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.