Thursday, December 29, 2016

Stonewall off Ferrol

Phil came down from Williamsburg to learn Ironclads, and took the formidable CSS Stonewall vs the slightly less formadiable USS Niagara and the rather fragile USS Sacramento.  The scenario is one we've done several times before, with the Rebel ship attempting to get out of the harbor and cripple one of the Union vessels along the way.
In the first game, Phil took the Stonewall and sailed pretty much straight for the board edge, I took Niagara in close, suffering several substatial hits along the way; however, while Niagara is light on armor, she has lots of hull points, so she chugged along resolutely. And then I got in close astern and gave him a rake with my full broadside--11" Dahlgrens and 150 pounders. That wrecked his steering gear, and from there it was just a matter of following his wake and giving him one broadside while the other one reloaded.
In the second game, Phil took Stonewall again while Ryan and I swapped ships. This time Phil immediately cut right to go around the far end of the shoal, away from Niagara. I took Sacramento over to try to cut him off without actually getting in his way--Stonewall has a reinforced ram bow. I did nick him a little, but he outguessed me a couple of times and used me as cover to prevent Niagara from getting a shot. After punching huge holes in Sacramento's armor and setting her afire, the Rebel swung around to get another close range shot, which was reasonable (because he needed to cripple one of the Union ships to win) but a probably a mistake (because it let Niagara catch up). The two heavy ships tangled at close range, culminating in a ram which left Niagara low in the water, but also meant Stonewall was a stationary target at point blank range. The heavy Union guns battered Stonewall's hull enough to render her unable to make the oceanic crossing, costing her the win. A hard fought action all round.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Most Peaceful Wargame Ever

I just had the Most Peaceful Wargame I've ever had. 
The game was PanzerLeader, with a hypothetical Brits v Soviets scenario in May 1945. My Red Army forces rushed (because we're Russian) to the plateau in the center of the board, and took up Wellington-inspired defensive positions. The Brits had no line of sight to most of my units; if they wanted to attack, they would have to come up the slope and over the lip of the plateau, emerging into open ground at point blank range. I also left a few speedbump units to the south and at the crossroads behind me. 
I figured he'd assault, and that would weaken him enough for me to counterattack. My opponent, however, decided that "frontal assault into T34/85s and SU152s" didn't sound wise, so he left enough force to pin me and sent a few units around behind me to try to pick off the crossroads. The flaw in his plan is that his forces were sneaking from tree to rock, to keep me from Opportunity Firing on them; in contrast, when I decided to send reinforcements, I just ran an armor company right down the road from the hilltop to the crossroads, and was generally able to get there without risk of getting shot on the road. (I did offer him an Opportunity Fire shot on a T34/85, but he decided his Daimler Ferret scout car would rather run away instead of chipping my paint as my T34/85 rolled toward him).  Since I could reinforce faster than he could send attackers, he realized he couldn't take the crossroads; and it didn't weaken me quite enough to tempt him into assaulting the hill. This was turn 9, and the time limit was turn 10; there was not enough time for either of us to clear any more objective hexes even if we launched an all out assault, so we called it a draw without playing out the last turn.

Total shots fired: zero.

In a similar scenario on the other side of the room, the Americans sacrificed a few scouts to locate the Russian forces, then used artillery and aggressive armor attacks to break the Russian center for a decisive win.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear Solo

I've previously written on what I regard as some of the problems with the Conflict of Heroes series. Those haven't stoppped me from buying Awakening the Bear 2e and the Solo expansion, and I've just finished the first solo scenario. There's one change in the Solo version which I really like: you no longer activate one unit at a time and keep using it until it's out of Activation Points. Instead, you select any Fresh unit, take an action, and check whether the unit is Spent. If it isn't, you can take another action with it--or you can leave it alone for a few impulses while you use another unit, and then come back to the original one when you're ready. Higher AP cost actions (such as Rally, 5AP) are more likely to cause the unit to become Spent than low cost (Move in the open, 1AP) actions. However, you don't track Activation Point totals any more; as long as you're lucky with your Spent checks, that unit stays Fresh and can take action after action after action. Of course, you can also order a squad to scurry across the street into the building on the other side, only to have them become Spent after the first 1AP movement and get stuck in the middle of the street.

I did manage to win the first scenario, capturing the objective and polishing off two German squads while only losing one of my own. It was close, though, as the halftrack chased my SMG squad for a while, then got adjacent to one of my Rifle squads and put a hit on it. Fortunately the scenario timer ran out almost immediately afterward, and the Germans didn't get a chance to finish off my wounded squad. Final score, 2VP for the Russians.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


Six guys got together at Ryan's for a PanzerBlitz scenario based on the battle of Prokhorovka, which was part of the battle of Kursk.
In the scenario, the battlefield is divided by a 18-meter high causeway running north-south; its slopes are impassable for vehicles and difficult for infantry. There is only one road from the eastern sector across the causeway to the center, which means that the Russians can transfer some forces from one sector to another but the Germans can't,  There are numerous gullies and woods across the map, plus one wooded hill on the Russian side (perfect for putting an artillery spotter), and some towns, The Germans got four formations, including one late-arriving force on the eastern edge; as an example of one of those formations, my 2nd SS Panzer Division had 17 AFVs, 17 infantry, 5 artillery batteries, a couple of antitank towed guns and 7 halftracks. The Russians got five formations, including one that got two turns of movement before anyone else arrived; it raced across the map and took blocking positions almost at the German board edge.
Our right pushed the Russians back; as the Russians just blocked the road across the causeway and wrote off their eastern sector, our success was encouraging but not actually helpful. On the left, we got into some of the forests and were able to push the Russians back to about the middle of the map, but there we got stuck. In my sector, the center, I took the first forest, but advancing farther was impossible; there were woods all across my frontage, with Russians in cover in every woods hex. In order to shoot at them, I had to have an adjacent spotter; and that meant I had to move a unit to a hex with no cover, at point blank range from the enemy, and have it survive through the full Russian turn (indirect fire, direct fire, movement-with-overruns, and close assaults after movement) so it could direct fire on my next turn (turn order being shoot first, then move). So instead of launching a doomed banzai charge, I took over all the German artillery, found a great place for my spotter, and proceeded to drop barrages on every Russian unit I could see. That racked up quite a few kills, but the main Russian defense line was in cover and, once again, I couldn't shoot at them unless I had an adjacent spotter. I gather that, in real life, the Germans couldn't break through to Prokhorovka, so the scenario was historically accurate, but it wasn't very good from a play-balance point of view.
This was the first time most of us had played PanzerBlitz in over 20 years, so it was rather nostalgic. It was great, back then, because the game didn't cover just one battle, or even a limited set of scenarios; you had the pieces to make your own scenarioes. But that was back in 1974; playing it today was a reminder of how clunky the game was. Units out in the open were doomed, units in cover were invulnerable as long as they had enough pieces to block the enemy from getting into the same piece of cover. No morale, no opportunity fire, no command and control limits, no ability to ambush which means towed guns become largely useless, and so forth. I'd been thinking about getting a copy to replace the one I had back in high school; I'm glad I decided to hold off. Sometimes "everything was better, back in the old days" is because we don't remember the old days very well/

Thursday, May 19, 2016


RoboRally was on sale at Amazon and I've heard friends mention it a number of times, so I bought it. It's a race in which the players send robots trundling around a factory floor that has a few numbered flags scattered about; you're trying to be the first to touch each flag, in order. Except your robot is fairly stupid, with only a limited set of commands (such as Move 3, or Back Up, or Rotate Right) each turn. And the factory floor has conceyors, pits, lasers, and other hazards. And all the other robots also have lasers, and if they run into you they can shove you off course...
In my first game, SpinBot got off to a quick lead, charging across the floor while SquashBot lurched well behind...but Squash got a laser shot on Spin. The two bots jockeyed back and forth, trying to end their movement on the first flag. They managed that, and then Squash accidentally rammed Spin, knocking him into a laser. Each point of damage reduces your number of maneuver cards available, so Spin was only getting 7 cards vs SquashBot's 9; while you can only use 5 cards per turn, the reduction in cards to choose from can make a huge difference. 
Both bots sped for Flag 2, but had difficulty picking maneuvers to end on the flag; they overshot, drove around, spun in place, got carried away by a conveyor, and bashed into walls. Squash eventually managed to land on the 2nd flag, then headed for the final one. He caromed off a wall, made two loops, and arrived at Flag 3 just as the hapless SpinBot finally got a path that put him on Flag 2.
I'm not entirely thrilled with the physical components--the board and cards could be sturdier--but I got it at a steep discount. It's quick and easy to learn, and if you have the appropriate fatalistic attitude and can cope with your maneuver cards being not helpful at all...again....then it's a lot of fun.

A few days later we had another game of RoboRally, this time with three players. None of us even made it to the first flag. We each drove into pits or off the board twice. Betina deliberately pushed me into a pit ("It was an accident!" she says, with a telltale note of glee) to wreck my bot for the third and final time, but Justice was quickly served. On the next turn, Rachel accidentally backed into Betina and shoved her into a pit, leaving Rachel as the survivor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ghost Stories and Suburbia

Josh and I had half a game of Ghost Stories, a Chinese themed game in which your Taoist monks attempt to defeat the ghost of Wu Feng and a variety of other ghosts. There are nine Village tiles arranged in a square, and you're trying to prevent them from becoming Haunted. If your monk is standing on a tile, he gets the option of using an ability associated with that tile: gaining more Chi, for example, or moving a ghost from one side of the village to another. On each side of the village is an entry board for ghosts, with three spaces corresponding to the three adjacent village tiles. Some ghosts advance and Haunt village tiles; others hamper your ability to fight. You must manage your resources (mostly Chi) and maneuver to make the best use of the Villagers while dispelling ghosts quickly enough that you don't get overrun.
We did well at fighting most of the ghosts...but that was probably because we were misunderstanding or omitting some rules, which weren't quite as clearly written as I would have liked. According to Josh, the game's designer says that winning one game is twenty is doing well.

We also got in a game of Suburbia, in which you build residential areas, heavy industry, government buildings and businesses in an effort to increase your burough's population and reputation.  New offerings come onto the real estate market at a premium, getting cheaper as time goes on; you have to weigh wether you want to snatch them before your opponent does, or wait for the price to drop. Once you've bought a piece, you have to choose a good location in your burough--nobody wants to be next to a landfill, for instance, but you get synergy from having parks next to residential areas, or museums next to schools. As your town gets bigger, it becomes harder to keep up your reputation (you're losing that "small town feeling") and income (simulating increased infrastructure costs and diminishing returns); you want to grow, but not too quickly. And you'll have goals, both public and secret, for things like "have the least cash" or "have the most heavy industry".
The rules are only a couple of pages long but the game is more interesting than I had expected. You can see what's on the real estate market, so you  Josh got an early lead in population and held onto it to the end, although I was closing in quickly. I ended up buying a copy for myself.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fury of Dracula

This is game where one player--in this case, me--plays the Count, moving around Europe and evading the Hunters--in this case, Duncan, Chris, and Joshua. The Count wants to gain Influence in Europe, which he does by letting time pass or by disabling Hunters; the Hunters want to cooperate to track down and destroy the Count. 
As Vlad, I started in Spain and moved into France, but passed too close to Marseille; the hunters quickly found me before I'd laid many traps. I compounded my error by going into combat rather than breaking contact and evading the Hunters. I did managedto bite Mina, sending her to hospital in Madrid and gaining Influence for me. I scored another coup when Hunter in hot pursuit followed a false tip to Lisbon instead of my location in Paris. Unfortunately, the two remaining Hunters closed in on me and turned out to be better armed than I expected. Garlic and Holy Bullets did a lot of damage, and the Hunters mostly avoided my Fangs, which would have done damage to them and helped heal me. After taking 8 damage out of his 15 total hit points, I had the Count turn into bats and flee Paris for an undisclosed location to the east. 
We called the game there due to time but I think the hunters were well ahead. I took the Count into combat too much, and didn't lay enough delaying traps.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Xia and Bloodbowl

Game Night at Josh and Gwen's. At our table, the first game was Xia: Legends of a Drift System, played to 10 points with five players. I did much better than my first two attempts, getting a good trade route, a tier 3 ship, and 9 fame points, with my 10th pretty much guaranteed on the next turn. Josh then cashed in money for his 9th point, sold all his equipment to get enough to fund his ship upgrade, and used his ship upgrade to claim his 10th point and slip past me for the win. All hands had a good time.

Next up was Blood Bowl, in which each player manages a sports team. Cards are laid out to show the matches available and the rewards for each match; you decide which matches you want to play in, assuming you can claim your preferred spot before someone else does. You have to chose carefully between playing in more matches (for more rewards, some of which you get regardless of whether you win or lose) or putting more effort into winning fewer matches. I played the Humans for a couple of matches, just enough to get the concept and build up a respectable fan base, before I bowed out in favor of new management in the form of Tim, who took over and did quite well in the tournaments.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tidewater Area Gamers

Two games yesterday at the monthly Tidewater Area Gamers Society meeting.

Samurai by Fantasy Flight Games. This represents daimyos struggling for the support of the priests, merchants and nobles of Japan. Each player gets a set of influence tokens, and your goal is to capture objectives--representing the support of the three castes--by surrounding them with more influence than your opponent. The board is a map of Japan, divided into hexes, and your objectives are scattered across the map, including Edo with markers for all three castes. Some of your influence tokens only apply to one caste, some apply to all of them, and a few let you relocate pieces or make extra moves. Once a caste piece is completely surrounded, if you have the majority of influence on it, you capture it. If you have the majority of the pieces for a caste, you gain that caste's support; if you control two of the three castes, you win. Be careful, though, because it's possible to win the game without wining the majority of the tokens--for instance, if one player has no support at all from the Priests but wins a slight majority of the Noble and Merchant castes, then two of three castes support him and he wins. Quick and easy to learn, but requiring careful thought on every turn to win. I've added this to my wish list.

Churchill, by GMT. This game showcases the US, UK and USSR struggling not only to win WW2, but to gain an advantageous position in the peace that follows. Each turn has two main phases: a Conference phase, where the Allies each maneuver to set an agenda and gain control over issues, and the Map phase, where they allocate their efforts against Germany and Japan, and develop influence in minor nations, In our game, I played FDR, Mike took Stalin, and Ron played Churchill. In the Conferences, the US and USSR mostly countered each other, leaving the UK to come out ahead. In the map phase, the European front went well, as the US/UK took Italy and punched through France, defeating Germany well before the Russians could arrive. Progress was slower in the Pacific; the Japanese navy sat out the war, but the US failed to take Okinawa or the Phillipines, the Brits didn't make it to Hong Kong, and the Red Army never saw Korea. Things were looking grim until the US managed a last-minute research success and developed the A bomb, which forced Japan to surrender. The final score was England 55, US 39, USSR 33....but the rules say that you want to win, but not by so much that you provoke the other two into joining against you. Ron's lead was a little too overwhelming (more than 15+1d6) so I, as the second place power, became the winner. We finished the tournament scenario in about three hours, including time for me to learn the rules.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Panzerblitz II

Marko and I had a game of Panzerblitz II, based on the original Avalon Hill title of ages gone by.

We played "Situation HOD4:Take the Hill".  The Germans are in position the rear slope of a hill; the Brits start at the foot of the hill. The map edges are just off the sides of the hill, so there's no room to circle around and attack a flank--the Brits have to launch a frontal assault and push the Germans off the objective.

British forces include: 
  • 21 mechanized infantry platoons with Bren carriers; 
  • 3 machine gun infantry platoons with Bren carriers; 
  • 6 Churchill VII platoons; 
  • 4 17lb AT platoons towed by halftracks; 
  • 2 Achilles platoons; 
  • 2 Crocodile platoons
  • offboard artillery
German forces: 
  • 12 Panzergrenadier platoons; 
  • 1 PzKw V G platoon
  • 2 PzKw IV H platoons
  • 3 75 Pak 40 platoons 
  • 3 Stug III G Platoons
  • 3 Tiger platoons
  • 9 improved positions
  • offboard rocket support.
Playing as the Brits, I put a couple of 17 pounders into the trees on the far right--probably a little too far right, in retrospect--and sent a couple of tanks along the left map edge, while I massed my main assault. Then I ran everything onto the hill and debarked ny infantry, losing a few to German fire as I drove in. On the right, my lead units got pinned down by fire and overrun by panzers. On the left, the Germans tried to stay under cover, but my 17 pounders managed to kill a StuG and my infantry cleared one or two of the German positions. In the center, I ran a kamikaze Bren carrier over the crown of the hill; the Germans brewed it up but that used their Reaction Fire opportunity, and my infantry could safely take the crest. We were halfway through turn 4 (of 7) and the Germans were celebrating the arrival of a couple of Tiger platoons when we had to call time.

The way initiative works is that you put chits into a cup and pull them one at a time. The chits are specified by the scenario and include scores of 0, 1 and 2 for Brits and Germans. If the first chit you pull is a Brit 1, the Brits can place the chit on a hex and activate everything in that space or within 1 hex of it (as long as it hasn't already activated). If the next chit is a Brit 0, then the Brits can activate a single hex worth. It's entirely possible to get two or more activations in a row. You have to choose with care where you're going to place your chits, to activate as many units as possible and to move them quickly, before the other side can react. The weird part about this is that you're putting down radius 0, 1 or 2 circles and units that are outside that circle don't move--even if the rest of their company is moving right past them. I guess that's a case of "there's always someone who doesn't get the word."
The stacking limits are a bit odd. You can have three Bren carriers in one hex, or three rifle platoons, but you can't bring in two loaded Brens into one hex and have the infantry dismount there, because that puts you at 4 units in a hex, which is over the stacking limit. Consequently, my infantry was spread over the whole width of the front at one platoon per hex, wherever I could find a space for them. Given the way the initiative chits work, this was bad--I should have had each companys compressed into the least space possible, so I could activate them with one chit pull. I think the intent was that a player should move a Bren three spaces, unload, and move backwards one. Then you can run a second Bren in and repeat the process, which at least gives you two platoons in a hex instead of one. That part felt more like "traffic engineer" than "assault commander"--although I suppose some staff officer basically is a traffic engineer, so to the extent that you want to simulate "the staff officer experience", the game does that. It did drive home the dilemma of "how far dare I run in my transports?" The infantry are horribly vulnerable while they're mounted, and you don't want to give the enemy any more Reaction Fire shots at them than you have to--but you also have time limits and dismounted infantry is slow. I decided to run the Brens onto the hill and dismount as they finished their turn, so they only had to survive one session of Reaction Fire but still got fairly close to the enemy. 
Speaking of Reaction Fire--each enemy unit gets to shoot at a single one of your units as they drive by. If you send a tank first, they can wait and hope something squishier comes along. Or if you send an unloaded Bren in first. the enemy can take the easy kill but miss the chance to shoot the infantry unit that came right after it. Perhaps it would make more sense for a unit doing Reaction Fire to have a chance to shoot more than once? Although that would slow the game down more.
The fire resolution process is a bit odd too. If you're shooting at a tank, what matters is the difference between your attack factor vs his armor factor. If you add another unit to your fire group, you merely get a +1 to that difference. However, if you're firing at infantry, what counts is not the difference between factors, but their ratio. Example: my firepower 12 tank fires at an enemy tank with a defense of 6, and I'm on the +6 table; if my tank fires on a defense 5 infantry unit, I roll on the 2:1 table. I assume that's because when you're firing at infantry, the more the merrier; but when you're firing at armor, it's the size of your biggest gun that determines whether you penetrate the armor, and adding an extra .30 machinegun doesn't really help you. 
Overall I had fun, although part of that was due to the nostalgia factor--the original Panzerblitz was one of my first wargames. Speed of play is the main problem, Admittedly it was a learning game, but it took four hours to go through three and a half turns--not because it's all that complicated, but because activating everything takes a lot of time. I had nearly 70 counters, plus status markers. I have to wonder if that scenario could be done with a third of the counters, maneuvering companies instead of platoons. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Darkest Night

Just finished my first game of Darkest Night from Victory Point Games, played solo with the Prince, Seer, Wizard and Druid randomly selected to defend the kingdom against the power of the Necromancer. The Necromancer spent the first few turns wandering blindly from Ruins to Village and back; meanwhile, the heroes searched for keys to unlock a Holy Relic. As the tide of darkness rose, the prince and wizard moved to the ruins to to dispel the blights there, while the seer and druid kept searching. The druid, in raven form, finally unearthed the Relic. The prince and wizard went to meet him, with the Necromancer in hot pursuit. The wizard was badly wounded but had his most powerful magic available; so the druid handed him the Relic, the prince used his ability to Inspire, and the wizard attacked with an overwhelming blaze of flame. The game finished with the Shadow level at 13; 3 blights in the vilage, 2 each in forest and ruins, and 1 each in the remaining spaces; the wizard had 1 Grace point left and the others each had 3.
The game rules were written well and unambiguously, and it played pretty quickly once I had internalized them. It had good pacing, with a definite sense of scrambling to fight off Impending Doom. However, the tactical options felt limited; during fights, each character had only only a few choices and usually one choice was clearly the best.
Generally, for each character, one tactic is better. For example, in this game my seer could Fight with 1d6 or Evade with 3d6. For most monsters, you have to beat the same number to succeed whether you Fight or Evade, and a failure has the same consequences whether you Fight or Evade, so it's a no-brainer to choose the option where you have the bigger dice pool. Not always--one monster had different target numbers, so I had to decide whether to try for 1d6 needing 3+ or 3d6 needing 5+. Aside from that kind of situation, my Seer would always Evade, and my Prince would always Fight. Which is okay, to some extent, because it differentiates between them, but the tactical level is not as intriguing as it might have been. 
I think gameplay might be improved by adding a third resource--Mana, perhaps--and forcing the player to choose "do I spend it now, when I really need it, or do I hold on so I have it later, when I might really, REALLY need it?"
There is also a strategic level, where you have to choose between strengthening/repairing your character, searching for the McGuffin you need to win, or destroying monsters to keep their numbers down to manageable levels. I found that level to be better, because you have time limits and can't do everything you want. In my case, with the cards I had, it was fairly simple--Prince and Wizard fight, Seer and Druid search--but the pressure was still there.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Wargames: 1805 Sea of Glory, Afrika Korps, Close Action, Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Darkest Night, D Day, Fading Glory (Napoleonic 20), Field Commander:Napoleon, France 1940, Holy Roman Empire, Infidel, Ironclads, Lion of the North, Mage Knight, Manoeuvre, Mound Builders, Napoleon at Bay, Navajo Wars, OGRE/GEV, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, Soldier Raj, Stalingrad, Under the Lily Banners, Waterloo, Wellington, With God & Glorious Arms, Won by the Sword

Euro: Dominion, Forbidden Island, Settlers of Catan, Tsuro
RPGs: D&D4e and 5e, Champions/HERO System, Traveller, FATE, Savage Worlds, PDQ#, others
Miniatures Rules: StarGrunt, Full Thrust, In Her Majesty’s Name, Dragon Rampant, Field of Glory Renaissance, On the Seven Seas, Of Gods and Mortals, Striker, and more