Thursday, December 30, 2010

Closest convoy yet! A War at Sea session

I threw together a pickup game of War at Sea at the local game shop. We were a little short of time due to too much jibber jabber with Game Store Tony.

We decided to do a convoy scenario. The basic notion was that an International Flotilla escorts a munitions convoy to Finland during the Winter War.

I think the convoy scenario, as written, is very difficult for the convoy payer to win. Even with a 20-point bonus (100 scenario points to just 80 for the intercepting player) there are just too many threats to counter and the intercepting player only need to get lucky three times. If three convoy ships get sunk then the attacker wins.

I took the convoy, although not expecting too much. As it turned out the convoy nearly made it.

Besides the five merchant ships the convoy escort included the following:

Vainamoinen - coast defense ship
2 x B-239 Buffalo - fighter

HMS Gustav V - coast defense battleship
HMS Gotland - scout cruiser
2 x HMS Goteborg - destroyer

ORP Blyskawica - destroyer
ORP Orzel - submarine

2 x S-Boat - torpedo boat section

The intercepting fleet was all Soviet
Kirov - heavy cruiser
2 x Krasni Krim - light cruiser
4 x Gromkiy - destroyer
S-13 - submarine
2 x Il-2M Sturmovik - attack plane (yes, I know the plane date is 1943. I overlooked it.)

We used the standard map set up listed in the rulebook for the convoy scenario. The notable feature of that map is that it includes two islands on the Soviet side of the map.

The Soviet destroyers quickly moved off to each flank and laid mines between the islands and the map edge, which induced the convoy to take a central route.

First blood went to the Convoy side, which sank a destroyer with a torpedo attack from the S-boats. Some long-range fire from the coast defense ships, spotted by the Gotland's seaplane crippled the Kirov. Unfortunately a Sturmovik got through the air defenses and took out a freighter. I figured the two Russian bombers were the main threat. There was virtually no chance I could shoot them down so the best I could hope for was to keep aborting them. Their bomb attack was powerful enough that an attacked freighter was nearly doomed.

The Soviets were annoyed by the spotter plane "buzzing around" and two turns later when the bombers returned they took out the Gotland. Meanwhile the Kirov and S-13 were sunk and the surviving Soviet ships pulled back. The S-boats hid in an island zone. As the convoy slowly advanced, long-range fire from the coast defense ships banged up the Soviet surface flotilla severely while the Buffalos and air defense fire from the escorts aborted the Il-2s. So far, so good. The S-Boats made a death run at one of the light cruisers that came to naught, but it was becoming clear that the Soviet fleet was destined for destruction under the big guns of the convoy escort, so they made a mad dash at the enemy. All were promptly sunk, but in the melee the Sturmoviks sunk one more freighter and a shot from a light cruiser damaged another one. The Finnish coast defense ship was also crippled by a torpedo hit.

The next few turns went at a rapid clip as all the Soviets had left were the two airplanes, which could only fly every other turn. The Buffalos and escorts did their best, but eventually the Sturmoviks got a shot. A very fortunate die roll only added one more damage point to the freighter. It was crippled, but still there. Finally the freighters reached the board edge and the Sturmoviks had one more try. One was aborted but the second one plastered the crippled freighter and sent it down.

It was the closest I've seen the convoy come to making it, but it still fell short.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Persian Incursion play

Spanish player Edgar Gallego and I are going to attempt a PBeM playthrough of a game. I'll post updates as we move along.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dranesville Battle Cry session

Game Store Tony and I continued our series the other day. Recent sessions at Greenbrier, Va. and Belmont, Mo. were a split, with the boys in blue coming out on top at Greenbrier and the rebels at Belmont.

The Battle at Dranesville was another in the series of little-known 1861 skirmishes that Battle Cry has dug up. Most standard histories devote very little time and ink to the fighting that happened between First Bull Run and the 1862 campaigns in the Valley, the Peninsula and Shiloh. Compared to the later fighting the casualty toll was low, although many of them were pretty important strategically. They were especially critical in keeping the border states in the union (esp. Missouri) and in splitting off the western counties of Virginia into the new state of West Virginia.

The Dranesville affair was small, about a brigade's worth of troops on each side. Historically the federal force drove J.E.B. Stuart from the field, but in our game things went badly for the Union troops right from the start as the elite "Bucktails" unit fell quickly under a hail of fire (hot dice) from the Secesh side.

As can often happen in Battle Cry and its ilk the bad stuff snowballed and the Union was never able to turn things around, resulting in a fairly lopsided 6-2 win for the Rebels. As has been usual for Game Store Tony, his cavalry took it hard and both flags came from eliminated cavalry units. I told him that at this rate I'll have to change his nickname from "Stonewall" to "Kil-cavalry."
Unfortunately I was never able to finish off an infantry unit, even though several were reduced to a single figure. But each time the unit was saved when a flag also retreated the damaged unit out of range or behind a ridge. In contrast the federal units were too stalwart to retreat from fire and died where they stood.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Blizzard of Blows -- Battlelore Session report

Deciding not to let a good blizzard go to waste, Young general and the Old Warrior hauled out BattleLore for a go.

We reviewed the rules, as it had been quite a while since we played, but it turned out Young general didn't need the help. Ahem.

We played the next game in the Creatures expansion, the Magic Vortex, which introduces the Rock Elemental. As usual the creature didn't help much, as will be recounted below.

I had the creature-equipped Standard Army, which in this case broke with tradition and had the Goblins on its side and the Dwarves with the Pennant Army. This suited Young general fine, as he's no fan of the Goblinoids, regarding them as just this side of useless.

Young General's War Council comprised a Level 3 Wizard, and Level 1 Commander, Cleric and Rogue. Old Warrior also went with a Level 3 Wizard, the mandatory Level 1 creature and rounded out his council with a Level 1 Commander and a Level 1 Warrior.

Old Warrior's plan was to pick away at the Pennant Army until he gathered enough Lore to be bale to deploy the Rock Elemental against a weak part of the Pennant line.

And the plan might have worked, too. Several Pennant units were reduced and one was killed off in melee. The Old Warrior drew a Fireball in the initial hand and gave into the temptation to use it, incinerating a Red Banner Heavy Cavalry unit. This was quite satisfying, but in retrospect may have been a mistake, as it took a few more turns to build up enough lore again to deploy the Rock Elemental and by then it was too late.

With a 2-1 lead and a fair number of battered unit in Young General's Pennant army things weren't looking too bad for the Standard troops -- and then Young General dropped the boom. He had been hoarding Lore and finally had enough to play an Assault Card. (It cost him 16 lore because he didn't have a Warrior loremaster.) Well, he had quite a few units within range and was able to slam into the Old Warrior's host up and down the line! By the time the carnage ceased the Standard army had lost four units and the score was 5-2 in Young General's favor. Desperately the Old Warrior's wizard conjured up the Rock Elemental, who did his duty and wiped out a unit for a third flag, but it wasn't too hard for Young General to find that sixth flag and the win as he jumped all over the Goblinoid Lizard riders.

And so that was that. A 6-3 win for the creature-less Pennant army.

Old Warrior was left ruefully considering the possibility that the Rock Elemental, unlike so many of the other creatures, seemed to have serious potential, but he gave up most of it by indulging in a dramatic, but ultimately indecisive fireball.

Next up is Spider river, where Old Warrior will get two chances to see if a creature can make the difference. So far they seem to be more hindrance than help.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Battle Cry 150th Anniversary Edition -- a review

A decade ago Hasbro's publication of Battle Cry introduced gamer's to Richard Borg's hugely successful and eminently flexible Commands & Colors wargame system (although it wasn't called that yet). The system's popularity is attested to by its sales, rankings and frequency of play. It's flexibility by its iterations depicting World War II (Memoir '44), fantasy/medieval (BattleLore), Classical (Commands & Colors: Ancients) and Napoleonic (C&C: Napoleonic) warfare. While not generally considered simulations, the ganes in the series do succeed in illustrating their eras surprisingly well considering their simplicity.

Of the bunch, the original Battle Cry always remained the most accessible to first-time wargamers. As time went on it and it went out of print it became both avidly sought and often criticized for various design shortcomings as the newer games improved on the game system.

So it's been a welcome development to see a brand new version of Battle Cry come out in time for the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Like the earlier version this edition is the easiest entry point for new gamers who want to try out a wargame. Being published by Hasbro means it will have wider distribution than most wargames and indeed, this holiday season I saw some copies for sale outside of the usual game store outlets.

The components of this new version are top notch, with a mounted map board, 46 double-sided terrain hexagon tiles, 14 flag tokens, 9 fieldwork tokens, 102 plastic figures, a sheet of flag stickers, 8 special battle dice, a terrain sheet, a full-clor rule and scenario book and 60 command cards.

The heart of the game system is the command cards, which come in two basic varieties: Section cards which allow a player to "order" units in a specified sector of the board, which is divided into thirds called the Left, Center and Right and Tactic Cards which can affect units in differents sectors and usually provide some special ability or benefit. A player's turn comprises selecting one card from his hand of available cards, performing the orders and actions allowed by that cards and then drawing a new card to replenish his hand. The varying capability of different commanders is reflected by how many cards are in a player's hand. A skillful commander such as Stonewall Jackson may have a 6-card hand while a putz like Pillow may only have three to choose from.

The figures come in four basic varieties: Leaders, infantry, artillery and cavalry, often with several poses. Groups of figures form "units" which are the basic playing element in the game. Each unit is comprised of at least one flag-bearer unit and then several other figures -- three more for infantry, two more for cavalry and artillery, none for leaders. Casualties are reflected by removing figures, with the flag bearer being last. Removing the flag bearer gives the opposing player a flag token, which is the basic measure of victory in the game. The first player to earn a scenario-specified number of tokens wins. In some scenarios flag tokens can also be earned for achieving geographical objectives.

When a unit is "ordered" it can move, and in most cases fire at an enemy unit within range. The movement speed and fire ability of units is related to the unit's real-life capability. Infantry and artillery units move one hex when ordered, mounted units such as leaders and cavalry move three hexes. Artillery can't fire after being ordered, and some terrain reduces the firepower of other units, but generally artillery units can fire five hexes, infantry four hexes and cavalry just one hex. An attack is resolved by rolling the special combat dice, with the number of dice varying on the type of unit firing, the range to the target (-1 die for each hex of range over one) and the terrain occupied by the target. For example, an infantry unit firing at another infantry unit two hexes away on a hill rolls two dice: Four for being an infantry unit, minus one die for range 2 and minus another die for the target being on the hill.

The results of the firing depend on which faces of the special die come up. Each icon that matches the unit type of the target removes one figure. Each "sabers" result also removes a figure, while each "flag" result forces the target to retreat one hex. Very simple and intuitive.

The terrain tiles mean that there's innumerable possible battlefields thatcan be created and the 150th Anniversary edition includes 30 scenarios. The designer has intimated that if sales support it, hasbro plans to publish expansions with more scenarios over the next couple of years during the 150th anniversary of Civil War events.

Compared to its sister games, Battle Cry is still the easiest and most straightforward. The nature of Civil War combat allows the game system to ignore some of the complications that technology (Memoir '44), tactics (CCN and CCA) or magic (BattleLore) introduce to the other games. Civil War armies were essentially mostly infantry (that was armed and trained about the same level) with realtively small numbers of guns and cavalry in support.
While obviously not the last word in simulation, games of Battle Cry are highly entertaining. Skilled play is rewarded, but there's enough luck to keep nearly every battle in doubt until the end. A string of bad rolls or card draws can upset the best of plans, but it doesn't matter because if Mars frowns on you just play the game again -- there's time. A typical game takes less than an hour to play.
The 150th Anniversary Edition of Battle Cry is highly recommended, whether or not you have the older version. Some rough spots in the rules and cards have been smoothed out, the presentation is superior and there are twice aas many scenarios as before with every expectaton of more.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some very preliminary impressions of Persian Incursion

I've been spending a lot of time studying this game over the last week. It covers an intriguing and important topic and is probably the best unclassified source available for analyzing the potential conduct and consequences of an Israeli attempt to derail Iran's nuclear program through military means. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a better analysis than any classified material available to decision makers.

Last night I ran through a few turns of solitaire play in order to get a handle on how the game system would work, how long it will take to play and some preliminary impressions of the game.

One thing is clear -- this is not a 'light' wargame. While considerable efforts have been made to 'streamline' the game, that term is very relative. It's streamlined compared to a full-blown Harpoon 4 game, but by just about any other standard this is still an intricate game that requires a lot of what I call 'staff work.' Each player is tracking the maintenance and mission status of a hundred or more aircraft, every single missile and bomb expended and various events/missions spread over mulitple turns. The designers recommend some sort of mission log to keep track of things and this is not optional in my opinion. You will have to write a lot of stuff down in such a way as to be able to find it later. I started off by making a target/mission worksheet to track each Israeli aircraft and its bombload and while this was helpful, it was also not enough. For my first game I think I'm going to try using a composition book to keep a running record of game information -- a sort of staff journal. The good news is that this should make it easier to write up a good session report afterward. The bad news is that this will necessarily be a game that takes quite a while to play.

I have some initial thoughts on the challenges facing each side.

For the Israelis the biggest challenge will be deciding on a strategy and carrying it out. Mission planning will be critical and it will save a lot of game time if the Israeli player draws up his initial strikes before the game. Indeed, I think the Israeli player should decide on his target strategy before the game and work out all of his planned strikes in at least draft form before the game. This is both realistic and will go a long way to making the game playable in one sitting. The fact of the matter is that the Iranians will not be able to interfere very much operationally with the Israeli strikes and it should be possible for the Israelis to plan all their targeting beforehand, making adjustments as required by events. The largest source of Israeli losses will be through maintenance problems which should be possble to plan for. The Israeli forces are very powerful and capable and can pretty much do as they please -- but they'll have more they want to do than they have airframes available to carry it out. It's not too much to say that the entire Israeli effort depends on just 32 aircraft -- 24 F-15I and 8 tankers.

The Iranian player will have to come to terms with the general ineffectiveness of his military means and it may very well be that his best chance to win will come from the political game's card play.

Offensively, the Iranians have just three options. The easiest is ordering and conducting terror attacks, but these are unlikely to have much effect. Launching ballistic missiles at Israel will be tempting, but the chances of getting through are very low and the chances of having an effect even lower. I haven't had a chance to try out closing the Strait of Hormuz, but I see little reason to think this is much of a strategy either.

Defensively the Iranians have few effective options either, unless the political situation gives them some extra help from Chinese or Russian sources. The long-range and medium-range SAMs are easily countered and it wil be good luck for Iran if the Israelis lose more than a plane or two from those. The mobile, short-rang SAMs are more useful, but they won't have have a chance to shoot down any planes due to the Israeli stand-off range. Their main effect will be to complicate the Isareli mission planning by occasionally shooting down enough precision-guided munitions to potentially screw up an Isareli strike. Their mobility may also give the Iranian player some ability to at least complicate the Isareli task by making a raid less effective than expected.

The Iranian air force, while large, is completely outclassed by the Israeli aircraft and will rarely have a chance to get a shot off. All the Iranian radar-homing missiles are semi-active guided, which means that the Iranian shooter has to spend a turn guiding the missile to the target. Few are likely to live long enough to do that in the face of the accurate and long-ranged AIM-120s carried by all the Israeli fighters. The best chance the Iranians will have will be on the rare occasion when the ground controllers are able to set them up at "dogfight" range where the Iranian heat-seekers will at least have a chance to reach a target regardless of the fate of the Iranian plane that fired it. The Iranians can expect heavy losses.
I'll probably have to play the Israelis the first time because of the requirement to do so much pre-game work, but I think the Iranian side is the more intriguing to play and I hope I get a chance to see what their options are.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010 was a big year for Napoleonic battle games

For some reason 2010 turned out to give us a bumper crop of Napoleonic battle games, with Worthington Games' Napoleon's War, followed by Battles of Napoleon from Fantasy Flight and capped off with the eagerly anticipated Commands & Colors: Napoleonics.

All three games were recieved well in the hobby, and each is different enough that a real buff could be excused owning all three, but I have to say that I think the real winner in the bunch is C&C: Napoleonics. I'll go into more detail in a compative review I'm working on, but the bottom line is that C&C: N is simply a lot of fun to play. The Borg game engine has proven remarkably adaptable. All have proven to be very popular in both sales and generally. On Board Game Geek they rank (among wargames) at No. 5 (C&C: Ancients) No. 34 (Battlelore) No. 36 (Memoir '44) and No. 70 (Battle Cry). I expect CCN to join them all in the top 100 as soon as it gets enough votes, but the intitial ratings are very high and if they hold up it may very well end up above CCA. An expansion is already on the way.

The Worthington Game series that includes Napoleon's War has also proven popular among wargamers, although not a real cross-over success like Borg's designs. Still, it's also an entertaining play. This, too, already has a couple of expansions in print.

The real question mark among the three is Battles of Napoleon. I think it's a very interesting game system and highly rated, but it seems a little too involved for some tastes and I wonder if its sales will support any expansions. While it's not the only history-based wargame in the Fantasy Flight line (which also includes Tide of Iron and Wings of War), I'm not sure that it's a comfortable fit for FFG's usual market. Will it survive?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Second try at First Manassas

As part of Game Store "Stonewall" Tony's series of American Civil War 150th anniversary refights against "Iron Brigade" Seth we played the new game's First Bull Run scenario a second time.

Frankly, the dice were pretty kind this time around for the Federals. I had no particular strategy in mind -- or I should say the strategy I had in mind was not well-supported by the cards I drew.

I shifted the cavalry unit from the federal right to the left with the aim of using Hunter's leadership (I had two Leadership cards and two Left probe cards in my initial draw) to lead an attempt to dash in the CSA's weaker flank. This was pre-empted in part by Stuart's impetuous advance on the US Right that ended up costing Stuart both of his cavalry commands and giving the US an early 2-0 lead. Additional attempts by Tony to advance likewise seemed to help the boys in blue more than those in gray and before long the flag count was 4-0 in the US favor.

Of course, as is so often the case in Borg's Commands & Colors games no lead is truly secure and Tony's Rebels started to roll better and the Federal forces tried to finish things off. In particular Hunter's cavalry foray on the flank came to a bad end and before long the score was tied at 4 flags all.

Things were not a grim as that may make it seem however, as more of the Rebe units were down to vulnerable levels and the Union was able to pick off stragglers to end up with a 6-4 victory. This was somewhat closer than our first run through and close enough that I don't think the scenario is unwinnable for the Rebels.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Persian Incursion bottom line

After reading the whole thing through, the bottom line appears to be that doing serious damage, if not destroying, Iran's nuclear program infrastructure is technically and tactically feasible for Israel in the opinion of Larry Bond and his collaborators. In particular, Iran has very little military capability to stop an attack.

On the other hand, Israel needs to persuade at least one of the three powers controlling the air space on the way to Iraq to allow the air strikes to go forward because Iran's program is too extensive for a single air raid to do significant damage. So while the Israelis could certainly fly though the first time without permission, they'd need so many follow-up strikes that flying through without clearance isn't practical. Those three powers are the US (for Iraq air space) Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Bond's judgment is that Israel doesn't have the necessary level of support in any of the three. It's about getting that support and keeping it long enough to matter thant most of the game revolves. And here Iran does have come cards (literally) to play.

I'm definitely needing a partner to try this out. Any takers?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Persian Incursion arrives

Well, it was the first of the November rush of pre-orders to be charged but the last of the bunch to actually arrive. Unlike the other November pre-orders, expansions for Memoir '44 and Small World, the new Commands & Colors: Napoleonics and Battle Cry, which are all primarily entertainment, Persian Incursion is about as Serious a wargame as one could ask for.

Just perusing the components and starting to read it this product is clearly the most comprehensive treatment of one of today's biggest geopolitical and military issues -- could Israel attack Iran to eliminate its nuclear program? It addresses the technical and tactical aspects of a potential strike in excruciating detail (using the Harpoon 4 game engine) and the "game" portion (it's a standalone game, NOT a Harpoon module) provides a framework for examining the potential political and diplomatic consequences.

This is going to take a couple of days to digest, but I expect to say more about it later.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Breaking in Commands and Colors Napoleonics in a big way

Wellesley leads a dash for an objective flag. He'll get it, but won't stay long. In the end he emerged victorious without it. Photo courtesy Glen Cote

With the help of Glen Cote I got the eagerly anticipated opportunity to break in the new Commands & Colors: Napoleonics from GMT today and was not disappointed. It's definitely a great game.

It's the most involved game in Borg's series, although not by much. It reminds me most of Commands & Colors: Ancients in that there are a lot of subtle unit differences to consider and use of the player aid chart will be constant during the early going. But I expect fans will play this one enough that they'll internalize the numbers before long.

We played matches of the first two scenarios in the scenario book, two battles based on the morning and afternoon actions at Rolica in 1808 -- a total of four games in less than 4 hours!

We were aided in this by the fact that the OBs in the two scenarios are nearly identical so the only thing we had to chance was the terrain.

The morning battle depicts Sir Arthur Wellesley ( the future Duke of Wellington) advancing on a smaller French force that is attempting to delay him. In the historical fight the French fell back after being outflanked. In our first game with me as the French I jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the race for five flags due in large art to a British bayonet charge against the French left flank that was met disaster as it failed to do much damage and was followed by a French bayonet charge in return that destroyed most of the British and Portuguese attackers. Glen was able to roar back, however, scoring five consecutive flags to seize victory from the jaws of defeat.

When we switched sides my Wellesley led a breakthrough in the same sector where Glen's had come to grief, making it all the way to the French left flank objective hex for the 4th flag! Glen removed that threat by the well-timed play of a Short Supply card that sent Wellesley and his accompanying infantry back to the base line for more bullets. This ended up just postponing the end, however,a s the British were able to get the 4th and 5th flags in other sectors for a 5-3 win.

So the British won twice.

Next we tried the afternoon battle, where Wellesley attacked a new French position through a series of gullies that channeled and restricted the attack. Historically British elan carried the day, but elan fell short for our British twice. In the first game I had the British (I was already on that side of the board from the last game). I tried to move up my guns but Glen's French were aggressive and came off the ridge line to attack the British spearheads in detail. At the end of the day the French were able to get to their 5 flags while only losing 2 or 3 to the British. When we switched sides it was much the same story except the French were even more fortunate in their combat effectiveness as Glen decided to forgo gunnery and rely on cold steel to carry the heights. Once again the French aggressively moved forward and the end was even more lopsided this time, with a 5-1 win for the French. Two French wins in that scenario, which does look tough for the British, frankly.

Considering the essential simplicity of the game system it managed to capture the feel of Napoleonic warfare very well. In particular there were a lot of cases of back-and-forth exchanges of key terrain positions such as ridges and villages. The rules for forming square work in an interesting manner that definitely involve some interesting choices, especially for lower-quality armies, because each square that is formed take a command card out of action for the duration of the square and reduces the hand of command cards by one.

It was an excellent introduction to the system and I can hardly wait for more.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Routing Jackson in West Virginia

At Game Store Tony's request we have started a series refighting the battles of the American Civil War in roughly chronological order using the new Battle Cry game system, Our first battle was the little-known action on July 2, 1861 at Falling Waters, W.V.

It's well-known that the first major battle of the Civil War was fought at First Bull Run later in July, but apparently there was some fighting before that, including this battle where Thomas Jackson (not yet "Stonewall") attempted to delay a federal advance. It was basically two Union brigades against Jackson's one brigade, although the Rebel force also included the cavalry regiment led by the also-soon-to-be-famous Jeb Stuart.

Unlike the historical action, however, Tony's rebels were decidedly disliked by the dice, which didn't match well with his aggressive approach to the scenario. Before long Stuart found himself cavalry-less and was reduced to leading some of Jackson's infantry. Even the appearance of another artillery unit as reinforcements was unable to stem the blue tide and the fedearls ran up an early 4-1 lead in flags. The Rebs battled back with two more flags as the Union closed to try to finish the gray fellows off and eventually the deed was done for a 5-3 USA win.

Tony managed to get some revenge later, however, as his French narrowly edged my Germans 6-5 medals in the Battle of Hannut-Merdorp scenario from Memoir '44. This wasn't a very remarkable fight really. It was mostly a back-and-forth melee between two evenly matched forces amidst a scattering of villages and woods.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

And the stickering is complete

Now to move on to playing!

First, though, let me provide a quick out-of-the-box review. This game is very comparable in presentation with the latest versions of Commands & Colors: Ancients. It comes in the patented GMT "armored box" that should stand up to wargame handling for years with reasonable care. It has a mounted mapboard, as has become the practice for GMT's bigger-selling games of late.

There are, of course, plenty of blocks and stickers of the usual high quality. Not much to say about those expect that it is a time-consuming task to apply them all and a bit frustrating for the clumsy like me. The terain tiles are also similar to what we've seen in CCA.

There is a profusely illustrated full color rule book and a likewise color scenario book with 15 scenarios. I felt this was a little on the light side. I would have liked to see a couple more battles but I'm sure future expansions will get the CCN count up into the triple digits like Memoir '44 and CCA soon enough.

The dice are basically the same quality as the ones in CCA and also require the application of stickers.

There are also four player aid cards with national and unit characteristics as well a a couple of cardboard displays for units that are in square. Not sure yet how that will work. This is a new mechanic in the Borg universe.

Finally there are the command cards. These are high-quality stiff glossy cards similar to the latest versions included in CCA. There is one rather embarrassing typo on one card -- the "Give Them The Cold Steal" card which, of course, should be Steel.

Overall I had a good first impression and I can hardly wait to get this on the table.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics arrives -- let the stickering begin!

I'll give GMT credit, once they make the game available they don't make you wait for it.

This is in contrast to Days of Wonder, which made me watch the agonizing progress of my order of Memoir '44/Samll World expansions across the country via FedEx ground, I'm not sure it was doing me a favor. It sat in Connecticut for about three days. I think FedEx deliberately holds onto stuff so it doesn't arrive before its scheduled delivery time.

In any case, GMT e-mailed me that my CCN was shipped and bang! There is was on my doorstep.

It will take me longer to apply all the sticers than it took to ship it!

With a week of vacation ahead I hope to get in a session or two.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Comparative replay session of Battle Cry versions -- 2000 and 2010

Budding wargamer Game Store Tony was up for a double header of Battle Cry at the shop using both the classic original Battle Cry and the new 150th Anniversary Edition of the game to play the same scenario as a comparative exercise.

I selected the First Bull Run scenario, which is the first in each edition's scenario book. Game Store Tony prefers to play the side he perceives as the underdog, which in this case was the South because they lost the war. Of course the CSA did win this particular battle ... .

2000 edition scenario set up for First Bull Run

In any case, we played the classic edition first. Game Store Tony had played Battle Cry before as well as a number of sessions of Memoir '44, so has experience. As an experienced Magic: The Gathering player he's also pretty good at hand management, which is a useful skill in card-based warames such as the Borg designs.

Tony's dice were also pretty hot along with his card draws, so he was able to jump out to an early lead in the flag count. Basically he smashed each Federal attempt to close on him. It was pretty grim. One of the flaws in the older game soon came into play as I had a Bombard card but my sole artillery unit was already gone, rendering the card useless -- a serious problem with just a 4-card hand. Left, center and right the Union side was decimated and the final score was 6-2 for the CSA.

For the rematch I explained the changes in the rules that applied to the scenario at hand.

Among them was that infantry units entering woods now have a limited ability to enter and still battle -- in the older version a unit that enters a woods cannot battle.

The new game adds a new kind of building hex called a "homestead." It provides less protection (-1 die) than the old game's -2 buildings (which are now "town" hexes in BC150) but infantry and cavalry that enter can still battle out at a penalty.

There are some significant differences with generals, who no longer add one die to attacking units they are attached to, but instead allow those units to ignore a flag and also "take ground" under some circumctances. Players of other Borg games such as Memoir '44, Commands & Colors: Ancients and BattleLore have seen these before, but it'sa new addition to the Battle Cry system.

The new Battle Cry also adds a new card called a "Fight Back" card which allows something similar to the "Battle back" function seen in C&C:A and BattleLore.

There have been changes to some other cards as well, with two of the most notable being the addition of the option of using a card you can't otherwise use (such as Bombard when you have no artillery) to order a single unit of any type instead and the disappearance of the overpowered All-Out Offensive card. In it's place is the Battle Cry card, which allows the player to roll dice equal to his command level -- ordering units that match the dice symbols. All of these are familiar to players of the other games in the series. Battle Cry, being the first game, lacked some of the refinements introduced in subsequent designs. These changes bring Battle Cry up to the current standard.

2010 edition scenario

Armed with these new rules we played the First Bull Run scenario from the new edition. Interestingly enough, the biggest changes in the game came from changes in the scenario design, rather than rules and card changes. The revised scenario adds an infantry unit to the CSA side and makes a minor position shift of the two infantry on the Confederate Right. It also ups the CSA card hand from 5 to 6. More signifcantly it also increases the USA hand from 4 to 6 and as the Union player I definitely preferred getting an extra card and having card parity over having one more unit.

In this case the outcome was even more one-sided, but the other way. Aided by good dice and useful cards the Union army was able to smash in both flanks of the CSA. Down 5-1 Game Store Tony decided to go out like a true Rebel and used an Assault in the Center to make a final charge with his survivors. They knocked off a couple more boys in blue and forced a retreat or two, but a Federal Counterattack card meant I had several opportunities to get that last flag. As it turned out, the first Union battle was enough and the game ended 6-1.

Overall I think the rules changes represent common-sense enhancements that bring Battle Cry in line with the state-of-the-art of the other Borg designs. It's still the most straightforward and easiest of the line and is an excellent introduction to the system. It's also a very handsome package, with all components upgraded, brand-new sculpts and new art throughout. The cards are sturdier than the original edition and the dice now have the special symbols printed on them instead of the player having to apply stickers. You still have to sticker the flags, though, which is a challenge for fumble fingers like me,

It's a great package.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

They're coming fast and furious now. Commands and Colorss Napeolonic has shipped, Battle Cry out of the box

Heard from GMT that my order is on the way and I picked up the new Battle Cry today. Initial out-of-the-box impression is happy. Overall across the board component upgrade and some interesting changes in gameplay revealed by a glance through the rules. I hope to get a game in tomorrow for a test drive.