Saturday, November 14, 2009

EllisCon XXI report with a Mark Perry Memorial Caesar's Gallic war session

Gamers at Ellis Con XXI playing in Vic Gregoire's Omaha Beachhead game

Ellis Con is a small regional game convention that's been running for more than 20 years at Harvard H. Ellis Technical School in Danielson, Conn., sponsored by the H.H. Ellis Tech Simulation Club. Despite the fact that I've lived less than 30 miles away for the last five years, this Saturday was the first time I haven't had a schedule conflict, so I finally got to go.

It looked to me like around a hundred or so people took part over the course of the day, which seems like a good turnout. The games were an eclectic mix of genres, types and eras. Among the games I saw being played were Magic: The Gathering, Fire & Fury American Civil War miniatures, Drive of Metz, Crokinole, Axis & Allies, Samurai Swords, Axis & Allies: War at Sea and more.

Perhaps the most impressive game visually was Vic Gregoire's fantastic Omaha Beachhead game, shown above and in a detail below:

Among the other notable features was a pretty extensive game auction (several dozen items) and vendors The Time Machine of Manchester, Silver Eagle Wargame Supplies and Ice Imports.

I kibitzed a bit on games of Drive on Metz and A&A: War at Sea but spent a good chunk of the afternoon playing the new Worthington Games' wargame Caesar's Gallic War with Mark Kalina. Mark mentioned that he and our late mutual friend Mark Perry used to play a game every year at Ellis Con, so we agreed to call this game a Mark Perry Memorial Match.

The game is a pretty wild and woolly one, which is no surprise if you no anything at all about the Caesar''s conquest of Gaul. The game is a strategic level block game. Each Roman block represents a single legion, while the various Gallic and German tribes each have from 1 to 3 blocks. The overall game system is similar to Columbia Games' Hammer of the Scots, especially because the Gallic tribes can switch sides.

Troop quality is represented by letter grades, with the A troops fighting before B troops, who, in turn fight before C troops. Each block rolls as many attack dice as its strength in steps, with most blocks hitting on a die roll of 1 or 2, although a couple of elite units like Caesar's Tenth Legion hit on a 1-3. Similar to Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex, each player has a hand of cards. Some cards are random events, most have the name of a tribe and all have a number. The cards can be used to trigger the named random event, automatically recruit the named tribe, conduct a "political action," generate supply or move a number of groups according to the number on the card (which ranges from 1 to 3).

It was a very entertaining game, and although I ended up losing, I would definitely play it again -- hopefully better.

I started off well as the Roman juggernaut swept through central Gaul. Mark later said that he wasn't sure what he'd be able to do to stop me, as it seemed like the Romans were unstoppable. Of course, it only seemed that way, and eventually he won some battles, inflicted some losses (including eliminating one legion for 3 victory points) and the Roman supply ran short.

So around the fourth turn I spent a turn regrouping instead of campaigning. I was able to rebuild the strength of all my remaining legions to a full 4 steps, restock the supply larders to 15 points and had a lucky roll to get the second pair of reinforcement legions at the earliest opportunity. I lost a little ground politically as my 9 controlled tribes fell to 7 and the German-allied tribes grew to about 9, but I was confident I'd be able to repeat my earlier success.

However, when Caesar drew cards for the new year, it turned out to be a very weak hand that had all "1s," severely limiting his options. So I set out with a more limited goal of placing Caesar in the center of Gaul with the intention of wintering there with most of the army and hopefully drawing a more powerful offensive hand the next turn. Mark's Germans had other plans. He played the Massive Revolt Card, which brings in Vercingetorix, flips the allegiance of four tribes and provides the ability to activate three groups! It was a bad turn for the Romans. The Germans ended up in control of 16 tribes, while the Romans were down to 5.

And I never really recovered from that setback. I made some minor progress over the remaining few turns, but the hole was too deep to crawl out of and the final score was 17 VPs for Mark's Germans (dead legion 3 VPs, 14 Vps for tribes under control) and 7 VPs for my Romans, (all for controlled tribes). Definitely a setback for my Caesar complex.

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