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  • ogre2.gif
  • As anyone who regularly reads my pieces will know, my opportunity for game playing is now severely limited. The only regular opportunity that I get to play outside occasional games against my usually unwilling partner is that one of the gaming groups that I associate with does monthly all-day gaming sessions at the weekend, and said group meets in the town where said partner hails from: so we can pop over and she can visit her family for a few hours (and get a bit of help with the kids) while I get to play some games. It’s a very Euro-oriented group but beggars can’t be choosers and, anyway, there are some pretty good Euros around if you go digging.


  • As you may know, the Fantasy Flight version of Britannia has sold out its second printing and all rights have reverted to me.

    The plan for the new editions of Britannia - don't forget that plans don't always work out - is that there are several versions.  The standard version that has been available in the past will be changed more than I anticipated when I started out two months ago, primarily to make it work better as a way of teaching/understanding British history - to make it closer to reality, if you will.  In the process the game has changed some, which I also think will be interesting for players.  In particular I've eliminated some things that I strongly dislike.  First, it won't be possible for the Romans to make a deal with the Welsh, who then submit although never touched.  This time, they Will Fight.  Second, it won't be possible for a "starving army" to commit virtual suicide by making a bad-odds attack.  Its compatriots will have to come along.  Third, we won't have the Romano-British scurrying for the hills, abandoning their homes and farms.  But they'll be in better shape than in the old game.

    It also won't be a Roman walkover with Romans even known to be killing Caledonians.  The Roman will have more difficult choices.  Unfortunately, players who tend to make a hash of the Romans now, when it IS often a cakewalk for an experienced player, may REALLY make a hash of it in the new version.  There's always a problem in games, whether to design for the 99% expert player or the 33% or the 75%.  When the 99% expert is going to work a bit, the 33% may just get creamed.  Fortunately, the Roman-British are MUCH more prominent in the game - for a while.



    There's a smaller, diceless version (“Rule Britannia”) that uses a new board (21 land areas); and a quick, really small (8 nations) "broad market" version (no set title) that also uses a new board.  I expect these versions will appeal more to current tastes, and may (should) outsell the standard version.

    There's also an "Epic" version that uses the standard board with the addition of Ireland, and will be significantly longer than the standard game (Epic, get it?).  So Ireland will be on the standard board, even though it won't be used in the standard game.

    The standard game will come with several shorter scenarios (4-9 turns), and a new three player game that I am trying very hard to balance, and a 6-7 turn game that covers the entire period using the same colors/sides.




    All of these except the new 3 player version were originally developed years ago, but Fantasy Flight was not interested in expansions/spinoffs/add-ons.   Britannia was essentially a trophy game for them, because the owner likes the game.  (After the game had been in print about two years, I could no longer get anything posted on the FFG Britannia Web site.  They were "too busy.") With the new edition we can try to bring these other versions to the public.  Most likely there will be a Kickstarter with several choices, and various perks (perhaps a wooden set?).  Time will tell.

    In the shadowy background as standalone or expansions are a Britannia card game and a couple games that use the setting, board, and pieces but are new game systems.



    With that introduction we can now talk about abstractions and things left out in relation to the Epic and standard versions.

    Designing a game that's a model of some reality is an exercise in abstraction.  (Keep in mind that many of today's popular games are not models of any reality.  They are simply "abstract" with an atmosphere tacked on.)  You cannot begin to represent all of reality, it's too complex.  You have to combine things together into one thing constantly, and you have to ignore a lot of things that were very important to people at the time.

    For example, in Britannia the "armies" represent (in most of the Dark Age) poorly-armed agricultural settlers.  (The exceptions are the Romans at one end of the time scale, and the Norwegians and Normans at the other - more or less professional soldiers.)  Armies are both population and soldiers.  That’s the way it tended to be in the Dark Ages, quite different from some of late antiquity and most of the modern world.  A more complex game could represent population separately from soldiers.  One of those shadowy add-on games does, though it's generally fairly simple otherwise.

    An obvious compromise is the coherence of large ethnic groups that were usually not politically united.  The Welsh were never one kingdom, really, though most of them occasionally acknowledged an overlord such as Rhodri Mawr (who is now in the game under present rules).  Picts, Romano-British, Norsemen, etc. weren't united much of the time.

    What I've done in "Epic Britannia" is undo some of these compromises made in standard Britannia, decreasing the level of abstraction.  It's "more true-to-life", though it's still so abstracted that it models effects more than causes.  That is, it's good for showing what happened, and even for giving some idea of why things happened, but it doesn't try to model the causes of why things happened.

    So what does Epic do differently than Second Edition Brit?

    •    Caratacus Welsh leader with change in play order (now also in standard)
    •    Arthur appears for all British nations (now also in standard)
    •    Ravaging/Forays (now also in standard)
    •    Disorder/disunity (Settled Nations in standard now)
    •    Several nations separated (3 R-B nations, 3 Angles)
    •    Separates Roman control from Roman forts
    •    Reduction of Roman capabilities in later years but addition of one relief expedition
    •    Changes the sides (colors)
    •    Ireland included
    •    Absorption of Picts by Scots, Jutes by Saxons
    •    Revolts and second submissions possible
    •    Plague
    •    Stronger Saxons at the end
    •    More leader movement at end

    The reduction in abstraction makes for a longer game, of course.  Contrast it with a game with only 8 nations instead of 16-17 and 6 turns instead of 16 (the broad market version), which is 60-90 minutes (I hope).

    As the simpler, shorter games are likely to become the "standard" for this topic, I have not been too reluctant to add features to Britannia itself that may lengthen the game, if only because there may be more fighting in the early part.  As you see, some of the features of Epic have now been incorporated into the third edition standard game.

    Plenty is still left out, for example the Roman Carausian revolt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carausian_Revolt

    And once again, we’ll remember what happens with plans, and see where we end up - next year.

  • Jim Krohn is the creator of our really cool 4X space game,  Space Empires. In the expansions to SE, Jim has managed to give us a bunch of cool new additions and options without making the game unwieldy – a considerable design accomplishment. In this, Jim’s first article for InsideGMT, he takes us inside his newest expansion, Space Empires: Replicators, on the P500 list now and slated for release in 2Q or 3Q, 2015. Enjoy the article! – Gene


     

  •     I got a solo play of King Philip's War in yesterday at Winter Offensive and it was a very rewarding session.   This game is not yet ready for release, but it's on the PrePub list with just shy of 300 orders.

        King Philip's War was the first major conflict of the British Colonies, taking place in New England and lasting about two years.  I have ancestral ties to the war (distant ones obviously) including a pretty harrowing letter describing a farm being overrun so the conflict has a bit more gravity for me.  A pretty obscure war, I don't think there are any other games based on it.  Point to Point movement, simple combat, restricted movement mechanics that makes places that look close farther away than you want them to be.  Two player only, likely to clock in at 2-3 hours.  My solo game from a stone-cold start ran a bit over 4.

        I started from scratch with no coach and got the opportunity to test the entire package beginning to end like a new purchaser.  I decided to use the opportunity to provide feedback to the designer who I have met at previous events, and I play-tested his game Caliphate (a euroesque multi-player wargame) at the World Boardgaming Championships this past summer.  I left feedback this morning; I've already received a response from him indicated the changes he has planned based upon his test groups today.  This will be part of the IGS series from Multiman Publishing, the host of Winter Offensive, their annual convention to benefit ALS.

        In short, in spite of the game still not ready for the printer it played very well. It forced my out of my game -- it required me to break up larger forces to go into the countryside and slash and burn similar to what happened in the actual war.  My initial intent was to build armies and chase after the early victory conditions but they proved elusive. For my first play the Indians had better luck early on, destroying settlements and keeping the colonists in check. The colonists just couldn't seem to get a break, damaging Indian villages but not destroying them (i.e., not limiting Indian provisions or scoring victory points.)  As the game burned on it became apparent that the Indians were in a better position to ravage English settlements, and the points race was on.  I resigned (if you can do that against yourself) with one turn remaining, the colonists well behind and the Indians four small points away from the required 30 for an early endgame.

        The map is plush and a pleasure to work with. The movement is easily worked out by just a scan of the available paths, and I found only one place with a technical flaw. Completely usable in its current condition though the colors don't match the text in the rules manual. My guess is the manual will change to the map.

        The instructions had a few oversights that are certain to be cleaned up, but the play is there. I took notes as I proceeded and once I began to understand the limitations on troop movement much of what I had written down as flawed or troublesome completely melted away.  Troop movement is tough -- each side cannot pass through the other player's settlements and there's more than a few of them often in chains that make for big barriers.  When I began to understand that the map became very tight, very risky, very interesting.  English settlements were off on their own, having to fend for themselves instead of depending on help from the far side of the colony.  Indian tribes were separate and non-aligned, though I still have a question out to designer Jon Poniske about the details of the move limitations.  If my suspicions are right there will be even more emphasis on skirmishing, a much better match to reality than what I was trying to foist onto the game, and a much better play overall.

        King Philip's war was about guerrilla tactics and politics.  King Philip, the Indian leader in the war spent much of his time wheeling and dealing with local tribes to get them to buy into the effort.  The English weren't to be left out of that part of the scenario and had their own allied tribes as well.  Tribes tended to fall in with the local power for safety and political advantage, and the game works that in well though in a very simple fashion.  King Philip spends much of his time simply moving, reaching each tribe to bring it into the game on his side.  While the Indian player goes after unprotected settlements with small bands (stacking limit is a merely TWO chits though each has a step) Philip does the grand tour.  The English player raises and deploys troops in four separate regions each turn and brings in Indian allies after a few turns as well, resulting in a fractured force that needs to cover a lot of ground.  The English start slowly and need to hold on for a bit.  Benjamin Church was a critical leader of the English colonists and in the game he arrives somewhere between turn 1 and turn 6, and in my case he arrived in turn 6.  With Church on the board the English move faster, develop Indian alliances and can move through terrain with the same efficiency as their Indian opponents. 

        This is when American colonists first learned how warfare in the Americas would work.  This play was when I learned as well.  Though I tried to fight a standard war, Indian troops were unable to penetrate Boston and Plymouth in spite of some pretty stellar rolls.  In theory that would have been a win for them, but alas it was not to be.  Instead they spent the final three turns sacking unprotected settlements whose troops were assembled into large standing armies in an attempt to win a decisive battle.  It appears I learn no faster than my ancestors of the 1600s.

        The game was good fun, and pushed me to play to the terrain. A solid emulation of North American warfare from the day, this was well worth the time.

                    S.

  • 4.2 Pounds

    That's what the ASL rulebook weighs. Now it says something that you can use a measurement of weight to describe a rule book but when you consider that the pages that make up those 4.2 pounds are large and contain two columns of very small print you are taking it to a whole new level.

  • "It isn't that hard."

    That, dear reader, is a damnable lie.

  •     So on October 31st, 1985 I sat down to a game of Dune playing the Fremen.  I like the Fremen because they just keep piling onto the board turn after turn.  But that's not why I remember this game in particular; I don't even remember if I won.  The reason I remember is far more basic, more primal.
  • fantasy chick

    Ok, I know there’s already been all kinds of arguments and crap about Runebound in Trashdome so I don’t want to open up old arguments.  But with the latest Trashdome comparing Sci-Fi to Fantasy, I figured I’d take a crack at talking about fantasy adventure games.

    First of all, I’m not a big fan of adventure games.  Ok, I played D&D in 7th and 8th grade and twice in high school but after I discovered girls and beer my interest in fantasy stuff went south.  I liked the Lord in Rings series and King Arthur but beyond that I’d much rather read Military History or Science Fiction rather than read any fantasy crap.

  • I blog therefore I am

    cover_William Gibson's 'Neuromancer'It is a truism that our hyperconnected world — this mighty engine of commerce, knowledge and communication in which codebots endlessly war over the dupes, the data and the users' processing power and into whose coffers even our free activity is given — a truism that this incredible techo-social spectacle- the crowning scientific and technical achievement of the 20th century; that this is the original Cyberpunks' mid-80s low-life visions made virtual flesh (virtual by virtue of the lack of ubiquitious direct neural jacking with its resulting sensory immersion- that emotionally empty screen so beloved of the trolls who soil and poison the social networks). When my pal's copy of William Gibson's Neuromancer circulated round to me back in 1984 little did I realise that I was about to experience with unsurpassed intensity a delicious cultural trope- getting in ahead of the avalanche unleashed by a new voice at the cutting edge of a genre-redefining honest-to-god artistic revolution. No sudden impact this. It was a slow-burning mind-bomb the full impact of which only became evident when, after a month's apparent indifference, I suddenly realised that I couldn't get the damn book out of my mind.

    cybernet head

     

  • Aerial Assault is new game robot card game that simulates the 2014 FRC Robotics competition.

  •  

        I had the opportunity to try out Martin Wallace's Test of Fire published by Mayfair Games.  This is likely the lightest, fastest wargame you'll ever get the chance to play but don't discard it out of hand -- it has some good action going on and teaches the basics without a lot of confusion in the mix.

    Wallace has left the basics of wargaming intact.  Region-to-region movement with only two types of units -- artillery and infantry and frankly the artillery doesn't really count.  This game simulates Bull Run and it's about moving (and losing) infantry in order to take and hold ground.  Union Forces win by capturing key positions, Confederates win by holding out long enough.  Either side can also win by routing their opponents, essentially through destroying enough infantry.

    This is a game where cards play a key role, but it's not card-driven.  That cardboard player aid you see in the image above is what drives your actions, all decided by rolls of the dice.  At the start of your turn you throw the bones and the results give you your options.  A 1 lets you draw a card, 2s and 3s let you activate your artillery, 4s and 5s  let you maneuver and battle for ground with infantry, and 6s let you take any action you want, but only at a location where you have a leader deployed.  The good news is that you roll three or four dice each turn, so you have the opportunity to cascade several actions into a consolidated event, moving multiple units into position for a fight or hurriedly get reserves up the road to reinforce a weak position.  Cards (drawn on a roll of 1 or optionally on a 6) support your actions, help you defend positions, or even provide whole extra actions at no additional cost.

    For those of you frustrated by Battle Cry's heavily card-driven activation system, where units on one flank can be cut to bits while they sit idle, this is an interesting alternative.  Cards add capabilities and flavor to the game, but they're secondary.  Good old-fashioned select-and-activate runs the show, though each turn only offers you the chance to work with half a dozen or so units.

    I'll be honest -- not much of Wallace's patented special sauce shines through on this one.  You can usually feel him sitting behind you when you play his games.  But it's a solid if light wargame that still manages to make for an interesting play.  Small box, small price, simple play.  45 minutes beginning to end.  A great choice for someone looking to get their feet wet in the genre.

    S.

  • Blast City Games


    Please note: Nathan Hayden, the designer and lone man at Blast City Games (makers of San Quentin Kings) was kind enough to send me a copy for this review.


    It’s well known in my gaming circle that I’m not a fan of economic games. Partially ‘cause I suck at them but mainly ‘cause the theme tends to be uninteresting to me. I’m not into kowtowing to some renaissance bigwig, shipping “colonists” to plantations nor do I want to be some blow-hard railroad baron. In After Pablo though. I’m the head of a drug Cartel and I gotta make me some fat stacks all the while having complete domination over my competition. Ohhhhhh, Papa likes!

    Here’s the premise; Pablo Escobar the infamous Columbian drug lord (once listed in Forbes magazine as the seventh most wealthiest person), has been tracked down and killed by Columbia’s Special Forces. As the head of your own Cartel, you want to take over his lucrative narcotics empire, but so do your opponents. “After Pablo”  by Blast City Games, pits players against one another in attempt to control Escobar’s legacy by buying, smuggling and selling cocaine to the US as well as paying for favours to the DEA, hiring a cadre of Lawyers and Assassins and of course starting wars against rival Cartels. The game ends after 12 rounds (or seasons) and the player with the most Command Points (CPs) wins.


    OVERVIEW


    Before getting into the meat of the game I thought that I’d take a little time to talk about one of your main assets. The Cartel Card.

    Blast City Games

    Cartel cards will be used throughout the game in a few ways. Players will either buy or bid for them, play them from your hand for the listed ability or icon as well use them to perform “checks” with.

    For instance, if during a "Crossing the Border" action, a player cannot match all five of the vehicles on the board, he would have to make a “check by drawing the top card from the cartel card draw pile and flipping it over. If there’s an empty alley he has passed but if there’s a cop car, the player is busted and must lose a cube of cocaine back to the off board supply and one influence (from his pile or from on the board) to the jail track.


    Blast City Games

    This draw mechanic is used again during the “selling” phased but players will perform a check by flipping the Cartelthat are on the board It’s simple but it adds another layer of strategy as other players may try to make the on board cards less conducive to the selling player by buying any possible “safe” cards and replacing them with other cards from the draw pile. . This also changes the dynamic of the board in way that influence the next person to buy cartel cards or trying to sell. Most every action changes the board and forces player’s to rethink their next move.

    On your turn, you'll move your Associate Pawn to different areas on the board as you choose one of five actions:

    1)   Taking a Business action will allow a player to either pay for influence on the boards or buy Cartel cards (you must choose to do one or the other, not both).

    2)   Buying cocaine. Players can buy it for $1 per cube of coke (max. of 5 allowed). If a player has the most influence on the Columbian flag, the money goes to him. If no leader is present the cash goes to the bank.

    3)   Start a War. A player will move his Associate pawn to either Columbia or Mexico and try to reduce or eliminate the influence another player has on that country’s flag. Combat is very straight forward the attacker will play any number of “guns” they have on their cartel cards and or “asesinos” (assassins)  in that country (which would have been bought during a previous Business action). Once the attackertotals his combat value the defender does the same. The winner is the player with the higher total. The loser must remove a number of influence according to the difference in totals. If the attacker wins the player adds 1 influence in that country. The defender gains nothing if she wins.

    4)   Crossing the Border. The player attempt to smuggle all his coke cubes across the border using various modes of transportation. A track on the board has five face-up tiles with different transport symbols on them, (e.g. A plane, two speedboats, a dude and an SUV.) The player must try to match those symbols with the cartel cards he has in his hand.

    Blast City Games

    5)   Selling to the USA. This can only be taken if you used the Crossing action on the previous turn. Similar to that you will look at the face-up cartel cards on the board. Each will have a price on the board above every card from $8 to $10. You must sell each cube of coke to one face-up card. You are guaranteed a safe deal if the Cartel card you’re selling to matches your cartel’s colour. For every card that doesn’t you must make a check.

    Every time a player gets a cube “arrested” itis placed on the Jail track. By either playing special abilities from Cartel cards (like the Lawyer/ politician card) or due to in-game mechanics your cubes will /can be moved down thetrack. When the influence cubes move out of the last space (or the "Acquittal" box) they are returned to your influence pool. At the end of the game if any of your cubes are anywhere on the “Jail” track you will lose 1 CP per cube.

    There’s also DEA track that, when triggered, causes the leaders in both Mexico and/ or Columbia to lose an influence cube from their respective countries. This happens after Crossing action has been completed. The bottom two Crossing tilesare discarded, the remaining tiles are shifted and two new tiles are added at the top. For every lightening bolt present on a tile, the DEA marker is moved one space. Once the marker reaches the end of the track arrests are made.

    Luck is a part of this game whether it's through drawing cards to be placed on the board or making checks with but there are thematic luck mitigators thatplayers can use. If you need to get a little insurance before crossing the border you can buy influence within the DEA which allow you to redraw a card during checks. 

    There is direct player interaction by using the War action or by revealing a Snitch in a rival Cartel’s midst.

    Blast City Games

    Playing a Snitch card on an opponent, makes him deal with a negative effect (known as B.S), like losing cash or influence for example. Once the BS has been resolved your opponent then has to deal with the Snitch. They would have to kill him by either using 2 guns, from off of the board or in your hand or removing an influence from your DEA folder or Country flag. Your opponent could also do nothing and receive a “Weakness” chip, which will add anegative number to your final score depending on how many Weakness chips one has ( 1 chip=-1 CPs, 3 chips= -6 CPs).

    MY THOUGHTS

    I really really dig this game and I think it’s a solid title. After Pablo takes familiar mechanics like area control, bidding and set collection and uses them in a way that’s highly thematic and in many ways creates a sense of narrative. Every action and decision a player takes, makes sense within the context of this highly dynamic underworld. You’ll have to rely on short-term planning as things change on the fly but nothing is more satisfying than making a border crossing and sales with all your coke and turning around to start a War to make yourself the leader of a country. The multi-purpose cartel cards are an excellent choice that pulls all the game elements together in a simple yet effective way.

    There's plenty of quality player interaction and players will be involved in nearly every turn as the board changes.

    On the whole the components are good, with the exception of the Crossing Border tiles, which are downright crappy. It seems as though the images were printed out from a home computer and glued with a glue stick onto thin chip board. The blank side seems to have been painted with poster paint. One tile has already begun to peel away from it's backing and the edges on the painted side are beginning to chip.  The Cartel and cash card quality on the other hand is pretty good.

    The playing boards (there are three of them) are made with a chipboard backing and reminded me a lot of GW’s Talisman Timescape board (for those old and/or fortunate to remember). It's not mounted so it will take a little coaxing to get it to lay flat on the table. One can't screw up wooden cubes and they are a great fit for this game as they represent your dudes and of course blocks of cocaine. No Dorothy were not in Euroland anymore.

    One of the most contentious points for some, will be the art style. It’s rough, crude and Naïve but it works for me. Why?  'Cause it feels thematic. I couldn’t imagine the slick graphics similar to that of Cuba or Small World working for a game like this.  In my opinion the art reflects the aggressive and brutal nature of the drug trade, it's edgy, off kilter and a n big improvement over Blast City's other game San Quentin Kings.  I will say the box cover art wholly misrepresents the game with it's pastel, impressionist-like art but other than that I think the artwork for the rest of the game is awesome.

    Of course no game is perfect and After Pablo is no exception. In attempt to soothe game statisticians (Jeb, I’m lookin’ at you), all cards are listed withan arrestprobability for when making checks. For instance if a card lists 2/3 it means two cards in this set of cards are arrest cards.( A printing error on the Snitch card says 0/1 but it should be 1/1 as all snitch cards will cause an arrest.)In my group,I think a player did use it once during a “Selling” check but overall it was largely ignored.  Also at the end of each round, players can buy one "Luxury" item like Women / Beauty (?) or an Estate. What it is really is a straight up CP grab.  You receive no item and it feels anti-thematic in a way.  I was hoping that the items would give you some semi or permanent effect, like requiring an opponent to spend an 1 extra gun in a War action against you if you have an Estate /Compound or something to that effect.

    Another minor niggle was the choice to have the money denominations in tens versus thousands. Having to hire an Assassin for $10 seems a bit silly. It could have simply been solved by having all denominations end with a K.

    So do I recommend this? Hell yeah! It looks like it's currently sold out but if it goes into a second printing I would highly suggest the designer fix the Crossing tiles as that stands out as the weakest element in an otherwise fantastically fun and deep game.

    MY NON-GAMING RECOMMENDATIONS:

    No Country for Old Men (book or film) - Cormac MacCarthy

    Breaking Bad (TV) ( Season 2 specifically)

    Scarface (film) Brian De Palma / Oliver Stone

    Narcocorrido music (Mexican music about Drug lords and their exploits)

     

     

     

     

     

  • Here's a crude pic I whipped up of the map.  The map consists of a central realm (the Darklands where the big bad is located).  A ring of inner realms and then a second ring of outer realms.  The board is randomly set up each game with a few special rules (the mountains must be placed together, the bay's water edges must point out from the game board, and Terror Pass's road has to connect from the Darklands to the outer realms).  There are also 5 realms on the periphery of the map.  These each connect to a Realm on the main board.  The Town of Kortburg is where the characters start, but the other realms are hidden and have to been found.

  • ds_1This is an area control game driven by a worker placement engine. All "workers" ( called Action Pawns, or APs) are placed on a large chart on the board, then resolved from top-to-bottom and left-to-right. The various rows allow you to modify the game in some way, many of which have subtle interactions with each other and require either tactical flexibility, long-term strategic planning, or both:

    1. Initiative (next turn's AP placement order)
    2. Adaptation (modifying your animal to exploit the changing map)
    3. Regression (loosing prior adaptations)
    4. Abundance (seeding the map with new resources)
    5. Wasteland (removing resources from the map where they intersect with the ever-expanding glacier)
    6. Depletion (targeted removal of a resource from anywhere on the map)
    7. Glaciation (expansion of the ice-sheet, turning a targeted map tile into low-scoring, resource-destroying Tundra)
    8. Speciation (increase your population around a targeted resource)
    9. Wanderlust (exploration/placement of a new map tile and placement of a resource on that tile)
    10. Migration (movement of on-map population)
    11. Competition (reduction of co-existing opposing population on targeted terrain tiles)
    12. Domination (scoring VPs on a chosen tile and allowing the best-adapted animal on that tile to execute a powerful Dominance card)


    Finally, populations that find themselves unadapted to their current tile become extinct (removed), Bonus VPs are scored for control of the expanding ice-cap, and everything is reset for the next turn.

    VP scoring is based on population majority, while the right to use a dominance card *when that tile is scored* is based on how many of your animal's adaptations match up to the resources touching that tile (resources are always placed on tile corners, influencing several tiles at once). Animals can have up to six adaptations, and multiple copies of the same resource are allowed, so it's quite possible to specialize. This involves some risk, however, as the map is ever-changing, and adaptations can actually be lost. Each turn 4 resource types become available as adaptations, but there are only three adaptation slots in which to place APs. Any un-selected resources slide down into the regression box at the end of the turn and will cause all players to loose (remove) an adaptation of that type from their animal next turn, unless it is one of their at-start (printed on their animal sheet) adaptations. There's also one space open for a player to place an AP and prevent one resource type from regressing.

    Scoring VPs is crucial, obviously, but being able to execute a dominance card is usually *very* powerful.

    New resources can be placed on the map form the Abundance row (up to 2 per turn), but those that go unplaced slide down into the Wasteland box and, eventually into the Depletion box, so while investing in adaptations to grubs (one of the resource types) might have been a good idea on turn 1, by turn 3 it could be a dead-end. If you end up with your population concentrated on a tile suddenly devoid of resources matching your adaptations, you could be facing a massive extinction. Worse, population eliminated through extinction or competition are gone for good, removed permanently from the game. There is always hope, though. Migration allows you to move your population to better tiles, and Speciation lets you spawn new population regardless of your current geographical concentration.

    On top of all this, each animal has a unique advantage, a built-in adaptation to a different resource, a specific place in the "food chain" (used for breaking ties when scoring VPs), and a specific place in the starting initiative order (the reverse of the food chain order, in fact). This gives each animal a very different feel and goes a long way towards building the theme. The Dominance cards also feature several game-altering effects - from increasing/decreasing the number of APs a player (or players) may place each turn to catastrophic resource depletions and regressive diseases.

    The system is brilliant, fascinating, thematic, and deep. I almost didn't pre-order this game, and what a sad error that would have been. After one play I think I'm in love with this game. The few down-sides I can see are mostly secondary; cost, length, learning curve. The intricate yet smooth gameplay is worth it. The rules themselves are not complex, but there are many interlocking systems and at least one stumbling block for new players, namely the two different types of control players are vying for in any given area. After a turn it becomes clear, as soon as a tile is scored and the first Dominance card is executed.

    I currently rate this game a 9/10 after one play.

    Ways this game is like Age of Empires III:
    - Worker placement engine coupled with area control and direct conflict.
    - Players must make strategic investments in areas of specialization.
    - Exploration mechanism

    Ways this game is like Twilight Imperium 3rd edition:
    - Each faction has a unique feel and special ability
    - Map is different each time via a set of terrain tiles
    - Direct combat is lusty but limited

  • I finally got my hands on a copy of Agricola. I wasn't too happy about paying the $70 for it but it feels pretty hefty so I guess I can't complain too much.

  • We left in the first glow of dawn, the docks of Wilhelmshaven fading quickly in the morning mist. Brave and bold we were then, still flush with the immortality of youth. We had much to learn....



    U-Boat Leader is one of a series of solitaire war games produced by DVG games. In it you lead a small group of German submarines through one of four eras of the Battle for the Atlantic. You are attempting to sink as much tonnage as possible while keeping your boats from becoming crumpled bits of metal at the bottom of the ocean. Survive all of your required patrols with enough kills under your belt and you will be heralded as a hero of The Reich.  Fail and you will learn first hand that the ocean is deep and cold. 


    The game comes with four different scenarios which reflect different stages of the German submarine campaign of World War II. You can also choose how long you wish the scenario to be, from one to four patrols. The boats available to you are dependent upon the time period of your chosen scenario. They range from the broke ass Type IIs of 1939 to the super high tech Type XXI "electro boat" of the late war. Further, each crew comes in four levels of experience from "green" to "ace". The boats and crews are purchased using resource points assigned according to which scenario and number of patrols you opted for.

     


    I chose the early scenario entitled "The Beginning" covering operations from 1939 to May 1940 and planned on completing 4 patrols. I picked four of the better boats available for that time period and I limited myself to the "green" experience level for the crews because I thought that would be thematic. This left me with some excess resource points. This is important because those excess points can be used for buying various things during the scenario itself such as better intel, resupply ships, etc.

    We had patrolled the Western Approaches for several days before we spied them, our first prey. Two lone freighters. They never knew we were there until we were upon them.

    The game is divided into two main segments. The first is the strategic where you equip your boats with any special options that are available using left over resource points and then move them to the hunting ground of choice. Each time you move to a new area you are forced to draw event cards which can help or hurt your sub but almost all add some level of "stress" to the boat reflecting damage to the sub itself or mental strain to the crew. As the stress piles up the crew become first less effective and then eventually "un-fit" for duty and must return to port for refit.

    Once all the subs are in their hunting grounds the game moves to the tactical segment and action moves from the strategic map to the sonar like battle board. Each sub in turn gets a number of "contacts" based on a die roll. For each contact, a "convoy card" is flipped which shows the layout and general type (escort or merchant) of ships in a given convoy but importantly not the exact ships. You can then choose to attack the convoy or let it slip past in the hopes of finding one that might be easier pickings. 


    If you choose to fight you then set up the convoy as illustrated and place your U-boat on the board at long range. The specific ships themselves are determined by a card draw but only once you are within a certain range of them. Is that escort a bumbling converted freighter with little or no skill or is it a deadly destroyer with a well trained crew? Is that merchant ship a fat tanker or a puny trader? You won't know the answer until you get close.

    Combat is pretty straight forward and easy to grasp. Your U-boats maneuver trying to get close to the merchants without being detected by the escorts. The escorts then have a chance at detection and/or attack on known U-boats followed by the U-boats taking a shots at the  ships of their choosing. Getting off a volley of torpedoes before being detected is always a good thing because once those escorts are on to you, things get very dangerous.

    My subs made their way to the waters off the coast of Britain and the first two contacts I drew were for unescorted and unarmed freighters. Without any defense they were as good as dead, the only question being how much ammo would it take to sink them. I approached surfaced and laid into them with my deck gun. Two shots a piece and down they went...this was going to be easy.

     



    The longer you stay in range of the convoy and the more attacks you make against it, the better the chance of being detected by the escorts. Once they spot you, they waste no time in racing in to destroy you. Each escort has it's own set of attack numbers. If, on it's attack roll, it  equals or exceeds either of the first two numbers it adds more "stress" to your boat but if it rolls equal to or greater than the third number....well does the phrase "explosive decompression" mean anything to you?

    You do have the chance to escape by crash diving or diving deep to avoid the attack and you can try "running silent" to become undetected but the odds are against it especially with an untried crew.

    The captain smiled. A bunch of fat geese sitting on the water between us and the escorts. We'd be able to get off a salvo or two before they could respond or so he hoped. It was too good of a chance to miss...that is until what he thought was a freighter turned out to be a destroyer....

    After all the combat has been resolved, by either all ships being sunk or all U-boats having fled, you either draw a new contact for the current sub or move on to the next one and repeat the process. Then once you've accumulated too much stress or you're out of ammo you sail back to Germany. The refit segment allows you to rearm your sub and also level up your crew providing they've got enough experience from sinking ships. If you enter port during refit, this counts as one "patrol" and you remove some of the stress from your boat, take on some new torpedoes and head back out to sea. Once you've finished your allotted patrols the game is over.



    I didn't get that far because I spotted a crowded convoy and decided to attack. Using one of my unspent resource points I summoned a wolf pack which allowed the other uncommitted U-boats in my area to join me. So with three subs, 8 merchants and only three escorts, we began the dance. I kept my subs surfaced because in a submerged state the convoy can out run them. I wanted to approach from behind on the far side away from the escorts. I closed in and then drew the first "merchant card" which basically said "what you thought was a merchant is actually an escort". Being surfaced and so close, detection was a given and the damned HMS Kite was on me like ugly on an ape. I attempted to crash dive but it was no good. The destroyer blew me out of the water. My other two subs were also quickly detected, one was destroyed and one was able to flee but my flotilla was decimated. I saw no way to victory so called it a total loss.



    In a solo game, there are three things I am looking for. 


    Smoothness of Play:

    This is not to be confused with complexity. Mage Knight is a complex game but it plays very smooth. U-boat Leader is pretty straight forward and does a good job in this regard. The rule book is well done and easily answered any nagging questions I had on my first couple plays. Setting up the convoys can be a bit tedious especially if you keep all your ships in a counter tray. I take them all out when I am setting up and place them on the table in alphabetical order. It's a pain at first but it makes the rest of the game much faster.

    Challenge:

    A good solo game has to be hard. Hard to win. It has to make me work for it because I want to feel as if I've accomplished something at the end. It can't be impossible though.  I do need to feel that if I just did better, thought harder, got luckier, I might have pulled it off. Again the game does a good job. I've played four games so far and got my ass kicked each time but never did I feel that the game was being unfair. It was my own inexperience and poor choices that led to my destruction. I get a little better each time.

    Immersion:

    This is the biggie. We're talking the story the game tells. This is important in any game but especially so in a solo. Without other players, if the story is weak then the game devolves to just pushing pieces. The gold standard is Fields of Fire which is like living out a drama each time I play it.

    It is here that U-boat Leader stumbles a bit. Maybe it's because that historically U-boats had only numeric designations and not names but I felt it hard to connect with my men. The enemy escorts and naval vessels have more personality than my subs. I can feel for the HMS Kite but the U-44 leaves me cold. Maybe the lack of what war gamers call "chrome" (that is conditional and/or exceptions to rules that increase complexity but add flavor to a game) is what is lacking. Sure it speeds play and enhances the smoothness but there is a certain sameness to the different U-boats even when they have different captains.

    The game is good but I will not call it great. I have enjoyed it so far and look forward to playing it again. I have a lingering fear in the back of my mind that once I figure out the proper tactics I should be using that the game might become repetitive and thus boring. Will I get in enough plays before that happens to justify the purchase of the game? I think the answer is yes.

  •  Pictured is one of the very best games of the year. At least its box, which I don't have because I had to beg Clever Mojo to send me a review copy composed of spare parts wrapped in butcher paper. The tiny little company that had to bankroll their game through Kickstarter.com wasn't scared of bad press.

  • Thank god. The XMas rush is mostly over.  I'm down to close to normal sales numbers, which is great since it means our taper off was vastly lower than this time last year.  It is also bad because I had planned for a taper off earlier and dropped my re-order rates. Which means I'm out of a LOT of 'classic' and 'bestseller' games well before I should be like Carcassonne.  In fact, even with going down once a week, we were still missing the mark on stock numbers on a regular basis this XMas.

    Unfortunately, that still doesn't affect our 'Boxing Day' sale numbers too much since the games that go on there are generally games that didn't sell anyway. Bah.

    A small blog post on company direction, damaged goods and shipmentsalso went up today. Still have to finish BGN's articles as well. 

  • Scenario 9: Gorlice-Tarnow, May, 1915:

    In the spring of 1915 the German command decided to withdraw strong forces from the west and launch a knock-out blow against Russia. The Eleventh Army along with the Austrian Fourth Army struck the Russian Third Army on May 3, following the most intense artillery preparation on the Eastern Front to date. The Russian soon caved in and the breakthrough was accomplished.

    Let’s see if we can repeat that…

    Russia:


    Officer: Anatolii.
    Armed with sabre and Mauser C96 pistol (drawn)


    Riflemen: Boris, Dimitri, Gregori, Ivan, Mikhail and Nicolai.
    Armed with Winchester M95 lever-action rifles (& bayonet)


    Grenadier: Pyotr.
    Armed with grenades and entrenching tool

    Germany:


    Officer: Anton.
    Armed with Luger P08 pistol and sabre (drawn)


    Riflemen: Bruno, Conrad, Dieter, Emil, Fritz, Günther, Heinrich and Norbert.
    Armed with Mauser M98 bolt-action rifles (& bayonet)


    Grenadier: Oskar.
    Armed with grenades and entrenching tool

    Austria:


    Riflemen: Hans, Ignaz, Josef, Kurt, Leopold and Matthias.
    Armed with Mauser M98 bolt-action rifles (& bayonet)


    The Austrian-German soldier advanced behind a massive creeping barrage, and as soon as the guns silenced a charge towards the trench line was initiated. A high speed of the attack was a crucial, because the Russian forces were armed with fast firing Winchester rifles. The German attack plan was as follows: Emil and Fritz were going to hide in a crater and provide covering fire, while the other Germans would split and try to flank the Russian defenders. Oskar wanted to reach a crater near the trench and lob grenades from that position. Anton, Bruno, Conrad and Dieter were to quickly infiltrate a protruding weapon pit in the south, while Günther, Heinrich and Norbert tried the same with a firing step at the other side of the trench line in the north. Meanwhile Hans, Ignaz, Josef, Kurt, Leopold, Matthias were meant to take the defenders head-on, moving in a line formation to keep the already despairing Austrian privates in order. But it did not help, because only few seconds after the charge was started, four of six soldiers were already lying in the mud. Anton had to stop to rally them, and except for the young Norbert tripping in the dirt the German assault went smoothly.

    In the meantime the Russians also quickly left their dug-outs which sheltered them against the barrage and ran towards the firing steps. Anatolii reached the weapon pit in one fast dash, Boris, Dimitri and Pyotr occupied the southern firing step, and Gregori and Ivan the one in the north. Mikhail and Nicolai had a harder time reaching their firing step in the second trench line, because due to the massive barrage the whole trench was soaked up in water.


    The "southern" firing steps


    The weapon pit


    Water damage in the second trench line

    (Images by courtesy of tac_ope_tokyo)

    After the Austrians were standing again, Anton ordered them to advance slowly and aim at any Russians who would peek out of the trench. Out of the Germans charging the weapon pit, only Bruno succeeds landing inside on his feet, Conrad jumps too short and Dieter gets caught in concertina wire and stumbles. Günther, Heinrich and Norbert are still moving towards the northern firing step, with Norbert although in panic still crawling forward.

    Boris, Dimitri, Gregori and Ivan all fire their Winchesters. Ivan’s shot pierces through Günther’s chest, who drops down dying. Boris and Dimitri also hit their targets which results in Anton being hit in the arm, but Conrad only suffers a graze wound. However the Austrians only waited for this moment and return with accurate fire from their Mauser rifles. Hans hits Boris in the head, and Ignaz hits Dimitri’s neck respectively. Both Russians are instantly dead. Further Leopold damages Ivan’s shoulder and Kurt inflicts a severe wound upon Gregori which causes him to fall from the firing step. Pyotr is able to spot Emil’s and Fritz’ Pickelhauben and lobs a grenade directly into the crater where both are hiding.

    The grenade goes off, but doesn’t meet Pyotr’s expectations while only wounding Fritz. Even though the German is badly injured, he still manages to hit Nicolai’s collarbone with a lucky shot. Seeing that Bruno jumped into his weapon pit, Anatolii points his Mauser pistol towards the Hun and squeezes off a bullet, which goes right through the stomach. Heinrich tries to enter the northern firing step but is too enthusiastic jumping over the trench. All other soldiers handle the repetition mechanisms of their rifles with the Russians having a crucial advantage.

    Oskar prepared a Stielhandgranate and accurately throws it into the northern firing step. Pyotr also quickly pulled the pin on another grenade and manages to place it right in front of three Austrian soldiers. Ivan, who was injured before but still standing, turns around and kills Heinrich with a point blank shot through the back. Meanwhile Dieter, Conrad and Bruno all bolt at Anatolii to beat him down in close combat. However the clever Russians had set up trip wires which are invisible to the eye in the thick of combat and cause Dieter and Conrad, who are still outside of the pit, to stumble. Inside Anatolii beats down Bruno with a quick shot and in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat also knocks him unconscious with a strike to the head from the heavy Mauser pistol.

    The blast and pellets from Pyotr’s grenade tear apart Leopold and Matthias, with Kurt being severely wounded. More blood is spilled by accurate fire from the Russian Winchesters and German Mausers, as Nikolai and Mikhail finally arrive at their firing step. Anatolii, Conrad and Dieter trade shots in grueling close-quarters fighting, which ends with all but Dieter being dead. Conrad first graze wounds Anatolii with a shot, but Nicolai is trying to assist his sergeant by chasing a bullet right through Conrad’s skull. It didn’t help though, since the Russian NCO is killed by Dieter, but only after he first got hit by Anatolii’s pistol. After that Mikhail’s rifle fire hits Oskar, who then drops a grenade which was just about to explode. The mishap completely tears the grenadier to pieces. Norbert’s inexperience marks his fate as he tries to engage the soldiers occupying the northern firing step in melee combat, but Gregori who has recovered from the shock of his injury first knocks him down with a well-placed bullet and then stabs him with his bayonet, leaving the young German dying in the mud. Ignaz and Kurt, fire their weapons at Nikolai, who is pushed back from the firing step by the impact and badly hurt.

    As the soldiers charging the trench are all dead, and all others are rechambering bullets into their rifles a small lull breaks the action. The first soldier to engage in combat again is Mikhail, who is able to kill the unlucky Josef with an accurate shot. But as all other Austrians and Germans have already worked their rifle mechanisms again also, the brave soldier is hit in the chest by three bullets from Emil, Fritz and Kurt. A grenade which Pyotr just launched near Anton explodes in the air and plasters the German Unteroffizier’s back with pellets causing him to die an slow and painful death. Dieter finally makes it into the trench and assaults Pyotr, but stumbles due to the injuries he suffered from the concertina wire and Anatolii’s pistol. This makes it easy for Pyotr to advance the helpless Dieter and end the German’s life with a spade.

    Nikolai didn’t learn from his friend Mikhail, because as he stands up to take aim, he is also killed by Emil’s accurate marksmanship. Ivan has more luck this time as he manages to shoot dead Hans who was going to hide in a crater. But fortune is fickle and as he wants to aim his next shot, a bullet from Fritz’ rifle slides open Ivan’s neck.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Emil and Fritz having each only one bullet left in their Mausers leave their shelter and charge forward to kill the last remaining Russians in close combat. Ignaz joins them in their charge, while Gregori gets to know the disadvantage of his Winchester: he has to reload one bullet at a time. Ignaz first makes it into the weapon pit, but falls down and is bludgeoned by Pyotr whose spade only waited to be put into use again. Emil and Fritz stumble in the mud, which gives Gregori the time to reload three bullets. He reappears from the trench to first snipe down the charging Fritz and after that place another point blank shot on Kurt, who was reloading his rifle while hiding in a crater and was just ready to fire again.

    Pyotr tries to throw another grenade but in the process is spotted by the assaulting Emil, who advances towards the edge of the trench and executes the Russian grenadier from short range.

    Gregori used his last bullet in a similar manner to kill Emil with another accurate shot just a split second after Pyotr died.

    There was no breakthrough.


    Disclaimer:

    All forms of injuries are interpretations of the amount of damage. Most actions are paraphrased. Actions of soldiers who misfired or advanced only slowly are not mentioned.