Two Cons, 500 Miles, 12 Games And One Prang

Last Saturday was end of three busy days of traveling and gaming. First was the twice-yearly GMT West – Weekend At The Warehouse, that was followed by the annual TableTopDOG gaming event on International Table Top Day.

GMT West April 2018

GMT West aka Weekend At The Warehouse is a four day, Thursday to Sunday, event held every six months at the GMT Games warehouse in California central valley. Up to 100 gamers get to play all types of game in the middle of a warehouse full of games. There are also new, as yet unpublished games, and their designers in attendance.

Over 3 days I only played a total of 6 games. The unusual thing was that I did not play a single game that was published by GMT Games. Many people are surprised that we go and take over a game company’s warehouse and we don’t have to play their games. All types of games are played: euros, team games, 18XX, monster wargames, and more wargames. If you look at the pictures albums posted below you will see all types of games were played. It should be no surprise that the most common games played are historical wargames. Most of these are also games published by GMT Games.

After arriving in early afternoon there were already many games in progress. There is a customary period of reconnaissance and re-connection immediately after arriving. Here are gamers who you may only see twice a year. Gamers have come from all over the USA, and from further afield too. After a wander, and lots of hello’s, it was time to push some cardboard around a map.

My first game played was a new release by Compass Games aka Red Poppies Campaigns: Last Laurels at Limanowa. Yup, another game on WW1. Myself and Karl K. setup Scenario 2. I was the attacking Russians. Karl was the defending Austro-Hungarians. We had previously played the first volume in the series: Red Poppies Campaigns: The battle for Ypres a few times before. The first thing we noticed was that elevation was more important in this single map game. The terrain was predominately hills with a scattering of woods. Lots of hills. As this volume is set in late 1914 it also means that there are no trenches on the map. If you ever want to comprehend why they dug trenches in ww1 then simply play the 1914 era scenarios in this series of games. You need cover. It was a tense game and a lot of fun too. Karl won the game despite the best efforts of my Cossacks. Bloomin’ Cavalry.

Friday was my only full day at this GMT West. I noticed that John Company was being played and Steve C. was going to run teaching games at 10am and 4pm. I first committed to the 4pm game, then changed to 10am knowing it would be a long and involved teaching process. Steve was happy to simply teach the 6 players who volunteered to play this economical/expand/embezzle game on the Easy India Company. Steve had declared that it was tough game to teach. He was not wrong. The individual game mechanics are simple. The game has lots of moving parts, and lots of subtle interconnections. Despite the best efforts of Chairman Brandon to fail the company we prospered for a while. Overall it was a fun, thematic, and tight game. The dice do play a part in the story it weaves. There might be too much dice luck for those who don’t like the fickleness of dice in their games. I still like it. Thanks to Steve to teaching the game. I went on to both teach and play John Company again the following Tuesday.

The Great War card game
Example cards from The Great War card game

One of the guests in attendance was game designer and historian Dana Lombardy. Among other things he was demoing a WW1 themed card game. Two regular decks of cards that have a trick taking game built into the cards. Dana gave me the run through on the rules and we went at it. It was a close game with bluff, deception, and brute force. Perhaps fittingly the game ended in a draw with Dana ahead by 74 to 69 points. It’s a fast playing game with lots of history on the cards. It was good to chat with Dana too. Streets of Stalingrad was a fave game of mine.

Mike Tan (left) and Dana Lombardy
Mike Tan (left) and Dana Lombardy. The game is Sturm Europa! designed by Mike.

Next was two games of The Cousins’ War by Surprised Stare Games. This one of the small format micro-games that has been a big hit for me over the last year. It plays in less than 30 minutes and has more than enough meaningful choices to make it worthwhile. It has bluffing too. Robert O. has a few minutes to spare, while waiting for his missus, so I taught him the game. Immediately after Dave T. showed up and I taught it again. He had recently bought the game so it was an opportune time for him to learn. This was a cracker of a game that came down to the last battle on the last turn. Whoever won the battle would win the war. I lost. Dice hate me, but in a fun way! Well done to Dave.

My last game of Thursday was Atlantic Chase by local-ish (Santa Barbara area) designer Jerry White. He had first demoed the game last October. This time I sat down to play for the first time. We played the ‘Bremen’ scenario. This is an excellent short scenario to learn about trajectories and searching. I took on the role of the Royal Navy commander versus Doug S. and his elusive cruiser liner SMS Bremen.  The SMS Bremen is attempting to get back to Germany on the eve of ww2. It is a quick scenario with some sneaky options for the German player. Unfortunately, I was both sneaky and lucky. I launched 4 task forces to scour the Atlantic. After successfully finding and detaining the SMS Bremen, without shots fired,  we reset the game for the next two players. This game went differently for the Royal Navy. Using the cruiser Graf Spee as a decoy the SMS Bremen made it safely to Germany.  This is another innovative and well designed game by Jerry. He is a very smart and a very likable chap. Check out his games.

This is one of my favorite scenes from this event. It sums up GMT West for me. A whole group of gamers gathered around having fun playing a game. Most of these gamer also happen to be game designers. The game is Tank Duel by Mike Bertucelli. That is Mike in the blue t-shirt in the left foreground.

Can you name all of the game designers in the pics?

If you want to see more pics of this April GMT West; here are more pics in Google Photo Albums from Thursday, Friday, and Saturday respectively.

Due to my prior commitment to TableTopDOG I had to leave GMT West late in Saturday morning. The fun and frolics continued had to continue without me.

GMT West


Saturday the 28th also marked International Table Top Day. April-Lyn had kindly offered to host our Meetup group event in Ventura.  Thus was held TableTopDOG 2018. This was the 5th year we had held an open and free day of gaming event on Table Top Day. Hence our DOG title for Day Of Gaming. No dogs were allowed, unfortunately.

TableTop DOG
The poster for TableTop DOG 2018

TableTopDOG 2018 was already jamming along by the time I arrived in the mid afternoon. Just as I settled down to learn the new-to-me game Whistle Stop a few newcomers arrived.  After several hours in the car I was okay with teaching some newbies some games that I already knew inside and out. The next few hours was spent teaching fun and enjoyable games to both new and experienced gamers. I ended up playing as many games in a few hours as I had in the previous days at GMT West.

Serge destroyed me at Azul, no shock there. Christieann beat my score too. Cool. My winning streak is done. I need to up my game!

One highlight of TableTopDOG was the game raffle. Group members had kindly donated, new and gently used, games for a prize raffle. Those who attend get raffle tickets for both taking part in the days activities and for teaching games etc.

The games played included: Dungeon Lords, Whistle Stop, Azul (x a lot), Qwixx (x2), Tsuro, Rhino Hero, Zombie Dice, Speed, Rising Sun, Castles of Burgundy, Dinosaur Island, Terraforming Mars (x 3), Photosynthesis, The Opulent, Santorini, Sushi Go, Win Lose or Banana, Power Grid, Dixit, 6 Nimmt (x2), Vast: The Crystal Caverns, Kodama: The Tree Spirits, Lords of Waterdeep (x2), Tiny Epic Quest, Dice Throne, Start Player, Scattergories, Delphi, Kingsburg, Fallout, Red7, Loonacy, Nyet!, Fuse, Wildcatters, Secret Hitler, and Indulgence.

As can be seen from the list it was a full and busy day of gaming. It was hard to estimate the total number of people who attended. I counted over 30 and I arrived late. People had already come and gone. After putting some heads together we estimate in the region of 40-50 people attended our 5th annual TableTopDOG. Woof!


The final act of the Saturday was a minor car accident when my gf and myself went off to get Jamba Juice. Her car got the worst of it and is now being repaired.  The important thing was that no one was hurt. Not a good end to an otherwise great few days.

Tim
4th May 2018

P.S.: FYI, it was not quite 500 miles of traveling, but it was close enough.
P.P.S: So I did play a GMT game at GMT West. It just has not been published yet.

Tally Ho Chaps!

Attention to detail Meme

Tanks and aircraft are two things where I adore the minutia of detail. The subtleties between opposing machines, and even between different versions of the same machine, have captivated me since I was a small boy. I like games that include that detail, yet without the detail becoming a drag. I want to play the game without having to fight the game system or the laws of physics.

The first air combat game I played that had oodles of detail was Air Force by Avalon Hill. All of those lovely detailed and colorful data cards on a myriad of aircraft. I ogled those data cards for all of their tech-laden goodness. I loved the detail even though I sucked at the game.

Data card for the Fw 190D aircraft from the Air Force game published by Avalon Hill
Data card for the Fw 190D aircraft from the Air Force game published by Avalon Hill
Aircraft data card for the Fw 190D-9 aircraft from the Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 game
Aircraft data card for the Fw 190D-9 aircraft from the Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 game

The game that re-awoke that desire for detail in air combat was the Wing Leader series of ww2 air combat. This game, and many other  innovative air combat games was designed by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and published by GMT Games.

In the Wing Leader series the detail was there without the cost in complexity. Complexity is often the first casualty of a highly detailed game. Time and complexity can mean you spend hours fighting a few minutes of elapsed time. The revelation for me was that the details between the different aircraft still counted, yet so did the tactical factors such as position, height, pilot experience, and aircrew training. The scale used was the difference. It was no longer individual aircraft zooming around the sky,  it was flights and squadrons of aircraft.

The Wing Leader series had enough aircraft detail to satisfy that itch and the aircrew themselves have enough variables to get me rooting for a individual Ace or favorite squadron. Along with a myriad of different aircraft types and marks there are were tactical choices that I had not seen in other games. The vertical aspect now mattered more than ever before without the mechanics of diving and climbing becoming a bind; The quality and doctrine of the aircrew mattered. Good tactics seemed to pay off at last. Boom and zoom attacks were so much easier to perform without worrying about throttle settings or wing loading. That was perfect for me.

I have to include a shout out to J.D. Webster for the Fighting Wings series etc. This is great for the aircraft tech-head. By the way, I suck at this type of air combat game. It was like playing Air Force all over again. I would always overshot the target due to a misjudged turn and then present a perfect target for the enemy.  The lesson seemed to be that I am better at commanding a few squadrons rather than individual aircraft. For individual aircraft combat I think I should stick to the simpler air combat games such as Down In Flames or Wings Of Glory.

Through Wing Leader, my dreams of ww2 aerial glory can come true at last. From squadrons of Spits and Hurricanes piloted by the plucky RAF, to hordes of Me-109s and Focke- Wulfs diving into formations of B-17s. The Wing Leader series has it all, except for the Avro Anson of course.

Tally Ho Chaps!

Tim
10th April 2018

Wing Leader series website by the game designer.

Wing Leader series page by the publisher GMT Games.

BoardGameGeek link to the Wing Leader Supremacy 1943-1945 game.

My Silly Board Game Memes page on Facebook.

10×10 Challenge And More McGregors

12-July-2017 10x10
12-July-2017 10×10

My twisted 10×10 Challenge has been making progress in the more difficult “non-GMT aka the Other Wargame” category. This is great as I have been playing some interesting wargames. Many of these games are new to me too.

A wargame that I have been long wanting to play is The Big Push. I posted an After Action Report (AAR) for this game in a recent post here. Continuing with the WW1 theme I played In Flanders Fields with Ken Tee. This game is on the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. This battle was the first use of poison gas in warfare, and is a key part of the game for the German side. We had to end the game early, but we hope to revisit the game soon.

Thee games especially helped to increase the list of the “other wargames” category. A category that I was concerned that I was falling behind on. The 10×10 Challenge has helped to add visibility to what games I am playing, and to add more variety to the types of games that I play. Job Done!

Flarchcon 2017

Last week was the annual Flarchcon week of gaming hosted by Rob March. As is normal we played a bunch of games, played with his awesome dog Denali, and consumed lots of nice food and drink. The revelation for me was playing Quartermaster General 1914 for the first time. I had read the rules a while ago, but the game had not gelled in my brain. The original Quartermaster General game is very simple, hence it pays fast and frantic. The new game in the series adds a number of mechanics that seem to muddy the clean and simple gameplay. Or so I thought it did. I was wrong. Quartermaster General 1914 is a great little 5 player wargame. It still plays fast, and has a good amount of bluff and strategy. The players have more options, which in this case works well.This game is worthy addition to the multi-player wargame category.

The disappointment of Flarchcon for me, was after a full day of playing Virgin Queen we only got to the start of turn 5. It was a tight game, with all the players trying hard, and the game ebbing and flowing. The longer game suits the side that I played, the English. The longer game has more events that swing the game into new areas. We rarely get to explore those aspects as the game often ends in turn 4. We had some serious gameplay queries that caused the game to pause. The thing to remember with such a game is to keep it flowing. Saving a few minutes here and there would have allowed us to play that extra turn. This could have resulted in an actual winner being determined. Instead we had France with 22 points, and myself as England with 19 points. The game was just getting fun when we ended the game, out of time.

Battlestar Galactica

Unexpectedly, I am falling slightly behind the curve with my Battlestar Galactica plays. The Tuesday night group has been having a problem getting a quorum for BSG. It has been a problem all year. We have managed to recruit a new guy into the regular pool of players. New Chris is shaping up well. I am looking forward to being airlocked by him in a sneaky cylon treacherous move.


On July the 23rd there will be another Sunday event at McGregors Craft Beer and Wine, in Moorpark. The first event there attracted 17 people, a good crowd for a first event. I am hoping for more next time. It would be great if we get some beginners or newcomers too.

Board games and Beer at McGregors in Moorpark

Here are links to the Ventura County Strategy Boardgamers Meetup event, and my Facebook event.


Tim

12th July 2017

Clank! And 101st Anniversary

A Game That Does It Right

 

Clank! box cover
Clank! box cover

Clank! A Deck Building Adventure has been getting a lot of plays since I acquired it last December (2016). For a game that uses many common mechanics it just works well. It is also a game that works for me even though the theme is not a big draw.

  • It is a deck-building game, nothing revolutionary there. The cards are easy to understand. There are no complex icons to remember.
  • The theme is understandable. Go into the dungeon and steal things from the dragon, and get out alive!. No pressure.
  • There is drama. The drawing of damage cubes from the bag creates plenty of tension.
  • The players have choices. The players can play it safe and steady, or fast and loose.
  • It plays fast enough.
  • Suitable for beginners, and experienced players alike.
  • It’s expandable. More cards, different boards make for a varied and re-playable game.

It is always a pleasure to find a solid game that does it right. The gameplay is sound, despite being on the light-medium difficulty level. The cards are easy to comprehend. Despite not being the type of game that I would go for, I am glad I bought it. It is the game that Thunderstone should have been.

 

Tuesday Nights

Last week we had over our limit with 36 attendees. We had so many signups we had people on standby in the hope that we could find space for them. We accommodated everyone a little big of juggling, and having good table loading. We managed to fit everyone by ensuring the our tables were well loaded with people. A 6 player game around one table helped a lot.

This week we had only 27. Only one of the newbies came back. Just when I thought the attendance numbers were growing again they drop down to new norm of the high 20’s.

 

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The Somme 101st Anniversary – The Big Push After Action Report

July the 1st was the 101st Anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. After visiting the Somme battlefields last year I finally got to play the only wargame that cover the battle. Here is my After Action Report, with lots of pictures from my Somme trip.

Tim

2nd July 2017

Long Hot Summer

It was warm day on Saturday in Southern California. This is a sign that summer is fast approaching, and the temperatures will rise. Myself, and about 10 other lads meet up at Game Empire, in Pasadena.

I like gaming at Game Empire, it has a number of positive attributes. Is central in location for a bunch of guys. It has a British-ish pub, with Belgian beers, over the road. The owner, Chuck, like wargames, boardgames, and is a nice guy. He also runs a well stocked game store, with a large open gaming area.

Things are not all rosy though.

Game Empire can get busy, and full of gamers. This is good for a game store. A thriving game store is a good thing to have nearby. More people = more business, which is good for gaming. Unfortunately, it can get rather warm in the open gaming area, especially so on a warm weekend where the temperature is around 90 F. The store layout is such that the table we normally occupy is not covered by the ceiling fans. I have taken to bringing along a pedestal fan to cover our area. The fan helps, but it just makes it tolerable. This does bode well for the upcoming summer.

This weekend was a busy time is Pasadena, they were predicting chaos on the roads. A little known band called U2 were playing at the Rose Bowl. Nearby JPL was having one of it’s regular open weekends. and some of the local museums were also having special events.  The roads were not bad, I left a little earlier than normal on my way to and from.

The depressing thing is that the U2 tour were celebrating that it has been 30 years since the Joshua Tree album was released.  Yeesh, I feel old.

Lucky Baldwins Trappiste Pub,  is just over the road. It is one of three Lucky Baldwins locations in Pasadena.  It is close by, a mere few minutes walk from Game Empire. It has good food, and great beer. There is no need to jump in a car, or take a long walk, it is very handy having a pub so close by. However, we often joke that it does suffer from authentic British style standards of service. The normal waitresses were not there, they had two blokes who were very busy servicing a full pub with all the lunchtime food, and drink orders. More time in the pub means less time gaming. The service was intolerably slow this time. The Fullers ESB was good though.

After all that moaning, would you be surprised to hear that we actually played some games, and things were not all peachy with them too.

Game played that day included

Struggle of Empires, Battle Above The Clouds x2, Pericles, Giro D’Italia (incomplete), Once You Go Blackmail (Archer Love Letter), and Grifters.

Ken, and Karl had pre-arranged to play Battle Above The Clouds, by MMP. That left 7 of us to play a game. Luis suggested Struggle of Empires. It could play up to 7, and still be balanced. Not all games can do that well.

I own, and have played, the game. It has been a while since I last played it. In fact it is almost 4.5 years since the last time it hit the table for me. Despite the time gap, I had a nagging doubt that it was a long game, and I was proven correct in the long run. By the way, BGG says it is a 3-4 hour game. Ha.

Struggle of Empires
The box front for Struggle of Empires

Martin Wallace is the designer of Struggle of Empires, I tend to like his games, I own most of the games he has designed. He is a designer that I follow, and he usually does a good job in producing a well rounded product. This particular game was, however, published by Eagle Games, now known as Eagle-Gryphon Games. The game includes 3 play-aid sheets, even though it is plays up to 7 players. That is not the worse thing , only one of the play-aid sheets is in English. The other two are in French, and German respectively. Oh, by the way, not all of the tiles are listed on the included play-aid. Nice job, piss-poorly done.

Luis did a good job explaining the game rules, although he was hampered by the fact that we could not all look at the play-aid sheet at the same time. The rules are actually quite straight forward. The key to doing well at the game is knowing, and understanding, the power of the ’tiles’.

Here is a display of the tiles, taken from BGG

The tiles in Struggle of Empires
The tiles in Struggle of Empires (BGG)

That is a lot of tiles, and they are key to the game. Those tiles are the flavor, the power, the substance of the game. They are a game within the game. Knowing them, and knowing how and when to use them is key. They are force multipliers. They are not an unusual element for a Wallace game. Martin Wallace is a devious, clever, and evil game designer. He likes to include nasty little twists in his games. This game has unrest.

Lose a unit in combat = gain an unrest. Oh, by the way, you will lose units in combat.

Need to borrow money = gain an unrest. Oh, by the way, you will need to borrow money, often.

If you have 20 unrest at the end of the game, you lose regardless of how many Victory Points you have. The player’s with the most, and the second most, unrest, will lose Victory Points at the end of the game. Did I not say, but how much Unrest each player has is a secret. Unrest comes in counters with denominations of 1,3, or 5. You keep the counters face down to hide how much you have from the other players. Not only that, but you try and track who is getting a lot of unrest. There are a limited number of Government Reform tiles in the game that allow a player to reduce their Unrest. He is a devious man, that Martin Wallace.

The other Wallace-ism in the game is the lack of actions. The game has three Wars, each war is essentially a game turn. Each war has 5 action rounds. In each action round, each player takes two actions.

Struggle of Empires = 3 x 5 x 2 actions = only 30 actions per player, per game.

As I often exclaim “Damn you limited action euro-games”. This game certainly feels like you have a limited number of actions, and you have to make them all count. With the 7 players, and excluding the teaching, we must have played the game for 5 hours. With the 30 actions per game, this results in an average of 1.42 minutes per action, almost 3 minutes per player turn consisting of two actions, one action immediately after the other.

With the limited number of actions, the large number of players, and the personalities of those present. This would be a long game. This could be a game for Analysis Paralysis.

Knowing that time would be a problem, especially early in the game I acted as the drumbeat. Calling out each players turn, making sure they knew it was their time. This game could drag if that did not happen. There was plenty of down time between turns to analyze the game state, but so much happens in the other players turn that it might all change by the time it came to your turn. A player’s first action, of the two, might fail; thus requiring a change in strategy.  React, reanalyze and move on. Quickly.

Of course, some players take longer to carry out their turn, compared to other players. I will mention no names, but I know their gaming style. They frustrate me at times, so I probably annoy them when I remind them that it is their turn. So I guess it evens out.

Even so, I enjoyed the game. I would play it again. There are some good user designed player-aids on BoardGameGeek that could to be added to the game. At the very least photocopy the English play-aid, so that each player has a copy.

Click on an image to view a larger version

 

After Struggle of Empire finished we had a re-jiggle of personnel. Some left, and some jumped over to a 4 player game of Pericles.

Giro D'Italia Card Game
Giro D’Italia Card Game box front

The real disappointment of the day was our abortive play of Giro D’Italia: Card Game.

I have always been fascinated by bicycle racing games. Compared to other facing games there appears to be lots of strategy, and tactics, in long distance cycle races. Pacing, endurance, breakaways, the specialization of different classes of rider, plus the drafting both in, and outside, of the peloton. All these factors make for a good candidate for a fun, strategic race game.

I have played Flamme Rouge a few times, but have been unable to get my hands on a copy. It is also only 4 players, and from my experience is best with the full 4. It is on the lighter side of the difficulty curve, but it is fun, and fast. I wanted something meatier.

The Giro D’Italia: Card Game game seemed to meet the criteria, but reality was different.

It’s a card game, where they have used cards in place of other possible game components, like a game board. There are about a bazillion different decks of cards in the card, and they are not well defined as to which are used for which purpose. The rules are in multiple languages, but the diagrams are only shown once in the Italian rules section. The rules appear to be condensed to fit on a single small sheet of paper. The rules suck, big time.

The only people who have played the game, and appeared to understood it, had also played a similar board game called Giro D’Italia. There are some similar mechanics in both of the games, so knowing the board game helps to understand the card game. Unfortunately, I thought I understood the card game. Neither myself, nor Eric could work our way through it. Which was a shame. Now I have to tackle the rules again, in an attempt to understand them. And the rules still suck, big time.

 

Tim