Sunday, August 30, 2009
First off the box is the standard GMT Bookcase size, the exact same size as Flying Colors with very similar colors, too. They will look nice next to each other. No complaints there.
Inside the box there's a pretty standard GMT-style rule book. This is already online at their site, so there were no surprises there. The game does appear to be a little more complex than I was expecting. It's definitely a full-fledged hard-core wargame that takes account of a myriad of factors and definitely not a euro-style wargame.
I had mixed feelings about the map. It's very nice looking, almost worth framing, but it's paper, so I was a little disappointed on that score, having gotten used to the cardstock maps in many GMT games. Being a paper map I do have some concerns about durability. Definitely worth playing under glass. It appears functional but I reserve judgement on that until I play it.
There are two counter sheets and indeed, while it will be perceived as being a block game, the vast majority of playing pieces are cardboard counters. And the majority of those are ships and admirals, with various game markers and chits for sundry purposes. All are attractively done, although not out of the ordinary for GMT.
The key component of the game are the fleet blocks. This was a little puzzling, however. It appears that a late decision was made to go with bigger blocks, because the rule book shows the small blocks we have seen used for infantry units in the Commands & Colors: Ancients series, and the stickers are sized for that size of block -- but the game came with the larger blocks that have been used for cavalry units in C&C:A. This poses a small problem because the larger block really don't quite fit in the hexes on the playing board, which may create some confusion about the location of the block and also make it hard to have multiple blocks in the same spot. I can only surmise that the larger blocks were substituted for ease of handling. The blocks with stickers affixed (I'm lousy at doing that, BTW) are shown at right. From top to bottom are a French "Fog of War" (dummy) block, a British frigate, A Spanish fleet, a British fleet and a French fleet. The numbers and letters on the blocks refer to the fleet's destination -- in other words there is a form of plotted movement, but rather painlessly handled.
The game also contains a couple of fleet and port displays, which is where the composition of the fleets is tracked. The ship counters, with a handful of exceptions, don 't appear on the map.
There are also two different player charts with various table needed for play. In an apparent error the box says there are four charts, but posting on Boardgame Geek indicate everyone is getting just two so I assume the box is in error.
Finally there are five dice and the usual allotment of small plastic baggies that GMT thoughtfully provides.
I'll save any remarks about game play for later once I have had a chance to play it, but overall it looks pretty good out of the box.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Right now I have a couple of things on pre-order that are about to come and I have to admit that the wait is a little annoying. The items in question are GMT new 1805 age of sail block game and two cases of the newest set of Axis & Allies naval miniatures -- Flank Speed.
I saved money on both by pre-ordering, but it's hard to wait for them now, especially because some folks are getting their copies, judging from photos I have seen posted on the Boardgame Geek and ForuMini sites.
Of course that feeling is probably irrational, as the money was saved and once I get the items I won't miss the time I didn't have them -- it's not like I have a game session planned that's being held up.
Once they arrive I will do a quick out-of-the box review.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
That system was based on a simple formula, but sometimes point values are assigned by a more subjective process through playtesting. Probably most common is a mixture that starts with a formula and then tweaks the values based on playtesting experience. Most systems base their values purely on game impact, but sometimes the point value of a unit is boosted (or more rarely discounted) because of the unit's rarity on the battlefield. Advanced Squad Leader is probably the most well-known example of this approach.
The primary alternative to a point-based system is one that attempts to make all units of roughly equal value and carefully balances the game impact of the units accordingly. Some examples of this approach include Ogre, Victory and Navia Dratp. This naturally imposes some limits on the power of the pieces and is pretty intensive from a playtesting standpoint.
The advantages of a point-based system is that it can be wide open, with units of widely varying strength. It can include goblins and dragons, PT boats and Battleships, jeeps and King tiger tanks in the same system.
This can also be a weakness of point-based systems, however, because not all points are created equal. In some games, for example, the combat values or the rules may make a certain kind of unit virtually invulnerable to other kinds. In War at Sea, for example, 48 points of battleship (say the HMS Hood) is not worth as much as 48 points of U-66 class U-Boats. In fact, the battleship is doomed unless it has some supporting destroyers or aircraft because it has no weapons that can hurt the submarines. Point-based systems are vulnerable to mismatches of this sort or "degenerate" strategies that rely on extreme builds. Point-based systems work best when bounded by some kind of restrictions on the types of units built. For example, War at Sea mitigates the potential abuse of an all-sub or all-aircraft fleet by allowing only surface ships to claim objectives. In the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures game and in Axis & Allies (land) Miniatures there are limits on how many pieces can be in an army, so a player can't overwhelm his opponent with a horde of very-low value pieces.
Still, I read occasional complaints on the Axis & Allies message boards and elsewhere about the point values assigned to various units. Commonly posters argue that XX points of units should have an equal game effect. Ideally they should, except that in a game with as complex interrelationships as Axis & Allies not all points will be created equal, especially across unit types. I would agree that battleships of the same point value should have similar game value, and that subs of similar point values likewise. But it's unreasonable to expect that 50 points of subs will necessarily have the same impact as 50 points of battleships without considering the impact of the opponent's builds. Accounting for the differences would probably require an excessive amount of complexity.
Likewise, some complain that some nationalities are too powerful or too weak, based on the point system. With a history-based game such as War at Sea or Axis & Allies Miniatures there are limits on how much the game can even things up. Japanese and Italian tanks sucked and there's only so much that can be done to help them out. American warships had lots of AA guns and Japanese Long Lance torpedoes were an incredible weapon, there's only so much that the game can do to mitigate those facts without doing violence to the history.
Points are useful, but competitive players should be mindful of the limits of a points-based system and consider including other limits as well so that the playing experience isn't spoiled by uncompetitive builds.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
My first stop was the monthly central Connecticut meeting of the Connecticut Game Club in Middlefield.
This was definitely serious geek gamer territory. I got to play a game of Small World. Other games I witnessed in progress included Talisman, Carcassonne, Agricola and World at War. Any of these would have been well beyond the ken of the second group I visited, which was a gamer's Meetup Group called the Cardplayers Club. This was definitely not geek territory, and as matter of fact, we not only had gamers but the hostess had also invited folks from an entirely different Meetup Group, the Over 40 Meetup.
Things got off to a slow start because everyone really wanted to play in one game, but the group didn't have anything suitable. We started a game of poker, but enthusiasm wasn't high and few of the players were familiar with the rules. There really aren't that many game that can handle 8 people well, especially if those people are not really gamers.
Fortunately I remembered I had a copy of Fluxx in the car so I broke that out. The first game was a little rough. It can be a little confusing, but everyone was willing to make another go at it and by the second game people were starting to get the hang of it. We ended up playing it three times, so I think it was a success. Fluxx has its critics -- it is a bit random -- but it is well suited for a large group of casual gamers. It's really almost self-evident in play, turns go fast and the random element means that everybody has a decent shot at winning..
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The main difference between the two maps is that a number of regions in Eurasia, especially in Europe, Russia and China, have been subdivided into smaller regions. Another difference is that the start time for the areas controlled is different. The Anniversary Edition map shows control as of 1941 before the invasion of Russia and Pearl Harbor whereas the 1942 edition starts with the Germans well into Russia and the initial Japanese conquests completed.
Italy is once again included as an integral part of the German empire in the 1942 game, and China likewise loses it's independent identity again and the "Chinese" units are represented with US forces.
On the other hand, vast areas are exactly the same (Africa, neutrals) or only have minor differences (USA, some Pacific areas). The economic values are largely the same and the actual combat rules are the same aside from some clarifications in wording. From a game play perspective one of the biggest differences between the two versions is that the 1942 edition does not include either National Objectives or Research & Development rules.
Overall, the 1942 edition is a stripped down version of the Anniversary Edition and should play a little faster.
The victory conditions in 1942 are also derived from the Anniversary Edition and are based on conquering Victory Cities, although the number of Victory cities has been cut down from 18 to 12. Bitter-ender players can play until all 12 victory cities are captured by one side or the other, but the "Standard" victory condition is to play until 9 are held by one side or the other. In this game the fall of the Soviet Union does not necessarily mean the game is over, as Russia has just 2 victory cities so the Axis will also have to capture at least one of London, Washington, San Francisco or Calcutta. naturally Calcutta is probably the most vulnerable on that list.
This seems to leave open the possibility of playing on even if Russia falls, especially if the USA can capture Tokyo, which may make it risky for the Axis to use a gang-up strategy against Russia.
The models are definitely a step up from any seen before in an A&A game, better than the Anniversary Edition. There are very few cross-nation models now, with every country having its own battleships, infantry, tanks, fighters, bombers and cruisers. In some cases there's little choice. The Russians never actually built their own carrier, so it makes sense to let them use the British model and a few models are shared between a couple of nations (destroyers, artillery, transports and subs) but no more than that. The models themselves are crisply made, although a couple of the sculpts have a few questionable or inaccurate details. (The British battleship turrets appear to have just one gun each and the Yamato's stern looks funky)
This is meant to be the standard A&A version for "years to come" according to designer Larry harris so I wouldn't expect to see any more changes.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I was never a big Axis & Allies player back when it first came out, being much more into hard-core hex-and-counter games at the time. By the time I came around to trying A&A the Revised edition was out, but I kept hearing mixed reviews. Instead I picked up most of the rest of the A&A line: D-Day, Europe, Battle of the Bulge, Guadalcanal and finally the Anniversary edition.
(Oh, and I got really heavily into A&A miniatures, too, but they don't actually bear any resemblance to the Larry Harris A&A family.)
Anyway, I still felt like I was kind of missing out on the core A&A experience, though, so I was glad that when I heard that the 1942 edition was coming out because I felt like I could fill that void.
Interesting tidbit. Pat Flory, owner of The Citadel game store, who was involved in the original Axis & Allies 25+ years ago, told me that Larry Harris' original name for his game was 1942, but Pat told him he couldn't use that because GDW had just published a game by that name. Pat said he suggested the Axis & Allies name, inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons name that was popular at the time. So in a sense, this Axis & Allies: 1942 represents a return to the game's roots.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I also got some of their Axis & Allies tokens for the land game, and liked the quality, although I'm not sure that the nationality specific approach was best. For one thing it kind of forced multiple purchases -- good fort heir bottom line, but not mine -- and for another thing it necessarily leaves out a lot of nations. There are no tokens for Axis or Allied minor powers such as China, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria or Greece. And even if there were, I can't see them as worth buying.
Fortunately the Axis & Allies naval miniatures tokens skipped all this and are generic, usable by any power. They're very substantial and I happen to like the 1940s-style art font, although some people don't. The insubstantial light cardboard counters that come with the starter kit are shown with the Gale Force 9 tokens below.
The set includes a nice selection of tokens and seems to be a better value than the land tokens in every way. I understand Gale Force 9 has plans to produce a vinyl set of maps for use with War at Sea. I hope it does, as this would be a very nice enhancement for the game.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Well, actually, more than one, but only one came out OK. It's a shot of the large room where most of the wargame tournaments are held. It's interesting that the prime space at the con still goes to the hard-core wargame crowd.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Like most tactical wargames Axis & Allies miniatures requires the use of various status tokens to keep track of the game state of units affected by fire and a few other purposes. It's a simple tactical game, so the number and variety of tokens is not large and the starter set comes with some on light cardboard. These are shown above on the left.
These are functional enough, although hardly robust, and many players substitute their own home-made tokens or at least mount the provided tokens on chips or cardboard.
Gale Force 9 has been licensed to produce official A&A brand products and they've come out with a line of tokens for the land game. A set of Soviet-themed markers are shown above right. They are priced about the same as a booster set, which makes it a fairly straightforward calculus. Is a set of 25 markers worth as much to you as another booster?
The GF9 markers are fairly substantial. A stray breath won't blow them around. They are made of hard, clear plastic with a quality and clear illustration. The back of each marker is black felt. Every type of marker is a different shape. aiding in recognition.
There are marker sets available for each of the major powers: besides the Soviets shown, there are sets for the Americans, British, Germans and Japanese.
If you already have a set of home-made markers you are happy with I doubt these would cause you to switch, but if you're like me and was still using the small cardboard counters that came with the game then the new markers are pretty nice.
Besides the objective, destroyed, damaged and disrupted markers that come in the Starter Set, the marker set also includes markers for Defensive Fire and Overwatch, which are mentioned in the rules.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Wargames should provide entertainment and can be educational, but only a select few are so detailed that they can be used as analytical tools. Larry Bond's Admiralty series of naval wargames are among he elite of that group.
This is not too denigrate their playability, because they can be played, but they are simulations first and foremost. Little care is devoted to considerations such as play balance, clever design techniques or splashy graphics. Most procedures are straightforward and literal. Nearly every random element is reduced to some percentile dice chance of occurring and the presentation of information is functional, not pretty.
What it lacks in attractiveness, however, a Bond game more than makes up for in comprehensiveness. While pricey, with a MSRP of $125, Atlantic Navies is better compared to one of those naval data tomes you find in big city library than a typical game. The game's box art claim that it contains "the most complete and accurate information on the World War II navies of Germany, Great Britain and France to be found anywhere." I see no reason to doubt this.
One advantage of Bond's prosaic approach is that his ship data is usable with any other set of rules so long as those rules provide conversion factors.
The box contains the latest, 4th edition of the Command at Sea and four counter sheets making it completely playable even if it's your initial purchase int he game system. The counter sheets contain enough ships to depict nearly the entire OB of the French, Commonwealth and German navies in game form. In addition there's the US Navy fleet that invaded Casablanca and the Italian fleet that fought at Sparviento, as well as a couple of Norwegian gunboats, so there are ship counters provided to play nearly every scenario provided, with the odd oversight of a handful of Siamese naval vessels. Besides the large ship counters there are aircraft counters provided for the French and British, with a few American and Germans planes as well. These are necessarily not a comprehensive selection but seemed designed to allow enough aircraft to play most of the provided scenarios.
The British have appeared several times before in the series (this is Vol. VII). so the 110-page "Home Fleet" book is mostly a chance to consolidate all the British data in one place and update it with the latest research. Except for a one-page sidebar summary of the Royal Navy in World War II, the whole book is made up of data annexes.
The second book in the set is called "Gruppe Nord" and it's an excellent 124-page single reference for the German Navy in World War II. It includes, of course, the expected data annexes, but the small German Navy isn't even close to filling the book so there's all sorts of other good stuff in there. There are four informative sidebars, but the majority of the book is made up of scenarios. The scenarios include all the well-know battles, such as the River Plate, the Bismarck saga, the Norwegian campaign and the Battle of North Cape. But it also includes a number of lesser-know battles including raiders vs. armed merchant cruisers and a night action of light forces.
The final book, La Guerre Navale, covers the ill-starred French Navy. While large and capable, the French Navy could do little to stave off national defeat in the mostly land war against Germany and the fleet's main use was to win better surrender terms than France's utter defeat would have otherwise warranted. The Germans had an incentive to keep the French navy out of British hands, which unduly harsh peace terms might have provoked.
So the French Navy spent most of the war on the sidelines. Indeed, its three biggest naval battles involved fighting against its former Allies and its own countrymen.
There was the tragic Operation Catapult, where the British fleet attacked the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir with heavy loss of French life and the equally tragic battle of Dakar where the Vichy French fought off a landing by Free French troops and their British support. Somewhat less tragic, but still unfortunate was the Vichy resistance at Casablanca against he US Navy, which also resulted in significant casualties to both sides. All three are scenarios here.
Happier scenarios consider several what-if options involving the French fighting on in the Allied service and making an appearance at North Cape or Sparviento instead of the British as well as several other what-ifs. One truly obscure scenario depicts the French navy's most unambiguous victory of World War II as a small French squadron wiped out the Siamese navy at Koh-Chang.
Still, coming up with plausible scenarios for the French navy in World War II isn't easy and the balance of the book is made of no less than 8 sidebars about various aspects of the French navy's war, including it's sad end at Toulon with most of the fleet scuttled.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Tuesday I had a really severe headache, but I thought (hoped) it was something that would soon pass and I went ahead with my arrangements for going down to the WBC.
I was going to drive down late Wednesday to stay at a nice lodge in Maryland about an hour away from Lancaster. I planned to go in early Thursday and Friday and put in full days of gaming. I wasn't planning to be too tournament-heavy this year. Instead I hoped I'd get a lot of open gaming in. I was planning to take part in the Up Front! tournament Thursday and the Memoir '44 tournament Friday, although I wasn't expecting to go too far in either.
Well, things didn't get better Wednesday at all. It was very painful, although not steady. It would wax and wane, giving me hope that it would wane into "all better" eventually.
I started driving Wednesday night and didn't get too far when I decided this just wasn't a good idea and turned around. I was in too much pain to face five hours on the road at night and tired.
Better to see what the morning brought.
Well, the morning brought more of the same, but I really, really wanted to go. So in the bright light of day the pain didn't seem so bad and I was relatively fresh, having managed to get some sleep eventually. Truth be told, the drive wasn't all that bad, but a lot of the credit for that went to Bayer.
So I arrived far too late for Up Front! and actually, there aren't a lot of tournaments that start in the afternoon, so I took one of the few available and played in one of the opening heats of Acquire. I played credibly, considering it was only my second or third game of Acquire and I was still in pain. I have in third out of four, and the other three were more experienced. I could tell that it took all my mental effort to keep up with the game mechanics, though, and I had no capacity left for any real strategy.
Well, it didn't seem like playing any longer would be productive so I headed down to the lodge in Maryland. Just before I got there I saw a walk-in clinic. It was closed due to the hour, but I decided that if the morning didn't bring a major improvement then I would forgo the Memoir '44 tournament as well and see what the doctor had to say.
Well, the lodge was really nice, but I wasn't disposed to enjoy it much, although I would like to go back sometime when i am feeling better.
Another bad night, morning finally came. I had a light breakfast at the lodge (It was a B&B) and got to the walk-in clinic when it opened at 10. I was the fourth person to sign in and the doctor worked very fast. I was impressed and grateful.
Turns out he had special expertise in sinusitis, which by this time I was pretty sure I had. I had pain in all the right places (eyes, cheek, upper teeth) facial swelling and nasal drip. Did I mention I was going to go into details?
Well, to make a long story shirt, he gave me a prescription nasal spray and an antibiotic and most importantly, let me know I wasn't going to feel better immediately.
So I went back up to Lancaster because I wanted to at least check out the vendor hall before I left, but I couldn't even say that was all that enjoyable. I picked up a couple of small things from GMT as they were offering a nice convention discount and I got Gallic Wars (a block game) from Worthington Games. I guess they decided that the German-style box was too expensive to continue and they returned to regular American style game box.
I was disappointed because in past years there's been a vendor there who sold some cool wargamer t-shirts but that store wasn't there this year. Overall the vendor area didn't seem very exciting to me, but that probably says more about the state I was in then the state of the hobby.
By the way, attendance seemed fine. I think Greenwood said that pre-regs were up and I wouldn't be surprised if the WBC set a record this year. They expanded the open gaming into a big theater-like room I've never seen used before.
When I tried to spend a little time getting familiar with the rules to Gallic Wars, though, I could tell my head was still far, far away from where it would need to be to play any kind of game. So I decided it was time to cut my losses and head home. It was the middle of the afternoon, the nasal spray was helping and I had a window of opportunity to get back home before nightfall. So I went.
As it turns out, traffic kept me from making it home before dark, but the last gleaming of twilight were on the horizon as I drove up the hill to home, so I was close.
So I got one game of Acquire in, bought one new wargame and a couple of accessories. So I can't say it was a complete waste of time, but it was pretty damn close to one.
I can't say I'm disappointed yet, but maybe when I feel batter I will be.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Sunday, August 2, 2009
I got a chance to play the hot new game Dominion today in a four-sided contest at The Citadel in beautiful Groton, Conn.
In consideration that I was the only one who hadn't played before, the other three agreed to play the basic, starter game. It took a little over an hour to play through and was pretty enjoyable, although I came in dead last in the points. I felt that P put in a credible performance, though, as the third place player was only ahead of me by four points.
Previous experience with deck constriction games such as Magic: The Gathering was very helpful. Unlike M:TG, a player's deck is constructed during the game buying from a common pool of cards (not hidden, in other words, you know what you are buying.) This avoids a lot of the drawbacks of collectible games (wealth effect, randomization) while still providing the strategy of constructibility.
Like most euros, the theme is presented attractively, but it isn't very deep. It's no simulation.
I'm not sure I'd be buying this, as my usual gaming partners aren't into this sort of game, but I can see being very willing to play it anytime. I think I'll try to get in another game or two at WBC is I can.