  • Keep in mind that a lot of cards actually improve DEFCON. While doing this can expose you to unwanted coup attempts, it can also get you out of a tight jam.

Do you have a good story about losing/winning the game over DEFCON? Or do you have other thoughts on the “DEFCON Conundrum”? Leave a comment!

[NOTE: Cross-posted at Board Game Geek]


Here I Stand Session Report–Papacy Perspective

July 17, 2009

I’m not sure which side is the most difficult to play in Here I Stand, but I have to believe the papacy ranks up there pretty high. In our most recent HIS game, in which John has already posted the English perspective, I played the Papacy.

Going into the game, I knew it was going to be tough. I was sitting at a table full of crafty player. My brother, Rick, controlled the Ottomans. Rick is one of those crafty players that always seems to twist things into his advantage. Mike, John’s brother, played the Hapsburgs. Mike is turning into a pretty good player.  He’s come close to winning a few times and I think it has bolstered his confidence and made his play more aggressive and  sound. John, my boardgaming nemesis and good friend, played the English. My greatest fear was his ability to manipulate others at the table for his gain. Combined with sound strategy, he makes for a tough opponent. Joe, the new comer to the table played the French. Despite being new to the game, I knew not to underestimate Joe. He’s a good strategic thinker and is able to quickly execute on opportunities given to him. The final player was Will, playing the Protestants. Until this point, I hadn’t played against Will in a strategic game. He was a bit of a wild card, but I was confident I could outmaneuver him.

In round one of the tournament scenario, my hand was relatively poor. It contained a number of combat and response cards of low value. With such few CP, I decided to go the diplomatic route and get others to act on my behalf, rather than mulligan and try to draw a better hand and go it alone. The gambit paid off fairly well. I offered a card draw to the Hapsburgs in return of a promise to capture one electorate and one card for the French to pass through Geneva on their way to Milan so I could use the bonus die of a Catholic stack to counter Calvin’s presence on a book burning roll.

The card pulls only cost me 3 CP and put me in the good graces of the French and Hapsburgs, a relationship that would serve me well in both turns 1 and 2. If I made a mistake in the negotiations, it was probably not to grant the English a divorce for 2 cards. It would have probably given me 4-5 CP and made the English a bigger target for the other players to go after.

The turn 1 play saw the Hapsburgs and Ottomans stalemate in Hungary and the French make a slow trek to Milan. The Protestants made an aggressive push to change France to Protestantism, going so far as to translate the French bible. But with all the French and Hapsburg troops along the boarder, I was able to us my few cards to stem, but not stop, the tide. In a final gambit to stop France from falling to heresy, I called a debate and was able to burn a 1 value French language Protestant debater.

I finished turn 1 with some more improvements to St. Peter’s, allowing the Papacy to sit in third place, behind the Ottomans and Hapsburgs, but closely—too closely—followed by the rest of the players.

Turn 2 saw me with a high value hand. I knew now was my time to make a move. In negotiations, I went hunting for Society of Jesus, but found no one had it in possession. I also found that nearly everyone wanted me to continue my generosity and allow them a card pull. I rebuffed the offers and instead renegotiated the deals.

I promised a card play on behalf of the Ottomans for them declaring war on Venice, so I could ally with them. My card would allow the Ottomans to pull a card from the Hapsburgs’ hand and they would leave Venice to me so I could gain a VP and increase my hand size by one card for turn 3. With the Hapsburgs, I loaned a fleet and a mercenary, so they could further defend against Ottoman attacks or piracy in exchange for him playing a card that would allow a number of burn book attempts in France. The deal was definitely in my favor, but thanks to our friendly relationship from last turn, it was a fairly easy sell. In fact, thanks to my generosity on turn 1, it seemed like everyone I spoke to was willing to work with me. The final negotiation was with France. France spilled the beans on the English-French deal to team up and destroy the Hapsburgs. I counseled France to hold on to Machiavelli, watch how the English-Hapsburg fight goes and only jump in when the French could secure  VPs. My concern was the English seeking to weaken both the French and the Hapsburgs and take VP without spending many CPs or losing many troops. This along with the threat of the English gaining VP through the change to Protestantism could lead to a quick English win. The French agreed with my assessment and changed their play appropriately.

When it came time to play cards, I went after VP. I pushed forward by allying with Venice and getting a key. I then was able to use Michelangelo to increase St. Peter’s by 10 points, securing more VP! The rest of the game was spent securing Europe from Protestantism. I burned books, removing Protestant influence from the French and Italian language zones. With my final rolls, I pushed into England and Germany with a little luck.

However, the game was too close. I hadn’t gained enough VP and with a few cities falling to Protestantism, I’d lose the VP I fought so hard for. The Hapsburgs and the Ottomans found to a stalemate while the English and the Hapsburgs suffered heavy casualties in Antwerp. After seeing the Hapsburgs use all their good cards and fearing what would happen if I gave the Ottomans another card, I stabbed the Ottomans in the back and didn’t play the card I promised on their behalf. Fortunately, we had already decided this was to be the last turn, so it was a betrayal without consequence. Not exactly my finest gaming moment, but I needed to keep my buffer on the Catholic/Protestant track and could dare give the Ottomans a chance for a win.

The French heeded my advice and instead decided to declare war on Genoa. However, I wasn’t out of the woods yet. The final Protestant and English cards would make or break me. To Will’s credit, he avoided the easy conversion site, England, to go for an undisputed win, as changing England would result in English VP and an English win. He once again went after France and found success, but not enough to change the VP points.

The English then went for the win with their final card play. They tried to convert England. This would be doubly bad for me. Not only would it take me out of the lead, but it would push the English above me and tie me with the Ottomans, Hapsburgs, and Protestants on the VP track. But luck was with me. A couple good rolls kept the English Catholic and the dreaded VP change from happening.

However, the dark horse French took the prize when they captured Genoa and had successful rolls in the New World phase.

Final order of powers: France, Papacy, English, Hapsburgs, Ottomans, Protestants.

Getting to second place took all my effort and the cooperation of the other players. I’ve learned as the Papacy that you need friends to survive and thrive.

Furthermore, debating is very difficult and as the Papacy, you must use everything, including your home card, to stack the dice in your favor. While removing a 1 value debater from the game doesn’t really hurt the Protestants, but the VP you gain can never be removed.

And while it is easy to forget out St. Peter’s, don’t. 5 CP for 1 VP is a given ratio for the Papacy. When deciding to build or burn books, make sure you take the CP to VP ratio into account. I wish I could go back and reexamine my final card plays. It may have been better to burn books one less time and instead get a VP from St. Peter’s.


Here I Stand Session Report–English Perspective

July 15, 2009

I purchased Here I Stand roughly 14 months ago and have played it ten times since: eight times in person and twice online (6 and 4 personal record). It is a six-player card-driven wargame about the Wars of the Reformation. If you’re interested in purchasing it, you might be swayed by the fact that it has received excellent support from the designer and has a rather large and enthusiastic fan base. This past Sunday I sat down at the table with five other guys ranging from 25-30, one brand new to the game, and we saw who could have “the biggest hat in Europe.” We started the tournament scenario around 10:45 AM, broke for lunch at 1:30, and finished by 5:00 PM. The agreement was that we’d go two turns, with the auto-victory being 23, not 25 VP.

This session report is from my point of view as the English. My first hand was pretty mediocre: no exciting events, no combat cards, and nothing to help my friend Martin Luther out. I met with the Protestants and got a card draw out of him; I was hoping to use it as leverage to get the Pope (Russ) to grant a divorce, but that didn’t work out. I even offered him two cards in exchange for a divorce (probably a mistake), but he wouldn’t take it. Darn! I met with the French last, played by Joe, our new guy. I gave him a card pull and we agreed to a sort of convoluted deal I first saw in round 2 of the 2009 play by email tourney.

One new war was declared in the first turn–I went after Scotland. France chose to intercede for free, pulling the Scottish into an alliance (as per our agreement!).  The action phase saw a rush of movements on all fronts. The Ottomans immediately clashed with the Hapsburgs (Mike) in Hungary, but not a lot of territory exchanged hands. Then the Ottomans went for a very successful piracy strategy, hitting the Hapsburgs several times and receiving VPs and cards. The Protestants played a very common combination of military moves to snatch up electorates and convert French spaces to their faith. In response, the Pope called debates and flipped most of the French spaces back. He also burned a debator late in the turn. The French took Milan late in the turn, while the Hapsburgs snatched up Metz.

After declaring war, I marshaled my forces and went after Scotland, but not before the French had moved those infantry units out of Edinburgh for me. I took Edinburgh easily and left the three Scottish units in Glasgow. They eventually winter-moved to Paris and effectively became the Scots in exile. The sum effect of the deal was this: I got a key (2 VP) at very little cost, the French got a card pull and three Scottish infantry units on the Continent. I ended up burning the Scottish ship in port, but in the future, I think I’d offer that up too (we sort of forgot about it!). This has become my standard opening move for the English; any feedback on it would be most appreciated.

(Update: I cut this deal a third time in another PBEM game. After going through with it, this was met by howls of protest from my opponents. Someone emailed the designer asking about the legality of the deal, considering it is very “gamey”. No official word yet on whether this will be outlawed in future. From my point of view, this is one of the only moves that gives the English a prayer of winning in competitive play. One player dubbed this “The Caledonian Gambit.”)

That done, I was content to use my home card to marry Anne Boleyn; a lucky six on the pregnancy chart yielded a healthy Edward and five VPs! Things were looking good at this point. To end my turn, I built up infantry units in London and a fleet in Calais. By the turn’s end, the Ottomans were threatening an early victory, with the Papacy and the Hapsburgs close behind.

After a lunch break, we returned to the table and drew cards. The Hapsburgs got extremely unlucky with their colony rolls and didn’t get any extra cards. The French picked up one through Potosi Silver Mines. I was fortunate to be dealt a strong hand with many CPs: three “five” cards! Combined with “Dissolution of the Monasteries,” it looked to be a fun turn.

Diplomacy was even more involved this time; Martin Luther and I couldn’t really come to a deal, although I did have “Calvin’s Institutes.” He was feeling pretty confident after snatching “Printing Press” from the discard pile the previous turn. I allied with the French with the understanding that we would declare war on the Hapsburgs and make a mad dash for the finish line before the Ottomans got there. The French had “Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince,'” so this turn was going to be a surprise for Charles V!

However, things didn’t go exactly as planned. I spring deployed to Calais and used my home card on the Hapsburgs right away, and then made a hard drive for Antwerp. This was foiled by a nice intercept roll and two combat cards, “Field Artillery” and “Tercios.” In a massive field battle, I lost four of eight units while he only lost two of seven. While I retreated to lick my wounds, the French delayed jumping in on the war and sent out an explorer. Not good! And the Ottomans and Hapsburgs clashed at Pressburg…again. The fields were awash in casualties, and both sides spent some combat cards, but it only served to exhaust both of them. The Ottomans later went on to do piracy, and the Hapsburgs found themselves out of cards very early on. However, there was a large stack at Antwerp now (six units and a leader), and I felt that a field battle and siege might not get me what I wanted.

The French never declared war on the Hapsburgs, opting to go for Genoa instead with “Machieavelli.” This was a bummer for me, but what can you do? Martin Luther opted to grab a few electorates and make Germany almost entirely Protestant. While this was frustrating for me, I was able to play “Dissolution of the Monasteries” and got two cards and three free Reformation attempts. (And the Protestant not helping the English too much is understandable…that can be like dealing with the Devil.)

As the turn wore on, I used my high CP cards to good effect. I built some more units in Calais and deployed my fleet, eventually invading Spain. Since the Hapsburgs were out of cards, I was able to snatch one key. I then sent out an explorer and tried to publish my own treatises, but they failed!  At the end of the action phase, the Papacy was at 20 VP due to a great play of “Michelangelo.” The Hapsburgs were at 19 with the Ottomans, the French, and me, and the Protestants trailed at 18–definitely the closest game I’ve played in. During the New World phase, the French pulled their best explorer and found the Amazon (21 VP). They then conquered a tribe (22 VP). I found the St. Lawrence (20 VP), but it was not enough. Joe, a first time player, won the “biggest hat in Europe” award as the French.

Final scores: Ottomans 19, Hapsburgs 19, English 20, French 22, Papacy 20, Protestants 18. And it all came down to a few die rolls. Very satisfying.

So what was the margin of victory for me? What could I have done better to win the game? I had a huge CP hand that second turn. It was truly ridiculous. Had I not been so torn between the military or Reformation paths, I could have chosen one and gone for broke. I had the CP to possibly take Antwerp and invade Spain (which was nearly empty) for 23 VP. Or, I could have played some cards in a different order, taken the Spanish key, sent an explorer, and gotten two treatises published, which may have put me over the limit. (As it was, I only published one treatise and flubbed both rolls.) Last, I could have ignored the military after the Calais defeat and published treatises like crazy, which might have put me over.

One last thing: I have played and won as the English before, but only in games where I was playing both them and the Protestants at the same time. The English are really hemmed in by the Scottish, the French, the Hapsburgs, and the need to get the Reformation going. It feels like one doesn’t have many options when playing them, which is a pain.

However, this was, hands down, the most fun and smooth game of Here I Stand we’ve played. A hearty well done to all players, and congratulations to Joe/Francois!

Cross posted to Board Game Geek.