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.