Saturday, November 03, 2012

There Goes the Season

When the NHL lockout started I was confident that some games would be lost, but the league would be playing by January 1st at the latest because of the money and exposure that the Winter Classic outdoor game brings.  Of course, this being the NHL, run by people who are perfectly happy to cut their nose off to spite their face, they just cancelled the Winter Classic.  I am no longer confident that there will be a season this year, and I really can't figure out why.  I don't buy the "we can't make any money!" crying from the same owners that sign players to outrageous 12+ year contracts that will obviously harm their own teams a few years down the road.  While I didn't back the players during the last lockout (to be honest, I didn't take either side), I am on their side this time around.  The NHL is making more money than ever and is generally in good health.  If individual franchises can't make money, then fold them or move them.  How is not playing hockey going to actually help franchises losing money to make money?  Don't you still lose money without that revenue coming in?  I just don't get it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


BattleLore is one of many games in the Commands and Colors series by Richard Borg.  At least four different companies have published games in the series, all of which share similar core mechanics.  I first wrote about this series back in 2008 with Commands and Colors: Ancients.  BattleLore shares many similarities with that game, but there are a number of important differences, as well.  BattleLore tries to straddle the line between medieval warfare and swords & sorcery fantasy.  The game comes with archers; light, medium, and heavy infantry; and light, medium, and heavy cavalry for each side.  All of those units are the same for each side.  You can use these units to fight a couple historical battles included with the game.  They are also used in the "fantasy" battles, as well.  To get that "fantasy" feel, the game also comes with goblins and dwarves, as well as a giant spider unit.  The goblins and dwarves are essentially just regular infantry or cavalry with special rules.  If you wanted to focus only on historical battles, you could use such units as 'foreign' mercenary troops, or something like that, and not worry about whether they are humans or not.  The giant spider doesn't lend itself to such treatment, naturally.  It is pretty cool, I must admit, though like all such special creatures (more are sold separately!) lucky die rolls can kill it before you get to do anything neat with it.

Up to this point, everything is pretty much standard Commands and Colors game play, as described in my write-up of the Ancients game.  The use of light, medium, and heavy units is the same, the way the board is set up is the same, the way that command cards work is generally the same, etc.  There is one thing that sets this game apart, though.  That is the use of Lore.  Lore is represented by a separate deck of cards.  In some battles, the players can buy levels of "lore masters," which are special individuals that are part of your army.  You can have a wizard, a priest, a rogue, and a warrior.  Each of those character types has 15 cards that represent special abilities of those types.  For example, the wizard can use fireballs to try to kill an enemy unit outright, or move units around the board, etc.  You figure out what type and power of lore masters you want in your army, and then set up the lore deck with the ability cards for your chosen masters.  All of the cards are powered by "lore tokens," which build up during game play.  Every turn you have a chance to get up to two new tokens, but you can also get additional tokens by rolling lore symbols on the dice during combat.  The more powerful lore cards require more lore tokens to use them, so the luck of the draw doesn't overly influence the events of the game.

The addition of the lore system does set BattleLore apart from others in the Commands and Colors series, and since I like the series you would think that I would be all over this game.  In reality, though, I've owned the game for about four years but have only played it a couple times.  Why?  I really am not sure.  The figures are nice, and game plays pretty quickly, it lends itself decently to solitaire play, but... it just is lacking something.  I can't even say what.  If I want to play a game in the series, I gravitate towards Memoir '44 or Ancients.  Thus, even though BattleLore is a solid game, it just sits forlornly on my game shelf.  Alas.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Combat Commander: Europe

The next random game in my collection is Combat Commander: Europe.  This is an infantry combat game set in World War II, in the European theater of operations.  The units a small scale, with unit counters representing squads, fire teams, or individuals leaders or heroes.  The game is scenario-based, and the boxed game comes with a dozen different scenarios featuring American, German, and Russian forces.  There is also a method to randomly generate new scenarios if you play through all of the scenarios that come with the game.  The game is for two players.

All of this is pretty traditional.  For decades the game Advanced Squad Leader has been the gold standard for WWII combat at this scale.  What does Combat Commander do that Squad Leader does not?  While the games do deal with the same scale of tactical combat, Combat Commander plays complete differently.  First of all, there are no dice to roll.  Instead, everything is handled through the play of cards.  Each army has its own unique deck of 72 cards.  Each card has an Order, an Action, an Event, a specific map hex and two numbers between one and six.  All game activity takes place through play of the cards.  To give orders to your units on your turn, you have to play a card with the Order you want to conduct, maybe "Move," or "Fire," or "Recover."  You then activate a unit (if that unit is a leader, it can active other units within its command range to perform the same action) to perform that action.  Actions are taken outside of the standard Orders phase that interrupt play somehow.  For example, the "Fire" card can be used as an Order or an Action.  If you play it as an Action, then you can interrupt the other player's movement to have one of your units fire at the moving unit's space on the board.  Or you might have an action that adds attack power to a "Fire" order, or that lets you lay down smoke to block the vision of your opponent.

Events are random things that happen during the game, and can result in having one of your units lose morale, gaining new units, having fires start, etc.  Above I had mentioned that each card comes with two numbers on it.  Those numbers are used in place of having dice in the game.  To perform a "Fire" or "Reform" action you draw a card from your deck, add up the numbers, and then you use that number to determine whether your action succeeded or not.  Some actions are opposed, and your opponent will also be drawing a card and looking at the numbers to see if his number was higher than yours.  If so, the action doesn't take place.  I realize that this may sound a bit odd, and it took me a little while to get used to it, but the system really does work very well.

So how long do games last?  The short answer is that the players don't know.  Games don't last a set number of turns.  Instead, each scenario gives you a set number of time slots before you start checking to see if the game ends.  The time track advances in two different situations.  First, if a player plays all the way through their deck, then you advance the turn track one space.  Additionally, if a player is drawing a card for a "die roll," and the word "Time" is in red text next to the numbers, then the time track advances.  So, the players really don't know when the time track will advance.  This impacts strategy, because you just don't know if you should rush forward with an attack before you are fully prepared for it, or if you will have the time to get everything in place just the way you want it.

One wrinkle with having all orders issued through the play of cards is that if you want to do something, but don't have a card that lets you do it, then you can't perform that order.  For example, I have played in many games where I was on the attack and really needed to move my units forward, but I didn't have a "Move" or "Advance" order to do so.  And in the last game that I played the American player was running roughshod over the poor Germans, but they didn't have any "Fire" cards so they couldn't return fire against the American forces.  I have a friend who hates games like this, but this kind of thing doesn't bother me.  If you don't like card-driven games, I recommend steering far away from this one.  However, if you can embrace the randomness of having your actions constrained by your hand of cards, then this really is a great game of infantry combat.

Archon 36

I spent this past weekend at Archon 36, the St. Louis, MO area science-fiction convention.  I had a really good time.  I played a couple QAGS games run by my favorite GM, a game of Legend of the Five Rings, and some Munchkin (combining the Western and science-fiction genre games, which resulted in some very strange combinations of cards, like android indians riding giant cats) in scheduled events.  I also got to play a demonstration game of Sentinels of the Multiverse, which turned out to be awesome, as well as a Sunday afternoon game of Arkham Horror.  That game did not turn out at all like we expected, but we were able to win through a string of incredibly lucky dice rolls at the end, so it's all good.

Of course, there is more at Archon than just gaming.  I attended a panel discussion about our current understanding of the realities and hazards of traveling to and trying to survive on other planets, a panel discussion on a perceived current trend in science-fiction of more nostalgia and "looking back," rather than looking forward with hope to future (most current science-fiction, whether in books or movies or TV, tends to have a very dark take on the future, which may be driving people away from the genre), and a panel discussion about how to properly evoke feelings of horror in games (usually difficult to do since people are sitting around a well lit table or otherwise feeling comfortable in their environment).  It was a weekend of time with friends, good food, and general relaxation.  The only downside is waiting a year until the next one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Forlorn: Hope

Forlorn: Hope is a sci-fi tactical wargame.  The basic setup is that a group of marines are boarding the damaged space station "Hope" and there they encounter lots of nasty alien creatures (called "xenos") that immediately set about trying to eat them.  Yes, that does sound vaguely like the plot of a movie, doesn't it?  Lack or originality aside, how does the game play?

You can play the game in two first.  First, as a two player game, with one player controlling the marines and one controlling the xenos.  Alternatively, the game does come with solitaire rules where the player takes on the marines and the system plays the xenos.  No matter which way you play, you will select a scenario to play and that dictates how you set up your forces, the map you will use (the game comes with two), and the victory conditions.  The two sides do play differently.  For the marine player, you roll dice for action points at the beginning of each turn, and everything you do costs action points.  Want to move a marine?  That will be an action point.  Want to attack a xeno?  That will be an action point.  Want to open that yellow security door?  Yep, that is also an action point.  Don't expect to have too many more points than you have marines, so you aren't doing a whole lot with each of them on a turn.

Alternately, the xeno forces don't worry about action points.  Each unit gets to move up to its full movement each turn, and then they can make an attack if in range or a marine.  Simple.  To spice things up, the xeno player gets a hand of Mutation Cards to play during the game.  These all break the regular rules in some way, from making your creatures tougher to getting a special attack to laying eggs throughout the space station.

The game plays pretty fast.  Most units only need one hit to kill, so combat is fast and deadly.  As long as the marines aren't outnumbered, they can usually hold off the xenos if they aren't trying to move.  However, if trying to cover a distance, and/or outnumbered by the xenos, things get nasty quickly.  Because the game doesn't take long to play, you can get a number of plays in one evening, and the variety of scenarios keep the game from getting old too fast.

So how does Forlorn: Hope stack up to other games in my collection?  I have two other games that deal with the same general topic.  Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident is almost exactly the same game theme-wise, though strictly solitaire only.  It is also awesome on toast, and hard as all get out.  If I am playing a solitaire "survive the alien onslaught" game, Last Frontier is the one I want to play.  The Awful Green Things from Outer Space also handles a similar theme, but with much more humor and randomness.  Green Things is a two-player only game.  It takes longer to play than Hope does, but in some ways is more satisfying.  Hope has multiple scenarios, though, where Green Things only has the one survival scenario.  So, with all of that, I am unsure if Forlorn: Hope is worth keeping in my collection or not.  It has a lot of play flexibility, but for my money just isn't as fun as the two similar games I also have.  Looks like this one may get traded at some point.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Anima: Shadow of Omega

The next random game from my collection is one I have had a few years, Anima: Shadow of Omega.  The reason for the somewhat odd name is that Anima is not just a card game.  In fact, there are three card games currently available, a tabletop role-playing game, and a tactical miniatures game all bearing the "Anima" label.  All of the above mentioned products are published by Fantasy Flight Games in North America, but all were developed by Edge Entertainment in Europe, which interestingly enough publishes for the European market a lot of games developed by Fantasy Flight in the States.

But what is Anima?  Basically, the series of products are all fantasy adventure games using the trappings and themes of Japanese console RPGs.  This means epic quests, romances between major characters, betrayals, crazy monsters, crazy magical effects, etc. from a story standpoint.  From an art standpoint I can see the resemblance to some characters from Japanese console RPGs, but the European nature of the artists tends to come through in the fact that the characters, while sometimes wearing some crazy looking armor or clothing, all have standard human proportions and don't have the "cartoony" look that many Japanese manga-inspired artists use in console RPGs.  So while the overall themes and look match up to the subject material, visually there is enough of a difference to let you know that Anima is its own animal.

In the card game "Shadow of Omega," which is the first of the three Anima card games, two to five players recruit heroes into their party and try to defeat the evil boss character Omega.  (I should note here that there have been two editions of the game, and I own the first one.  I understand that some rules were tweaked in the revised edition in relation to the boss fight at the end.)  There are actually three different ways to do this, and each game one of the three ways is randomly selected as a 'final mission' card which describes how to defeat Omega.  One mission might have you fighting Omega straight up in a very tough combat, while another mission has you using your Speed rating to sneak past Omega and steal an Orb from him without him noticing.  So there is some variety to each game played.  Another way that variety is introduced is in the use of missions.  At the beginning of the game each player is dealt two random mission cards.  At least one of those missions must be completed before a player can take on Omega in the final mission to win the game, and sometimes it is advantageous to complete both of your missions first.

That being mentioned, the heart of the game is in the characters and the locations.  The game starts with each player getting one character card at random, and the characters range from the archetypical warrior and magic-user to beastmasters and summoners and rangers and paladins and what not.  If you played electronic RPGs you will recognize the character types.  Characters all have a combat and speed rating; as well as having the potential to use Ki, Magic, and/or Trickery advantage cards.  Some characters will have a special ability as well.  During play your party of characters can visit location cards and try to accomplish things, like recruiting new characters (you can have a maximum of four characters in your party, and good luck trying win with less than that number), undertaking missions, having special encounters, or drawing Advantage cards.  You will most likely have to draw encounter cards when at a location, and some of those encounters can be really nasty (like if you meet Omega, who just kills one of your characters no matter what and then you lose your turn), but some can be helpful, from granting you extra Advantage cards to getting new characters for free.

Each player starts the game with three Advantage cards, and can hold up to five in their hands during the game.  These cards range from mean tricks to play on other players, to cards that aid in combat, to items that help you fight.  Most of the cards are keyed to either Magic, Trickery, or Ki, and therefore require a character with that ability to use.  Proper use of the Advantage cards is often key to winning, as one or two combat cards can really swing a combat in your favor.

Anima: Shadow of Omega doesn't have a high ranking on, but I like the game.  It doesn't take too long to play, and I enjoy the general RPG trappings in an entertaining adventure game.  Because much of the game is dependent on card draws and die rolls, it can be frustrating if you have bad luck.  There is enough skill in card play and hand management, though, that I still have fun with it.  I will also note that while I have never played any of the other Anima card games, they are supposed to integrate with each other so that if you had all of the sets you could play a big game with lots of variety in it.  I'll have to try that some day.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Will the NHL play in 2012?

It is now September, the month when training camp and pre-season games occur in the NHL, and nothing is happening.  Based on current news, the players association and NHL aren't even really talking anymore, which does not fill me with hope.  Are we headed for another lockout, a la '04-'05?  I don't think so, though we are almost certainly headed for a lockout of some kind.  I don't think the owners really want to eliminate a whole season again, but I can easily see a scenario like the NBA went through last season, where the first third or so of the season is cancelled while negotiations continue.  I really don't think the NHL wants to lose out of the exposure that the Winter Classic game on January 1 gives them, so I would not be surprised if the 2012 part of the season is cancelled and the campaign kicks off on January 1, or Christmas, or some date around there.  This allows the league to still get in 50+ games for each team, plus they get the Winter Classic in to keep NBC happy.

So what is a Blues fan to do in the meantime?  Well, there's always soccer... Oh, wait, are the Bandits still playing?

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I have owned my copy of Nanofictionary for around 10 years.  In all that time, I never made the time to play it until today.  The reason for this is that the game is very much outside of my usual subject area.  Nanofictionary is not a wargame, or a strategy game, or anything like that.  It is a story-telling game, where each player uses their cards to set up a story.  The only other game in my collection that even comes close to this idea is Once Upon a Time, but there are some significant differences in the way that each game plays.  In One Upon a Time the players are all working on telling the same story, but in Nanofictionary each player is working on their own independent story.

Game play works as such:  each player starts with five cards.  Each turn they draw a card from the draw pile and then either play one card from their hand, or they can discard as many cards as they want and draw enough cards so that they end the turn with five cards in their hand.  The goal is to get at least one Character, Setting, Problem, and Resolution on the table in front of you.  There are also Action cards you can play that let you do special things, like swap cards with another player or take a card from the discard pile, for example.  Bonus points are scored by ending play before other players, and the last player gets two rounds to wrap up their story.  Then, each player tells a short story using the cards in front of them as the primary elements, and the players award victory points to the stories they like the best.

The game plays pretty quick, and provides a mild diversion.  With certain groups of people I can see the game being a lot of fun.  People who are not natural storytellers might have some trouble getting into it, though.  Also, this game is better with more people, and the rules allow for spectators to award bonus points to the stories that they like the best, so this game would even work well at a larger party, as those not directly playing the game can still laugh at the silly stories the players come up with and influence who scores the most points and thus wins the game.  While there is some skill involved in trying to tie all of the story elements provided by the cards into a coherent whole, there is also a fair amount of luck involved in the cards that you get.  Some elements just do not go together well, and someone stuck with such cards will find it almost impossible to win.  Still, a game can be played in as little as 15 minutes, so you can always try your luck again in the next round.

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Zero! is a card game about air combat in the Pacific theater of World War II.  It is the third game in the Down in Flames series, focusing on the early part of the war in the Pacific, generally through 1942.  The game comes with cards for each of the planes in the game, along with a separate 'action deck' of cards that are used by all players to play the game.  As befits a wargame, there are a number of different campaigns that come with the game that you can play (the invasion of the Philippines, the invasion of Burma, the Pearl Harbor attack, the Battle of the Coral Sea, etc.  Each campaign consists of a number of missions with varying objectives, but before I get into that I want to discuss the basics of the game.

The basic scenario is the dogfight, which lasts for six turns (though you can play as long as you want if not playing in a tournament or other official competition).  Dogfights take place between elements of fighter planes.  Each element consists of a lead plane and its wingman.  The lead planes have three basic attributes:  Performance, which indicates the maximum number of cards that player can have in her hand; Bursts, which indicates the standard attack factor of the plane; and Horsepower, which indicates the number of cards you draw at the end of your turn.  There can be other attributes (Agile aircraft, bomb capacity, etc.) but those three are what drives the game.  Wingmen have an Offense and Defense rating, but no separate hand of cards.

At the start of the game, you get a hand of cards equal to your leader's Performance rating.  For example, the P-40C Tomahawk has a Performance of 5, so if you were playing an element of P-40Cs you would draw 5 cards.  The cards either describe attacks, defensive actions, or maneuvers that you can execute during the game.  Every card has an "Attack" and a "Response" box on it.  Items in the attack box indicate actions that you can take when you play the card to take actions on your turn.  For example, an 'In My Sights' card lets you make an attack using a specific number of bursts to do a specific amount of damage to an enemy target.  Your opponent then gets to play cards from her hand that have 'In My Sights' listed in the Response box, like the 'Vertical Roll' card, for example.  On your turn you play as many cards as you can, then you draw cards equal to your Horsepower (though not exceeding your Performance rating in total cards in your hand), and then your opponent does the same.

That all sounds rather dry, I realize, but it is the interplay among cards (especially with multiple players) that makes the game fun.  And there are many additional elements that mix things up.  Your Horsepower rating is affected by altitude, maneuvering behind an enemy gets you extra bursts (required to play the higher damage attack cards), the action deck has two 'Ace Pilot' cards that let you respond to any card played by another player, etc.  The game is quick to learn, but there is a fair amount of strategy to it.

The campaigns add bombers and strategic targets to attack, as well as a scoring system for determining after all missions have been flown who won the campaign.  None of these additional elements is all that complicated, though I do occasionally have trouble keeping all of the different types of bombing straight (level bombing, saturation bombing, dive bombing, torpedo bombing...), and of course they all have their own rules.  The only rules quibble I have with the campaigns is the fact that bombers are worth ridiculous points.  Usually, getting your bombers home undamaged is worth more points than actually destroying your target.  Of course, your opponent can also get lots of points for shooting them out of the sky, so some missions just devolve into the attacker trying to protect his bombers, rather than doing his best to take out the target.  But that is a minor quibble over a good, fun game.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

This Accursed Civil War

I'm back with another random game from my collection (which seems to be all that this blog is about anymore...).  This time it is This Accursed Civil War, the first game in the Musket & Pike series.  Over 3 1/2 years ago I wrote about the third game in the series, Under the Lily Banners, and my general opinion of that game applies here, as well.  Same rules, same game play, etc.  This game, however, deals with the second English Civil War, often referred to as "Royalists vs. Roundheads" when Oliver Cromwell was trying to kick the king to the curb.  Therefore, all of the battles are from that war.  The only noticeable rules difference relates to cavalry.  As I wrote in my earlier review of Under the Lily Banners, cavalry are pretty unpredictable.  Well, in this game, cavalry are just about completely unreliable.  While in other games in this series there is a good chance that your cavalry will run amok, in this game they are almost guaranteed to run amok.  This is supposedly a nod to historical accuracy, but it does make for more chaotic game play as you have to assume that as soon as your cavalry win a battle they are going to merrily chase their opponents all the way into the next county and no longer take part in the present battle.  Annoying.  Still, a good game and the first one in the series I ever played, so I have fond memories of games over the years.  Lots of laughs, as long as you don't take winning and losing too seriously, because you just can't rely on your pesky cavalry.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


The next random board game from my collection is one I have had for a while, Ambush!  This is a solitaire game where you play against the game itself.  First published in 1983, I got this game as a present sometime during the early to mid '90s, though I can't remember exactly when.  The game is very unique in all of the games I have played.  The mechanics can take some time to get used to, but once you get the hang of things this game provides a fun (and tense!) simulation of man-to-man combat and tactics during WWII.

Set in the Western Front after D-Day, you are given a squad of 8 men to command through a series of 8 missions.  the game board consists of a hex map with a variety of terrain on it.  There are two phases to the game: Operations turns and Tactical turns.  You conduct Operations turn when no German enemies are on the map.  Every time you move a character into a new hex (unless it is marked otherwise with an Event counter) you look up the hex number on the provided matrix, and you will either get a result of "NONE," (nothing happens) "EVENT," (roll for a random event) or a three digit number.  If you get a number, you look it up in the Paragraph book and do what it says.

I realize that that description might be hard to understand and not sound like much fun, but what it means is that as you move around the map trying to accomplish your objectives (in the last mission I played, for example, my squad was scouting a small village, so I was slowly moving through each of the buildings on the map, knowing that there were Germans somewhere, but I didn't know where) the game will react to your movements.  Eventually one or more Germans will pop up (there is a reason this game is called Ambush...) and then you go into Tactical turns.

During tactical turns you stop checking the reaction matrix every time you enter a hex and instead focus on taking out the Germans before they kill your soldiers.  Each German soldier is represented by a small card, which contains a small matrix that you roll against to see what their actions will be.  Sometimes those Germans can be downright devious, and sometimes they are cowards; it all depends on how the scenario designer set them up.  There is a lot of tension in this game, as you don't  know where the enemy is on the map, so you try to move your soldiers in such a way that they can support each other when the bullets start flying without being all bunched out and taken out by a grenade.  On top of that, you roll for random events during all Tactical turns except the first one when a German appears, so you can have all sorts of unexpected stuff happen.  In one combat I had a pair of Germans manning a machine gun pop up on my flank.  I moved in to take them out, fully expecting at least one of my guys to get killed (we had to cross open ground to assault their position), only to have the German gun randomly jam at a critical moment.  Awesome!  Then while assaulting the machine gun position, a staff car with an officer in it broke out of a secret bunker and tried to drive away.  Then an American jeep with a machine gun on the back showed up on the edge of the map as reinforcements, and then a German plane took a strafing run at us.  All in one fight that started with a lone sniper in a small building on the edge of the town.  This game really tests your ability to react to unexpected situations and change your plans on the fly.

I have never played all 8 of the scenarios that came with this game, which is a terrible oversight on my part that I really need to rectify.  On top of that, the publisher published three different scenario packs to give players even more missions to try, as well as a separate game using the same system set in the Pacific Islands.  I never did pick up any of those back in the day, and now people on eBay want close to $100 just for a 4 mission expansion pack.  No thanks, folks, but I will happily play my base game when the mood strikes.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Lurker at the Threshold

Long time no blog.  I've been busy, but also a bit lazy.  I finally overcame that laziness, though, and have played another random game from my collection for your edification.  This time, the random selection isn't even a complete game.  The Lurker at the Threshold is an expansion set for the game Arkham Horror.  This is a "small box" expansion, so there is no new map, or new monsters, or new heroes.  The expansion does come with some new item and spell cards, as well as new mythos and encounter cards, as well.  But the big addition with this expansion is in the area of pacts and relationships.

The theme to this expansion is providing aid to others.  Many of the items and spells in this expansion allow players to aid other players in various ways, and the relationship cards allow for permanent benefits between two different characters.  All of this helps the players to win the game.  Not that the expansion is making things easy for you, of course, as the expansion also introduces new gate tokens which generally have nasty surprises and can actively harm you, as opposed to the dimensional gates in the original game which are just kind of there on the board.  That is decidedly unfun.  Also, the pact cards go along with the 'Lurker at the Threshold' herald card, and adds a whole new dimension to the game.  Basically, there is an evil creature who is perfectly happy to aid the players as they try to accomplish tasks in the... for a price, to be named later.  And some of those prices can be very high, indeed.

All told, I like this expansion.  I like how many of the new cards relate to helping other players, which means that this expansion gets better with more players.  If only only playing with two or three people, I'm not sure that this expansion provides much to the game, but with four or more players I can see how it could really increase the interaction among players, which is always a good thing in a cooperative game like this.  So, a solid expansion that makes the game harder but adds to player interactivity in a good way.  That's a win in my book.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Battleship Galaxies

The next random game in my journey through my game collection is a rather recent one, Battleship Galaxies.  This is a recent Hasbro game of space combat featuring plastic spaceships.  As some of you may know, for decades there has been a game called Battleship.  You might think that there is something tying these two games together, and you would be right to think so.  We will get to that in a minute.  First, let me explain the basics of the game.

There are two sides, the ISN (humans and friendly aliens) and the Wretcheridians (unfriendly aliens).  Each side has a total of 10 ship pieces available (three capital ships and seven fighter craft).  Each ship or fighter squadron has a card that describes its capabilities, of which there are three variants (standard, experienced, veteran).  The more experienced a ship is, the more special abilities it picks up.  The base game comes with five missions, and each mission explains which ships are involved.  Alternately, some missions instead give you a certain amount of points to use to purchase your ships, so this came can be played with lots of different combinations of ships.  There are also cards that you use to change things during the game, such as adding special crew to your ships, or adding extra weapons or systems, or special tactics (like re-rolling a miss or ignoring a hit).

Everything in the game is ruled by energy.  Each turn you get 10 energy points to use however you wish.  It takes energy to "launch" a ship onto the board, it takes energy to activate a ship or fighter squadron already on the board, and it takes energy to play cards.  Some weapons even require energy to fire.  That 10 energy you get a turn is rarely enough to do everything you would like, so there are times when you have to not activate ships or play cards and instead save your energy for use in a later turn.

Combat is pretty simple but surprisingly effective.  Each weapon has a stated range and damage capacity.  If an enemy ship is within range, you can make an attack.  Here is where the tie-in to the original Battleship game comes in.  Each ship card has a grid of 80 spaces, with columns A through J and rows 1 through 8.  There are two dice in the game, a 10-sided die with letters and an 8-sided die with numbers.  The attacker rolls the two dice and calls out the attack coordinates, and then the defender looks at the target's ship grid and determines whether the attack hits the ship or misses.  Large capital ships take up many boxes on the grid, and fighters take up less, so they are harder to hit (which makes sense).  If the attack hits, the defender takes as many points of damage as the weapon does.  For each hit, you put a red damage peg onto the base of the ship, and once it reaches its hull rating the ship is destroyed.  Many ships also start the game with shields, which are (usually) removed before taking any hull damage.  Interestingly, each ship also has a critical damage space, and any hull damage to that space automatically destroys the ship.

This game is pretty fun.  It doesn't take that long to play, and the players have many choices to make as they try to make the best use of their energy to take actions to defeat the other player.  The only downside to this game is that it could really use more:  more ships, more cards, more scenarios.  The rulebook references expansions to the game, though as of the date of this blog entry I am unaware of there being any expansions, or even plans for expansions.  So while the game is perfectly playable on its own, it could use a little more love and attention from Hasbro.  Still, what is here is a good, fun game that I can see myself playing a lot more of in the future.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

History is Fun

The only thing that I knew I wanted to do today was go to Monticello.  I hadn't been there in at least four years, so I wasn't sure what would be different.  As it would turn out, more than I thought.  First, there is a nice little exhibit hall attached to the visitor's center complex with some interesting interactive exhibits.  My favorite part was the word tile thing on the floor, where a projector would slap a bunch of moving letters on the word, which would then move to the wall to make a quote from somebody relevant to that word.  Pretty interesting.

Also, I was sad to learn that the two huge trees flanking the rear of the house are both gone, victims of disease and storms.  As is my wont, I got there before 10AM and didn't leave until after 3:30PM.  I then visited a mountain-top orchard selling their own cider and apple butter.  After that I had to visit multiple grocery stores before I could successfully find some Dominion root beer.  I drank a bit of that stuff when I lived in Arlington.  Then I lucked into a really authentic Chinese restaurant, where I got a mix of really and really not healthy foods, and now to watch some playoff hockey.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hold Your Horses

Greetings from Charlottesville, VA!  I am here for a long weekend away from work.  When I mentioned to one of my colleagues (who used to live in Virginia) that I was coming to Charlottesville he asked if I was here for the races.  Alas, I am not, but there are a LOT of fairly fancy people at the hotel, so that is probably what they are here for.  Instead, I am going to Monticello tomorrow, and will probably hit the walking mall downtown in the evening.  I am unsure if I'll be able to find someplace with the Blues game playing, but I'll give it my best shot.  Sunday is a wildcard, as of yet unplanned.  I'm sure I can come up with something to do, though.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Panzer Blitz

A year ago I wrote about the board game Panzer Leader.  The next game up in my random walk through my board game collection is Panzer Blitz, the predecessor game to Panzer Leader, being published first, in 1970.  While the games are quite similar, in some ways I like Panzer Blitz better, probably because the rules are even simpler and artillery don't have a completely different set of rules to resolve fire.  The main differences are thematic, with Panzer Blitz's situations covering action on the Eastern Front (German vs. Soviet).  There are some different unit types in this, including Russian cavalry, which are way more fun than they should be, but otherwise it is feels very familiar.  Panzer Blitz uses the same style of modular boards as Panzer Leader, so it is possible to combine the games together and have really huge battles if you want.  So if you want to know my opinion of Panzer Blitz, just take what I wrote about Panzer Leader and put it in a slightly more favorable light.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fields of Fire

Fields of Fire is a solitaire game focusing on the 9th U.S. Infantry.  I have the first edition of the game (from 2008), which includes three campaigns, one each from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  The second edition of the game includes a second Korean campaign.  Each campaign consists of a series of linked missions.  At the beginning of each campaign you start out with a set number of forces.  As each mission is played, your units take casualties which degrades their combat effectiveness.  At the end of each mission, you can spend experience points earned in the mission to upgrade the quality of your surviving soldiers, and at set points in each campaign you get new recruits to fill in open spots due to casualties.  Thus, the focus of the game really is on managing your forces throughout an entire campaign.  Throwing your soldiers into the teeth of enemy fire in order to capture an objective might look like a good idea in the short term, but if you take too many casualties in one mission you won't have enough forces to succeed in the remaining missions.  So, unit management is the name of the game.

There are three overall types of missions: attack (seize an objective), defend (protect an objective), and patrol (move through the patrol area to see what is there).  All missions take place on a randomly-assigned play area, which is created using the terrain deck.  While this is technically a board game, there isn't an actual board.  Instead, each war period has a separate terrain deck, and you deal out a number of terrain cards onto the table as indicated in the mission setup.  For example, I played the first mission of the Korean campaign, which had me lay out 25 cards, face down, in a 5x5 grid.  This was an attack mission with unknown terrain, so I could only turn a terrain card face-up when I had units in line of sight of that card.  Some terrain cards block line of sight, and some don't, so you don't know what you are dealing with until you are looking at it.

Enemy units are generated dynamically, but there are no dice involved.  Instead, there is a separate deck of cards used for all campaigns called the command deck.  This deck will be shuffled A LOT during the course of the game, because you draw cards to determine everything: random numbers, whether actions succeed, combat results, whether random events occur, etc.  If I am going to play this game much, I am going to need to sleeve the command cards.  I must admit that I found the frequent shuffling of the command deck to be annoying; even more annoying is the fact that one of the command cards says to reshuffle the command deck, and you are supposed to put that halfway into the deck each time you shuffle, so you really are only going to get halfway through before you have to shuffle for the umpteenth time.

But back to enemy units.  In most missions, certain actions or events instruct you to check for potential enemy contact (yes, you use the command deck for this, as well).  If there is contact, then you draw a random number and compare it to the encounter table for your mission, indicating what happens (enemy units are spotted, unspotted enemy units fire on you, artillery or mortar attack happens on a specific terrain card, etc.).  You can not really plan for what happens, but careful inspection of the possibilities before the game can at least help you figure out what appropriate reactions should be in certain situations.  I should also mention one aspect of this game that caught me off guard the first time I played it: attacks are made against all units in a specific terrain card.  For this reason, moving your units in bunches is asking for them to get shot.  You need to carefully move squads up to clear terrain, and only then do you move in your heavy support weapons.  Don't bunch them up, though, as large clumps of units draw enemy fire like moths to a flame.

This game is pretty intimidating.  Because it is so unlike any other game I have played, it took a lot of time to really understand it.  The first edition rulebook is pretty poorly organized, too, which made it harder to understand.  For example, at the beginning of a mission you assign pyrotechnics to your commands (colored flares, colored smoke grenades, etc.).  The rules indicate that you use these to automatically get units to take specific actions, but exactly HOW this is supposed to work is not mentioned.  What types of actions should I assign my pyrotechnics to?  I have no idea.  This is the kind of oversight that should not happen.  I guess I'll have to find a 9th infantry veteran and ask him what pyrotechnics were used for back in Korea, which isn't going to happen just so I can use them in a board game.  On the plus side, the publisher has done a good job of posting videos on the game's website, so you can watch other people play the game and explain it to you.  It sure feels like taking distance learning classes, though, which is more work than I want to put into a board game.  At this point I am undecided whether I will keep this game in my collection or not.  It promises to be fun, but there is a LOT of work involved to achieve a tenuous payoff.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What I Do With My Nook

In December 2010 I got a Nook Color e-reader.  I was leaving employment with PricewaterhouseCoopers at the time, and I had a large number of American Express points that I would be giving up when I turned in my card, so I cashed them in for Barnes & Noble gift cards, enough to get roughly $300 worth of e-reader and accessories.  I have been using the device off and on since then, so I figured it might be of interest to my few readers to read what I think of the device a bit over a year later.

First, it is a very good e-reader.  It is not an "e-ink" device, which supposedly provides the easiest read on the eyes.  That being noted, I don't have good eyes and have never had a problem reading anything on my Nook Color.  I can read for multiple hours straight with no eye strain at all, so from a technical functionality standpoint as a book reading device, it accomplishes that task admirably.

Second, I know that I can use it as a general purpose "tablet," even more so after the recent OS update that increased its functionality to handle more standard Android apps.  For example, I can now watch videos on demand through the Netflix app.  You would think I would be all over that kind of thing, but I have found that I don't use my Nook Color for anything other than reading.  If hotels didn't have universally lousy internet connections it would be a good choice for taking with me when I travel (I'm still on the road eight to ten weeks a year), but they do.  Also, the lack of a native Yahoo! mail app means that I'm stuck reading personal email through the browser, which is not enjoyable on that screen.  So, in that respect, purchasing the Nook Color instead of one of the cheaper Nook options was probably a mistake.

Of most interest to me has been the types of books I have read on my Nook.  One of the interests I had in purchasing an e-reader was the fact that it would cut down on the physical space I need to store books.  As much as I like books, I have quite a lot, and occasionally dream of just tossing most of them in the bin.  I am too much of a pack rat to ever do such a thing, of course, but purchasing electronic books could at least keep the clutter from getting larger.  In reality, though, I still buy physical books.  Not as often, maybe, but I still do it.

Below is a list of all of the books I have purchased on my device since December 2010, in chronological order, along with my rationale for doing so:
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora - a test purchase to see how well I liked reading on the device
  • The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Bible - I wanted a Bible on my Nook, and this one was free.
  • The Martian Tales Trilogy (A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, and The Warlord of Mars) - dirt cheap as an e-book, plus I couldn't find a good collection in print
  • The Great Stagnation - when I purchased it, this was only available as an e-book
  • In Hero Years... I'm Dead - only available as an e-book
  • From the Pages of the New Yorker: After 9/11 - only available as an e-book
  • The Rent is Too Damn High - only available as an e-book

Since I purchased the Martian trilogy in January 2011, I have only purchased native e-books on my Nook.  I'm not entirely sure why this is the case; maybe it just feels more natural to me to read a native electronic book on an e-reader, while a native printed book should be read in print.  Logically, that shouldn't make any difference, but it probably does.  I am one of those people that simply enjoys the physical feel of a good book: the paper, the binding (especially on an embossed hardback), the smell (e-readers lack that distinctive 'ink on paper' smell), so that probably plays into things.  Another probable reason is that many current books have e-book prices that are close to, if not greater than, the cost of the physical book, at least at Barnes & Noble, which naturally has the native Nook store all to itself.  So, most of the time, there is no cost benefit to going with the e-book, just the instant gratification of a ten second download and the ability to haul a bunch of books wherever you are going in one slim package.

Bottom line, my Nook Color probably isn't worth its $250 (at the time) cover price to me.  I like it, but I really don't use it enough to warrant the purchase price, and if I had paid cash money instead of gift cards it would probably annoy me.  That being said, I have no plans to get rid of it anytime soon, and will happily use it to read native e-books for years to come.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weathertop Diorama

Many of you reading this may not know this, but when I was younger I played miniatures wargames.  These are games without a board, where you have armies of metal or plastic miniatures that you line up along a table or other playing surface (I have used a demarcated area of the floor in the past), and then you have at it.  I mostly played either fantasy or sci-fi games, but I haven't actually played any of those in a number of years.  Playing with painted figures is a great spectacle, though, so I have always had a soft spot for gaming miniatures.  I still collect some of them, when I find something that catches my eye.  For example, I have this wonderful miniature of Napoleon Bonaparte on horseback that is much more fun to use when playing Field Commander: Napoleon than the cardboard counter that comes with the game.

A few years ago (I don't remember quite when, exactly) I picked up a miniature set on eBay of the attack on Weathertop in the first Lord of the Rings book/movie, where Aragorn and the hobbits are at Weathertop and the nazgul attack.  Five nazgul, Aragorn, four hobbits, and a little campfire came in the set.  Even when I was bidding on the miniatures, I knew that this begged to be done up in a nice diorama.  Alas, my modeling skills are essentially nonexistent, so this wasn't something that I could do myself with any hope of having a quality result.  So, I contacted Fineline Studios, and they were able to do it up for me.  It wasn't cheap, but the result is quite impressive, as is evident by the photographs below.  I apologize ahead of time for my lousy camera skills, but hopefully the craftsmanship comes through.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Joys of Rediscovering Old Music

So this afternoon I was scrolling through my iTunes library to find something to listen to while reading comic books, when I spotted a couple Matt Wertz albums.  "I haven't listened to those in a while," I thought to myself.  Clicking on the album Everything in Between showed that it had in fact been over two years since I had listened to it.  So I cranked it up and jammed out to some great tunes that I had pretty much forgotten about.  Funny how that happens, isn't it?  We get so wrapped up in new things that we can forget how great what we already have is.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It is getting easier to be an Arsenal supporter

As some of you may know, I am a fan of Arsenal, the London football club.  Just a couple years ago my only real option to see them play was Fox Soccer Channel.  The Premier League is big business, though, so now I can also catch some occasional matches on ESPN 2 on Saturday mornings, and just a couple weekends ago the main Fox channel showed the match against Manchester United on Sunday morning.  I'm not sure if this accessibility will continue or not, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Recently, however, I discovered ever more Arsenal to be available to me.  When I got U-Verse TV service, I signed up for the expanded sports package to have access to Fox Soccer Channel.  This package gives me access to pretty much every regional sports network throughout the country, though any live matches are blacked out since I am "out of area" for those.  I just recently learned that YES, the Yankees network out of NYC, has not one, but TWO Arsenal weekly shows that they have every week:  Arsenal World and Arsenal 360.  While I find Arsenal World to be a little too unfocused for my taste (I don't really care to see interviews with random fans before and after matches), Arsenal 360 is a pretty good summary show, though I noticed that it seems to be delayed so that it is coming out a week after it comes out in England.  Ah, well, I'll take it, anyway.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Men of Iron

As we continue to journey through my game collection, we next come to Men of Iron, a hex-and-counter wargame from GMT Games, published in 2005.  It includes six battles from the "renaissance of infantry" period in the late middle-ages.  I have played two of these battles, Falkirk and Courtrai.  Falkirk is essentially a "training scenario," as the Scottish side basically sits in position until the English shoot them with arrows, while Courtrai has more for each player to do, but not much more.  The reason for that is the way that these battles were fought in real life: one side set up in defensive terrain, and then stayed there.  For example, at Courtrai, the Flemish set up with their pikemen behind these water-filled ditches, and wait for the French to come at them.  Due to the nature of the ditches (hard to charge your mounted knights through there), the standard advantage of mounted knights is negated, so if/when the knights to attack, they die like dogs.  This is what happened historically, and is pretty much what is going to happen in the game.  I can see how some people wouldn't find this to be much fun, though.  I haven't played all of the scenarios, but from reading the scenario setups they all look to be of the same nature, with a mobile force attacking a dug-in infantry force.  With pikes.  Probably in a shield wall formation.

I have two problems with normal hex-and-counter wargames.  First, they are often quite complex (Great Battles of History, I'm looking at you...), such that it is a major pain to learn and then remember all of the rules.  Second, many of these games feature status counters, placed on top of the military unit counter.  You can literally end up with half-a-dozen status counters on top of the main counter, and then you have hundreds of unit counters, so you've got hundreds of status counters, and then you accidentally bump the table and counters go everywhere.  It is no good.  Thankfully, this game mostly dodges both of these problems.  The rulebook is a total of 12 pages in length, including diagrams and play examples.  And while there are some status counters, they are not frequently used (unless you put all of your pike into the fore-mentioned shield wall status), so I can tolerate them.  Combat is pretty simple.  A unit is either in standard order, disordered (flip the counter to show disordered status), retired (retreats), or eliminated.  That's it.  You don't have to figure out how many hit points the unit has left, or anything like that.  While charging with mounted knights is a bit fiddly, the rules work smoothly and the game plays well.

One interesting feature of the game is the lack of turns.  Per the scenario rules, one side starts the game by activating one of their sides "commands."  A command means a leader and all of that leader's units, as denoted by the colored stripe on the counter.  That command can move, fire, and fight with all of its units (as long as they are within the leader's command range, in hexes).  Once that is done, the player designates another one of his leaders, and rolls a ten-sided die.  If you roll a number equal to or lower than that leader's command rating, his command activates.  This continues until a die roll goes over the designated leader's command rating, at which time command switches to the other player, who activates one of his leaders, and play continues in this way from there.  However, whenever a side attempts to continue with a new leader, the other player can try to interrupt with one of his leaders.  The upside is that if you win that die roll, you get to move instead of the other player.  The downside is that if you fail the die roll, the other player doesn't have to roll the die to see if he activates his new leader; it automatically works.  This introduces a nice dynamic of balancing whether you want to try to steal the initiative yourself, or wait for the other guy to botch his roll and take it that way.  Since it is all reliant on the roll of the dice, there is no obvious correct answer, and it all comes down to what the odds are of getting your way.

Overall this game is pretty good, but it is somewhat let down by the tactical nature of the battles included.  Battles where one side is in obviously-better position and just waits for the poor fools on the other side to run into their prepared defenses aren't necessarily fun for all players.  While each scenario has special rules in place to try to make the games more competitive, it takes some luck of the dice to really break through.  Still, this is a solid game and a worthy part of the collection.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mini Squadron

I first encountered the Mini Squadron game in the iTunes store, where you can purchase the game as an app for your iPhone/iPod/iPad/iEtc.  It is a simple game where you fly your plane around in a 2D side-scrolling environment and shoot down other planes.  The gameplay is pretty simple, but the designers gave the game a goofy sense of humor (flying cats?  really?), very bright colors, and a pretty cartoony sense of design (in a good way).  My only problem with the game is that I had trouble really controlling my plane properly using the touch-screen controls  The game would just work better with a real joystick, I though.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised this evening when I was rooting around in the PlayStation store on my PS3, looking at new years' sales, and I saw that you can play Mini Squadron on the PS3!  And PSP!  Best of all, the game costs just $0.99, which is exactly what the iPhone version cost me.  And I can say from experience that the game works MUCH better with an analog stick.  Aerial domination, here I come!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Arkham Horror

The next random game from my collection to discuss is one that I have lots of experience with, Arkham Horror.  This board game is based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, many of which dealt with the creatures of what is now known as the "Cthulhu mythos" after one of the more memorable of the writer's monsters.  The game board depicts the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, at some point during the prohibition era.  The players all control one investigator, chosen at random from the 16 different characters that come with the game.  During play, the players move their characters around the town, visiting different locations, finding clues, and having encounters with the townsfolk (or worse...) in order to stop the invasion of eldritch horrors from beyond time and space, just like is done in many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories.

One of the things that really sets this game apart from others is the cooperative nature of the game.  All of the players must work together to do what needs to be done in order to beat the game.  Either everyone wins, or everyone loses.  At the beginning of the game, you determine one a dozen different big bad guys that is trying to break through to our world.  Every turn, the player whose turn it is must draw a card from the "mythos" deck, which describes where an extra-dimensional gate opens, releasing monsters into the town.  Other events can also happen based on the card draws, such as shops closing, or police raids, or dozens of other possibilities.  After this is done, the players move around the town visiting locations, which have their own separate decks.  For each player character at a location, the player draws a card from that deck to determine what happens to their character.  Characters can also encounter the monsters released from the gates, either fighting them or trying to escape from them without fighting.  Some characters are better at the combat aspect, and some are better at finding the clues needed to close the gates, so part of the strategy of the game is assigning the right roles to the right player/character combos.

To win, the player characters have to close and seal seven different gates.  It's not as easy as it sounds, as you either have to have an Elder Sign (a unique item in the game) or five clue tokens, collected from around the game board, that you have to give up in order to seal the gate.  Of course, while you are working on getting this all together, new gates keep opening and monsters keep entering Arkham.  If too many gates are open at the same time, the big bad monster shows up.  You get to fight him, but the odds of winning that fight are not good.  Also, if too many monsters are on the board, people start to leave town, resulting in the closing of the shops on the board, which cuts down on sources of new items.  So it is a race against time, with it never being clear exactly how much time you have left to close seven gates.

The best part of this game is the tension that comes into play as the players try to work together.  There will be lots of yelling, and bartering, and general interplay between all of the players as they try to win the game.  Every time a mythos card gets drawn, the tension is just delicious as the players wait with bated breath to hear what terrible thing will befall them this turn.  And if the players win, the high-fives and cheering are pretty unique to this game.

The publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, has published over a dozen different expansions for this game, of which I own some.  Some of them add new towns beyond Arkham that can be traveled to, but they all add new rules and encounter cards to change up the game some how.  With these expansions, the game should never get old.  I consider this game to be one of the best I have ever played, and I always look forward to getting to play it again.