Friday, August 29, 2008


It's been a while since I wrote one of my game collection entries. The reason is because the game randomly chosen was Kasserine, a wargame from 2001 that deals with the fighting in North Africa in WWII, at the early part of 1943 when the Allied and Axis forces were fighting over control of the Kasserine pass. The game itself comes with six different scenarios, covering different parts of the fighting. I played the first and smallest scenario, covering the opening shots of the campaign as the germans attacked Free French positions at Faid Pass east of Kasserine.

The game takes place at the "operational" level, and the counters represent different sizes and types of units. There are different types of tanks, mobile artillery, armored cards, motorized infantry, foot infantry, artillery, mobile artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and more. The different sizes come into play by how strong the counter is. Companies are smaller than brigades, so they can take less damage and are less effective in combat. Combat itself is handled using multiple Combat Results Tables (CRTs), showing the difference between Assault attacks (done against hard terrain and defensive positions) and Mobile attacks (your standard "I drive my tanks over your puny infantry!" attacks).

There are also air units, though they are not usually on the playing board itself. Air units are handled somewhat abstractly. At the beginning of each turn, each of your planes is given one order (air strike, interdiction, etc.). You have to make a roll at or under the plane's efficiency rating in order for it to pull off its action properly, and then you figure out what happened. There is one type of interdiction mission that keeps the plane in limbo until it assists in a combat, but most air missions are handled at the beginning of the turn, and then you don't worry about planes until the next turn.

As anyone who has read about the war in North Africa knows, the war is about maneuverability. The game handles this by letting you cut off an enemy unit's supply lines if you can pin it against mountains or surround it. Without supplies, they can't properly move or fight, and are easier to take care of. Or, you can just slug it out head-to-head. This is what I did in the game I played. In the Faid Pass scenario, the Germans have to capture the pass, which is protected by French forces in a strongpoint on a mountain. Should be a hard nut to crack, right? The rulebook actually suggests surrounding it by sending in your tanks from the south, but I just got stuck in right away and sent my tanks in a head-on attack. It actually worked, too, because I got a good roll on the CRT and the French were forced to retreat, allowing the germans to take the pass.

Capturing (and holding...) the pass only gets the germans a marginal victory, however. For a full victory, you have to capture both another mountain about 12 miles away, and a town 12 miles away in a different direction. Unfortunately, while the germans are slapping around the french, the Americans are sending a bunch of tanks and infantry to support them. There are more Americans than there are Germans, so the Germans got stuck inside the pass, for the most part. The Americans couldn't make them retreat (they tried multiple times, and got shot up pretty badly for their efforts), but the Germans couldn't break out of the pass. A group of Germans tried maneuvering to the south, but got pinned down by some other French positions and more American reinforcements that came in from the south on turn 3.

The scenario only ran for six turns, so there wasn't much time to really have the germans make a go of it. They ended up capturing the town they needed, but they could never take the mountain. They took a lot of casualties for their efforts, too, which according to the rules knocks them from a Marginal Victory to the next lowest rating. Which I guess is an American victory, so "woo hoo" for the Americans, I guess.

Overall, I found the game to be somewhat difficult to learn. The rulebook is the main culprit in this, because it is not organized along the lines of how a play turn goes, which would make more sense. For example, right up front you do stuff with your airplanes. However, the rulebook only discusses airplanes after discussing disruption, supply lines, movement, combat, mine fields, and strongholds. Odd. They also make some mention of coordination rolls, without ever explaining what those really were. With about 10 minutes of detailed reading, I was able to figure out that they meant to roll against the unit's Efficiency Rating, but they should have just said that, or defined the term, or something. There are also waaaaay too many tables and charts. There are multiple play aid charts, and they really get in the way. I don't think they needed all of that. It just makes the game seem more complex than it actually is.

Once you get the system down, the game actually flows pretty quickly, though. And I like how the use of airpower and proper use of artillery are very important to your success. In fact, proper use of your artillery is probably the largest component of a winning strategy. In the scenario I played, the Americans have a lot more artillery than the germans (which I think historically occurs throughout the entire campaign), and when used right you can really screw up the german player. Of course, if they can break through the line they can just roll their tanks up to your pretty artillery and blow them up good, so you need proper formations, as well. All told, this is a good game that does what it sets out to do, though it is somewhat hampered by poorly organized rules and too many charts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


So, last week my colleague, Jeff, and I flew into Memphis before driving down to Batesville, MS. We just flew into the airport, got a rental car, and hit the road. Nothing exciting. This week, though, we decided to mix it up a bit. We flew into Memphis, got a rental car... and that's where things got interesting. See, I had just reserved a mid-size car. I didn't request anything specific, just a mid-size car. So I get to the rental place, and I find that they are giving me a Mustang. A 2008, black Mustang. For the same money as a Taurus. Awesome. Then, Jeff and I take our ride and go to downtown Memphis. We had slabs of ribs for dinner at B.B. King's Blues Club, and then we checked out the action on Beale Street for a bit. It was fantastic. We were having dinner late enough that we got to catch some live bands, which is pretty much the only appropriate way to eat a place owned by a music legend. And as we were leaving, we drove by the Gibson guitar factory. Yeah, that Gibson. They were closed at 9PM on Sunday night, of course, but it was still pretty sweet. Yeah, we got into Oxford, MS a bit later than normal, but that's OK. I'll give up a couple hours of sleep for that kind of opportunity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Know You're Not in the City Anymore

So, my colleague, Jeff, and I get to drive every day from Batesville, MS, to Water Valley, MS. Contrary to popular opinion, Water Valley is an actual town. According to the signs, it is a "certified Mississippi Main Street community," whatever that means. However, Water Valley isn't big. The hospital and the nursing home are in the same building, for example. However, Water Valley doesn't have some of the crazy excesses that Batesville has. For example, Water Valley does not have this place right outside the city limits.

Yes, it is a store that refinishes tubs. And by "refinishing," I think they mean that they put about 200 old bathtubs outside on the front lawn, because that is all that is going on here. I mean, what? What is the point of this? I have no idea, but I had to take a picture. Here's a better picture of the tubs.

Completely ridiculous. You know all those rumors you hear about Mississippi being backwards and stuff? I'm starting to think they might have some merit. Yeesh...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Down South

Greetings, everyone, from lovely Batesville, Mississippi. I got here by flying into Memphis and then driving about 50 miles south on I55. Tomorrow I get to commute ~30 miles to Water Valley, MS, where I will be working this week. Excitement! I've actually never been to Mississippi before, so I'm hoping to get a bit of the Southern experience. We did pass a Cracker Barrel on the freeway, but I'm hoping for something a bit more authentic.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The EPL is Back

Yes, today was kickoff for the '08/'09 season of the Barclays Premier League. It was a good day all around, though not great. Arsenal beat West Bromwich Albion, but didn't look convincing. Tottenham lost, which is always a wonderful thing. Interestingly enough, Hull City beat Fulham, proving that the new kids on the block are not going to just lie down and take their weekly beating like Derby County did last year. It should be an interesting year, but I'm honestly a bit nervous about Arsenal, and think that they are in a bit of danger of dropping out of the top 4. We'll just have to see!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back In Detroit

Greetings from Southfield, MI, a western suburb of Detroit. I am here in order to do some work for an automotive parts manufacturer. I was actually here almost exactly two years ago to so some work for another automotive parts manufacturer. It is Motown, after all. The only thing to report is that you should never rent from Budget in Detroit. Those people didn't really have any idea what they were doing. Yeesh.

Monday, August 04, 2008

My Home is Quiet Again

My friend Brian, who was visiting for the weekend, left this morning to fly back to his home in Brooklyn. As someone who lives by himself, and has people over about once per week, having someone live in my house for 3 days is a bit stressful. I hear sounds that I don't normally hear. Toilet paper disappears disturbingly quickly. I have to entertain someone else 24/7. It wears me out. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy Brian's visit, because I did, but it isn't easy for an introvert like me to live with someone else and have to talk to them all day.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Bombs Away!

This time as we walk through my game collection we come across Bombs Away!, an operational-level game of the air war over Europe during World War II. This game originally appeared in the magazine GameFix, but my copy was purchased as a separate package back when I was still living in Springfield, in mid '96. I had never played the game until now, so this one should be interesting. The game is for two players: one plays the Allies (Britain and America), while the other plays the Germans. The game is a card game. There is a common deck of Event cards, and each side has a separate deck of Armament Cards. These represent flak and aircraft available to each side, and they represent various historical aircraft. All aircraft have dogfight ratings (used to attack the other player's planes), while bombers also have a bombing rating (used to attack ground targets).

The game also comes with a stylized map of Europe. This map highlights nine different targets that the allies can attack during their bombing raids. There are three each of the following types of targets: Political, Economic, and Military. One of each of these types of targets is designated as "key," and successfully attacking those targets earns the Allies extra victory points. Each type of target has different effects. Bombing Political targets doesn't earn many victory points, but there is a small chance that the Germans will surrender after a successful attack. Bombing Military targets gets you the most victory points, but no other benefits. Bombing Economic targets minimizes the German player's ability to build new flak guns and aircraft.

The game runs for a total of nine turns, each representing roughly 6 months of wartime activity. During each turn, the German player has his hand of armament cards, and he plays them face down, however he wishes, on any or all of the nine targets on the board. Thus, the Allied player can see how many cards have been played on each location, but not what the cards are (though there are a few Event cards that allow peeking). At this point I will also note a very ingenious mechanic; the German player starts with nine decoy cards in his armament deck. Every turn, another one goes away, representing how Allied intelligence improved as the war progressed. So, early on, the German player has a lot of cards (most of which are decoys), with which to defend himself and confuse the other player. Near the end of the game you have almost no decoys, so it becomes much harder to defend all of your targets. The way this is handled is very simple, but it adds to the strategy a lot and makes the game more interesting.

After the German player places his cards, the Allied player assigns his planes to the targets he wants to attack. The actual combat is pretty simple. Each event card has a number on the bottom, and you draw these cards to determine if attacks succeed. To shoot down another plane, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the attacker's Dogfight rating. To bomb a target, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the Bomb rating. To shoot a plane down with flack, draw a card with a number equal to or less than the number of Flak cannons. It's a simple mechanic, but it works. Statistics nerds can have fun checking out the total number of each result available on the cards and come up with a statistical spread for each possibility, but I'm not that into statistics, so I'll let others handle it. The numbers do seem to be slanted toward the high end, but I can't say exactly how much.

At the beginning of the game, the Allied player can't do much. However, he keeps getting more planes, and by the end of the game the German player is scrambling to attempt to cover his key targets and to minimize the damage as the Allies swarm him with many different planes. The game is assymetrical in this respect, and I liked that quite a bit. Playing one side was very different from playing the other side. There is a lot of strategy in determining how to defend your positions as the German player, and how to make raids as the Allied player. Do you go after mostly Economic targets to keep the German player from building more cannons and planes; do you go after mostly Political targets to try to luck into an early surrender; do you go after mostly Military targets to get lots of victory points; or do you spread yourself thin, trying to get all at once? It's very interesting.

I have previously mentioned Event Cards. These cards have two effects for players: they all have the names of aircraft on the bottom, and you can use these to get that aircraft card for free if it has bene researched and is currently undeployed. However, the main use is that each card represents a historic or "almost historic" event that changes the game in some way. For example, one card represents the Italians providing resources, so the German player can build stuff for free. Another card lets you adjust a result draw. Another card makes it harder for the Germans to hit Allied planes. Stuff like that. You have to buy most of these cards, so you'll rarely have a lot of them, but they add to the game nicely.

The game also comes with a number of optional rules: night fighters, high altitude bombing, etc. I didn't play with any of those, so I can't say how well they work. In the end, though, this is a game that annoys me. It annoys me because it was really fun and interesting to play, and I've owned it for 12 years without every playing it before. I definitely made a mistake by not breaking this one out sooner.