Sunday, January 31, 2010

Game Expedition report -- A Bad Day for the British

Well, the inimitable Mark K. and I got in a full day of gaming, and as Mark's suggested Blog Post title hints, it wasn't a good day for the British.

We started out with a match of Hold the Line, playing the Montmorency Falls scenario. This battle was fought on July 31, 1759. It was Wolfe's first attempt to attack the French army near Quebec and the historical result was a bloody repulse for the British.

The set up is shown below:

The French army is ensconced in a strong position atop hills, behind a stream and in some redoubts. The British have to either fight their way across the stream or ashore from boats.

Our first game saw Mark's British elites gamely battle their way through the French right flank despite heavy losses. My French troops concentrated on reducing the Elites down to 1 Mp instead of trying to finish them off, on the theory that it was more important to reduce their chances of passing morale checks for close assaults. This generally succeeded, but it meant that the British firepower was not reduced and it got really close at the end, with the British getting 5 of the 6 VPs needed to win (1 VP marker, 2 militia, 2 regulars) . I was worried that a lucky shot might pick off a leader and give the Brits the win, so I pulled the leaders out of range. Hindering the British effort considerably were casualties among their leaders as both Wolfe and Townshend fell.

The flip side game was much less competitive, as every effort my British made to advance was met with a hail of effective fair. As a matter of fact, my British ended up taking 23 hits from the French before finally inflicting one. Needless to say, I wasn't able to dig my way out of that hole and the British went down to a resounding defeat, scoring no VPs at all while losing 7 units.

Our main event was our mutual first game of Twilight Struggle. I'm not sure how to frame the narrative for that one, as I'm still digesting the game. It's very interesting, however, and I expect to play it again. Mark did win our first game as the Soviets in the Mid-war period (and so the British were on the losing side again).

Dessert was a match of Columbia's War of 1812. I took the first game as the United States, where the war went well in the West while both sides danced around a bit on the New York front. Losses were relatively low and the game ended up being decide by a vary large battle in New York, with the US winning by 11 points. The second game was much bloodier and wild all around, which tended to help Mark's Americans, although 1812 went well for the British, who were able to capture Albany. They were, however, unable to hold it and Mark's Americans were able to battle back from the 1812 deficit. My chances for a coming back to force a draw suffered blow when my big 1814 reinforcement army brought just one 4-factor British regular and no less than 4 militia!. Meanwhile the Americans had taken Detroit and swept through the West. An American army fought its way from Albany to Quebec. The British were able to destroy it, but chasing them down cost valuable time and the game ended up with Mark's American having exactly 10 more victory points and the win.

The final result was three wins for Mark, two for me and a fine afternoon and evening of strategy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Gaming Expedition

I'm about to head up to the wilds of the Bay State's Merrimack Valley for a game session with the indefatigable Mark K. tomorrow in a long-awaited match.

Plans are for something old -- a game (or perhaps a match) of Hold the Line. For something new -- Twilight Struggle, which neither of us have played. And if time allows something both old and new, Columbia's War of 1812, which I have played and Mark has not, although we're playing with the recently revised rules that I haven't had a chance to play with yet. I don't think the new rules change the overall strategic considerations much, but I could be wrong.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is the Collectible Game era coming to a close?

I noticed this interesting discussion over at ForuMini, the Website devoted to Axis & Allies miniatures.

The short version is that the original poster wondered if the "collectible" (i.e. random purchase) model was dying out, aside from a couple of well-established brands such as Magic: The Gathering.

And my short answer is that I think so, and hope so. The only collectibles I'm keeping up with are the Axis & Allies land and naval miniatures lines, which are really kind of mild as far as collectible games go. They avoid many of the worst excesses of other collectible games. They're not too hard to collect. There are no super rare chase figures or convention exclusives. They don't pump out a new expansion every quarter, so you can keep up with them for a reasonable price. Their grounding in history seems to keep power creep at bay.

There's a relaunch of Heroclix under way, but it's off to a relatively slow pace. There's Monsterpocolapse and Arcane Legions trying to make a go of it, but they're going a semi-collectible route that guarantees certain minimum results. D&D miniatures is doing the same.

Meanwhile, games such as Heroscape and AT-43 show that there's another strategy can can work just as well -- expandable games. I think if the A&A line were launched today it might even have followed that pattern instead. It's already copying it with the new Starter sets for both the land and naval games, which expose the entire contents of the package to prospective purchasers, in contrast to the first edition Starters which had random packaging.

I wouldn't be surprised if both games evolved in that direction down the road, just as DDM did.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In praise of dice

Dice from Gale Force 9

I'll admit it. I like throwing dice. Yeah, I know there are those who disdain a "bucket of dice" in a game, especially in wargames. They feel that it somehow diminishes the role of skill or strategy to roll a lot of dice. I think that's an incorrect perception, but on a more fundamental level I don't really care.

I like the feel of a fistful of dice. I like the noise of a pile of dice bounding, bouncing and bashing each other across the table top or inside the top of a game box.

Some of my favorite recent games involve tossing a substantial number of dice. Games like Heroscape, Borg's Commands & Colors games, various block games and Axis & Allies in both its traditional and miniatures forms. Special dice are cool, but even regular D6 will do.

So bring on the buckets!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What the UPS guy left on the porch recently

I haven't bought too many entirely new games recently, opting instead to beef up existing parts of my collection.

Among the few games I picked up that represented brand new game systems (to me) was a copy of the deluxe edition of Twilight Struggle, which is on tap for play this weekend and Jena 20, which came with C3i magazine. I'm not sure when I'll get to that one, although it does look interesting. On the euro front I got a copy of Pandemic, which has already hit the table with the family.

Some of my recent complete game acquisitions represent game systems I already own. I picked up the Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 game, part of the A&A line. The widow of my good friend Mark Perry sent me his pre-ordered copy of Battle Above the Clouds because she wanted it to go to a good home.

But most of the UPS guy's trips have brought good stuff that add to existing games such as Wave 10 of the Heroscape expansions; a Gale Force 9 map for Axis & Allies War at Sea; the Small World expansions; the Wings of War maps, more Lost Worlds books and the latest expansions for Memoir '44 and Commands & C0lors: Ancients.

This continues a trend of me preferring to spend less time on new stuff, largely because I simply don't have time or opponents for it. When I do buy something new to me, it's generally not really a new game. Jena 20, Pandemic, and Twilight Struggle are all well-established hits. Am I turning into an old fogey?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Session Report for Fighting Sail Lawrence vs Broke

Earlier I had looked at the famous engagement between the frigates Chesapeake vs. Shannon using For Honor And Glory rules. I noted that those very simple naval rules had difficulty depicting the historical events from the famous duel.

This time I decided to try re-creating the famous fight using the slightly more detailed Fighting Sail rules published in Strategy & Tactics magazine No. 85 in April 1981. As before, my primary source for the historical details was Theodore Roosevelt's seminal work on the topic, The Naval War of 1812.

Like many wargames from that era the rules, while not exactly complex, were kind of convoluted and counter intuitive in their operation. That said, the rules had some innovative aspects that later served as an inspiration for other designs such as Flying Colors.

The main focus of these rules was the maneuvering between the ships and the interaction between firepower and the "rate" of the ships to create a unified set of rules that could handle everything from First-rate ships with more than a hundred guns to small gunboats with one or two small guns.

Roosevelt's account indicates that two ships were very evenly matched in material strength, with the main difference being in the quality of the respective crews. And even in this regard, it wasn't that the American crew was bad, because Roosevelt believes the evidence suggests that the Chesapeake under the skilled leadership of James Lawrence would probably have beaten the typical British frigate of the time -- a Java or a Macedonian. But the Shannon was not your typical British frigate of the time -- or of any other time for that matter. Its skipper, Captain Philip Bowes Vere Broke was perhaps one of the finest frigate captains ever to sail. By the time of the battle he had been in command of the Shannon for seven years and most of his crew had been with him throughout this time. Broke had the moral courage to ignore Admiralty regulations that prohibited "wasting" ammunition on target practice and the foresight to insist on exercising his crews constantly in gunnery and other skills. The Shannon was a crack ship in very sense of the word.

The two ships have nearly identical stats in game terms. Both are 5th rate ships, which was their historical rate. Both rate Sailing Values of "A," which is the best available in the game. Both have very similar Fire Values of 54 for the Chesapeake and 55 for the Shannon. This basically means that the Shannon is one "pip" better under the two-die combat result system used in the game. Instead of totaling the dice roll the die rolls represent two digits. So a roll of a '2' and a '6' isn't a result of '8' but is a '26.' So physically the two ships are nearly identical , as it should be.

The Shannon Crew Value, however, is a "9," which is the highest that appears in the game system -- matching such legendary ships as the USS Constitution under Hull and the HMS Lydia under Hornblower! Still, the USS Chesapeake isn't a bad ship, as its Crew Value of "8" matches the British standard seen in most other battles. It's a mild edge, however, and not enough of one to make a match between the two ships a forgone conclusion.

The scenario setup given in the game, shown below, is at odds with Roosevelt's account, as Roosevelt shows the Chesapeake on the starboard side of the Shannon by the time they got into cannon shot range.

So our initial maneuvering will be an attempt to account for this. Both captains select a Command Chit in secret from among the following choices: Ahead, Starboard, Port, Wear or Tack. Broke's Shannon will order an Ahead 6, which will move the Shannon directly ahead three squares from 0811 heading East to 1111 East. The movement system used in Fighting Sail accounts for the geometric effect of squares instead of the more usual wargame hexagons by counting each square as 2 points of distance orthogonally and as 3 points of distance diagonally. Each turn the players roll for who has the "weather gauge" when the ships have the same movement allowance, otherwise the player controlling the faster ship decides who will move. For simplicity in recounting the events each ship's move will be dealt with in turn, although in actuality there may have been some alternating moves on occasion. In this case it made no difference. Lawrence, aiming to close the distance, orders Starboard 6. This moves him from 0807SE to 0908, costing 3 distance points, where he turns 45 degrees to South and moves one more square to 0909. The last movement point is wasted, as it costs at least 2 to enter another square.

On Turn 2, Broke, fearing a stern rake, orders Starboard 6 himself and winning the weather gauge, moves to 112, turns SE and then moves to 1312 and turns South. A ship ordered to make a turn must make at least one turn in the indicated direction, although it can make more than one if it has sufficient movement available. Endeavoring to get closer, Lawrence meanwhile order Port 6, moving to 0910, turning back to SE and moving to 1011.

Roosevelt indicates that Broke was very concerned that Lawrence would rake his ship, but that Lawrence either missed seeing his chance (unlikely, given his skill) or passed on it (perhaps out of misplaced gallantry or out of arrogance). In game terms, however, it's unnecessary to ascribe either incompetence or arrogance to Lawrence, as the hidden selection of the Command Chits unavoidably makes close-in maneuvering a dangerous guessing game. While the Chesapeake could have raked Shannon, it's also true that a well-timed guess by Broke might have turned the tables on Lawrence and ended up with him being the one raked. Lawrence elects to avoid that possibility on Turn 3 by ordering Starboard 6 again and moving SE to 1112 and 1213 and then turning south. Broke for his part, orders Ahead 6, moving directly South from 1312 through 1313 and 1314 to 1315. This series brings us to roughly the position depicted on Roosevelt's schematic diagram of the fight.

Both captains elect to sail straight ahead on Turn 4 (Ahead 6 for the Chesapeake and Ahead 2 for the Shannon) and trust to their gunners for victory. Winning the Weather Gauge roll, Lawrence moves into 1214, then 1215 and fires and then into 1216. (in the actual event the first shot came from the Shannon, but in game terms the broadsides were essentially simultaneous.).

The base Fire Value of the Chesapeake is 54. Running through the potential modifiers, the first thing we do is compare the rates of the two ships and subtract the rate of the firing ship from the target and multiply that by 10. This is an important modifier in battles involving ships of disparate sizes but in this case both ships are Fifth rate ships, so the difference is Zero. The second step is to take the range in range points (2) and divide that by 4 (equaling .5) and drop any fractions (in this case it ends up a 0). This would normally be an important factor as well, but in this particular fight all the shooting was done at point blank range. The third step is to divide the number of hull hits on the firing ship by 2 and multiply that number by 10 and subtract the result from the firing ship's Fire Value. As no damage has been inflicted yet, this is also a Zero, but later on this will become an important factor. The fourth step is Rigging Fire. If the range is 6 range points or less (it is) then subtract 10 from the firing ship's fire value. Roosevelt notes that the Chesapeake fired a lot of grape shot and even bar shot, so it's safe to assume that the American ship was trying to do rigging damage -- at least initially. So we will assume that the Chesapeake's firing was at the Rigging and assess the penalty, bringing the ship's Fire Value down to a 44. The fifth step and sixth step assess penalties and bonuses, respectively for tacking and rakes, but neither applies in this situation or later, so the modifiers are Zero. Finally, there is a +20 bonus to the Chesapeake's fire value because this is the ship's First Broadside of the game, making the final Fire Value a 64. We know that the Shannon was hit, but not badly, so we will assume an average die roll of a 25 (a 2 and a 5) for One Rigging Hit on the Shannon.

This lengthy description of the combat system illustrates how convoluted it is, although perhaps making it sound more complicated than it is in practice. Still, in the interests of space I won;t run through it again. In most cases the modifiers didn't apply, so I will only point out the times they did.

On Shannon's turn, the ship moves one space to 1316 and fires. The only applicable modifier is the First Broadside, giving the Shannon a Fire Value of 75, so it can't miss. The Shannon's fire was, however, very effective and we will assume a die roll of 22. This is more than 40 less than the Fire Value and so Two Hull hits are assigned to the Chesapeake. This reduces the Chesapeake's Crew Value to 6. The 22 is also doubles, so a Critical Hit is inflicted. The fire was at the Hull, so this is a "Wheel Shot Away" critical hit which forces a "Drift" die roll. A subsequent roll of a 5 turns the bow of the Chesapeake 45 degrees to Starboard (right). While the Chesapeake's wheel wasn't actually shot away, the Shannon's fire did cause damage that had a similar effect and so the game allows us to recreate the historical unplanned starboard turn made by the Chesapeake.

For Turn 5 the Chesapeake orders Ahead 3 moving through 1216 and 1117 facing SW while the Shannon orders Starboard 6 through 1317 SW and 1218 W. Each ship fires as it gets adjacent to its enemy. The Chesapeake is damaged with two hull hits and no longer has a First Broadside, so her final Fire Value is a 44. We know that the Chesapeake's fire did do some significant damage to the Shannon, so we will assume a roll of a 41 that inflicts a Hull Hit, reducing the Shannon's Crew Value to 8. Note that it's no longer possible for the Chesapeake to score 2 hits with one broadside because no possible roll is more than 40 less than it's Fire Value. The Shannon's Fire Value remains at 55 and we will assume a very average roll of 34 which inflicts another Hull hit on the Chesapeake, reducing its Crew Value to 5.

On Turn 6 The Shannon Orders Port 6 to stay in position for more pounding, moving to 1118 where it fires then to 1018. Another average roll against its Fire Value of 55 inflicts another Hull Hit on the Chesapeake, reducing the Crew Value to 4. The Chesapeake has an order of Ahead 3, which would place it in the Shannon's square (1018) and foul the ships. Under the rules the ship could make an emergency turn to avoid fouling, but in the historical event the two ships did foul each other, although the British ship did try to avoid it. The Shannon was winning at this point and so ha little reason to risk the uncertainty of boarding, so in game terms we can assume that Lawrence decides to make one last throw at winning and moves into 1018 to foul. The Shannon has already fired for the turn, and so it doesn't fire in the Melee Stage. The Chesapeake at this point has taken 4 hull hits and so loses 20 off its Fire Value, making it a 34. The Shannon did have 83 men out of her crew of 330 become casualties, including 30 killed, so it's not unfair to grant the Chesapeake a die roll of 13, inflicting another Hull hit on Shannon and cutting her Crew Value down to 7.

In Fighting Sail the outcome of boarding actions is handled simply. Each Ship subtracts from its Crew Value the number of Hull Hits it has suffered and the Rate of the ship and adds in the value of a die roll. If the higher total exceeds the lower total by 150% then the higher total wins. In this case the Chesapeake's Crew Value of 8 is reduced by 4 for Hull Hits and by 5 for being a Fifth Rate for a total die roll modifier of -1. The Shannon's Crew Value of 9 is reduced by 2 for Hull Hits and 5 for being a Fifth Rate to a +2. Both sides fought the brief deck action with gallantry, so if we assume better than average rolls of 5 each, then the Chesapeake compares a final total of 4 to the Shannon's 7, which is more than 150% greater and the Chesapeake is taken.

The overall conclusion is that Fighting Sail does a pretty good job at reflecting the actual battle, while suggesting that it could have turned out differently. The Shannon has an edge, but by no means an insurmountable one. As a matter of fact, one effective rake by the Chesapeake could erase most of the British ship's advantage. If Lawrence did indeed voluntarily pass on his chance to rake the Shannon then Fighting Sail suggest that was a very poor choice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Good, the Bad, the the Munchkin -- Door deck

Continuing my ruminations on The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin.

In Munchkin-series games treasure cards are important, but it's Door cards that you interact with very turn. The very first thing a character does is open a door and, if no monster is present and none brought out of the hand to fight, a second door card is drawn while "looting the room."

Monsters -- 37 cards with nominal levels ranging from 1 to 20 broken down as follows: Five each Level 1 & 2; Four each Level 4,6 & 8; three each Level 10, 12, 14 & 16; Two Level 18 and one Level 20. I say "nominal" because 50 of them have bonuses and/or penalties depending upon the class, gender or other characteristics of the player character fighting them.
Discussion – Calling them “monsters” seems a wee bit odd for a Old West setting, but is consistent with the terminology used elsewhere in the Munchkin series. The names are mildly amusing, although quite a few of them rely on bad puns for their amusement value. Fully seven of the monsters are "undead" which has no effect in this game but may be important in a blended game.

Class -- 16 cards. Four each of Cowboy, Dude. Indian and Outlaw. Every Munchkin game includes class cards, if for no other reason than the opportunity to use the line "Everyone starts as a Level 1 character with no loyalty and no class. (heh heh)." Each class provides a couple of bonuses. A player can belong to only one class unless having a card that allows otherwise such as Super Munchkin.
Discussion -- The class attribute plays a larger role in this game than the typical Munchkin game because there are no secondary kinds of characteristics such as Loyalty, Style or Races. All four classes have useful advantages, although I think the Cowboy advantage of being able to win by reaching Level 9 might catch players used to the other games in the series by surprise if they’re not watching .

Trap! -- 12 cards. Eight of them may cause you to lose cards from your hand or on the table, one costs a level and one changes your sex. One has a similar combat penalty to changing your sex, while the last one allows players to gang up on you to play traps.
Discussion -- If encountered while opening doors, these can be annoying, but usually aren't too debilitating. With 12 in the deck they'll come up pretty often and there’s very little anti-trap capability in the game. But if collected while looting the room these may be useful to stop an opponent’s bid for victory.

Monster enhancers -- 6 cards. Two are +10 to the monster's level, three are +5 and one is a -5 penalty.
Discussion --There are just a half dozen of these, so their rarity makes them valuable. They are one of the few ways to foil a strong opponent’s bid for victory

Steed -- 6 cards. Previously seen in Munchkin’s The Need For Steed expansion these provide level bonuses and often some other benefit. You need one to use the Civil War Cannon, for example. A character can usually have one steed.
Discussion – Always useful, with six in the deck there’s a good chance to get one.

Munchkins --4 cards. While not a formal category under the rules, these all operate in much the same way, allowing the player to "break" the rules by allowing additional classes (Super Munchkin), items (Cheat) or class restrictions (Cheating Varmint).
Discussion -- One of the core concepts underlying the design of the series, Munchkin-style cards are pretty rare in this set.

Sidekick --4 cards. The “hireling” class in this game, also seen in Super Munchkin. Three provide a modest level bonus and another benefit while the Greenhorn can help you win a combat by sacrifiing himself.
Discussion – Useful, but playing a smaller role in this game than many others in the series.

Miscellaneous -- 9 cards. These provide a hodge-podge of benefits. All are one-use only.
Discussion -- Using these cards is situational, but most provide an unsubtle benefit like Medicine Show which allows you to cancel a card. Most of the cards are played during combat and help add a needed degree of uncertainty. Perhaps the most useful one is Mexican Standoff, which makes the sides even no matter what cards had been played before. This is a way to trump a bid for victory.

Wandering Monster -- 4 cards. These allow a player to add another monster to a combat.
Discussion -- Most useful when trying to stop another player's bid for victory, it's also useful for jacking up the potential treasure haul by adding a second weak monster to a monster you can easily defeat. With four of these available adding a monster is a common tactic for affecting combats.


The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin is a mediocre entry in the Munchkin line. Like several of the later games in the series it shows some strain for trying to apply the Dungeon Crawl to an ill-fitting genre.

The game is a bit more dramatic and Munchkinly than .its expansionless stablemate Munchkin Impossible, with more scope for shaking things up with Wandering Monsters and other cards that can affect combat. In Munchkin Impossible players have relatively few options to stop a leader, leading to a less-than-Munchkinly end game. In The Good, The Bad, and The Munchkin it’s a lot harder to ensure that your winning bid will work – and that’s how it ought to be.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin -- Treasure Deck

In another one of my running projects on questions that suit my fancy, I'm going to look at the cards of various Munchkin series games and how they affect play of that particular edition.

Next up is The Good, the Bad and the Munchkin, the Old West-themed game. Like Munchkin Impossible, this set has no expansions as of yet, and considering that the attention of Steve Jackson Games has turned to the Munchkin Quest board game, there may never be an expansion to this one.

Like some of the later games in the Munchkin series, the whole dungeon-prowling aspect underlying the game definitely seems strained in the Old West setting.

This will be a two-part post. First I'll look at the Treasure Deck. This won't be a card-by-card look but an overview of the cards by frequency and category.

Items (permanent) -- 38 items, ranging from +1 to +6 in level bonuses, plus four cards that are provide enhancements to other cards ( +1 to +3) and one Saddle Bags card which provides no level bonus but allows a player to have one more card in hand. A full dozen of the items have restrictions on who can use them or who are prohibited from using them (i.e. female, Indian, Outlaw, etc.)

Discussion -- By Munchkin standards the items are of average power. The majority are +2 or +3. Few form combos with other cars, but there’s one interesting combo involving the Sheriff’s badge (+3) which allows the Sheriff to require anyone wearing a Deputy’s Badge (of which there are two, each a +1), to help in combat. The deputy’s in turn, can ask the Sheriff for help in combat. He doesn’t have to do so, but if he doesn’t, he gives the Deputy a card. The +6 item, Civil War Cannon, requires a steed to be used. Overall, the items in combination can allow a character to boost his/her effective level a considerable amount. The dream combo would be “My grandpappy’s steam-powered civil war cannon with unlimited ammo” which provides a +13 bonus and still leaves a hand free.

Items (one-use) – Just 7 items, with a variety of benefits. The ones that give combat bonuses are generally +2 to +4.
Discussion -- There aren't a lot of these in the deck, but they provide just enough of an edge to make a difference in a close combat. It may be just enough to block another player going for the win. Thye oddest item in this bunch is the Cow Chip, which provides just a +2 bonus, but the other players get to dice for who gets the cow chip, with the winner adding it to his hand – and perhaps getting to use it in the same combat! A tie die roll destroys the cow chip, but there’s potentially an unlimited number of times the cow chip could affect a combat, which could make for a pretty wild situation when someone is going for the win. This could be the funniest card in the game with the right group.

Level-ups -- 10 cards. Six are straight Go Up a Level. One can only be played after the death of a monster to Go Up a Level. Another can’t be played by an Indian, but any other Gets a New Indian Name which can lead to some amusing banter. The last two potentially award two levels, but only if certain conditions are met (Killing a Level 10+ monster or after someone has discarded a steed), otherwise it’s just 1 level.
Discussion -- These are always useful, but 10 seems like an awful lot of arbitrary levels for the base game.

Hirelings -- 0 cards. In this game Sidekicks are in the Door deck.
Discussion – This class of card bounces between the Door and Treasure decks, depending on the game.

Loaded Die -- 1 card. Allows you to change one die roll.
Discussion -- Another card with no real downside, except that there’s just one in this deck.

Miscellaneous -- 9 cards. A couple of Wishing Rings that cancel traps and 7 other cards with a variety of effects, mostly beneficial
Discussion – These provide some more of Old West flavor to the deck, with titles such as Code of the West, Lost Spanish Treasure and Peace Pipe. Some, such as Quick-Draw (extra hand), are similar to cards seen in other Munchkin games, others, such as Fool’s Gold (which forces all treasures drawn with it to be discarded) are unique.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Interesting imminent game release from Worthington Games

Worthington Games has a list of upcoming games available for pre-release sale prices on their Website, among them are this interesting one based on their popular Hold the Line system.

I've enjoyed that game systema lot and it makes an interesting contrast to the Commands & Colors: Napoleonics game due out soon from GMT.

The Worthington Games title will use plastic miniatures, shown above, for the battles in the Waterloo campaign. They are generic (as far as uniforms go) and will differ among the nationalities based on color (Red for Anglo-Allied, grey for Prussian and Blue for French), being similar to the approach used in Battle Cry and Memoir '44. The GMT game will presumably use wooden blocks, just as Commands & Colors: Ancients did, which will probably use stickers with the proper historical uniforms as well as block color to show the armies.

The Worthington series uses Command Action Points to limit how many units can be ordered, but players have wide lattitude on which units to order. In the C&C system cards not only limit how many units can get orders, but which ones. Both are good systems.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Koh-what? A World War II naval battle you probably never heard of.

The Dhonburi in action "against French imperialism"
World War II was a frustrating experience for the French Navy. Equipped with well-designed, modern and efficient ships; manned by well-trained and professional crews and well-prepared for the tasks it would been given, the army's defeat and national capitulation neutralized the fleet for most of the war. The navy's largest battles ended up being against its former allies in various African ports. French naval forces acquitted themselves honorably, but without enthusiasm. And most of the fleet ended up being sunk at the hands of its own crews at Toulon. But for one brief moment a small French flotilla had a chance to show its stuff against an opponent and suggest how well the fleet might have done if given a chance. On Jan. 17, 1941 in Koh-Chang Bay in the Gulf of Siam a French squadron destroyed the pride of the Thai Navy during the brief war between that Japanese client state and Vichy-ruled France.
Involving ten ships and a total tonnage over 17,000, the battle was a surprisingly evenly matched contest that had a very lopsided outcome. Many accounts assume that the result was foreordained, pointing out the obvious size difference between the main French ship involved, the 7.000-ton light cruiser Lamotte Picquet and the 2,265-ton Thai coast defense ships Sri Ayuthia and Dhonburi (often spelled Thonburi). But as wargamers know, size or numbers are not all that matters in warfare. The battle was fought around dawn on Jan. 17th as the French flotilla, comprised of the Lamotte Picquet and four gunboats, sought out the main units of the Thai Navy, two coast defense "battleships" and three torpedo boats, which were anchored at Ko-Chang. The Thai force was actually a bit larger than the French expected, but the French had the benefit of some aerial support in the form of a float plane and had a good idea of what they were facing. The Thai force, on the other hand, was caught by surprise.
Battle of Ko Chang Scenario chart from Atlantic Navies
The action can be divided into two parts, the engagement between both sides' light forces and the duel between the French cruiser and the larger Thai units. The light force fight was a mismatch. The Thai force was comprised of three torpedo boats of the Italian-built Puket class. These weren't small PT-boats but were in the European tradition of small torpedo craft dating back to World War I, with a displacement of 318 tons, although these were new ships, built in the late 1930s. While armed with three 12-pounder guns suitable for fighting similar craft, their real striking power resided in six 18-inch torpedoes. Puket class shown at right. Opposing them were four gunboats, termed colonial sloops by the French, which were older, slower, larger and relied completely on their guns for combat power. The two smaller ships, the Tahure and Marne were second class sloops not much bigger than the Thai torpedo boats, displacing 644 tons and 570 tons respectively and built during World War I. The Tahure had a pair of 5.5-inch guns while the Marne had four 4.1-inch guns. The other two French gunbats were much more formidable and modern (1933) vessels of the Bouganville class, displacing 1,965 tons (destroyer-sized) and carrying three 5.5 guns. Named the Dumont D'Urville and the Amiral Charner, these were termed first-class sloops by the French. The smaller pair of sloops moved inshore between the islet of Koh Kra and Koh Chang to attack the three torpedo boats anchored off Koh Chang, while the larger pair of sloops came in from the other side of the anchorage. This was potentially a risky move. If the Thai torpedo boats had been alert and prepared they could have concentrated against one of the French forces with a concentrated torpedo attack. But the Thai boats were neither alert nor prepared and the French pincer simply closed an inescapable trap. One of the Thai torpedo boats was hit by an early shot from the French cruiser as it steamed by on its way to deal with the larger Thai ships and was set ablaze. The other two torpedo boats were able to get underway. It did them little good, though, as all four French ships blazed away and eventually both torpedo boats were also set afire. No French ship was hit and accounts make no mention of the Thai boats launching any torpedoes.
Lamotte Picquet in 1939
On the other side of the spit of land dividing the bay the Lamotte Picquet engaged the two Thai coast defense ships. This was potentially a much more even fight. The Lamotte Picquet was a member of the Duguay-Trouin class of light cruisers. Built in 1926, it was armed with eight 6-inch guns and a dozen 21-inch torpedoes, and lightly armored. It displaced 7,249 tons, which at first glance would seem to indicate it far outclassed the two Thai vessels, but as a light cruiser for a major power it had to devote a lot of design displacement to things such as endurance, habitability and speed. In contrast, the two Thai vessels, as coastal defense vessels, could concentrate their design resources on armor and firepower, with the minimum devoted to fuel, crew comfort or speed. While having the tonnage of a large destroyer, the coast defense ships were armed and armored at levels more typical of heavy cruisers. Each ship was armed with a pair of 7.9-inch guns, so the pair was roughly equivalent in potential combat power to a heavy cruiser. In the actual event, however, the Thai ships were defeated rather handily by the French cruiser. The Sri Ayuthia was hit by a torpedo from the Lamotte Picquet and several shells early in the action, just as it was getting underway. It ran aground and was abandoned. The other Thai "battleship" (which is what the Thais called them) engaged the Lamotte Picquet in a running fight but once again the Thai gunners were unable to score while the French landed some damaging blows, including one that killed the Thai ship's captain. The Thonburi hit a reef and sunk. Later it was salvaged and the conning tower and one turret are now preserved as a memorial in Thailand. The Battle of Ko Chang provides some interesting lesson in military effectiveness and especially between the parade-ground military establishments of minor powers and real professionalism of major powers. The Thai ships were impressive on paper. They were modern (1938) warships built in Japan, impressively armed and optimized for precisely the kind of battle they found themselves engaged in. But the evidence suggests that the crews were not well-trained, especially in gunnery, as apparently no French ship was hit throughout the battle. In comparison, even though they were on a colonial station, far from home and probably didn't represent the navy's elite crews, the French gunners savaged the Thai ships, hitting all of them multiple times and destroying the entire force. The Battle of Koh Chang is depicted in great detail in the Atlantic Navies game from Clash of Arms, using the Command at Sea naval warfare system. Prospective Thai players are likely to do better in the game than their historical counterparts, as the game system doesn't account for differences in crew quality and players are likely to make a more energetic and coordinated approach than the actual event.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Heroscape Day at Arkham Asylum

I organized a Heroscape Play Day today at the Arkham Asylum comic store in Norwich today and it went rather well. Turns out there are some Heroscapers in the area, including at least one dude who has a lot more stuff than I do!

So he set up a self-made battlefield that he and two other guys fought over in a massive 700-something point 3-way slugfest.

Over on my side we stuck with an almost straight-up Clashing fronts scenario on the Table of the Giants battlefield from the first master set, where I taught the game to two new players. One had bought the original master set years ago but never played it, the other was totally new to it.

I modified the scenario slightly, taking a 500-point army while they each has 300-point forces as a team, so it was 500 vs. 600 points. It turns out this might have been a little too generous.

The gentleman with his own set used some of his own figures, the Deathwalker 9000, the Zettian Guards and Raelin. His teammate drafted troops from my Jandar forces, taking the Kyrie squad, a ninja and the Omnicron snipers.

I also selected a Deathwalker 9000, Marcu, the Shades and four squads of zombies.

The first half of the battle went fairly well for me. I picked off one of the Zettians with my first shot from the Deathwalker and the other one didn't see much action after that. My Deathwalker dueled with the Omnicrons and occasionally the other Deathwalker, but they were ratehr distracted by the horde of zombies shambling forward, grabbing glyphs and providing benefits in speed, range and initiative fof most of the first 6-7 turns. One zombie shambled onto the summoning glyph and sumoned Raelin into a zombie ambush from which she emerged as a zombie.

Eventually the Omnicrons and Deathwalker pciked off enough zombies to reduce them to near ineffectiveness and this is where things started to go bad for my troops. The shades and Marcu swooped in, but Kimiko was tough to take out. My Deathwalker finally finished off the last of his Omnicrons and the Deathwalker, too, but the enemy's Kyrie reserve road in like the proverbial cavalry and chopped up my Deathwalker, and then finished off the shades, the last of the zombies and Marcu, too.

While not emerging victorious, I had a good time and there was considerable enthusiasm for scheduling another Heroscape Day next month.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Making choices -- Why I bought Twilight Struggle

As I noted a few days ago, at least 212 wargames or expansions were published in 2009 alone, a truly amazing number. Such a vast selection means that choices have to be made. Unlike the old days when Avalon Hill published one or two games a year that everybody learned to play, today's environment means a player has little hope of ever playing all the good games that are out there.

Given that I don't have an unlimited budget (and I spend more than I should anyway) I've tried to be more selective in recent years. Among my criteria are that a game is likely to be played (so it should be reasonably popular) and that the topic or theme appeal to me in a more than superficial way.

Many don't consider Twilight Struggle as a wargame, precisely, but it's definitely a history-based game. It's one of the top sellers and rated games on BoardGame Geek so I feel confident I'll get the chance to play it often. But the biggest attraction for me is that it's largely a personal history as well. As a Baby Boomer born almost exactly a decade after the end of World War II, the Cold War was the war I grew up in, went to school during and even served my initial military career in. Many of the Mid-War and Late-War cards reflect "current events" for me, not history!

In game terms, I was born in the last half of Turn 3, on the cusp of the changeover from Early War to Late War. So, while I didn't have personal memories of The Suez Crisis (card 28) or The Korean War (Card 11), they were very recent history and in some cases had personal meaning. My dad fought in Korea, for example.

Turns 4-7 represent the Mid-war period in the game, and 5-7 basically correspond to my years as a school kid. I was too young to understand the Cuban Missile Crisis (Card 40) but I was old enough to sense the fear in the air. The "Lone Gunman" (Card 62) struck with distressing regularity and the world was full of change with Flower Power (Card 50), South African Unrest (Card 53) and the ever-present Arms Race (Card 39). We wound down the Quagmire (Card 42 in Vietnam) while I was in high school, so I missed it, but it was foremost in everybody's minds. I knew people who served and naturally all my ROTC cadre in college were veterans. Nearly every single Mid-war card has personal significance. I remember watching "One Small Step ... " (Card 80) on TV and waiting in gas lines due to OPEC (Card 61). Oh, yeah, and I became a wargamer on Turn 6!

Turns 8, 9 and 10 represent the era when I played my small active role in the affair. During Turn 8 I was an ROTC student, and we studied the "Next War" actively. SPI started publishing games examining the tactics and strategy of a potential World War III. It was a time of conflicting emotions. I worried about Reagan's talk about "An Evil Empire" (Card 97) but I had to say he was right, and I generally thought that his play of Star Wars (Card 85) and Tear Down This Wall (Card 96) were good ones, even at the time. I didn't think the US had anything to apologise for in opposing Communism. Of course, every play wasn't a success, and events such as the Iranian Hostage Crisis (Card 82), Marine Barracks Bombing (Card 88) and Iran-Contra (Card 93) were reminders that we were definitely locked in a existential struggle.

During Turn 9 I completed my military education and I deployed to Germany, staying there halfway through Turn 10. It was a time of high tension, with Terrorism (Card 92) coming too close for comfort. One day my family and I returned home from the post exchange only to hear on the radio that just 15 minutes after we left a bomb planted by Red Army Faction terrorists had gone off within yards of where we had been. Of course, we had no idea that we were in the "Late War" period and that by the end of Turn 10 a combination of Glasnost (Card 90), John Paul Elected Pope (Card 68), Solidarity (Card 101) and Pershing II Deployed (Card 99). among others, would bring the "game to an end. I'm still amazed that things ended the way they did. I don't think many people foresaw that the Soviet system would fall without at least one "throw of the die" to use the military force it had built up at such great expense.

It still seems that the most likely end to the "game," even in hindsight, was DefCon 1.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"I didn't know that!" Wargaming and perusing through History

One of the alluring things about wargaming for me is the discoveries it can bring.

Today happens to be the anniversary of the Battle of Audierne Bay, which was fought on Jan. 13, 1797. In the grand scale of things it wasn't a very big battle -- just a pair of British frigates against a French ship-of-the-line -- or a very important one. It's notable as probably the most famous fight of the renowned British frigate captain Edward Pellew, who is one of the probable inspirations for famous British frigate captains of fiction such as Horatio Hornblower.

I pulled out my copy of Flying Colors, which happens to have a scenario about the battle, and looked it over. It's one of the more interesting small ship actions of the Napoleonic era. The French ship was the Droits de l'Homme (with the suitably revolutionary name The Rights of Man), a 74-gun ship of the line that would normally have been able to fend off two British frigates despite the superior British seamanship. But the French ship was unlucky in several respects.

First, the weather was bad, with a stiff wind making it impossible to open the lower bank of gunports without sinking the ship! This deprived the French battleship of its heaviest guns.

Second, while one of the British ships was the 36-gun Amazon, a standard frigate for its time, the other was the 44-gun Indefatigable, a "razee" frigate, which meant that it had been built as a ship-of-the-line and had been turned into a frigate by removing the upper deck. This meant it was much more stoutly built than a standard frigate and had a heavier battery of guns. It also meant that, being lighter, its gunports were higher and it could therefore use its guns despite the waves.

Finally, the Indefatigable was commanded by Sir Edward Pellew. (Shown at left)

The battle ended with both the Amazon and the French battleship (after heavy damage) being blown ashore and wrecked and Pellew skillfully sailing his ship out of danger.

All good stuff, already. But I was curious about Pellew and soon found out that he had indeed had a long and surprising naval career.

As a midshipman he fought against Benedict Arnold's fleet at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain on Oct. 11, 1776. Almost exactly a year later, as a lieutenant he was present at the Battle of Saratoga (facing Arnold again!) and became a prisoner when Burgoyne surrendered his army. Paroled, Pellew couldn't see any more active service against the Americans, but he distinguished himself in other waters until being put on half-pay after the wars ended.

When Britain and France resumed fighting after the French Revolution broke out Pellew was given command of the 36-gun frigate Nymphe and resourcefully manned it and got it to sea as one of the first British frigates to sail. He defeated the French frigate Cleopatre in one of the most famous single-ship duels of the war. He was then promoted to command the larger Indefatigable.

Eventually he rose to the rank of admiral, was named a viscount and died at the age of 76.

So a small scenario in Flying Colors led to a line of inquiry that brought out a lot of intriguing facts. While I'm not surprised that Pellew was also the commander of the Nymphe vs. Cleopatre fight, I was very surprised to find out about his role in the American Revolutionary War. His participation at Valcour Island was a definite "I didn't know that!" and doubly so for his participation at Saratoga. Indeed, I had never heard that Burgoyne's army included a naval contingent, and I've read quite a few accounts of Saratoga over the years. "I didn't know that!"
This si the sort of thing that reminds me why I love wargames.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Axis and Allies miniatures -- jeeps

I'll be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.

There's probably no vehicle more associated with the American fighting man than the ubiquitous Jeep. This all-purpose light truck appears in the Base Set (17/48), oddly sporting a machine gun that's unmentioned in the unit stats. A version with a canvas cab appears as the FO Jeep in the Contested Skies set (18/45). Finally it appears the new larger scale sans machine gun or canvas as a plain old Jeep in the Eastern Front Set (8/60). Although widely used by all the Allied forces, all versions of the Jeep that have appeared so far are American.

Base Set

Rarity: Uncommon
Speed: 5
Defense: 1/1
Cost: 3*, 6* for the FO Jeep
Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges: 0-0-0 (5-0-0 for the FO Jeep)
Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges: 0-0-0

*Revised cost from updated cards. Formerly 4 and 8, respectively. The Revised cards also change the Service date to 1941 for the basic Jeep.

Special abilities:


High Gear 2 -- If this unit makes its entire move along a road it gets +2 speed.

Transport -- This unit can carry one soldier (A friendly Soldier can board or dusmount this unit instead of moving during your movement phase).

FO Jeep

Spotter -- If this unit is within four hexes of an enemy unit and has line of sight to it, friendly Aircraft roll one extra attack die when attacking that unit.

Chatting on the Radio -- This unit can't move during your assault phase.

FO Jeep

Historical text


Exactly how this little 4x4 reconnaissance car ended up with the name "Jeep" has never really been determined.

FO Jeep

Forward observers helped aircraft and artillery to spot targets to attack and to correct their aim during bombardment.

A Jeep is unloaded from a landing craft during Operation Torch in North Africa in 1942.

The unit in history: Although it's never been definitely determined how the Jeep got it's name, this small utility vehicle was a huge success. Reliable, easy to maintain and transport, powerful for its size and supremely flexible, more than 640,000 were built during the war!

Eastern Front Set

The unit in the game: The basic Jeep is a good light transport vehicle, speedy, especially down the road, although it's very easy to destroy. It's a very inexpensive transport, more so since the cost was reduced with the revised cards. The FO Jeep is the only American Spotter so far, but the Jeep is so vulnerable to enemy fire that it's hard to keep the Spotter in position long enough to be useful. Although it's not mentioned on the card, beside Aircraft the Spotter ability can also enhance the effectiveness of units with the Indirect Fire special ability. Like all Spotters, the FO Jeep has the Special (dis)Ability of Chatting on the Radio and also doesn't have High Gear 2, so it's not especially fast in game terms. While the basic Jeep could move up to 14 hexes in a turn, the FO Jeep tops out at a total of 5. The FO Jeep does have a limited ability to defend itself against Soldiers with a 5-dice attack at close range. Otherwise, despite the neat-looking machine gun on the Base Set version, the Jeep is defenseless.

For anyone who thinks wargaming is dying -- 212 games/expansions were published in 2009!

Here's the list compiled by Alan Poulter.

This far exceeds the glory days of SPI.

From the list I bought: Memoir ' 44 Tigers in the Snow; Memoir '44 Sword of Stalingrad; 1805 Sea of Glory; Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #4 Imperial Rome; Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #5 Epic II; Ship of the Line; Axis & Allies 1942; Axis & Allies Pacific 1940; Battle Above the Clouds; GD '42; S&T #258 The Santiago Campaign; Waterloo (Treefrog); and Caesar's Gallic War. So even though I bought a game or expansion every four weeks, I only acquired about 6 percent of what was available. Or to put it another way, a grognard would have to buy a game or expansion four times a week to keep up.

Seems like a pretty healthy rate of production to me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gaming events calendar in southern New England

Every Thursday - The Grid - Manchester
Every Friday - Central CT GO club meets in Middletown
1st and 3rd Friday is the Central CT Wargamers meeting in Wilson

1/15 CCWA - Wilson
1/16 40K tournament - Time Machine 11 AM signup
1/22 Seneca's teen game night at Ellington Library (No CCWA in Wilson)
1/23 Middlefield Library
1/30 Milford

2/5 CCWA - Wilson
2/6 Unity Games - Boston carpool leaves from Willington
2/18-2/21 Total Confusion - MA and Dreamation - NJ
2/19 CCWA - Wilson
2/27 Middlefield Library

3/5 CCWA - Wilson
3/6 Milford
3/11-3/14 Cold Wars - HMGS miniatures - Lancaster, PA
3/18-3/20 ConnCon - Stamford
3/19 CCWA Wilson
3/26-3/28 HAVOC - BGB miniatutres - Shrewsbury, MA
3/27 Middlefield Library

NOTE - there WILL be gaming in Middlefield on March 27. The Library has apparently moved the book sale to November.

Sent to the Conn. Game Club list by Carl
Reposted with permission

No Cherry on top -- A Lost Worlds session

The Old Warrior's one-game winning 'streak' comes to an end ...

Flaming Cherry hated the job she had signed up for. A famous "Barbarian Beauty" deserved a more prestigious post than guarding the back door to a dark mage's keep. She liked it even less when she saw the threat obviously foreseen by the mage -- although not shared with her -- materialize a few feet away. The enemy's angelic features were, Cherry had to admit, not bad, but she had to wonder what the point was for being sexy when you were an angel.

That moment's wary contemplation allowed the angel to cast a quick spell, and Cherry saw a magical sphere start to swirl around the angel's shoulders. The angel was, in her turn, a little too complacent about her spell's success as a quick swing of Cherry's sword caught her unaware and knocked her off balance and sent the angel crashing to the ground -- and looking rather stunned. (-1 hit)

The angel recovered quickly, though, and the two beauties started trading blows, but Cherry was becoming frustrated as her blows were hitting twice more often but doing much less damage (-4, -1, - 2, compared to -5 and -6).

Finally Cherry got in a nice solid blow (-7), just as the Angel did the same (-4). Everything went black.

It was many days later when Cherry finally awoke. She was in great pain. The dark mage's healing spells were effective, but he had little use for those that might alleviate pain -- especially when he needed toa sk some pointed questions about intruders. Cherry realized that she was in for another bad day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Battle Above the Clouds component review -- a new look for GCACW

Up to this point the "look" of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War has been remarkably stable since the first game (Stonewall Jackson's Way) appeared in 1992, even despite the demise of Avalon Hill and the migration of the GCACW line to Multi-man Publishing. The first volume of the series to appear under MMP, Grant Takes Command, was fully consistent with the AH versions, as were the supplements Skirmisher No. 1 and No. 2.

So I'll admit I was pretty surprised by how extensively the look of the game changed with Vol. VIII, Battle Above the Clouds. It's important to note, however, that nearly all the changes are cosmetic, with only minor changes in the Standard Rules that cover all the games in the series.

First off, the box is different. Grant Takes Command was a direct copy of the standard Avalon Hill bookcase game format in every way. Only the MMP logo was different. The new Battle Above the Clouds box is thinner and slightly wider than the old box, so it will stick out a bit on the shelf. It appears to be the same size as other MMP boxes, so I suspect this change was made for ease of production.

Inside the box, almost the entire graphic approach as also changed. The paper is glossy, rather than matte. Color is used liberally and the type is slightly smaller, with some differences in fonts and layout that mark a break from the past. New rules are shown to the left, old style to the right.

All the player aids are also on glossy cardboard and overall there's been a number of changes in presentation that give the rules a little more of a more modern look and easier to read. Overall the effect is enough to give BAC a distinctive look, but not too different from what has gone before.

On the other hand, the new counters are a big departure from what has gone before, featuring much bolder use of icons and type. With perhaps greater confidence in the quality of their die-cutters than the old Avalon Hill had, the new counters fill out a bigger portion of the available space, resulting in the markers being easier to read.

The new counters

On the other hand, my initial impression of the unit counters is not as positive. They appear rather too "busy" to my eye, compared to the uncluttered look of the old counters. The bold typeface used is also no easier to read than the older lightface style, so players will still have to peer closely in order to see which unit is in the hex.
Map detail around Chattanooga

On one critical piece of game equipment, however, BAC does not innovate -- the map. Charles Kibler continues as the map artist and the map in BAC retains the same style that GCACW players fell in love with. This was a wise decision, because it's the exceptional maps that first captured player attention and gave them the incentive to discover the beauty of the underlying rules set. Aside from some changes required by the rougher topography of the region changes to the look have been minimized. About the only noticeable change is that the map, like all the other paper components, is not printed on a glossy paper, instead of the matte finish used for the eastern maps. As these maps will never overlay each other this is unimportant.

A welcome return feature is the Gazetteer, not seen since Vol. III (Roads to Gettysburg), exploring cats and trivia about some of the locations on the map. There's also a very extensive Game as History section, which may very well be the longest published so far in the entire series. This is due in no small part to the fact that Battle Above the Clouds is basically two games in one, as it cover both the entire Chickamauga campaign from Aug. 29 to Oct. 6, 1863, but also the Chattanooga campaign from Oct. 28 to Dec. 6.

Overall the components seem first-rate in every way. I think some long-time players may not care for the changed look, but none of the changes affect game play and the maps are the same, so I don't think this will be a big issue.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sometimes the only way to win -- cheat! A Lost Worlds session report

Well, maybe not exactly cheat, but definitely not a fair fight. The Old Warrior finally breaks (temporarily as it turns out) his string of defeats at the hands of the Young General by basically bringing a gun to a knife fight. Or in this case a Djinn to a fight with a ninja ...

Othere would have pitied the foolish man dressed in black garb, if pity was an emotion he could feel. It was amazing how the fools always thought they'd get wishes when they rubbed a lamp! Some Djinn played along with the joke and "granted" wishes that always backfired on the lamp-rubbers. But Othere wasn't into jokes -- he was known as being rather dour for a Djinn -- and so he merely laughed at the silly little man in the black pajamas.

Hah! The black-garbed little man pulled out a sword and took a fighting stance. Othere was amused. Let's see how he liked this little trick! Othere began twirling to create his whirlwind. The wind grew and grew and the black-garbed man struggled to keep his footing. Finally Othere unleashed his strength and the wind tossed the little man to the ground. Otehre could hear some bone crack. (-9 hit down to 3)

The black-garbed man struck out with his sword as Othere leered at him, slashing into the Djinn. That was an unpleasant surprise, Othere thought. (-8 hit to the head) The little man had some bite after all. Othere dodged a followup blow and recovered some strength (+1 regeneration).

Time to end this, the Djinn vowed to himself, as he brought his sword slashing down and through the little man -- leaving him obviously and instantly dead.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Playing surfaces for collectible and expandable miniatures games -- a review: paper

One of the things I don't care for about collectible and expandable miniatures games is that you have all these really nice-looking miniatures moving around on cheap paper battlefields for the most part.

The notable exception is Heroscape, of course, where the terrain gets pretty much equal billing with the miniatures and is one of the distinctive aspects of that game.

And the truncated Navia Dratp also featured an actual mounted playing board as standard equipment.

But for the most part the standard has been to provide rather flimsy paper maps, usually poster-sized and poster-quality, that simply can't stand up to the normal wear and tear of multiple folding, let alone play. Among the games that come with this sort of playing surface are Lord of the Rings Tradeable Miniatures Game; HeroClix, Axis & Allies miniatures, A&A War at Sea, Star Wars, Dreamblade and Dungeons & Dragons miniatures.

Suitable playing surfaces are also an issue for more traditional miniatures games like Wings of War, Check Your 6, the Admiralty Trilogy and the Flames of War, but the traditional solution was for players to spend the time and effort to create their own terrain, not just armies. Still, there are some portable solutions for the problem of providing suitable battlefields to go with your miniatures from these lines as well.

I'll look at some of these next week, but first let's look at what's provided by the manufacturers as standard equipment.

In most cases the base game includes one or two poster-sized or smaller battlefields -- usually printed on both sides -- providing at least two and sometimes four basic battlefields. In some cases, such as Axis & Allies there are more maps of a smaller size, but in this case the maps are geomorphic, meaning they can be combined in various configurations to create more battlefields.

Generally the artwork is pretty decent for these sort of maps, although there are some exceptions. For example, the early HeroClix maps were very amateurish. Most of the time the maps look pretty good.

Another good thing about the paper maps is that they tend to be relatively inexpensive. Most of these miniatures games use quite large battlefields compared to typical boardgame standards.

The most serious drawback of the paper map usually becomes apparent right away -- the creases from folding the map. This can be corrected by folding against the crease to make the maps lie flat, but this begins the process of destroying the maps. In most cases the paper used to make the maps can't go through this sort of folding more than a half dozen times before you start to see tears. It's better to store the maps rolled. I use mailing tubes. This does result in the maps being curled, but it's less destructive to flatten out the curve than folds.

Some players go so far as to laminated their maps, but I think this is too expensive for general use. Most laminated maps are stored flat, but this takes a lot of room.

Of the games I have, I've stuck with paper maps only for Axis & Allies, Miniatures, D&D miniatures, Heroclix and LOTR:TMG. In each case the need to have many different battlefields available has required that I settle for paper maps. In some cases there's no alternative, but D&D minis do have some cardboard battlefields available and the are a couple of vinyl maps for Hero clix out there as well.

Some of the other games, however, due to their subject matter, don't vary the battlefield as much and here there are some more options. Among them are Dreamblade and A&A War at Sea. I'll look at them next.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Being careful what you wish for -- Lost Worlds Session

There's one danger in teaching a young grasshopper the 'martial' arts -- he may kick the teacher's butt ... .

Gildersleve was in a hurry. He wanted to arrive in Occum before dark and he meant to do so even if it meant cutting through the glade rumored to be guarded by a unicorn. Detours were for elves or men. Dwarves took the direct path. Besides he had his sharp blade and blasting horn to see him through, although he wasn't too pleased that the unicorn's magical resistance rendered his own knowledge of the yellow and purple magicks nearly useless.

Ah, so the the stories were more than mere rumours, Gildersleve thought, as he saw a stately and rather large unicorn mare emerge from the woods. Well, a blast of the horn should send the lass on her way.

But he had barely brought the horn to his lips when the beast suddenly charged and caught him square with its horn, tossing him to the ground. (-6 hit, dropping his body points to 10).

Gildersleve fought back, slashing low over and over. Some blows missed as the unicorn slipped aside, but others connected (-1 and -1 hits). Gildersleve was concerned as his foe was merely being nicked. He managed to blow the horn once, which sharpened his blade's bite, and a more solid than usual strike did draw some serious blood (-4 hit). The unicorn recoiled.

Gildersleve took the chance to draw on his magic. His spells couldn't affect the unicorn, but he could cast them on himself, and the "Touch of Glenna" provided a salve to his wounds (+2 body restored).

The combatants returned to the fray and Gildersleve staggered the horned horse with a strong slash (-6 hit) but the unicorn's counterstrike also pierced him again (-5 hit). Gildersleve was so intent on closing in on his opponent he forgot his danger. Horn and blade clashed together and Gildersleve saw the aura of the unicorn's charm spell spread to his own blade and in an instant envelope him. It was so warm -- and pleasant.

And it struck him instantly how absurd this fight was! How could he be trying to injure such a delightful, beautiful creature. Why this creature was his friend -- and he was hers! Yes, he understood perfectly now. Wherever he was going was unimportant. All that was important was that he leave the friendly unicorn in peace and leave the glade -- returning to way he came. It was all so very clear ... .

And so the Old Warrior loses his third straight Lost Worlds duel to the Young General as the unicorn wins the fight by charming the dwarf.