Monday, 18 June 2018

Boardgame session: 17June18

We started by playing TransAtlantic, a game that could be considered a Concordia variant. Actually it is more than a simple re-skinning of Concordia; the area control and trading aspects have been largely removed, to be replaced by set collecting and transportation mechanisms, but the core card hand management system is retained. I really like the historic theme, the ship artwork etc., and I love the card hand management choices available.

The game has a few built-in variants available to change things around. The first is the option to play using East coast USA rather than global boards. I think this is weak and a cop-out: I believe this is included simply to appeal to the US market and I feel it is patronising to think American players are only interested in US-centric games. I like the idea of alternative boards but they should involve changes to game play which, sadly,  TransAtlantic does not do (a missed opportunity). The second variant is a different ship ‘market’: I like the ‘increased cost’ mode rather than the ‘limited coal’ option, but both are good. The final variant is to use the ‘President’ card rather than the standard ‘Director’ card. I have yet to try this variant but it does look interesting, and makes ship deployment a more significant choice in the game.

Our game took approximately 2 hours to complete, but this may have been due to our inexperience with the game. The points tally showed Chris to be the winner, closely followed by Val. Post-game analysis focussed on the need to keep track of what flag of ship you focus on and improving their relative value in the end-game scoring. All players saw the value of acquiring shipping houses early in the game to gain a steady flow of victory points. For some reason I struggled to keep my key ships coaled and this was probably due to my poor use of cards. Anyway, I think everyone enjoyed the game (once they started to understand the mechanics) and would happily play again. I think Concordia is possibly the slightly better game, but Chris already owns that game, so TransAtlantic does represent an interesting alternative.

Next we played Paperback, which has already become one of Elaine’s favourite games! We were slightly nervous about this because Val’s native tongue is French, so we hoped she would not feel too pressurised coming up with English words. We need not have worried because Val emerged as the winner! Playing with 4 players does slow the game a bit, but this does give you more time to ponder your own cards and word options. The ‘attack’ cards have more impact in the 4 player game compared to the 2 player game, and the letter stacks can become exhausted towards the end. I was pleased to be the only player to produce a ‘thematic’ word in the game; this bonus was often forgotten about in previous games. There were a few words ‘suggested’ by players to earn a cube bonus, and we struggled to find long words (8+ letters); in fact, we have yet to end a game via the 10-letter option. I can see Paperback remaining a go-to game for Elaine, especially at home playing the 2 player game, and as a final semi-filler game in multiplayer sessions. I really like Tim Fowers games, the ideas and mechanisms seem fresh and different to those from other designers.

Monday, 11 June 2018

AAR ACW Riverine (Hammerin' Iron) 10 June 2018

Ian and my diaries finally coincided and we managed to play a game at the club. This was the first opposed outing for my ‘new’ ACW Riverine fleets using the Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules from RFCM (2011).

We diced for sides and I got the Rebels. Next we diced to see who would be the attacker (the Union has more chance to be the aggressor) but it turned out to be a (rare) raid by the Confederates into Union territory! The Union fleet has to lose one random ship, and much to my relief Ian lost the formidable USS Benton. He deployed the USS Indianola on table and I started with 2 of my casement ironclads (CSS Arkansas and CSS Tuscalosa), aided by the weak CSS Planter. I planned to steam the CSS Planter down the flank to attack the Union transports, whilst my other ships would fight the USS Indianola.

Things started to go wrong for the Rebels early in the fight. A long range shot took out the forward gun on CSS Planter, meaning its attack on the transports would be ineffective. A Union torpedo boat also did major damage to CSS Tuscalosa. I had to divert a newly arrived CSS Manasas to aid the crippled CSS Planter, but another shell KO’d the only gun on the Manasas, rendering it useless as well! By now both fleets were fully on table and a major clash erupted in the main channel of the river. Both my casement ironclads were getting battered but they did manage to sink the huge USS Blackhawk. The USS Choctaw inflicted a hit which reduced CSS Tuscalosa to battered status, who then rolled ‘1’ and struck their colours. My tinclad CSS Gov Moore did manage to reduce the USS Indianola to battered status but they held on, and also destroyed a couple to Union depot buildings. At this point the game clock reached 8 and the action finished.

The Union fleet had lost 1 ship (USS Blackhawk) with another battered (USS Indianola). The Rebels had 1 ship captured (CSS Tuscalosa) and 2 battered (CSS Arkansas and CSS Planter). In the post game procedure it turned out that the CSS Arkansas sank before it could return to its base. The Rebels did little damage to the Union shore facilities, but both warehouses destroyed turned out to be valuable (max. points value possible). The final points score was +7 to the Union, giving them a ‘Narrow Victory’.

Overall I feel the game and rules played well, taking 3 hours to complete. I think I should have tasked a more powerful ship to attack the Union transports early in the game. A couple to key critical hits effectively nullified this threat and rendered 2 Rebels ships useless. We also found light guns, both on shore and aboard, to be largely ineffective. Ramming is potentially very dangerous (CSS Arkansas did significant damage to USS Blackhawk by this method). Ian’s torpedo boat worked well for him whilst I never managed to get my submarine on table. To conclude, I can see us getting these toys out of the box again fairly soon, and judging from comments from other gamers, I can see others joining us in future games.

On a side note, I would like to ‘pimp-up’ the battle mat a bit; adding some shore scenery and buying some mdf hex tiles to replace the islands and sandbars. Anyway, the next planned game will hopefully be ECW using For King and Parliament rules.

Monday, 4 June 2018

UKGE 2018 show report

It’s that time of year again when Elaine and I met our friends, Val and Chris, for UKGE at Birmingham NEC. We were a bit nervous due to last year’s fiasco: Snowy cut his paw and needed stitches; motorway snarl-up’s; torrential rain etc. This year everything was fine and we got to the site by 10:30am on Friday. We were staying at a hotel the other side of Birmingham International station, a few minutes walk from the venue. The show had basically the same feel as last year, with a huge array of traders, games, punters, cosplayers and events. There was a second hall this time which eased crowding and allowed a large open gaming section to be included on the NEC site, which meant we did not have to visit the Hilton hotel to play games in the evening. Overall, I think this expansion worked well and was a definite improvement. On the downside, the evening catering at the NEC was poor and, shockingly, there was no bar! Unbelievably, the Wetherspoons opposite the show was also closed in the evening; a missed opportunity because they could have made a fortune! The organisers could also have provided more re-cycling and litter facilities because the few small bins were soon overflowing.

We spent the next couple of days alternating between shopping, gaming, talking to traders and occasionally trying new kickstarter games. We did not visit the Bring and Buy; the queues were horrendous and I have previously found the prices to be too high (very few bargains available). We also did not attend any of the talks, which is surprising because we normally like to do this. My shopping haul is shown below:

We did not spend too much. Elaine was really taken with Parfum which she bought after playing at Thirsty Meeples. She also visited Ragnar Brothers, whose games we have enjoyed in the past, and purchased a hiking game set in the Lake District (where she originally comes from). We got a copy of Mind the Gap mainly because we wanted a game based on the London Underground network. I finally got a copy of Paperback, which I have wanted for some time, plus I bought some bits for miniature gaming; tokens, dice and book of laminated floor plans. Elaine also got some meeple earrings from Jennifer Ham, wife of Rahdo!

Much of our time at the show was spent gaming and a list of the games played (plus my personal rating for each game) is given below:

Lost Cities Boardgame
Pesky Gnomes
Ice Cool
Century Spice Road
Mind the Gap
Cottage Gardens

The best game played was easily Century Spice Road (which Val bought); excellent mechanics, fast playing, visually attractive and good components (I particularly liked the inclusion of spice cups to hold the cubes). Elaine especially liked Parfum, which strongly resembled Fresco with a different theme added. Cottage Gardens was basically a multi-player version of the 2-player game, Patchwork, and we liked this a lot. Another increased player count game was the Lost Cities Boardgame but unlike Cottage Gardens, I felt this multi-player version was not as good as the original. Minerals was a very nice kickstarter game (to be released at Essen), which is like “Hey, That’s My Fish” but with more depth: different theme, set collection, restricted moves, variable goals. The hex tiles are also more substantial and the player tokens are suckers that enable the hex’s to be removed easily from the board. Photosynthesis seemed to be one of the ‘hit’ games of the show with many people buying and playing it. Although I enjoyed playing the game, I was not as enthused as I hoped to be (possibly I just need to play more games before it grabs me). Pikoko was a strange game resembling the classic card game, Contract-Whist. You can see the other players hands (cards are held in a peacock standee) but not your own. You bet on the tricks the other players might take, and you play cards of the player to your left, not your own. The game works but it feels counter-intuitive and uncomfortable because you want to see and play your own hand of cards. Finally, Ice Cool is just a silly bit of fun which I can see working well with young children, and I was impressed with the way the box rooms fit together.

Elaine and I left UKGE late on Saturday afternoon feeling rather exhausted and not too overspent. We did not attend the final day but I think a full 3 days at the convention would prove too much. On the Sunday, Elaine and I unboxed and played Paperback. It is as good as I hoped. A nice combination of Scrabble and Dominion. It takes the best of both and is fun, certainly much more enjoyable than basic Scrabble. There is a co-op variant that we have yet to try.

Off the Painting Table (June 2018)

Looking at my Teutonic collection I realised that I had no non-order troop types. I therefore ordered 2 packs (12 figures) of Town Militia produced by Fireforge. I did not appreciate that the figures would be cast in resin rather than the usual hard plastic. I have only painted resin buildings, not figures, so this would be new to me. The resin is more flexible than plastic and felt rather ‘greasy’, so I washed the sprues in soapy water and allowed to dry. Assembly was a pain because the usual polystyrene glue would not work, so I had to use super-glue instead. However hard I try I always manage to get super-glue on extraneous surfaces (including my fingers), and the flexible nature of the resin meant the joins were not as firm as I would like (much swearing was involved!). Next I tried priming the figures black and immediately found the primer would not take; it just ‘puddled’ on the surfaces. After some head-scratching I decided to pre-prime the figures with thinned PVA glue, which I hoped would provide an adherent surface (and strengthen the glue joints). Once dry, I used primer again and there was still some ‘puddling’. I was now getting annoyed! So, I added some PVA to my primer and carried on. Finally I finished prepping the figures; most surfaces were reasonably covered but not to the standard I would normally aim for. Overall, I hated the process of getting these resin figures ready for painting, and I will strenuously avoid buying any more figures cast in resin (unless someone out there can provide a better way of working with such material).

The figures actually painted up OK. I used muted tones, with little decoration on the tunics etc. I felt this gave a better militia-look, and I left the shields as plain wood with no heraldic devises (although I could easily ‘pimp-up’ the shields at a future date).

In parallel to painting the militia figures, I painted a pack of metal Warlord Games farmyard animals to add to my collection. These models quickly add ‘feel’ to any terrain set up, and subtly make battlefields more visually appealing. I am also tempted to play some Border Reiver scenarios where the livestock will play a significant role.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Off the Painting Table (May 2018); part 2

A very short post this time. At Salute I bought some Japanese civilian models from Col. Bills to add interest to my Samurai games. The six figures are nicely sculpted and painted well. The noble and his wife were painted with patterned silk kimono’s, whilst the other peasant figures had plainer dress. I could do with a few more items to really give my tabletop a more Japanese feel; a statue or shrine, a gateway, a bamboo grove, some paddy fields etc.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Review of For King & Parliament ECW rules

I bought a copy of the new ECW rules “For King and Parliament (FK&P)” (Simon Miller & Andrew Brentnall, 2018) at Salute this year. I had heard good reports of their sister rules covering Ancient conflict, “To the Strongest”, and was further encouraged by an excellent demo game put on at the show. In addition, the rules were reported to be good for solo play and, due to diary constraints, my opposed gaming opportunities are restricted at the moment. After reading through the rules, I decided to try the game as a solo experience using the Battle of Montgomery, 1644 scenario provided at the back of the rule book.

Before discussing the rules, I will briefly outline the outcome of the game I played. The battlefield is fairly open and splits into a clash of foot on one flank and cavalry on the other. The infantry fight was fairly even. The dragoons and forlorn hope units were cleared fairly quickly due to their single hit strengths. The clash of the main units of foot was more prolonged with neither side dominating. The cavalry fight was more fluid. Initially Parliament was ahead, routing units of Col Trevor’s brigade, but the impact of pursuit became apparent, which opened up a gap in the Parliament formation. The remaining un-brigaded Royalist horse moved around the open Parliament flank looking for a decisive blow. At this point the returning Parliament foraging horse returned arriving in a compact block directly behind the now exposed rear of the untried Royalist horse. Fairfax’s veteran regiment charged Vaughn’s regiment in the rear; they had a large number of to-hit chances and missed them all! In contrast the Royalist regiment passed its untried test and promptly scored 2 return hits, killing the Parliament commander (Col. Brereton), and routing the shocked veterans! This action had bottled up the Parliament re-enforcements and allowed the other Royalist cavalry to attack and destroy the exposed Myddleton’s regiment and kill/capture the attached Parliament C-in-C (Sir John Meldrum). This ended the battle and gave the Royalists victory.

Regarding the rules themselves:
1. The authors use adjusted decks of playing cards to resolve all actions and combat, although they do suggest alternatives such as chits and dice. In my game I used D10 dice instead of cards and this worked OK, but they are not ideal when working out activations. There is a slight impact on the distribution of probability by using dice but this is minimal. I think in future I will move to a hybrid system of chits and dice. I think chits would simply ‘feel’ better for activations, and dice ‘feel’ more satisfying when resolving combat. I think playing cards would just clutter the table un-necessarily, and I dislike having to shuffle repeatedly, so I would avoid using cards.
2. The tabletop is gridded. Personally I’m fine with this (I play and like many games from RFCM, which often use a grid system), but other gamers may not enjoy such a mechanism. On the plus side, the grids allow rule mechanisms to be clear and simple and, significantly, allow players to use any basing conventions they are happy with. On the negative side, gridded games severely limit the movement and manoeuvre options, and can feel a bit like a boardgame rather than a conventional wargame. The appeal of a gridded wargame is purely down to a player’s personal preference, but I have noticed a marked increase in the number of gridded games produced recently.
3. The activation mechanism is the defining feature of these rules. The first activation of a unit will usually be successful, but there is always a chance of failure. The beauty is in the ‘Push Your Luck’ element of deciding further actions, where failure becomes more likely, and which can prematurely end brigade activations. Prioritising activations becomes a key decision, and placement of commanders can be vital to mitigate against failure. Essentially, this ‘Push Your Luck’ element is at the core of these rules, and if the card/chit/dice Gods are against you, then your plans can quickly disintegrate. This mechanism creates the fun and tension within the game, but players have to accept a high degree of luck and swing within the outcomes. I like the uncertainty and change of fortune produced, particularly in a solo experience. I know many gamers, especially those who like to plan meticulously, who would hate the system. So again, it comes down to personal preference.
4. Combat resolution is very simple to calculate and there is little need to refer to the rule book. I like the differentiation between firing tactics (single/double/salve), and the ammo rules work well. I would like to try artillery and see how these perform on the tabletop. The game I played lacked ‘Dutch’ horse, so again I would be interested to see how these work on the table. The use of ‘dash’ to reflect the freshness of horse units is a nice mechanism and fills an omission in other rule systems. Cavalry pursuit is important and can really muck-up your plans (as Parliament found out in my game). Rallying was not used as much as I expected because, once forces are locked in combat, they don’t have opportunities to recover.
5. The ancillary rules covering battlefield set up (terrain choices and placement, scouting, points etc.) all appear fine. I liked the ‘untried’ status of units in my game, and I particularly like the variable personality rules for generals, and the variable strategy options. One criticism of the rules is the lack of a QRS. Most of the rules are very simple and easy to remember, but a QRS would help to reinforce turn structure and remind players of modifiers to things like activations.
Overall, I like For King and Parliament. They give a quick, fast paced game with many important decisions to be made. There is a high level of luck which can engender significant swings of fortune, which could put some players off. I think they are eminently suitable for solo play. I don’t think FK&P will replace my favourite rules for ECW i.e. Regiment of Foote v1 (RFCM, 2002). Interestingly I rejected the second version of Regiment of Foote (RFCM, 2016) because it was gridded and was too much like Square Bashing (see an earlier blog post). With FK&P, the gridded mechanism worked well, but the core of the rules lies in the activation mechanism.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Boardgame session: 6May18

In the UK we are enjoying a beautiful, warm, sunny May bank holiday. We visited Val and Chris for a leisurely al fresco lunch in their garden, and managed to play a game of Concordia in the afternoon. I’m slightly surprised that this acclaimed game had not made it to our table before, so was keen to try it out. It did not disappoint. Essentially it is a trading game set in the Roman world with players generating trade networks, acquiring and utilising goods to expand their commercial empires. There are numerous potential routes to victory. Each player starts with the same hand of action cards, which they can work through in any order they wish, and to which they can add to by purchasing further cards from the common bank available to all. The twist which makes the mechanism really work lies in two key card actions; the Senator (which allows a player to duplicate another players card), and the Tribune (which recalls all your played cards back to your hand). Cards also have a secondary function (the God to which they are dedicated) which can impact the end-game scoring procedure, and therefore the strategy you may aim for during the game.

The game play flows nicely once you have got your head around the different card actions. At the start it feels that only having one card that allows you to move and build (the Architect) is a bit limiting, but you soon appreciate the importance of judicious play of the Senator card, which can overcome such shortcomings. I was surprised at the game length (over 2 hours) considering the speed of card play we achieved, but at no point did the game feel slow paced or cumbersome. Players face tough decisions during the game; at points you lack certain key resources, your money supply fluctuates, you are keen to get access to new regions etc. There is no direct conflict between players apart from making areas of the board more expensive to get into, and some of your actions can actually benefit others by providing them with resources.

When we tallied the points at the end, Val (who had a cloth monopoly) was the clear winner, whilst I surprisingly was second placed. Concordia is definitely a game we will happily return to. In fact it has convinced me to purchase a new game, Transatlantic, by the same designer (Mac Gerdts) when we visit UKGE in a few weeks. This game uses very similar mechanics but is set in the Victorian era of steam ships and world trade.