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.
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 toJ.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.
My twisted10×10 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Battle Above The Clouds – 20th May-2017
Pericles – 20th May-2017
Game Empire – 20th May-2017
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.
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.
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.
The VCSB Tuesday night meetup is anchor of my gaming week. There are other gaming opportunities, but the Tuesday group has a solid rhythm that allows people to return after an absence and seamlessly fit back in again. The size of the crowd at Tuesday night does fluctuate, yet the group size is large enough to absorb seasonal variations while still enjoying a wide variety of games and gamers. Having regular meetings is critical to the formation of a new group, and Tuesday night gaming was a key reason for the initial stabilization, and then the continued success of the VCSB meetup group.
Last Tuesday was no exception to the pattern. We had one newbie join us, Paul, and Eric rejoined us after a long absence. A variety of new, and old games were played. Ted is still fixated on Terraforming Mars.
Games played included: Concordia, Clank, Terraforming Mars, Bora Bora, Impulse, Smash up!, Blood of an Englishman, Navegador, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Shakespeare, For Sale, You are the Maniac!, and Codenames x2.
VCSB 2nd May 2017
Wednesday Night – 3rd May 2017
Wednesday evening is at Carrows in Ventura, some 20 miles away from Newbury Park. While some of the Wednesday night crowd also go to Tuesday nights, most of the attendees are different. This means the Wednesday night crowd have their own personality and preferences in games. Recently, I have been able to attend the Wednesday night at Carrows on a more regular basis. This has allowed me to get to know some of the characters a little better. Each group has it’s own mix of gamer personalities, and it takes a few sessions before you truly see what type of gamer personalities people have.
The Saturday before, on Table Top DOG, Brian had wanted to play Pax Renaissance. I wanted to learn the game so we arranged to play it on Wednesday night. This would give me a chance to read the rules before tackling the game itself. The designer, Phil Eklund, is renowned for intriguing and unusual game topics.
As Brian was going to be a little late, I needed a game that would be short enough in duration, and be appealing enough to get some takers. Knowing that April-Lyn wanted to play Clank!, this made it a good choice.
After teaching Clank! around a dozen times, I had learned that no matter how many times I have stated the rules about artifacts, someone will ask the same stupid questions. Once these experienced gamer’s started to jokingly refer to the correct rules I knew I had impressed on them the important points. It is good when you can explain a game to experienced gamer’s and they actually listen, even when they don’t appear to be intently listening. So many game rules are similar, it is key to clearly state the differences, or the exceptions, so that people remember these traps.
After not-winning Clank!, I went to watch the end of New York Slice. For such a simple game, I was not sure if it was trying to be too serious. I could see a major cause of analysis paralysis when trying to determine how to split a pizza, while dominating the different sets of pizza pieces.
With Brian now available we stated on Pax Rennaissance. It is very much an Eklund game. It packs a lot of history into a small package, and borrows some mecahnics from previous games Pax Porfiriana , and Pax Pamir. There is a lot going on in the game, with multiple victory conditions, and tons of variability. This is a game where you learn the mechanics and then realize that you still have little idea how to actually use this mechanics to reach the various victory conditions. I look forward to being puzzled by the game again.
Games played: Foretold, Anachrony, Clank, And Then We Held Hands x3, New York Slice, Codenames x2, Pax Renaissance, Sushi Go, Isle of Trains, Among the Stars, Fugitive and Evolution Climate.
Sunday on the USS Iowa – 7th May 2017
During last months GMT West aka The Weekend at the Warehouse the subject of getting new people into the wargaming side of the hobby was raised. With both Karl, and myself in attendance it was not long before the Wargame Bootcamp was raised. We soon made a new contact in John Tiehen, who was a relatively newcomer to GMT West. John was keen to include us in a new hobby event on the USS Iowa, in San Pedro near Los Angeles. We had gamed on the USS Iowa last June, for the Centenary of the Battle of Jutland, so we aware of the location.
Even though the event was on my birthday, I volunteered to help Karl. It was only afterwards that we found out that we would be located outside, on the fantail deck, and the weather forecast for that day was for rain. After previously being located in the enlisted mess with it’s small tables and fixed pitch chairs. The thought of spending a day on the windswept deck, with a high probability of rain, was not very comforting.
The event flyer looked promising, there were a lot of interesting hobby events, and they were predicting a good turnout. Thinking ahead, we planned on coming prepared with folding chairs, tarpaulin’s, ground sheets, an extra canopy, and lots of games. I even selected games that would fare better in a windy environment, including plastic miniatures that would be more moisture resistant than cardboard counters. With a 60 plus mile drive, and lot’s of accessories to setup I woke very early at 5:30am, too early, for the long day ahead.
Setup was easy after we dried the tables from the overnight moisture. My two picnic ground sheets were subbed in as rather brightly colored tablecloth’s. We played a few games of W1815 as a demonstration game.
To entice the lookey-lou’s, we setup some games on the table, spreading out cubes, cards, rules, and counters to create some visual appeal. Fields of Despair especially gained a lot of attention due to it’s blocks, and attractive map. Among the hobby people in the crowd there were a few of the normal “is that Risk?” comments, but it was good to find a few people who had gamed in the past. Some were presently surprised to hear that board gaming was still going strong.
At 1:00pm, and again at 1:10pm, the day was interrupted by the firing of one of the ships 5inch guns. The firing noise was impressive, but not as much as it’s echo. It was loud but I am sure they were being safe by handing out ear plugs. Now, if only they would fire the 16inch guns 😉
People trickled by all day, although the crowd seemed smaller than expected, probably due to the overcast day, and sporadic light rain. John demoed a naval game, and the Panzer tank on tank board game. Most people were just browsing the booths, so we were happy to just answer questions about board games, and simply give out information.
One young lad, Jimmy, was very keen to play a tactical game. Karl cracked open Combat Commander Europe and setup the Fat Lipki scenario. With his girlfriend and younger brother watching, Jimmy had a fun time learning the game. He picked up the game rules quickly, showed a good grasp of small unit tactics, and it was sad that he had to leave before finishing the game. Before he left we told him about the local game shops. Job done!
Things started to wind down once the band started playing barely 10 feat away. By 5pm we were packing up, and schlepping all our stuff back to the cars. The drive home was not as easy as the drive there. It was a quiet day overall, I was glad it was not hot, but the wet weather did unfortunately keep people away.