Monday, December 08, 2014

Hold the Line

Hold the Line is a two player war game simulating battles from the American Revolutionary War.  The game uses a 13x9 hex board.  The base hexes reflect open terrain, but the game comes with dozens of terrain tiles that can be placed on the board to change the terrain.  Each scenario describes how to set up the board to reflect the terrain for the battle you will fight.  The scenarios also describe how to set up the starting forces for each side.

There are a few different units in the game: line infantry, light infantry, militia, cavalry, artillery, elite infantry, and leaders.  Units are differentiated by their morale, range, and movement ability.  Line infantry are the toughest units in the game, but don't move fast.  Light infantry can move twice as fast but aren't as tough.  Artillery can get eliminated with only two hits, but have longer range.  And so on.  Each unit has its uses, and knowing when to move what type of unit into position is important.

Combat is simple.  Whenever a unit fires, it rolls three six-sided dice.  At maximum range (two hexes for all units except artillery, which has a three hex range) you inflict a hit with a "6."  At short range (one hex for all units except artillery, which is shart at two hexes away) you inflict a hit with a "5" or a "6."  Artillery at range one hits on a "4," "5," or "6" on a die.  A unit can also fight in close combat, but that takes two actions instead of one.  This gives the attacker a greater chance to hit, and may retreat the defending unit from their space.

Let's talk about those actions.  Each turn a player gets a number of actions as dictated by the scenario, plus a random number of actions (between 1 and 3) from the roll of a special die.  You can spend actions to move units, have units fire at enemies, and have leaders rally units (removing hits suffered from combat).  You can only take one action with a unit per turn, so you sometimes have to decide if it makes more sense to fire with a unit, or move it into a better position, or have a leader rally it to improve its staying power.

The scenario that you are playing will tell you what you need to do in order to win.  Usually, one side is trying to earn a specific number of victory points.  You score victory points by eliminating enemy units and capturing victory point markers on the board within a specified number of turns.  The scenario instructions will also describe any special rules used in the scenario.

Overall the game plays pretty well, and you can play most scenarios in 60 to 90 minutes.  I do have two quibbles with the game, though.  First, the game only comes with four victory point counters.  These serve double duty, indicating victory point locations on the board and marking total victory points earned for each side on the victory point track.  If you have to have three or more victory point markers on the map, then you don't have enough to mark earned points on the victory point track.  A minor problem, to be sure, but it was annoying.  A potentially larger problem is that the rules do not describe how to capture victory point markers on the map.  Do you have to close combat them?  Can you just use a standard move to move right over them?  Do you have to end your movement on that hex, or can a light infantry or cavalry unit capture multiple victory point markers in one turn?  It turns out that you just move over them to capture them, but that should have been in the rules.

Overall, this is an entertaining little game that fills a niche in my collection.  While not perfect, the variety of scenarios gives it a lot of replay-ability, and the length means that I don't have to blow an entire weekend to play it.  There is also an expansion that adds scenarios from the French and Indian War.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Kaiser's Pirates

The next game from my collection is one that I am pretty conflicted about.  I had high hopes for The Kaiser's Pirates when I got it, as I thought that a game about World War I commerce raiding had a lot of potential for fun.  However, the game isn't really what I originally thought that it would be.  Instead of one player playing the German raiders and another playing the shipping and associated escort ships, all players play both sides.

At the start of the game you create a deck of Action Cards, including 20 cards for each player (the game handles up to 4 players).  The action cards restrict what the players can do (as you have to play a card with that action on it to take a specific action), and the action deck acts as the game timer, as the game ends when someone pulls the last card from the deck.  Each player is dealt six action cards to start.  Each player also gets three German raider and/or warship cards, and three Merchant cards.  These ship cards are placed face up on the table in front of the player.  During the game, each player tries to sink the other player's ships using their own ships.  Each ship is worth a set amount of points (printed on the card), and sinking that ship gets you those points.  You can also sometimes capture a ship instead, which then is worth double points if you can have it survive until the end of the game.

Each action card can be played as an "Intercept!" action (which lets you attack other ships), or for its stated action, which might aid an attack, provide for additional defensive actions when one of your ships is attacked, or provide some other effect (taking cards or ships from another player, for example).  You can play as many cards as you want on your turn, but you only get to draw one card per turn, so some turns it can make sense to take no actions and just draw a card.

Combat is handled by rolling a number of dice and taking the highest number.  For example, a raider attacking a merchant might roll a green D8 and a red D4 to attack.  Both dice are rolled, and the highest individual number is taken.  The ship being attacked will then roll their defense dice.  The numbers are compared.  If the attacker number is higher than the defender number, but does not double the defense number, then the defending ship is damaged, and gets a red cube on it.  If the attacker doubles the defender's number, then the ship is sunk and the attacker takes that card for scoring purposes.  If a merchant ship is attacked but takes not damage at all, it can then try to make it safely to its destination by rolling dice as shown on the card.  The player with the merchant ship rolls the "Challenge" dice, and another player rolls the "Response" dice.  If the highest Challenge result is higher than the highest Response result, then the defending player scores that merchant ship instead.  Otherwise, the ship stays in play.

In certain situations you can also attack another player's raiders or warships by playing an "Intercept!" card for that purpose.  Each card has a set of attack dice listed on it to represent a generic British navy vessel, so the attacker rolls those dice and the defender rolls the defense dice for the targeted warship or raider and it works just like attacking a merchant vessel, except that the warship won't ever try to make it to a friendly port; if it isn't damaged, it just stays out there ready for action.  At the end of each player's turn everyone always draws enough new merchant cards to get them back to three.

Play proceeds around the table until the last card is drawn, and then points for sunken vessels and successfully escaped merchants are scored, and the highest player wins.  You can play just one round, but the game recommends that you play three rounds to determine the winner.

The game also includes a solitaire variant that uses a separate deck of cards to emulate the actions of another player.  This system involves a lot of dice rolling and card flipping, but it works fairly well.  Due to the random nature of the actions that the "programmed player" can take, you can get a massive flurry of actions like you would never get in a game against another physical player, but that shouldn't happen too many times.  I have used it and it works OK, though I prefer play against actual people.

So I really want to like this game, but I have a hard time doing so.  None of the people that I have played this game with liked it.  The fact that every player plays both sides at the same time just doesn't work for the people I game with.  So, this game hardly ever hits the table.  I will probably trade it away for something at some point; I just wish it was more fun than it is.  The theme has a lot of potential, but this doesn't quite get there for me.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Great War at Sea: Mediterranean

Great War at Sea: Mediterranean is the first game in a series of wargames published by Avalanche Press covering naval combat during, and around, the first world war.  This particular game focuses on historical actions in and around the Mediterranean (including Turks vs. Russians on the Black Sea), as well as encounters that could have happened, but didn't for a variety of reasons.

The game consists of two parts: strategic movement on maps covering the seas, and tactical combat on the Naval Tactical Map.  If you are playing a specific combat scenario then you only use the Tactical map.  Otherwise, you assign ships to fleets, put those fleet markers on the large map of the seas, and just move the fleet counters around.  Once ships come into contact and combat is initiated, then you move ships onto the Tactical map to fight it out.  There are basic and advanced combat rules, but the basic rules are boring, so I don't recommend using those.

Each scenario tells you what you are trying to accomplish.  You generally win by scoring more victory points than your opponent.  Victory points are obtained by sinking enemy ships and performing other actions (successfully laying mines in certain areas, bombarding an enemy port, delivering cargo to its destination safely, etc.).  You assign your ships provided by the scenario you are playing to one or more fleets, and then each fleet is given a specific order.  The trick is that most orders require you to pre-plan your movement.  This is done to simulate the lack of knowledge that admirals and captains had at the time.  Just because you can see the enemy fleet counter around Malta on the strategic map doesn't mean that your fleet captains would know those ships were there.  Thus, you can have two large fleets pass right by each other, though if they pass through the same space on the same turn there is a chance of contact.  Granted, some missions (e.g., the Intercept mission) gives you a much better chance of spotting enemy fleets, and you only have to plot movement two turns in advance, so you have a chance of catching your foe, especially if you can move faster and they are in restricted space.

The actual combat, even with the advanced rules, isn't complicated.  Ships have four weapons: primary guns, secondary guns, tertiary guns, and torpedoes.  Ship components have varying ranges of armor, such that maybe a battleships's hull can only be penetrated by primary guns, and everything smaller bounces off.  When you have an enemy ship in range, you roll a D6 and get a hit on a 6 with each gun you fire.  There are some modifiers that can increase your chance to hit.  If you get a hit, roll 2D6 on the gunnery table and see what you hit.  You can eliminate enemy guns, or do hull damage, or slow them down (engine damage), or you can score a critical hit.  With a critical hit you usually do multiple boxes of damage, up to 6(!!) hull points in one shot, which is enough to sink many ships in the game.  You keep moving around the map and slugging at each other until one side is able to flee or is eliminated.  Then the survivors go back to the strategic map to continue the scenario.

I am conflicted about this game.  While the basic mechanics work fine, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the pre-plotting for many of the fleet orders, and the combat system can really bog down with the rolling of dozens of dice.  Still, not a bad game, and you get a feeling for the naval tactics at the time.  Since this is the only game on its subject that I own, it stays in the collection.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Star Borders: Humanity

The next game from my collection that I am writing about is Star Borders: Humanity, the first in a promised trilogy of space combat games from Victory Point Games.  I should point out up front that I own, and have played, the first edition of this game, published in 2010.  In 2013 there was a second edition published with upgraded graphic design, a longer rule book, and more scenarios.  I don't own the second edition, so this write-up only relates to the first edition.

In Star Borders: Humanity, there are two groups of space-faring humanity; the Empire and the Alliance.  Ships are represented by square cardboard counters.  The counters move around a map depicting planets, empty space, asteroids, or wormholes.  Planets can be permanently controlled, and if a player has a ship on an asteroid space at the end of a turn then it counts as controlled for that turn.  Each turn consists of one side, and then the other, spending their Logistics Points to move ships, purchase Development Cards, and build replacement ships at their home base.  The scenario you are playing will have specific victory conditions, but most of the time this comes down to who has the most victory points at the end of the game, and victory points usually come from controlling planets on the map.

Interestingly, the map is unique for each scenario, being built from a series of modular map pieces.  There are two larger map pieces that show open space, and four smaller map pieces that are generally used to show starting spaces for each side.  These smaller pieces are color-coded for one side or the other, as they contain the Logistics Points tracks used to know how many points you have left.  So, each scenario has a unique map, and the players can also make their own scenarios be arranging the map boards in new ways.

Ship counters contain three things of interest to the players: engine symbols (which indicates how many spaces a ship can move when a Logistics Point is spent), attack numbers (the number which must be rolled or less on a die to score a hit in combat), and defense numbers (the number which must be rolled under to survive a hit in combat).  Combat is done in turns, with defenders firing first, so if the attackers don't outnumber the defenders it is possible they could get destroyed without firing a shot.  Ships can retreat from combat in certain situations.

The Development cards are interesting.  To purchase one, you have to spend half (rounded down) of your Logistics Points at the beginning of the turn, and then you get to draw one from the deck.  Each card breaks the rules of the game in your favor somehow, and they add some really nice flavor to the game.  Most effects are permanent for the rest of the game, like allowing quick transport between systems you control, or allowing quicker movement between wormholes, granting extra victory points, etc.  Properly using your Development advantages can be the key to victory, though admittedly dice rolls have a big impact, as well.

While this is a simple strategic space combat game, I enjoy it.  The design is solid, and there is a lot of replay ability.  At some point I will probably dump my first edition and pick up a second edition game so I can combine it with the future games and have LOTS of various scenario possibilities, including scenarios with more than two players.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Question For My Readers

I know that a few people subscribe to this blog, mostly for the writings about board games, so I want to run something by you guys and see if anyone has a strong opinion about it.  I have been writing about board games on this blog for a number of years now, generally using the method of randomly picking a game from my collection to play and write about.  For 2015 I am planning to change things up.  For 2015 I plan to pick 10 games from my collection and play them each 10 times.  I will then write about my experience of each play.  The idea is that this will provide me with more depth of experience with the games, as some games can have some hidden depth that can only be seen once a player becomes familiar with the mechanics.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am wondering whether I should stop writing about games on this blog, and starting up a new blog for my game writings at Board Game Geek.  I think that will provide a much larger audience for my writings, but I don't want to just up stakes and move without seeing whether anyone cares.  So, let me know if you have any strong opinions either way on this.  Thanks!

Field Commander: Napoleon

Field Commander: Napoleon is the third game in the Field Commander series published by Dan Verssen Games, with game design by (who else?) Dan Verssen.  The game is designed for solitaire play, and there are no rules for multi-player play.  You play as Napoleon in a number of different historic campaigns, trying to accomplish specific goals (usually the conquering of specific territory on the map).  Each campaign has its own map, sized roughly 11" x 17".  The unit counters are all longer than they are wide, and other counters (turn, battle location, resource markers, etc.) are all fairly normal size for wargame counters.

Each turn consists of two general parts.  First, you (as Napolen) move your armies around the board.  Second, you fight battles in locations where French and Enemy troops are both located.  Third, you can pay resources to move units again (and potentially fight more battles).  Fourth, you gain and spend resources.  This is how you can repair damaged units, replace lots units, or buy brand new units (depending on the scenario).

In the second part of the turn the Enemy forces do almost the same thing.  However, there will be random tables that are unique to each scenario that you roll on to determine what the Enemy units do.  Based on the scenario instructions, you will bunch up Enemy counters in small stacks and roll for each stack.  So, a large stack of Enemy units might split up into a bunch of smaller stacks in different regions on the map, or all end up in the same place, depending on the die roll.  Enemy reinforcements are also random.

Combat is the heart of the game.  There is a separate "battle board" on which combats are fought.  The board is split into six zones: a Reserve, Approach, and Front zone for each side.  There are limits to how many counters can be in each zone.  When combat starts, forces are (usually!) in their side's Reserve or Approach zone, and you have to give them orders to have them move and fight.  One thing that took me some getting used to is that there are limits to the orders that can be given.  The French player will be given a specific number of "Battle Plans" that he can put on units, which tell the unit what to do.  You will probably have more units than Battle Plans, though, and for the remaining units there are a few basic orders that they can always be given.  In addition, with some orders a unit may, or may not, perform the order.  Each mobile unit has an Activation rating that you have to roll equal to or under to activate them.  Believe me, this can get annoying.

As befits a game for this period, the organization of your units matters.  It is easier to move units between zones if they are in column formation (the standard period formation used for movement), but fighting in column is generally not as effective and causes automatic losses if an enemy unit moves into the same zone.  Fighting in line formation works better, but it is harder to move.  You need to know what you are trying to accomplish and organize your forces accordingly.

The enemy's orders in combat are a mixture of random Battle Plan counters and basic orders.  There is a cup of Battle Plans that you will randomly draw from each combat round and assign to units, with any remaining units performing a specific basic order (or trying to activate to do so!) based on the distance to French forces.

One last thing to mention in battles is that (usually) if Napoleon is present, you can trade in Battle Plans for what is known as "Insight," which are a series of special strategic options you can use.  For example, the one in the example of play in the rulebook is an Envelop maneuver, where you try to use cavalry to ride around and attack the Enemy from their rear.  Kind of a high risk, high reward strategy.  There are other special strategies you can choose, but for each one you pick, you lose a Battle Plan for each round of the battle, so you become more limited in the Battle Plans you can assign to your forces.  It adds a nice decision element to the game.

I have played this game a couple times, both with the 1796 Italian Campaign scenario, and I have lost both times.  I got annihilated the first time, and the second time I was unable to capture all objectives before the time ran out.  I find this game quite challenging, especially the combat, where for whatever reason I tend to blow activation rolls so my units just stand there and get murdered by stupid Austrians who hit a lot more with their shots than straight probability would indicate.  Ah, well, it's still fun.  It will be more fun when I figure out how to win, though.

Monday, September 29, 2014


I know that I usually write about board games these days, but that isn't the only thing that I spend my time on.  In fact, this year I have been working on a project that I have wanted to do for a while but hadn't been willing to devote the time to:  really diving into the works of Shakespeare.  The impetus for this happening now is twofold.  First, I have a long commute on the train to my current job, so I've got about 2.5 hours a day to read.  Second, the father of one of my friends let me borrow an audio lecture series that he has, How to Read and Understand Shakespeare, part of the Great Courses series.  I am using the audio course as a general guide as I consume the plays.  First, I listen to the relevant audio lecture(s).  Second, I read the play.  Third, I find a movie adaptation to watch.  It is interesting how my experience of a play can significantly differ between reading the play and seeing it performed.  I especially noticed this with Romeo and Juliet, where I didn't really like the play when I read it (I couldn't suspend my disbelief far enough to think that two people would meet and then get married the next day), but when I saw the movie (which hewed very closely to the play script) I enjoyed the story a lot more.

So far, I have read through A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Richard II, Henry IV part 1, and Henry IV part 2.  I am currently reading Henry V.  I have seen movie versions of the first four from that list (i.e., through Richard II).  It is amazing how much more I enjoy these things when I listen to the lecture ahead of time and have an idea what I should pay attention to.  I tried reading a couple plays earlier in the year, and it just didn't work all that well, as I wasn't picking up on things.  Well, either that or the Two Gentlemen of Verona is inherently boring.  One should never completely discount the possibility, considering how much of a dud I think A Midsummer Night's Dream is.

Monday, September 08, 2014

World at War: Death of the First Panzer

Death of the First Panzer is an expansion pack for the Eisenbach Gap game, which I wrote about over three years ago.  As this is an expansion, I'm not going to cover the rules, as I already covered that in my write up of Eisenbach Gap.  The focus of this expansion is the West German (hey, it's supposed to be 1985 in the game) Panzer corps.  So, you get around 50 counters for new German units, a few new Soviet unit counters, a scenario and rules addendum booklet that includes six new scenarios, and a new 11" x 17" map used in four of the new scenarios (the other two use the map from the base game).  It is really all more of the same, as there are no significantly new types of units or radically different scenarios.  If you like Eisenbach Gap, then this is worth getting for the new scenarios and the West German units.  Otherwise, you have no reason to bother with this.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Curse of the Dark Pharaoh

Curse of the Dark Pharaoh is the first of the small expansions for the Arkham Horror board game, of which I have written about previously.  Unlike the large expansions, which add new towns for your characters to explore and encounter eldritch horrors therein, this expansions serves to change the theme of the existing town of Arkham, Massachusetts, where the base game takes place.  There is a new exhibit at the university, showcasing ancient Egyptian relics and artifacts, but of course things aren't as they may seem on the surface, and the exhibit is the tool for an ancient evil to arise.

Players can use the expansion in one of two ways.  First, you can simply mix the location encounter cards into the existing decks (the permanent exhibit method), which gives the players a small chance to encounter cards specific to the expansion each turn.  Alternately, the players can use ONLY the encounter cards from the expansion (the traveling exhibit method), which focuses the game squarely on the expansion and its events.  I actually prefer to play with the second method, though due to the small number of location cards, after a couple games it will likely get old.  So, I recommend playing a game or two using the 'traveling exhibit' method, and then you can decide if you want to mix the cards into your base game on a permanent basis or only use them on occasion.

I think this is a good expansion (though if you dislike ancient Egyptian themes, maybe not one for you.  It works for me, though.  Please note that there is the original edition of this expansion from 2006 (the one I have), as well as a revised edition from 2011.  The primary difference is supposed to be improved game mechanics and some rewriting of card text to add clarity and remove confusion.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


The next random game from my collection is a game that at the time of this writing almost 35 years old, Gladiator.  I have the standalone game from 1981, but the system was part of the original Circus Maximus game (which included the gladiator combat and chariot racing) from the late 1970s.  The standalone game was published by Avalon Hill.  In this game, each player controls a gladiator, and the game can handle up to six players, working either individually or in teams (though teams makes the most sense if using different types of gladiators).  Gladiators are rated based either on their armor type (light, medium, or heavy) or by their weaponry (the Retarius).  The mechanics are that the game is simultaneous.  Each turn is composed of eight movement phases, and in each phase the players will write down on their gladiator record how they want their gladiator to move (if he moves at all).    This makes for an interesting "cat and mouse" game, where knowing how your opponent is likely to move can give you an edge.  The whole point of movement is to get you next to your opponent (where combat takes place, unless you are a Retarius), but preferably in his rear, not his front.  Being in your opponent's rear gives you combat bonuses.

Combat is a mix of plotted actions and die rolls.  Each gladiator has a number of Combat Factors, which indicates how well they fight.  These Combat Factors are divided up between attack and defense, and then further sub-divided for the five different body areas (head, chest, groin, arms, and legs).  Attacks against a body area are handled by taking the attack amount, subtracting the defense amount, and then using the total to find the proper column on the combat table.  You then roll three dice to determine whether the attack misses entirely, gets blocked by the defender's shield, gets parried by the defender's sword, or if you hit.  A shield block gives the attacker a chance to damage the defender's shield, a weapon parry gives the defender a chance to drop their sword, and a body hit means you roll on a separate damage table to determine how many hits you do.  Each body area has its own pool of wounds.  If all wounds in an area are lost, the gladiator is killed.  In addition, as wounds are lost the gladiator's Combat Factors are reduced.  So getting wounded reduces your ability to attack and defend effectively.

Overall, this game works fairly well, and can feel nice and tense.  It does bog down a bit in the mechanics, though (lots of dice rolling, lots of table lookups).  It's a nice game to have in my collection, but it isn't going to hit the table much.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear

Long time no blog.  No real excuse for it, just haven't been in much of a boardgaming mood recently.  But!  I have pulled out a "blast from the recent past" from my collection for you.  Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear is the first game published by Academy Games.  It is a tactical combat game focusing on the Eastern Front of World War II, so Germany vs. the Soviet Union, in the early part of Operation Barbarossa.  There is a second game, Storm of Steel, that focuses on battles from the later part of the war.  Awakening the Bear was popular enough that a second edition of the game has been published.  I, however, own the first edition and my comments reflect that edition.  No, I don't know what is different between the versions.

Each counter in the game represents either a squad of men, a weapons team, or a single vehicle.  Squads can be armed with rifles or SMGs, weapons teams can have machine guns, mortars, or AT guns, and vehicles can be jeeps, half-tracks, or tanks.  Each turn the players each roll two dice to determine initiative, higher number goes first.  That person with initiative then selects one of their units to activate.  You either assign seven Action Points (AP) to that unit, or you can optionally roll two dice each time a unit is activated to determine how many action points they have.  If you play the game solitaire, this optional rule is highly recommended to add additional "fog of war" to the game.  You then spend that units action points to move, fire at enemies, and rally.  Every action has a cost, and different units pay different numbers of APs to do different things.  Weapons teams might cost more AP to move, but less to fire, for example, so getting them into a proper fire position that they can use to command a lot of the board is important.  Infantry generally move good (as do tanks, though not in woods), so you use them to grab objective hexes on the board.  The activated unit spends its APs until either it runs out or the player decides to end its activation.  The unit is then flipped, and the opponent chooses a unit to activate.

One thing that mixes things up is that each turn each player gets a set number of Command Action Points (CAP).  These can be used by any unit during the game, and you can even spend CAPs on the other player's turn to interrupt their action by having one of your units take an action.  CAPs can also be spent to improve one of your die rolls, useful for trying to hit a difficult target, or rallying a unit that you need to get out of a bad situation.

Combat is simple.  Each unit has a firepower rating.  You roll two dice and add the unit's firepower, and compare it to the target's armor rating.  If you meet or beat that number, the unit is hit.  You then draw one of 20 counters out of a cup or other opaque container and apply the results.  While you can get a "unit eliminated" result, you probably just panic the unit, or make it freeze in place, or otherwise hamper it.  The unit can still be activated and take actions, including rallying to remove the damage marker on its player's turn.  If a unit takes two hits, it is eliminated.  Infantry and vehicles have separate damage counter pools to draw from.

Lastly, there are cards that each player gets, depending on the specific scenario rules.  Cards can be played to affect the game in various ways.  They can improve a combat result, or change the battlefield, or otherwise improve things for you or hinder things for your opponent.

The game comes with 10 scenarios of increasing complexity and size.  I think that the rules work well and the game is generally enjoyable, but it just doesn't grab me.  If I want to play a World War II game at this scale I lean towards GMT's Combat Commander series.  Yes, Combat Commander doesn't have any vehicles, but I still find that game more enjoyable for reasons that I don't fully understand.  So, while Conflict of Heroes is a perfectly fine game, it just doesn't hit the table, and I expect to sell or trade it away at some point in the future.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Nothing Gained But Glory

Nothing Gained But Glory is the fifth game in the Musket & Pike series by GMT Games, which I have written about before.  This volume moves the action past the Thirty Years War, and deals (primarily) with the Scanian War, a war that I had never even heard about before I encountered this game.  The war involves Sweden defending itself against the Dutch and their allies (primarily the Brandenburg Germans).  The time frame is late 17th century, generally in the 1670s.  The title comes from the fact that at the end of the war, even though Sweden had lost a fair amount of territory, the peace treaty basically gave Sweden everything back that it had lost.  So, a war that really accomplished nothing but killing a bunch of people and making a few commanders famous.

But what about the game?  It is the same Musket & Pike rules, with all of the enjoyable and annoying features that I have written about before.  However, there is one thing here of note: there are NO two-hex heavy infantry units.  All heavy infantry units are one hex only, purportedly due to the smaller infantry units used during the Scanian War.  That actually does have an impact on the tactics used, as the two-hex infantry units could be quite unwieldy to maneuver, which is not a problem with the one-hex units.

Perhaps because I did not know anything about the Scanian War before playing this game, I must admit that while the game is fine, I don't like it as much as other volumes in the series.  It just feels... different, and not in a good way for me.  Thus, I'm not sure how much more this game will get played.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Year Without Cable

Last March I decided to "cut the cable" and went back to having only antenna TV service for the first time since 2004.  Are there things that I have missed?  Sure.  I liked watching Pardon the Interruption on ESPN, and I liked watching English Premier League soccer matches and the occasional Cardinals baseball game.  I can't do that anymore.  However, I was paying about $102 per month for that privilege.  When I cancelled my cable subscription I picked up some sports packages that I can watch online, like NHL Center Ice and the package, as well as the MLS Live package.  Put all of those together and that costs around $330 per year.  So, I actually have more sports to watch and am saving around $800 per year.  All told, I'm content with my decision.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

And now for something completely different.  Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a very different kind of game.  This game can be played by anywhere from one to however many people you want, but any more than four or five would probably get unwieldy.  The basic gist of the game is that you are assisting Sherlock Holmes solve crimes throughout London.  The game comes with 10 separate cases, organized chronologically.  Each case has its own booklet.  The booklets contain specific encounters that relate to the case being worked, as well as the final solution and scoring track.

The way that the game works is that the players "move around" London investigating leads.  The players have the case book, as well as newspapers, a map of London, and a Directory of individuals.  If you learn about someone that you want to question about the case, you look them up in the Directory and that will tell you a letter/number combination to look for in the case book.  You then read the section under that letter/number combination, and you may or may not learn additional details of the case.  When you feel that you can solve the case, you flip to the end of the case book, where you will have a series of questions.  Write down your answers.  Then flip the page and get the REAL solution from Sherlock Holmes himself.  The scoring track is also here.  The way scoring works is that you get points from answering questions correctly, and you lose points for each lead that you used that Sherlock Holmes did not in his investigation.  So, if you spend a lot of time running around chasing false leads, you can lose a lot of points.  You can then compare your score to the Great Detective, who always scores 100.

The game can be played competitively, or cooperatively.  Even if played competitively, you are all still part of the team.  The only difference is that at any point in the investigation someone can declare that they have the solution.  They then look at the final questions and writes down their answers in secret, and the rest of the crew continues to follow leads.  This continues until the last person writes down their answers, and then you go to the final solution to check scores.  Obviously, the person who stopped searching first loses less points for leads followed, but they also might miss out on information that the others dig up while they continue the investigation.  Highest score then wins.

I'm not sure what I think about this game.  It is very different than any other game that I have, being a straight deduction game.  The mechanics work fairly well, but there really is no way to "lose" the game.  You just might do really poorly and get few or no points.  It is entertaining with the right crowd in the right mood, but that doesn't happen very often.

Monday, February 17, 2014


The original RAF was published by West End Games in the 1980's.  I do not have that game, nor have I played it.  The game that I own, and have played is RAF: the Battle of Britain, published by Decision Games in 2009.  The new version of the is the original game, plus more.  Where the original game from the 80's is a solitaire game where the player controls the British air defenses while the game system controls the Luftwaffe attackers, the new game contains that game... and one where the roles are flipped and the player takes the role of the Luftwaffe while the game system runs the Brits... and a third game where two players play against each other, one controlling the British RAF and one controlling the German Luftwaffe.

So, there is quite a lot of "game" in the box, or more accurately, three games in the box.  The games use similar components, though the second game uses a different map and some different cards from the other two.  I have only played the original game, though, so I will describe the game from that perspective, as well as my opinions of it.

At its core, RAF is a resource management game.  As the British defender, you have a limited number of fighter squadrons, assigned to air bases around the map, that you have to manage.  The bulk of the game comes in deciding when to send squadrons on patrol, and when to have squadrons intercept Luftwaffe raids.  Depending on a roll of a six-sided die and modifiers depending on the weather, the state of your radar net, and the target, you may or may not have prior warning of the raid, and you may or may not know what is coming before you commit your forces.  Hard decisions must constantly be made.  Not responding to a raid at all will lose you a victory point all by itself, and of course taking damage to the target will have you lose victory points, but if you are badly outnumbered and you send up a small number of squadrons you will probably still lose victory points for the target taking damage, as well as losing victory points for your squadrons being shot down, and then you don't have those squadrons until you can repair them.  You can't cover everything, so you have to pick your battles carefully and hope for a bit of luck (which tends to elude me in this game).

In fact, the most interesting aspect of this game, which I didn't pick up on until after playing a couple weeks of the full campaign, was the fact that you aren't just managing your squadrons as a resource, you are managing the victory point track.  This starts at 0.  If you gain points, it moves up.  If you lose points, it moves down.  If the victory point track gets to 35 points, you win.  If it gets to -35 points, you lose.  There are other ways to lose/win, but those two numbers, especially the latter one, must be kept in mind.

You gain points by damaging Luftwaffe gruppen, one point for light damage, and two points for heavy damage.  You also gain points during the end of day phase for each day that passes before the next raid day.  You lose points by taking light or heavy losses to your squadrons (same as above), for not responding at all to a raid, for taking bomb damage to a target, and for bringing in reinforcements.  This last bit bites because you NEED to bring in reinforcements to have any hope of countering the larger Luftwaffe raids, but doing so pushes you closer to an instantaneous loss if things move away from you in a turn.  Nerve racking.

The game is pretty random, as it mainly consists of card draws and die rolls.  You draw cards to determine raid targets, random events during raids, and the amount of time that passes before the next raid that day.  You roll dice to determine the results of aerial combat and bombing, as well as intelligence prior to a raid.  But, that being said, you would have to have a LOT go really wrong from a luck standpoint to really blame the dice or cards if you lose.  As the player you have lot of decisions to make, and that is what really makes a solitaire game worth playing.  Without meaningful decisions, there is no game.  Sometimes the decisions in RAF are pretty obvious.  For example, if I can counter a raid with a couple squadrons, and the Luftwaffe is bringing 14 gruppen, if I send those planes up they are going to get shot down, almost guaranteed.  There really is no decision to make there unless I am hopelessly desperate (and even then, there isn't a decision as my actions a pre-determined).  Most of the time, though, you really have to weigh the risks and rewards of responding to a raid, which makes this game worthwhile.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Orcs of the High Mountains

The next random board game from my collection that I will write about isn't really a board game in the traditional sense, but more of a tabletop role-playing game crossed with a miniatures skirmish game crossed with a choose-your-own-adventure book.  This would be Orcs of the High Mountains, part of the Legends of the Ancient World game series by Dark City Games.

The game can be played from one to five players.  One of the players can "run" the adventure, controlling all of the opposition forces and reading through the game book, or all of the players can be the good guys, and one of them is designated to read the book and they all figure out what the opposition forces will do together.  I played it solitaire, which also works.  In Orcs of the High Mountains, the players have a total of four characters, built per the Legends of the Ancient World rules to be a little bit tougher than your standard new character.  This is a swords-and-sorcery fantasy game, so your characters can either be fighters or magic users.  Fighters get a specific number of skills to pick from a fairly comprehensive list, while magic users select spells from a separate list.

Characters have three attributes, which are used for specific skills.  They way a skill check works is you roll three six-sided dice and total them up.  If that is equal to or less than the attribute, then you succeed.  For example, if my character has the Climbing skill and a Strength of 11, then I need to roll 11 or less on the three dice to succeed, otherwise my character fails.  Combat works the same way, with Dexterity being the attribute tested against.  Strength also acts as your hit points and fatigue points.  Intelligence is the attribute checked against for magic using characters who cast spells.

The adventure itself is governed through the use of a booklet with a bunch of numbered sections.  You start at section 1 and read the description.  You may then have to fight some orcs, and after that is done you can select from a series of listed options to choose your next action.  The game does come with a small map with lettered hexes.  This is used for all combat encounters.  You will need counters or wargaming figures to represent the orcs and your characters.  Most gamers will have plenty of those laying around somewhere, but if you don't you should be able to find free counters on the internet (and see below...).

In fact, this entire game is free!  Yes, Orcs of the High Mountains is available free from the company's website as a teaser for the Legends of the Ancient World game series, of which there are many different games for sale.  The company also sells some sci-fi games, and a Wild West game.  You can get files you need from the following links:
Overall, the game is all right.  The rules work well enough, but I found the game slightly boring.  That could easily be because this is an introductory game and rather short, and I can't fault the price of FREE.  Because the rules state that they are compatible with GURPS, I am tempted to try the rules with the old Orcslayer module from Steve Jackson Games to see if I like that experience better.  Or, I could just buy one of the Legends of the Ancient World modules and try that out directly, I guess.  Bottom line, the system has some promise as a light RPG/skirmish game system, but this sample adventure felt kind of sparse.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Khyber Rifles

Khyber Rifles, published in 2012 by Decision Games, is part of that company's Mini Games Series.  It contains a four-page rules folio for the "Hand of Destiny" series rules, and a one-page rules sheet containing the specific rules for Khyber Rifles.  So, five pages in total, which is pretty slight.  The game also comes with 11" x 17" map sheet, 40 counters, and 18 cards, nine each for the Afghan and British players.  The game covers the year 1842 in Afghanistan, which saw the Afghan warlord Akbar Khan crush a British army, and another British army come in to teach him a lesson.

In fact, that is exactly what happened when I played the game!  The Afghans killed lots of British forces and captured Cabul, but in the last turn the British relief force retook Cabul, kicking out Akbar Khan and sending him into the mountain passes to lick his wounds.  This mattered because of the different ways that each side scores victory points.  The British player gets victory points for controlling fortified spaces, and Khyber Pass, primarily.  The Afghan players score points for having Akbar Khan in Cabul or Kandahar, and for eliminated British units.  So the Afghans just need to focus on killing British and getting their leader into a victory space at the end of turn 11, while the British need to cover lots of terrain (though Cabul is worth the most points to them).  Thus, the Afghans are incentivized to pick off British units and make a big rush towards their chosen major fort at the end of the game, while the British have to cover lots of ground.

One nice touch (though it can be frustrating) is the use of the cards.  Each turn a player turns over the top card from their deck and does what it says.  Each card tells you how many reinforcements you get (if any), what units you can move, how far each type of unit can move, and any special rules for the turn.  Thus, you can't just run all of your units around each turn, and you never know from turn-to-turn what you will be allowed to do.  I can see some people not liking this, but I thought that it added a nice "fog of war" aspect to the game.  Let's be honest, back over 150 years ago nobody had perfect C3 in the mountains of Afghanistan, so it makes sense that only certain commands get to move each turn.  It can ruin your day if you get the wrong card at the wrong time, but such is life.

Overall I like this game more than I originally thought I would.  Small games can be iffy as to whether a small rules set can properly capture a historic situation and provide fun gameplay, but in my opinion this game delivers.  It is a fun, short diversion for those interested in the historic conflict.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Puerto Rico

In general, I am not a fan of worker placement games.  There is an exception to this rule, but for the most part games like this just don't click for me.  Which brings me to the next game as I randomly walk through my game collection, Puerto Rico.  The general theme for this game is that the players are all helping to build up the new Spanish colony of Puerto Rico during the age of colonization.  Throughout the game the players will be erecting various buildings and planting crops.  The crops, when harvested, can either be sold for money (needed to erect more buildings) or shipped back to Spain to earn victory points.  At the end of the game buildings are also worth victory points based upon their type.  The game runs until someone has filled up all of their available land plots for building, the game runs out of victory point tokens, or the game runs out of colonist tokens.

The core of this game is in the roles.  Depending on the number of players (the game handles between 3 and 5 players) there are six or seven roles to select from.  Each round the players select one of these roles to perform, and then all the other players get to perform it as well, if they can.  There are bonuses for each role to whoever selects it, outside of the fact that sometimes not everyone can perform every action, so the order in which the actions are taken can be important.

  • The SETTLER role lets you place a new plantation tile to grow more crops.
  • The MAYOR role lets you place new colonists.  You need to have colonists on your plantations and buildings to have them perform their functions.
  • The BUILDER role lets you erect new buildings.  This is important as most plantations require a related building to be operating in order to produce goods.
  • The CRAFTSMAN role lets your plantations produce goods.
  • The TRADER role lets you sell goods to the neutral trading hours for cash.
  • The CAPTAIN role lets you ship goods back to Spain for victory points.
  • The PROSPECTOR role (only available in four and five-player games) lets you get one coin.
The players go round and round selecting roles and taking the related actions.  Every round one of the players is designated the Governor and goes first.  The next turn, the player to their left becomes and Governor, and that position rotates around the table so that one player isn't getting consistently hosed by going last.  Also, as there are more possible roles to select than players, any role not selected in a particular round gets a coin on it, as an incentive for someone to pick it in the future.  Coins continue to build up on un-selected roles until they are selected, so sometimes you might select an otherwise sub-optimal role just to get all the cash on it.

And that is the game.  Some people really like this game, and for a while in the middle part of the last decade this game was REALLY popular in the hobby gaming scene.  It seems to have faded in popularity, but many people continue to hold it in high regard.  I am not one of those people, though.  I can see how some people would like it, but I just can't get into this game, most likely because its underlying mechanic is one that I just have trouble getting into.  I'll take a good tile placement game over a worker placement game any day.  As such, I will probably trade or sell this game in due course.  I do have the iOS version on my iPad in case I ever want to play it, so I don't see a need to keep the tabletop version around.